Q: What do booksellers read?
A: Lots of stuff, all the time.
This is an ongoing, continuously fed list of what we’ve read – and loved – in 2022. Think of it as our little in-store “book talkers” listed here, all in one spot. Some of the books listed below are new releases, some are old favorites, and some are “coming soon” reads, available for pre-order. Have fun exploring, reader!
Raymond [7th grade] //
Huda F Are You? by Huda Fahmy
Huda F Are You stars Huda, a girl who lived in a town where she was the only kid in her class who wore a hijab. All of that changed when she moved to a different city (Dearborn, Michigan), where almost all of the kids in Huda’s school wore hijabs. Huda thought she lost the one thing that made her special. She struggles through middle school trying to figure out who she is. Follow along her journey to self discovery in a room of crowded people.
The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean [preorder: August 2022]
Dean’s first novel begins with a premise that will appeal to many voracious readers–that there is a race of people, almost but not quite human, who subsist on nothing but books–and builds a heartbreaking story about destructive family relationships, an entrenched patriarchy that harms even those at the top, what it means to be a mother – and what it means to be a monster. Raised as a “princess” within a remote English village, Devon learns early that her life is nothing like the stories she has absorbed by eating fairy tales. She has already been separated from one child per Book Eater custom, and is contracted to bear one more to do her part to keep their endangered people alive. But Devon’s second child Cai has a condition that affects his diet – instead of novels and histories, he consumes human minds to survive. Sunyi Dean melds fairy tale, palace intrigue, and family drama for a story of vicious love.
How to Take Over the World by Ryan North
At long last, a book about the science of supervillainy! North is an incredibly funny writer (as you may know from his “chooseable path” Shakespeare books Romeo and/or Juliet and To Be or Not to Be, or his long tenure writing Unbeatable Squirrel Girl with artist Erica Henderson), and his humor is underpinned the impeccably organized intelligence you’d expect from somebody with a computer science background. There are lots of footnotes. How to Take Over the World explores the opportunities and challenges (but mostly challenges) that come with implementing a comic book-style dastardly plan. Discover the hidden costs of your villainous lair! Learn why reversing climate change may be the best way to conquer the world! Dig a giant hole!
My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones
This is me trying to broaden my horizons a bit, as the horror genre is not a regular part of my reading regimen. Luckily, our heroine of My Heart is a Chainsaw is obsessed with slashers and eager to share her knowledge! Stephen Graham Jones’ latest (now in paperback) is lively and thought provoking, as teenage outcast Jade Daniels tries to apply slasher movie logic to a series of recent murders in her own town, attempting to suss out who will be next to face the killer’s judgement and doing everything she can to prepare newcomer Leitha Mondragon to become the “Final Girl,” an archetypal ultimate survivor who can put a stop to the chaos. But in hunting the potential slasher, Jade is also forced to confront her own trauma, which isn’t as simple as staring down a machete-wielding otherworldly menace. Chainsaw is a fast-paced thriller that both revels in and subverts horror tropes, ticking all the boxes for readers immersed in that world while providing a handy introduction for those less initiated.
Radical: My Year with a Socialist Senator by Sofia Warren – Available for preorder now – expected release date: 6/14
There is so much to love about Sofia Warren’s year of embedded reporting with Democratic Socialist New York State Senator Julia Salazar, representing New York’s 18th District (Brooklyn). In Radical, Warren uses a graphic memoir format to welcome readers into the mechanics of state politics, community organizing theories, and the rebirth of democratic socialism in the US in an entirely accessible, transparent way. This story is just as much about how everyday people create positive change (from the inside AND the outside of our government) as it is about Senator Salazar’s efforts to advance some of our nation’s most progressive tenant protection legislation in decades. For anyone who has ever left a protest thinking ‘well now what?’ – this book is for you.
Candy House by Jennifer Eagan
Using a cast of super memorable characters with interlocking narratives, Eagan explores the tangled web of complications unspooled by the mass-market commodification of our memories in a time that could easily be tomorrow afternoon. I loved this book’s ability to explore the chilly dark side of tech while staying firmly centered in the sticky, messy human-ness of it all: our deep desire to connect, to understand each other, and to be understood. This book lends itself so naturally to rich conversations about our everyday lives with tech in the 21st century – it would be a great pick for book groups or reading buddy pairs.
Leave the World Behind by Ruuman Alam
Despite its MANY incredible reviews (it was a 2020 National Book Award finalist!) I really wasn’t ready to sit with a book about a family locked away in seclusion from an earth-shattering catastrophe when it was released in 2020. Lately though, I’m drawn to reads of this nature (I’m no mental health specialist, but I think it’s a form of processing). The best word I can think of to describe this read is GRIPPING (yes, in all caps). It is a book that made me late to things (I had to see What Happens Next). As with That Kind of Mother (Alam’s amazing 2018 read), Leave the World Behind explores race, class, and the complicated slush of information that surfaces when we confront our assumptions and biases head on. Deftly, in Leave the World Behind, Alam uses uncertainty and emergent crises to reveal how – left unchecked – ignorant suspicions can buzz beneath the surface of every interaction when we are in panic-mode, our limbic-cortex in the driver’s seat. Also, Alam is a parent and I am deeply appreciative of his truth-telling about family life: there’s no glamor here, just a gutsy, often gory (strip the bedding after a puke) kind of love.
Little Foxes Took Up Matches by Katya Kazbek – [CW – sexual abuse]
Part murder mystery, part folklore, part queer coming-of-age-story, this read was full of surprises. Told from the POV of Mitya, a gender expressive tween growing up in Moscow in the 1990s, Little Foxes Took of Matches offers readers stunning character portraits, unlikely friendships, and an interesting glimpse into Russian culture. Mitya uses escapism as a form of survival in this story, often slipping into the world of “Koschei the Deathless,” a foundational Russian fairytale starring a cast of animal characters and a spell to prevent death. A VOGUE Best Book of 2022, this debut work was captivating – Kazbek is an author to watch.
Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama by Bob Odenkirk
I needed a laugh this month (my reading was getting kinda heavy!) and it should come as no surprise that Odenkirk delivered. I listened to this read through our partners at Libro.fm to hear Odenkirk deliver the text. This memoir follows Odenkirk’s journey from a geeky teen from suburban Illinois writing comedy radio sketches for his college station to his current Hollywood stardom. Like any celebrity memoir, there’s a lot of name dropping but Odenkirk’s self-aware style spares no punches and the joke is often on himself. This book lifted my spirits – I laughed out loud and man did I need to. Even the jacket blurbs are funny:
“Bob Odenkirk (sp?) is an exceptionally and uniquely talented man who has had a huge influence on comedy for more than three decades. And now he’s given us his P.O.V. on that journey. This book is filled not only with lessons on ‘making it’ in ‘showbiz’ but also regular old life lessons as well (including his killer recipe for ‘Granny’s Sunday Loaf’). It’s funny, informative, and like the author himself, disarmingly honest. I look forward to meeting him one day.” —David Cross
Raymond [7th grade] //
The OUT Side: Trans & Non-Binary Comics, an anthology compiled by The Kao
The OUT Side is a large umbrella of gender affirming stories. It features so many transgender authors, all with unique art style and writing. I liked this book because everyone’s story is different, and I think The OUT Side really showcases that.
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrowby Gabrielle Zevin [preorder: July 5]
The sheer joy of this book! Zevin’s latest follows childhood friends Sam Masur and Sadie Green who find each other once again in college and decide to create video games together. Sadie and Sam, along with Sam’s roommate Marx, who becomes their game company’s producer, share such a believable, complex friendship, full of joy, loss, and yearning. Tomorrow^3 is as much a book about the workplace as it is about video games, and Zevin delves into both the exuberance and the grind of creating entertainment, as well as how that process can bind people together or break them apart.
How to be Perfect by Michael Schur
Fun with moral philosophy, from the creator of The Good Place! Schur gets some extra mileage out of his research for the show by compiling this sort of 101-level survey of Western philosophy’s great thinkers and ethical dilemmas. Plus, since Schur isn’t a “proper” philosopher, he doesn’t mind indulging in digressions into the sheer turgidness of Kierkegaard’s prose, or the absurdity of Kant’s “Treatise on Wind.” It’s got the humor you’d expect from a writer on The Office and Parks and Recreation, but there’s also a lot of substance – and if you’re looking for a gateway to a more serious study of philosophy, Schur points the way to some excellent places to start. I listened to the audiobook version, read by Schur along with all of his friends from The Good Place, adding some additional hedons into the mix. If you’d prefer the print book, the publisher has been out of stock for ages but they’ll be shipping again mid-April – might not be a bad idea to reserve your copy now.
The Golden Swift by Lev Grossman [preorder: May 3]
The second book in Grossman’s middlegrade series that began with The Silver Arrow, for those that enjoy conservation with their wizarding. Kate and her brother Tom continue their adventures on the Great Secret Intercontinental Railway, a mystical train line that allows them to rescue endangered animals to protect and restore their habitats. But with the disappearance of their uncle Herbert, who had been responsible for providing a timetable assigning the stops along their journey, Kate, Tom, and their friendly magical locomotive the Silver Arrow embark on a new rescue mission – encountering along the way a rival in the Golden Swift, whose conductor has some revolutionary ideas on ecology.
Hollow Fires by Samira Ahmed [preorder: May 10]
Samira Ahmed’s latest YA thriller is inspired by current events — both the generalized, such as the recent increase in hate crimes, and the specific, modeling the character at the heart of her mystery after the young boy whose teachers mistook his science project for a bomb. Ahmed is working with a lot here, but of course, as some have always known and many more are coming to recognize, all of the various threads of hatred and discrimination are connected. In her efforts to solve the disappearance of 14-year-old Jawad Ali, teen journalist Safiya must fight a local community that are indifferent at best and hostile at worst, while also walking a fine line with school administration to keep her role at the paper and avoid expulsion herself. Hollow Fires paints a haunting portrait of the ways bigotry conceals itself with a smile and the determination it takes to stand against the tide.
Watergate: A New History by Garrett M. Graff
There is no shortage of books on Watergate, but Graff’s comprehensive history is lively and engaging, and does a stellar job of keeping the sprawling cast of characters distinct in readers’ minds. As someone who knew broadly what the scandal was about, I was utterly astonished at the many of the details — including the apparent incompetence or buffoonery of many of the conspirators. Nixon’s arc throughout the narrative is wild, and there’s certainly room to wonder what his legacy might have been if hadn’t got caught up in all the skullduggery — or if he just hadn’t got caught. I listened to Watergate as an audiobook on Libro.fm, and Jacques Roy’s narration was delightful.
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
Available for preorder now – release date: 4.5
Shaun wrote about this book in February’s bookstack, but I just wanted to chime in to second his enthusiasm. This book is amazing. The plot moves with confidence into a speculative future of time travel and space colonies. As “deep sci-fi” as this sounds, St. John Mandel keeps readers grounded in everyday human desires, tensions, yearnings, and flaws. Like Station Eleven, Sea of Tranquility is about what it means to be human – our connections to each other and to the histories and futures that inform our present.
My Volcano by John Elizabeth Stintzi
A volcano bursts forth from the ground in Central Park, upending life in New York City and around the globe. It grows, slowly at first, and anchors intersecting tales from a folklore professor, a Mongolian shepherd, a trans science-fiction writer, a manager of an “emotion-managing service” startup called Easy-Rupt, an ad executive who finds himself quite literally in two places at once, and an 8-year-old Mexican boy who is thrust back in time to Tenochtitlan in 1516, and others (!!). Stintzi masterfully brings all of these narrative strands together to weave one of the realest portraits of 21st century anxieties that I’ve ever read. In the vein of Tom Robbins and Daniel Pinkwater, Stintzi’s use of the absurd and the fantastical offers readers an amazing view of our messy, beautiful, and impossible real world – imparting a cautious optimism in the process. If you crave the unexpected and are delighted by a wild ride, this book is for you.
Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American by Laura Gao
This memoir in graphic novel form is a delight. The expressive line work and voice-y writing welcome readers into Gao’s coming-of-age story with open arms. We see Gao at their best and at their worst in this read, honesty and compassion moving in heartfelt tandem. Gao explores the complicated dimensions of their immigration story, their family relationships and parental expectations, their queerness, and what it means to be a Wuhanese American in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fans of Lucy Knisley, Alison Bechdel, Maia Kobabe will happily connect with this read.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Revisiting this read in advance of our next Banned Book Club gathering on 4/15, I was struck as I always am by Morrison’s unflinching portrayal of humanity. This story follows Pecola Breedlove, a Black child who wants nothing more than to have blue eyes. She does not see beauty or worth in herself – and as the story unfolds, readers learn about the myriad of familial, personal, and societal contributions to this fact. These contributions can be hard to sit with – sexual abuse, rape, and incest chief among them – but you cannot change a world you don’t dare to name. The Vintage International edition of this book that we carry at Booksweet includes a forward by the author. I recommend reading the forward last (as is done in the audiobook version read by the author), giving you something to sit with and contemplate after the last chapter is through.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter could teach a master class in code switching. Her life in her predominantly Black neighborhood of Garden Heights is a world away from her predominantly white suburban prep school. When Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer, the pressure and tension of living in two worlds becomes untenable. With bravery and heart, Starr finds her voice and speaks truth to power. This YA read, published in 2017, offers inroads to vital conversations about racism, police violence, stereotypes, white privilege, code-switching, micro-aggressions, and more. We’ll be talking about The Hate U Give at the third in-shop gathering of our Banned Book Club onFriday, 5/20.
Raymond [7th grade] //
All Together Now by Hope Larson
This is book #3 in Hope Larson’s All Summer Long series, but this one has got to be my favorite so far. Bina’s band Fancy Pink is really starting to kick off, getting gigs all over town. The group even gets an offer to make their first record! Bina is delighted by the idea and immediately goes to her parents. And of course, her parents immediately say no. Fancy Pink will not have their dreams crushed by some pesky parents, so they come up with a plan…
Magical Boy vol 1 by The Kao
Magical Boy is one of my favorite reads yet. Our main character Max is born into a line of bound-by-blood goddesses. Although to the average person this may seem awesome, Max is less enthusiastic. He is a trans boy – and his frilly, girly, magical girl persona gives him extreme dysphoria. While he struggles with bullies, transphobic parents, and extreme embarrassment, Max is fighting off monsters, and trying to keep two different dimensions in check. Come along with him as he tries to save the world.
Tracy Flick Can’t Win by Tom Perrotta [6/7 release]
Did you know that the 1999 movie Election was based on a book by Tom Perrotta? (If you’ve not seen this one, Reese Witherspoon as the relentless 11th grade perfectionist Tracy Flick is pretty hilarious.) In Tracy Flick Can’t Win, readers are reintroduced to a middle aged Flick, now a mother and high school administrator whose ambitions for promotion are threatened by a superintendent who is far more interested in football game wins than in education. Revisiting the scandals of Election in a Me Too era deepens Perrotta’s cultural critique and his exacting dark humor is as sharp as ever. This is a quick, smart, funny, and highly enjoyable read – perfect for kicking off the summer months. Pre-order now!
The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang
Shaun blurbed this read in January (“modeled on the Brothers Karamazov from a contemporary Chinese American perspective”), but I love this read so much I just want to bring it up again. It was amazing. In an interview with NPR, Chang discusses how she started writing at a time when “a kind of understated, minimalist quality was admired” – and how she threw all of that out the window to capture the bombastic, larger-than-life personalities of the Chao family. The dialogue is a delight, peppered with exclamation points and creative sibling verbal abuse. While the text is voluminous, the story is tight. Chang’s tale feels both outrageous and real – a story worth telling and told masterfully.
The Boy with a Bird in His Chest by Emme Lund
In the matter-of-fact style of magical realism, Lund introduces us to a boy named Owen and the sassy, talking sparrow named Gail who lives in his chest. Owen is encouraged to hide Gail from the world, driven by his mother’s fear of “The Army of Acronyms.” A coming of age story like no other, this read explores our deepest needs for authentic, “come as you are” connection – with others and with ourselves. In interviews (I really liked this one with The Brook Reading Podcast), Lund invites readers to see Gail without metaphor, although it’s hard not to interpret allegory in this work. For every identity that’s ever been split in two, institutionalized, or made to live in fear just for being themselves, this book offers a safe harbor and hope. This read is one of those books that I know will live inside my imagination for a lifetime – a gift.
The Boy with a Bird in His Chest is part of our Every Day is Trans Visibility Day reading list. During the month of March, Booksweet will donate 10% of all sales from this list to our friends at Stand With Trans.
Recitatif by Toni Morrison, with a forward by Zadie Smith
In this 1983 short story — the only short story Morrison ever wrote — we meet Twyla and Roberta, who have known each other since they were eight years old when they were roommates in a children’s shelter. Morrison tells her readers that one character is white and another is Black, although she withholds info on “which is which.” This act offers a really incredible experiment captured in a very slim read. In Zadie Smith’s powerful intro, we learn that most white readers assume that the narrator of the tale, Twyla, is white. Most Black readers assume that Twyla is Black.
This book is an invigorating experience, inviting us to ask ourselves and our fellow readers: what does racial coding mean? When does it matter? Why? What assumptions do we hold – and how does it feel when those assumptions are challenged by ambiguity? I highly recommend it as a book club read – or just something to read with a friend you can talk about it with. It’s a small gift of a book, but the conversations it will inspire will be anything but slim.
Honor by Thrity Umrigar
Like Olga Dies Dreaming, this read offers a really fresh and interesting take on the “big city girl finds love” narrative. The elements of romance are absolutely there, but so too are nuanced and unexpected examinations of social justice, diasporic longing, and the devastating consequences of patriarchal traditions. In Honor, readers travel back to India with Smita, an American journalist tasked with covering an incident whereby a Hindu woman is attacked for marrying a Muslim man. Smita is joined in this effort by her guide Mohan. The intensity of their work sparks a tender closeness that neither were expecting – and that works to empower their pursuit of truth and justice in surprising ways.
New From Here by Kelly Yang [Middle Grade]
Our family really loved Yang’s Front Desk series – and while our kid has moved on in their reading, I’m not ready to let go. New From Here is told from the pov of Knox Wei, a 10-year old bi-racial American kid with ADHD who had been living with his family in Hong Kong until COVID-19 hit. Like all of Yang’s writing, Knox and his siblings voices ring clear, distinctive, and true. It was a gift to spend time reflecting back on the early pandemic days from a child’s POV. This is a great book to read together as a family, as it opens up really important conversations about the pandemic, about racism, and about how to keep our families, our communities, and ourselves whole in challenging times. –Truly
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel [forthcoming, April 2022]
Station Eleven author Emily St. John Mandel returns with the story of an unexplained event uniting three strangers across five centuries, a mysterious figure who seems to know more than he’s letting on. This is an incredibly fast-paced read — so much happens in just the twenty pages! — and each of the central characters are as lively as they are doomed.
The Nineties: A Book by Chuck Klosterman
Klosterman explores this formative decade, which he defines as the cultural era between the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind in 1991 and the fall of the Twin Towers in 2001, both through the history of what actually happened and how it felt, or how it’s remembered. I was a teenager in the nineties, which gave me a particular perspective, and this book is a fascinating review and contextualization of a lot of events I remember or half-remember, as well as an exploration of the fundamental changes wrought by innovations including the televised confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas and, oh, the advent of the internet. Klosterman, too, brings a certain perspective to the book, but he cops to his biases early and, I think, compensates for them fairly well. I listened to this one as an audiobook, read by the author.
The Latinist by Mark Prins
A tale of obsession and career sabotage set in the classics department of an Oxford college! Prins’ story of promising young scholar Tessa Templeton, preparing to defend her dissertation on an obscure Latin poet, and her mentor and supposed friend Christopher Eccles who torpedoes her job prospects with a damaging letter of recommendation in an effort to her close to him, is a smart and intriguing puzzle. The mystery is not so much in what Eccles did–this is never in doubt–than how Tessa will respond, and how Chris will in turn react to that. Tessa’s strategies to recover from her advisor’s machinations both propel her toward an exciting discovery and threaten to undermine all she’s worked for. Prins offers a delightful turn on the myth of Daphne and Apollo — you don’t need to be a classics scholar to appreciate this book (I’m not), but an interest in history and mythology will be rewarded.
Raymond [7th grade] //
Queer As all Get Out: 10 People Who’ve Inspired Me by Shelby Criswell I like that the narrator of the book talks about the ways that people in history have influenced their actual real life. The artwork is great and expressive. The writing feels personal, like you’re talking to Shelby. If you liked Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked The World, you’ll also probably like this one. I did!
The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang
Modeled on the Brothers Karamazov from a contemporary Chinese American perspective, The Family Chao is the story of three brothers at very different places in their lives who come together for a Christmas dinner at their family’s restaurant, a gathering with consequences beyond what any of them could have imagined. Chang’s story is a delightful and fast-paced murder mystery full of relatable but incredibly flawed characters, exploring issues of family, race, and defeated dreams.
To Paradise by Hanya Yanigahara
The inventive new novel by the author of A Little Life takes readers through three eras of American history – one alternate past, one near present, and one impending future – through a close focus on one family’s conflict in each era. The threads that tie each story together are sometimes overt (as in the recurrence of character names and the Washington Square townhouse) and at other times more subtle, as fortunes rise and fall on unknowable consequences and things left unsaid.
The Complete Guide to Absolutely Everything (Abridged) by Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry
Reading this not long after The Dawn of Everything, I couldn’t help but see the two books as companion pieces, with Graeber and Wengrew tackling “Everything” from a sociological and anthropological perspective and Rutherford and Fry doing so from their perch in math and science. While the authors’ wit makes Dawn frequently quite funny, Guide is solidly a science-humor book, with absurd asides and joky bickering between Adam and Hannah. There is also an intricate description of an image of me, Shaun, playing soccer with Taylor Swift and an alien lizard – which the authors insist exists – and I will spend the rest of eternity searching for it.
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone
Winner of the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, and Locus Award for best novella, this lyrical little book reads like a song. Written as love letters between two rival agents fighting a “time war,” this story expands and contracts it’s way through the multiverse in a stunning celebration of language. My favorite thing about this book: the details of the war are almost superfluous – the story stays unwaveringly focused on the love these women have for one another and the risks they’re willing to take to honor their love.
Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez
I gave this book a whirl after seeing all the great Indie Next buzz about it. Alongside a super cinematic “busy career woman learns to love” plot, Gonzalez weaves in meaty observations on gentrification, radicalization, family expectations, immigrant experience, racism, classism, homophobia, and what it means to find our own values (and stay true to them). This read totally upended my expectations of what a rom-com style story can accomplish and won my heart in ways big and small.
The Cabinet by Un-Su Kim
For fans of Karen Russell, Haruki Murakami, and Tom Robbins, The Cabinet introduces readers to the fantastical world of ‘symptomers,’ humans whose strange abilities and bizarre experiences might just mark the emergence of a new species. Winner of the Munhakdongne Novel Award, South Korea’s most prestigious literary prize, Un-Su Kim embraces the absurd, the offbeat, and the everyday strangeness of our lives. I adored this read.
Violeta by Isabel Allende [1/25 release]
Centenarian Violeta Del Valle’s life, bookended by two pandemics, bears witness to some of the greatest upheavals of the twentieth century. Written as an epic letter to her grandson, Violeta details what it meant for her to live through the Great Depression, South American dictatorships, and the fight for women’s rights. With candor and joy, she explores how the events of her history informed her evolutions as a sexual, ambitious, and honest woman, forever becoming. The writing is personal, visceral, and “makes real” history in a way non-fiction often misses the mark on. As always, Allende’s writing is a gift to be treasured.
No Land to Light On by Yara Zgheib
When a young couple from Syria is torn apart by the 2017 travel ban on the eve of their son’s premature birth, the American Dream swiftly becomes a nightmare hellscape. The immediacy of Zgheib’s writing creates a tension that had me turning the pages turning well past bedtime in search of a soft(er) place to land – but when Zgheib offers these much-needed breathing spaces, she does so in rich, savorsome detail. This book offers an up-close look at the complex and ever-changing realities of how we love our families, our country(ies), our communities, and ourselves in a geo-political reality where our best laid plans can be scattered to the wind in an instant.
The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
When Frida Liu leaves her toddler alone in the house – clearly an ill-advised and super dangerous parenting strategy or “a very bad day,” as Frida calls it – her family’s world is utterly decimated. Like Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun, and Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Chan explores class, race, misogyny, and futures by gently nudging existing social, political, and technological realities to reveal a sick dystopia just beneath the surface of our everyday lives. The book features robot dolls; an over-reliance on racist, sexist, and deeply problematic data collection methods; and incites maternal rage over the million-and-one impossible (and societally unsupported!) realities of modern-day motherhood. As a nation, we are largely absent when tasked with supporting parents in the rearing of the next generation – but quick to punish when mothers fall short.
An Abolitionist’s Handbook by Patrisse Cullors [1/25 release]
In her latest book, BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors offers tangible tips for how to approach collaboration, community organizing, and ways to show up for ourselves each day with the goal of sustainability and deep change. Her explorations of “non-reformist reform” – how to stay grounded in the creation of new systems as opposed to “reforming” broken systems – has sparked an ongoing conversation in our household, one we pick up each day and use to hold our actions to account. Cullours also offers tangible advice for staying grounded in courageous conversations, building community in a way that can sustain the test of time (and inter-group conflict), and creating personal boundaries to keep readers focused in their work. In many ways, this is a “self help” book for activists and other change-makers. If you are working in community with others to address racial justice, this is a great book to read together as a group.
How to be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question by Michael Schur [1/25 release]
Our family was huge fans of the NBC show, The Good Place, a super funny sitcom about moral philosophy set in the afterlife. This book was written by The Good Place creator Michael Schur with similar goals as the show – and in a similarly punchy style. The book invites regular folks into the wild world of moral philosophy using everyday language peppered with jokes. Few books can ping-pong effortlessly between Kantian ethics one moment and the Insane Clown Posse the next. This book has my heart.
If you’re an audio-book listener, catch this book on Libro.fm. The author reads the work with help from the cast of The Good Place, including Michael Schur, Kristen Bell, D’Arcy Carden, Ted Danson, William Jackson Harper, Manny Jacinto, Marc Evan Jackson, and Jameela Jamil.
On the Line: A Story of Class, Solidarity, and Two Women’s Epic fight to Build a Union by Daisy Pitkin [Pre-order for 3/29 release]
This debut is part memoir, part history, part how-to guide detailing the work of Daisy Pitkin, a young labor organizer, and Alma, a second-shift immigrant worker who risks her livelihood fighting for safer working conditions. In addition to shining a light on the horrific working conditions of many industrial laundry enterprises, the book offers tactical advice for those interested in forming unions – giving language, structure, and concrete examples to an endeavor rife with risk and uncertainty. Also appreciated: Pitkin, a white woman from Ohio working in solidarity with a Spanish-speaking immigrant population, deftly offers readers her unflinching honesty about the unsettling and unsettled power dynamics inherent in her work.
The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
One of my favorite reads of all time, I’ve read this book three times in my life:
- First time: in 2011, a 29-year old parent of a toddler.
- Second time: in 2016, in the aftermath of the US presidential election.
- Third time: in 2022, in the midst of pandemic parenting and in preparation for leading a 1/31 community book discussion about the read.
I notice new things about the read – new relevance – with each dive in. In many ways, Butler’s exploration of a not-too-distant dystopian future is unnerving in its prescience, but it also offers tangible advice for ways to live into any reality we are handed through a radical, religious embrace of change. Butler’s writing is straightforward, unflinching, and just as invested in asking questions as embracing answers. The main character, Lauren, is a leader we have so much to learn from and Butler’s commitment to accessible language and storytelling is a reflection of the urgency of her lessons. If you’ve not read this classic, now is always the time.