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Swing Time Cover Image
Posted on Thursday, November 17, 2016

Zadie Smith’s funny and energetic new novel Swing Time tells the story of childhood friends Tracey and the book’s unnamed narrator; Tracey is a talented dancer, the narrator loves dance but is not gifted at it. They both live in a northwest London housing estate that the narrator eventually leaves and Tracey doesn’t. This deceptively simple story is the root of a layered, clever, and thought-provoking mediation on, well, lots of things. Smith’s primary concern is how identities can blend and mix. But Swing Time also touches on pop stardom, the perils of postcolonial charity, slavery tourism, sexy disco music, blackface in Hollywood musicals, and more. The amazing thing about Zadie Smith is how sharp and funny she is, even when the book has such a wide range of interests. Plus, Swing Time features Smith’s first first-person narrator, which leads to a complicated yet limited perspective that ties it all together while leaving open some intriguing questions. The end result, much like White Teeth, On Beauty, and NW before it, is funny, compulsively readable, and cleverly critical of today’s world.
Recommended by Danny

Tru & Nelle Cover Image
Posted on Thursday, November 17, 2016

Tru and Nelle by Neri G. is a terrific young adult book about the friendship between Truman Capote and Nelle Harper Lee. Based on real events in the lives of these two literary figures, the book in many ways mirrors To Kill a Mockingbird, hinting at the real characters and events in Monroeville, Alabama that gave birth to their parallels in the novel. It's beautifully written and has both the adventure and moral peril present in To Kill a Mockingbird. Highly recommended by Kelly.

Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady Cover Image
Posted on Thursday, October 27, 2016

Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady by Susan Quinn. Though it's no secret that Eleanor Roosevelt had a long-term affair with journalist Lorena Hickok, Quinn's careful examination of their decades-long correspondence reveals the depth of both their love and fear during a time when such relationships were strictly verboten. The narrative views the tumultuous days of Depression, world war, and social change through the window of cultural trespass, which offers interesting insights into both a much-studied era and political icon. Recommended by Kelly.

Anybody: Poems Cover Image
Posted on Thursday, October 27, 2016

Identity is a slippery thing in Ari Banias's excellent debut collection Anybody. Late in the collection, for instance, a speaker says, "Mostly a name feels like the crappy overhang I huddle under/while rain skims the front of me." The declaration serves to embody Anybody's​ pre-occupation and exploration of identity, its limits, and its grey areas. The pronoun, that gram-matical home of cisgendered thinking, is of particular worry and curiosity to these voices in these poems. Banias's thoughtful deconstruction of gender and desire is made only more meaningful by his vivid settings, filled with details both precise and indicative of late capitalism's junk. In the first poem, for instance, we see that, "in this country, in houses,/apartments, there somewhere is a cabinet or drawer/where it's stashed/the large plastic bag/with slightly smaller mashed-together/plastic bags inside; it is overflowing, and we keep adding." It's a stunning poem, and like many in this collection, it skill-fully balances humor and grief, with both personal and political implications. Ari Banias most reminded me of a Frank O'Hara for this generation. This is a really promising debut collection. Recommended by Danny.

The Little Stranger Cover Image
Posted on Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters is a ghost story for everyone. By everyone, I mean those who love ghost stories and also those who resist them. The writing is so spot-on and the hauntings so psychologically resonant, that they give even the skeptical reader pause. The Ayres' family estate is crumbling. Its remaining residents, Emily, her shell-shocked son Roderick, and sturdy, unmarried daughter Caroline, make an ill-fated decision to host a party to re-establish themselves in the social scene of Warwickshire, England. The evening's tragedy and reconnection with country doctor Faraday, once a child of a servant in the house, sets in motion a series of tragedies that bring to life long-buried secrets and poltergeists. Gothically good to its final chilling page. Recommended by Kelly

A Reunion of Ghosts Cover Image
Posted on Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell is one of the best novels that I’ve read in years. A wry black comedy, it begins in 1999 and is the story of the 40-ish Alter sisters: Lady, Vee and Delph, who share an apartment on New York’s upper East Side. But it’s also the story of four generations of the Alter family, beginning with their great-grandfather, a brilliant German chemist who invented chlorine gas, among other terrible things. Tragedies have occurred in each generation, leaving the Alter sisters to conclude that there is only one solution that will break the curse. It’s deftly written, rich and intelligent, the humor witty and razor-sharp, and I highly recommend it. Recommended by Rochelle.

Exposure Cover Image
Posted on Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Helen Dunmore’s newest novel is a beautiful tribute to the sweet comfort of home, to the fierce focus of mother love, and to the random risks and dangers that we are all exposed to.  She writes about the year 1960 in London, the cold war is in full cry and Dunmore describes everyday life with telling details: muddy galoshes, gold cuff links, the smells of primary school children and the sound of a train coming down the track. Some of the characters in this elegant novel are caught up in a web of spying.  But the real story is the steadfast competence and wisdom of a young German Jewish immigrant woman, Lily Callington, who is the mother of three children and wife of Simon, a mid-level bureaucrat working for the Admiralty.  Dunmore tells the story from four different points of view: Lily, Simon, Paul, their 10 year old son, and Giles, an old friend and colleague of Simon’s. Lily has buried her knowledge of the German language and her visceral fear from those days, and carries on as a quick-witted and observant wife and mother. As her story unfolds, with threats to her home and family encircling her, you will be completely enthralled.  This is far and away my favorite novel of the year.

The Summer Before the War Cover Image
Posted on Friday, July 15, 2016

Helen Simonson's heartfelt novel captures life in the small English coastal town of Rye. It is the summer of 1914, short months before every's lives are changed as WWI begins. Every character is beautifully drawn and the beauty of the countryside is vividly described. This book follows her wonderful novel Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, and I loved both of them. Recommended by Rochelle

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? Cover Image
Posted on Thursday, July 14, 2016

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal. The short answer is--we're getting there. The gist of this fascinating book is that we've long been using the wrong measures for things like "consciousness," "self-awareness," and "intention," all once considered qualities possessed only by humans. But as the many experiments that primatologist de Waal recounts show, if you use the proper controls and keep an open mind, you'll find animals are far more "like" us than we give them credit--which changes everything. Recommended by Kelly

Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World Cover Image
Posted on Monday, July 11, 2016

Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World by Benny Lewis. This morning I woke up oddly early, before the sun even. I sat down on the couch, curled up with a blanket and my coffee, and finished the second half of Benny Lewis's, Fluent in 3 Months. Upon finishing the book, I felt an absolute ardent urgency to further my second language skills. I spent the next five hours speaking aloud, working on my script, and singing along to ridiculous alphabet songs. Whether it is about speaking Italian to your grandfather in his foreign tongue before it is too late, backpacking South America, or learning Arabic to impact global conflict, this is the book that will provide you with mini missions, daily tips, and added inspiration in taking the steps to bi-lingualism. Recommended by Jenna

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