Very rarely have I ever found myself reading a 400 page book in two sittings, but once I started reading "My Absolute Darling," I could barely bring myself to put it down. This novel is alive in every sense of the word, from the deceivingly simple yet elegant prose, to the harrowing internal life of 14-year-old Turtle Alveston, to the vibrant descriptions of the Northern California wilderness. Every time I expected the plot to go a certain way, Gabriel Tallent found a road I hadn't even imagined, much less traveled. You don't just root for Turtle's survival, you yearn for it, ache for it, hurt with her hurts and triumph in her triumphs. This isn't a book you just read; it's one you feel.
"Winger" is one of those rare books that not only encourages a second reading, but almost REQUIRES it. The first 3/4 is a fresh coming-of-age tale about a teenage rugby player sanctioned to the troublemaker's dorm at an elite boarding school, with a pitch-perfect voice and stand-out characters. Then, something happens that will change the way you've read the entire book, immediately urging you to go back and read again from the beginning. "Winger" is entertaining and heartbreaking and powerful from beginning to end - but the last few pages will knock you out.
As someone who grew up near the areas of Southern Illinois that Chavisa Woods writes about in Things to Do When You're Goth in the Country, this collection of short stories punched me in the gut in the best way. And for those unfamiliar with the landscape of the rural Midwest, Woods's blend of magical realism and razor-sharp prose and dark humor is a perfect lens through which to view and understand the people of the region: the poor, the ostracized, the addicts, and the outsiders, those who got out and those who stayed, and how they deal with the realities of modern America we all face, the endless wars and the blind eye turned towards those who need the most. This collection is biting and funny, intense and necessary.
A great summer read to celebrate the return of the game "designed to break your heart." Mark Kingwell ruminates on everything from baseball history & lore and personal anecdotes from his childhood to philosophical meditations on the passage of time, cheating, nostalgia, language, racism, nationalism, and beauty. The undercurrent of these ruminations is a single theme: that baseball can, in many ways, teach us how to fail, but more importantly, how to learn and change through failure. Thoughtful and witty and relevant.
Stacey May Fowles' luminous book came to me right when I needed it the most. Based on her weekly newsletter of the same name, Baseball Life Advice is a love-letter to baseball as much as it is a take-down of the "boys' club" attitude surrounding the game, from the casual sexism towards female reporters to the cries of "fake geek girl" towards female fans. But it's also a personal account of Fowles' struggles with anxiety (think the fan's version of Rick Ankiel's The Phenomenon) and the various ways baseball teaches her to both fight it, and live with it. A must read for any feminist baseball fan, or any sports lover dealing with their own anxieties.
Sometimes there are books you want people to read, and sometimes there are books you NEED people to read. Beartown is one of the latter. As relevant as it is poignant, Beartown is a portrait of a struggling town who puts its future in the hands of a junior hockey organization, and the fallout. Backman's novel is at once a love song to the game, a meditation on responsibility and blame, an examination of the politics of a community in isolation, and a scathing indictment of a culture built on toxic masculinity. Jumping in and out of the heads of Beartown's residents with masterful skill and timing, Backman brings each character to life in tender, vivid detail, so you feel the full impact of the years between them, the complicated bonds of loyalty and betrayal and love that drive them all to chaos. Beartown is moving and incisive, a novel you won't soon forget.
Borne is a worthy follow-up to Jeff VanderMeer's spectacular Southern Reach trilogy, with the same strangeness and sense of mystery and dread and heart and legitimate surprises that kept me reading Annihilation into the early hours of the morning. Come for the flying bears, the nigh unfathomable (and surprisingly funny) creature called Borne, the vivid portrait of a futuristic wasteland where not all is as it seems, and stay for the meditations on what makes a family a family, on what makes a person a person.
Some of the characters in Leyna Krow's delightfully weird and wonderfully written (and titled) "I'm Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinking" are finding their mundane lives broken up by spots of strangeness: a suburban couple suspects there might be a caged tiger in the adjacent backyard; a woman adopts the cat-eating, wombat-like creature that appears in her neighborhood. Still others are finding the mundane in the weird: a young mother lives the apocalypse over and over again; an older woman raises her dead brother's clone. But uniting these stories is a meditation on how we deal with isolation and loneliness, how we find ways, no matter how strange, to connect, whether it be through a shared delusion or a vivid dream of something only you remember or a lost map of the stars. A poignant, vivid collection.
I've been a fan of Rick Ankiel's ever since he arrived with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1999, touted as the next Bob Gibson, and I was lucky enough to be in attendance at his jubilant return to the majors as an outfielder in 2007. So it's fair to say I've been pretty invested in Ankiel's career. But even for those who aren't, The Phenomenon is an absolutely fascinating read. Ankiel is remarkably candid about his struggle with The Yips and what followed - from his attempts to fight the condition with everything from therapy to breathing exercises to vodka, all the way to his reinvention as an outfielder and, more recently, a life skills coach for the Nationals, helping others struggling with anxiety. I've not read a sports memoir more honest than Ankiel's, and even those not familiar with Ankiel - or really, baseball, to a certain degree - will find themselves moved by his journey.
Leaving Orbit was probably my favorite book of 2015. Margaret Lazarus Dean opens with a question: What does it mean that we have been going to space for 50 years, and have decided to stop? To answer this question, she embarks on a series of journeys to Florida to watch the last launches of Discovery, Endeavour, and Atlantis, and along the way reflects on everything from her childhood visits to the Air and Space museum, to her time spent with Buzz Aldrin at the Southern Festival of Books, to the history of NASA and those who have written about it before her (Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe), to her new friend who works for NASA and is fiercely proud of everything shuttle. As profoundly moving as it is informative, Leaving Orbit is part memoir, part history, and part philosophical meditation on optimism, tragedy, perseverance, apathy, achievement, and humanity's ever-shifting fascination with space.
This is the perfect holiday gift for any sports fan in your life. This book tells the story of everything from Annie Oakley's rifle to Babe Ruth's "called shot" bat to the dress Billie Jean King wore during the "Battle of the Sexes" match to a hockey stick from the Miracle on Ice, all the way up to Michael Phelps' 2008 swim cap and a brain scan from a concussion-ailed football player. The book is not only a fascinating collection of artifacts, but also a collection of snapshots that showcases the climate of American sports (and, in many cases, American culture on a larger scale) in every era. No matter your favorite sport, you'll find something to be wow'ed by in this book. -Lauren's Holiday Staff Pick, 2016
Years ago, George Saunders was captivated by a fact he learned about Abraham Lincoln: in the nights after his son, Willie, died, Lincoln would remove his body from the tomb and hold him for hours, often until the sun rose. This image was what led Saunders to write "Lincoln in the Bardo," one of the most extraordinary novels I've ever read. Part historical fiction, part historical fact, and part fantastic otherworld, this novel (Saunders' first, if you can believe it) follows a colorful cast of specters in the days after Willie's death, in a "limbo" between two worlds. In alternating viewpoints, Saunders mediates on life, loss, and civil wars – both internal and external – coming to hilarious and heartbreaking conclusions about what it means to live life knowing that everything you know will someday end. A remarkable literary journey you won't soon forget.
Carlo Rovelli's "Reality is Not What it Seems" is a remarkable book that puts amateur science buffs on the front lines of the newest and most exciting ideas and discoveries in physics today. Both a trip into the past—Newton's laws, Einstein's theories of relativity, Bohr's quantum leaps—and a peek into the future—theories about quantum gravity, the Big "Bounce", and black holes just waiting to be proven—Rovelli explains impossibly complex ideas in poetic language and metaphor. Do I understand everything in this book? Absolutely not. Neither will you. But we're in good company—as theoretical physicist Richard Feynman said, "I think I can state that nobody really understands quantum mechanics." The perfect intro to advanced scientific ideas for the curious literary mind who likes to reach and be challenged.
With Rogue One coming out this December, this is the perfect holiday gift for your favorite Star Wars fanatic. This book is full of in-universe propaganda posters from the era of the original trilogy, the prequel films, and the newest entries in the Star Wars universe, filled with information about the in-universe artists of the posters and fun anecdotes about your favorite characters (example: putting Poe Dameron's face on Resistance recruiting posters as a joke actually increased the number of interested pilots) you won't get anywhere else. For the ultimate Star Wars nerd in your life. -Lauren's Holiday Staff Pick, 2016
An amazing book for both children and adults about the all too often overlooked women pioneers in STEM fields - from the ancient astronomer Hypatia to Ada Lovelace to Katherine Johnson to Mae Jemison to Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the Fields Medal. This is the perfect gift for the budding scientist in your life, and a perfect book if you (like me) just want to know more about kickass women astronauts and mathematicians and engineers. -Lauren's October Staff Pick, 2016
They All Saw A Cat" is my favorite children's book of the fall! This adorable picture book shows the titular cat through the eyes of different animals with gorgeous and lively illustrations, teaching children how the things they see can be seen in many other ways from many other perspectives. The visuals are almost dreamlike, and this will certainly be a book that children will want to re-read again and again and again (and that adults will be happy to revisit!). -Lauren's October Staff Pick, 2016
When you think of war, and the innovations that keep soldiers alive, there are a few things that probably don't spring immediately to mind: chicken cannons, pamphlets full of "comforting facts" about sharks, red dyed underwear, maggots. That's why "Grunt" is such a fascinating and original book - Mary Roach shines a light on some of the military's most obscure research and overlooked concerns, and the people who address them, who take odors and insects and sea life and diarrhea just as seriously as weaponry and armor. "Grunt" was both hilarious and harrowing, eye-opening and riveting from beginning to end, and Mary Roach is so witty and down-to-earth, you'll feel like you're there beside her, comparing notes. -Lauren's August Staff Pick 2016
"Golden Delicious" is one of the strangest, most original and delightful books I've read in a good while. Appleseed is such a fantastic invention in itself—the worryfields and the flying army of Mothers, the Memory of Johnny Appleseed and the sentences kept as pets, the legislative traffic cones and the sentient buildings—but the book also makes such startling and pointed observations about family, growing up, depression, friendship, loneliness, fear, memory, agency, language...the list goes on and on. "Golden Delicious" was rollicking, touching, funny, affecting, and its sentences will stay with me long after I've left its pages. -Lauren's May Staff Pick 2016
If you've been searching for another Star Wars fix after seeing The Force Awakens once or twice or six times in theaters, you'll definitely want to to check out Greg Rucka's Before the Awakening. Don't let the fact that it's a YA novel scare you off: the stories are fast-paced, well-written, and while they may not answer all your lingering questions (who are Rey's parents??), they give you a fascinating glimpse into the pre-movie lives of the new trio—Finn as a talented but unpopular stormtrooper, Rey as a tough as nails Jakku scavenger, and Poe as a hotshot Republic pilot ready for a bigger fight. As a bonus, the novel features lovely illustrations from Marvel Comics favorite and Black Widow artist Phil Noto! -Lauren's April Staff Pick, 2016
The latest in DK's popular Big Ideas series is the perfect gift for both Sherlock Holmes buffs (like me!) and new readers approaching his famous adventures for the first time. The Sherlock Homes Book is a visual feast of images and infographics to help you sleuth along with Holmes, and is chock full of facts and figures that give the familiar stories another fascinating layer of historical context. Perfect for fans of the TV show and movies who want to dig deeper, or Holmes devotees to display on their coffee tables and keep on their shelves as a quick reference. -Lauren's Holiday Staff Pick, 2015
Anthony Marra's A Constellation of Vital Phenomena was named one of the best books of 2014, and his follow-up is just as spectacular. A collection of linked stories spanning from 1920s Russia into the undisclosed future, The Tsar of Love and Techno opens on a censor tasked with erasing Soviet offenders from paintings and photographs, and branches out to examine the intertwined lives of, among others, the disgraced ballerina he must erase, a famous Soviet actress and her chorus of childhood friends, and a Chechen man who has noticed the face of the censor's brother in the background of hundreds of historical paintings. Elaborate and lyrical and stunning, The Tsar of Love and Techno is one of this year's must-reads in fiction. -Lauren's Holiday Staff Pick 2015
Fans of Eleanor & Park and Fangirl - I know I don't need to convince you to read Rainbow Rowell's newest, Carry On. But in case you're on the fence about her first dip into fantasy, my advice to you is this: don't be. The characters are enchanting, the prose sparkling, the plot full of wild twists and turns that'll keep you guessing until the very end. Fans of Harry Potter - if you find yourself missing the halls of Hogwarts, you MUST make this your next read. It has just as much magic and friendship and danger, but a brilliant new twist on the Chosen One trope. And for everyone else - you don't want to miss this brilliantly written, lovely love story. Rainbow Rowell can write a kissing scene like nobody in the business. -Lauren's November Staff Pick, 2015
How do you follow up a grand, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel like The Orphan Master's Son? With a short story collection - smaller in scale, but packing an equal punch. Johnson excels when he's telling stories of those on the fringes, and Fortune Smiles is no exception - one story follows a man and his son living in a UPS van after Hurricane Katrina as they search for the young boy's mother; another, a former Stasi warden living, literally and metaphorically, in the shadow of the prison; another, two North Korean defectors, their struggle to acclimate to the South, and their complicated feelings towards their former homeland; and, in the riveting opening story, a programmer who copes with his wife's incurable disease by conversing with a hologram of the president. Each of Johnson's stories are filled with exquisite prose and breathtaking imagery and a strangeness that feels equal parts familiar and original. You won't be able to put this down. -Lauren's September Staff Pick, 2015
If you've been waiting anxiously for Marvel to get their act together and give us a Black Widow movie, like I have, then you should definitely pick up Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto's brilliant Black Widow series. In it, Natasha Romanov parts ways with the Avengers to atone for her sins and come to terms with her shadowy past as an assassin, and along the way discovers a much more sinister threat. The series is fun, relentlessly paced and beautifully drawn, and is the perfect place to start digging deeper into the character from the movies. Also featuring: The Winter Soldier! Hawkeye! A cat! The KGB! Anderson Cooper! And more! -Lauren's July Staff Pick, 2015
In Annihilation, four women - a psychologist, and anthropologist, a surveyor, and the narrator, a biologist - journey to a mysterious patch of wilderness called Area X, which has been cut off from the rest of civilization for years.They are the 12th expedition of Area X explorers, and every expedition before them has encountered some sort of terrible fate. This is all you'll want to know going in, because every single page of this books holds another mystery, another surprise. Tense, atmospheric, at times terrifying, and relentlessly captivating, Annihilation simultaneously made me apprehensive to turn the page while being incapable of doing anything else until I had turned the last one. The best news: there's two more novels in VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy to get your fix. -Lauren's June Staff Pick, 2015
Julie Schumacher's Dear Committee Members is a little punch of a book I picked up one day and didn't put down until I was finished. This epistolary novel follows creative writing professor Jason Fitger for the length of a school year, as he writes recommendations for students he barely knows to such institutions as the Nut House and Avengers Paintball, for faculty members trying to escape from their always-under-construction campus to greener pastures (while simultaneously making impassioned pleas to his exes), and for the college's last remaining creative writing grad student, whose novel-in-progress (a modern retelling of Melville's Bartleby) Fitger champions to disastrous ends. Dear Committee Members is by turns hilarious, infuriating, and heartbreaking, and an altogether engrossing novel to lose yourself in for an afternoon.-Lauren's April Staff Pick, 2015
This is a must read for anyone who considers books a vital part of their lives, and of our culture. Before the United States even entered WWII, a literary revolution was beginning on the home front in response to the Nazi book-burnings happening all over Europe. When Books Went to War tells the story of that movement: the female librarian who spearheaded a nationwide book drive to get literature into the hands of soldiers; the publishers who created invaluable pocket-sized editions that could be carried onto the battlefield; and the soldiers, who wrote droves of letters to their favorite authors thanking them for getting them through the hardest years of their lives, and who found their post-war lives drastically changed by the books they'd read. Touching and wildly informative and riveting, When Books Went to War is a reminder of just how necessary books are for the soul. -Lauren's March Staff Pick, 2015
When you think "astronaut trapped on Mars fights for survival," you don't necessarily think "laugh out loud." So I was pleasantly surprised when, while reading The Martian, I caught myself doing just that. Mark Watney's self-deprecating (and at times groan-inducing, in the best way!) sense of humor as he battles the Martian elements is this book's real hook: I knew I was all in when, as a NASA director holds a tense meeting on Earth to evaluate Watney's mental status, Watney, on Mars, is asking the tough questions: "How come Aquaman can control whales? They're mammals! Makes no sense." Toss in some white-knuckle obstacles for Watney to think and engineer his way past (using a bunch of fascinating science), and you've got yourself an entertaining, roller-coaster ride of a novel. For those who want their space adventures with a little less gloom and doom. -Lauren's January Staff Pick, 2015
We all have that one person on our holiday shopping list. That bibliophile who wants books but has read literally everything you try to pick out for them. For that person, The Infographic Guide to Literature is the perfect gift! The illustrations range from the silly (Guess the Bearded Writer) to the intellectual (UNESCO's Most Translated) to the just plain cool (a breakdown of works inspired by Shakespeare by genre - Young Adult, Chick Lit, Horror, etc.). It's great for both in-depth reading and quick flipping-through. If you have a book lover on your list, you can't go wrong with this. -Lauren's Holiday Staff Pick, 2015
This book is absolutely stunning in so many different ways. The illustrations are luminous, the story even more so, as Shooting at the Stars follows the events of the WWI Christmas Truce through the hand-written letter of a single British soldier. It's perfect for children, in that it brings out the humanity in such an immense and often impersonal subject as war; it's perfect for history buffs (young and old), as it includes archival photographs, a glossary, and a bibliography; but most importantly, it's perfect for anyone who wants to be reminded of the human capacity for kindness, empathy, and companionship, even during – especially during – times of great hardship, a lesson as relevant today as it was in 1914. -Lauren's November Staff Pick, 2014
We've been spoiled with a wealth of excellent fiction about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – Kevin Powers' The Yellow Birds focused on what happens to a soldier during war, Phil Klay's Redeployment on what happens after they return. But Michael Pitre's Fives and Twenty-Fives follows a group of three Marines through both – Lieutenant Donovan, who feels like an outsider in both his platoon and his grad school classes; Doc Pleasant, whose less-than-honorable discharge haunts his home life; and Dodge, the Iraqi interpreter who loves American pop-culture and Mark Twain but can't reconcile his relationship with the Americans in Iraq. The way their stories converge in the last half will take your breath away. -Lauren's October Staff Pick, 2015
After an environmental catastrophe, global temperatures have plummeted to unlivable levels, and humanity's last survivors board a 1,001 car train with an alleged eternal engine. The train has a rigid class system, and a man named Proloff has escaped from the lower-class tail and is making his way to the front. The premise is simple, but Snowpiercer is riveting, and packs a philosophical punch in it's 110 stunningly illustrated pages. Though the graphic novel was written in 1982, it couldn't be more timely, tapping into society's environmental fears and obsession with all things post-apocalyptic, and putting our ideas of social hierarchy under a microscope. (The graphic novel is very different than the movie it inspired, but go see that, too. It's fantastic.) -Lauren's September Staff Pick, 2014