From the Shelf
'It's All Fragments'
"So many lists keep on growing, and are saddening. Even though the work itself lasts, of course," the late David Markson, master of the novel in fragments, wrote in Wittgenstein's Mistress (Dalkey Archive Press, $16.95).
Several years ago, I was at a book launch party in Manhattan. Markson was there, too. At some point, we were part of a small group where the conversation turned to the etymology of a particular word. Nobody knew the answer for sure, but I noticed Markson take an index card out of his shirt pocket and scribble something on it. The moment felt like being in the presence of his creative process.
I recalled this while reading a couple of intriguing books recently. In Index Cards (New Directions, $17.95), Moyra Davey observes: "I've often thought that diaries and letters are the real modernism: stream of consciousness without contrivance.... I'm drawn to fragmentary forms, to lists, diaries, notebook, and letters."
And in Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso (Graywolf Press, $15), I read: "I often prefer writers' diaries to their work written intentionally for publication. It's as if I want the information without the obstacles of style and form. But of course all writing possesses style and form, and in good writing they aren't obstacles."
This is all to say that I've been gearing up to read Pessoa: A Biography by Richard Zenith (Liveright, $40). I first encountered Fernando Pessoa's work a couple of decades ago, when Zenith began releasing his translations. I'm particularly drawn to The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Classics, $20), the entrancing collection of "texts" that has been published in several translations and page sequence arrangements over the years.
Writing about the new Pessoa biography in the London Review of Books, Colm Tóibín noted: "In 1914, he wrote to a friend that 'my state of mind compels me to work hard, against my will, on The Book of Disquiet. But it's all fragments, fragments, fragments.' " What more could we ask for? --Robert Gray, contributing editor
In this Issue...
by Kei Miller
Jamaican-born, globetrotting writer and poet Kei Miller produces a stupendous collection of exquisite, revealing essays confronting race, sexuality and identity.
by Amanda Jayatissa
This thriller, alternately set in San Francisco and, 18 years earlier, at a Sri Lankan orphanage, showcases masterful sleight-of-hand plotting.
by Yuyi Morales
The migration pattern of desert animals is disrupted by a border wall in this beautifully illustrated, graceful allegory of immigration.
Review by Subjects:
From Garden District Book Shop
09/16/2021 - 6:00PMEVENT Postponed THE GARDEN DISTRICT BOOK SHOP HOSTS KENT BABB TO CELEBRATE HIS NEW RELEASE, ACROSS THE RIVER: LIFE, DEATH, AND FOOTBALL IN AN AMERICAN CITY The Garden District Book Shop is thrilled to host an evening celebrating the recent release of award-winning sportswriter Kent Babb’s, Across the River: Life, Death, and Football in an American City. What is sure to be a classic work of sports journalism, Across the River is an investigation into the...
Quiz: British or American English?
"Do you know the difference between British and American English?" Mental Floss challenged.
CrimeReads recommended "six great novels with mysterious protagonists."
Open Culture showcased "100 days of Dante: join the largest Divine Comedy reading group in the world," which just started.
The New York Public Library featured "style & substance: a fashion reading list."
Parchment fragments of a medieval Merlin manuscript found in Bristol library reveal "subtle but significant" variations on Arthurian legend, the Guardian noted.
Rediscover: Wole Soyinka
Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian playwright, poet, essayist, novelist and political activist, received the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature--the first African writer to win the award. He was born to a Yoruba family in 1934, attended several schools in Nigeria and eventually graduated from the University of Leeds in England. Soyinka worked for the Royal Court Theatre in London and wrote plays that were produced in his native country and the U.K. While living in Nigeria during the Nigerian Civil War, he was arrested and spent two years in solitary confinement. He was forced to flee the country during the reign of General Sani Abacha in the 1990s. Soyinka's work has often been concerned with "the oppressive boot and the irrelevance of the colour of the foot that wears it." He has taught at Cornell, Emory, Oxford, Harvard and Yale Universities.
Soyinka's first novel, The Interpreters (1964), follows a disparate cast of characters in Lagos, Nigeria, between independence from British colonial rule and the Nigerian Civil War. His second novel, Season of Anomy (1972), is based on Soyinka's time in prison and examines how individuals can be agents for broader social change. New editions of both of these novels are available today from Vintage ($16.95). On September 28, Soyinka's first new novel in a half century, Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth, will be published by Pantheon ($28). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Kei Miller: Many Different Writers
Kei Miller commands genres--poetry, fiction, essays--as adroitly as he navigates identities as a Jamaican native son, a British academic, a global award-winning writer and, most recently, a Miami professor. As poet, he's been shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award. His 2016 novel, Augustown, was a PEN Open Book Award finalist and won the Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, the Prix Les Afrique, and the Prix Carbet de la Caraïbe et du Tout-Monde. The Institute of Jamaica awarded him the 2010 Silver Musgrave medal for his contributions to Literature; in 2018, he won the Anthony N. Sabga medal for Arts & Letters. His essay collection, Things I Have Withheld (Grove; reviewed below), explores and exposes the many ways he has remained silent--by circumstance, necessity, choice--as a Black Caribbean gay man moving around world.
As a peripatetic global citizen, you've become excellent at code-switching. In writing these 14 essays, did you make a conscious choice before you started writing as to what "voice" you might use in each?
No... definitely not. The voices emerged organically as the subjects changed. The final essay ["And This Is How We Die"] is one that actually terrified me, and still does a little. As you see, it becomes a kind of recounting of deaths in 2020, and it chronologically moves from America to the Caribbean. When it gets to the Caribbean, the form of the essay demands that it becomes much more personal, that I move from recounting the fictional deaths of James Baldwin to my own death. So the voice has to belong to these people, which meant I had to move towards a Trinidadian way of speaking. I've never done that before, and I'm still not sure I have the right to do it, and yet the form demanded it. That was the most scary example, but it happened throughout the whole book, where the subject matter demanded a certain kind of voice and I had to sit with myself, breathe and figure out how to do it respectfully and artfully.
When you've been so vulnerable in your writing, do you need to recover afterwards?
I don't think immediately, but then that might happen when I give a reading. At that stage I'm suddenly aware of what I wrote, and aware that it is public and that several people have read this now. But in the moment of writing, it's not that I'm unaware of the audience, but in some ways I am, or I don't fully appreciate all that I've revealed. It's been a strange experience: since the book has been out, several reviewers have commented on this, how vulnerable the writing is, and I keep going back to the book thinking, "Sh*t, sh*t! What did I say?"
Do you have an ideal audience? Have you experienced blatant pushback?
That's a hard question--the ideal audience. I think so much of my own duty as a writer: how to be fair, and gentle enough to break down possible defenses, but uncompromising enough with whatever truth I think I'm grappling with. If I encounter pushback (I haven't so much, not yet, at least), my personality is much more likely to read that as a failing on my own part rather than the audience's. It's odd, I'm not like that as a poet. As a poet I can be more arrogant, but as an essayist, I work very hard to have the audience/reader follow me step by step.
I'm struck by this notion of possible failure as an essayist vs. arrogance as a poet--as if you're two different writers.
Oh, it's not just two. It's several. Who I am as a novelist and as a poet and as an essayist are all slightly different. I think I had to learn to do that over time, and that had to do with learning how to "fix" the problems of any given genre that I was writing in at the time. As I hinted earlier, I'm most confident as a poet, but that would spill over into everything else. I would edit my novels as a poet (rather than as a novelist) and my essays as a poet. And that might make the writing beautiful, but it doesn't always fix the problems of the novel or the essay, which are different from the problems of poetry. So I had to teach myself, in those moments of editing, to be that thing, to be the writer of that genre and understand how that was different from being a writer of another genre.
Going back to pushback and responses... your essay "The White Women and the Language of Bees" is included here. I followed the "controversy" after its initial publication in 2018. Your reply, "10 things I learnt from the brouhaha," was published two years later. Any additional thoughts since?
Ooh, lordy. You know--I wasn't even thinking about that essay and, of course, you're right. I have had pushback--very blatant--before the book came out. Oddly though, with that essay, I did read it over a thousand times because I genuinely couldn't understand the reaction. But no matter how many times I read it, it didn't seem like this underhandedly misogynistic thing some women claimed it to be. It was Black women feminists who came to my rescue and asked if I had never experienced white women's tears before. I hadn't on that scale, even though the essay is all about that.
This is what I think now: when I wrote and published that essay, even though it wasn't so long ago, it still was before the phenomenon of "BBQ Becky" or the woman in Central Park who called the police on a Black man. In two years, the world has seen that script play out again and again, how a white woman has access to a particular kind of privilege--damsel privilege, I'd call it--and she can access that in the way that no other body can. Now when people read my essay ["The White Women and the Language of Bees"], it seems familiar.
But I wrote it just before--trying to talk about this interaction between white women and Black men--the man who has male privilege but not white privilege, the white woman who has white privilege but not male privilege--these two characters one step away from ultimate power, and how they tussle. It's an extraordinary thing. Not many people had written about that particular interaction, and so I think it became controversial then in a way that it wouldn't be controversial now, and certainly the way some white women tried to flex their muscles to shut me up is not something I think could fly now.
Which of these essays was the hardest to reveal?
The essay "The Old Black Woman Who Sat in the Corner" was probably the hardest to write, because it wasn't my own "secrets" I was revealing but my family's. And though I hope I was respectful, I'm still not sure how they're going to take it. The good thing about families is that they know you're a writer but they don't ever read your books. And I hope it stays that way.
Your globetrotting has led you to a new academic home at the University of Miami. Any expectations?
I pretend that I have no expectations. That's part of travel, or the politics of travelling so much for me. I never want to burden a place with expectations because you know that's when we exotify. I'm always looking out for the banality of things. I'm sure I have expectations, but this philosophy has become such a reflex in me that expectations are quickly buried or denied. So I'm looking forward to classes (they will be live) but I'm not sure what to expect.
The thing I am excited about though is just being--you could say, because this is technically true--back in the Caribbean. The one thing I've learnt over these years is that the Caribbean is my center. It's how I make sense of the world. It's where my language lives. And I knew, more than anything else, that it's the space I needed to return to. That's what Miami means for me.
What might readers expect next?
I don't know what project is going to take root. At the end of my time in England the novel began to reveal itself more fully to me, but also a poetry project that felt ambitious enough and meaty enough. I tend to write two projects at once until one begins to fly.
But right when I might have settled into the writing, I had to pack up my office and put it on a ship, and I'm still waiting for it to reach here. I need my writing space back and my books around me, and then one of those two projects is going to take off. That's saying much without saying anything. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
by Colson Whitehead
Harlem Shuffle once again shows off Colson Whitehead's ability to master myriad genres, this time with his first crime novel, the eagerly awaited follow-up to his Pulitzer Prize-winning novels The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys. After delving into zombie fiction (Zone One) and even a nonfiction book about poker (The Noble Hustle), Whitehead confidently crafts a pressure-cooker novel about a used furniture dealer sliding into criminality in tumultuous early-1960s Harlem. Ray Carney is trying to escape the shadow of his father, a long-time crook, by establishing himself as a legitimate businessman, while sometimes dabbling in dubiously acquired merchandise. But it's his association with his cousin Freddie that threatens to drag Ray into real trouble again and again, as Freddie's harebrained criminal schemes inevitably go sideways.
Harlem Shuffle makes excellent use of time-honored techniques, piling problem upon problem onto Ray's shoulders. It also benefits from a lived-in sense of place, depicting a Harlem "after the neighborhood tipped over from Jews and Italians and became the domain of Southern blacks and West Indians. Everyone who came uptown had crossed some variety of violent ocean." The neighborhood is far from exempt from civil rights-era battles, though Whitehead's hard-bitten characters tend to view these struggles with a pragmatic, even cynical eye.
As the novel's events come to a head, Ray comes to realize what grabbing a piece of the American dream will cost in a country rigged against him, and has to decide whether he can pay it. For readers, Ray's constant balancing over the abyss makes for a gripping story, as lovingly detailed as it is good pulpy fun. --Hank Stephenson, the Sun magazine, manuscript reader
Discover: Harlem Shuffle is Colson Whitehead's wildly entertaining foray into crime fiction, a pressure-cooker story set in early 1960s Harlem.
Mystery & Thriller
My Sweet Girl
by Amanda Jayatissa
Aspects of Amanda Jayatissa's debut thriller may call to mind several of Alfred Hitchcock's classics--especially Vertigo--but My Sweet Girl is neither derivative nor a Hitchcock homage: it's a homespun tour de force that will elicit an amusement park ride's worth of gasps.
One of the novel's two alternating story lines plays out in San Francisco and is driven by an amusingly foulmouthed, drink-addled and short-tempered narrator. "Be nice, Paloma. Be kind," is one of her many stabilizing self-directed imperatives. As the novel opens, she drunkenly returns to her apartment and finds her roommate, Arun, who has been blackmailing her, dead at the kitchen table ("Focus, Paloma"), his head on the table in a pool of blood. She flees the apartment. When the police finally come on the scene, Arun's body is gone, as is the telltale blood.
The novel's other story line unspools 18 years earlier in Ratmalana, Sri Lanka, at the Little Miracles Girls' Home. Twelve-year-old narrator Paloma and the other young residents of the orphanage are giddily anticipating a visit from a wealthy American couple, each girl harboring the same wish to be adopted.
Jayatissa's gift for plotting is matched by her grace lacing her narrative with rich social themes, among them cultural assimilation and the different values placed on white versus brown bodies. In a canny touch, the novel's plot hinges on the literary classic Wuthering Heights ("Mrs. Evans was going to be my Catherine. She was going to save me," thinks 12-year-old Paloma). My Sweet Girl may well become, likewise, a classic. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: This thriller, alternately set in San Francisco and, 18 years earlier, at a Sri Lankan orphanage, showcases masterful sleight-of-hand plotting.
Rock, Paper, Scissors
by Alice Feeney
British novelist Alice Feeney (Sometimes I Lie) offers up another thrill ride for readers who dare to accept this delightfully dark and sinuous story that asks how well spouses can truly know each other.
Mr. and Mrs. Wright's marriage has gone all wrong, and they both know a getaway to a remote chapel-cum-romantic-hideaway in the Scottish Highlands is their last chance to save it. Arriving in the middle of a snowstorm, they find the chapel dark and foreboding. While it seems deserted, Mrs. Wright's sighting of a mysterious face at the window proves otherwise. Strangers aren't the only threat on this minibreak, though. "Marriages don't fail, people do," Mrs. Wright says wryly. She made sure to hide her husband's phone, and he turned off the chapel's electricity. Each has secrets, and each has plans for the other. The biggest question is whether they'll have time to carry out their schemes, or if their watcher will interfere first.
Feeney builds a satisfyingly ominous gothic backdrop for this marital tour de force. She misdirects masterfully, and even seasoned mystery readers may have trouble unwinding the truth before it's exposed. Chapters set in the present alternate with an undelivered letter from wife to husband for each year of their marriage, filled with juicy confessions and spine-tingling passive aggression. Slick and dangerous as a hairpin turn on an icy road, this cunning labyrinthine novel skates on the dark edge between love and madness, and packs a sinister loop-de-loop into its explosive conclusion. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: This intricate gothic thriller will keep readers guessing until its astonishing, sinister ending.
Friends Like These
by Kimberly McCreight
No one should want to be a part of the messy, self-centered group of college pals in Kimberly McCreight's shrewd, insightful fourth novel, Friends Like These--a look at the dark side of friendship.
Wealthy Jonathan Cheung and friends Stephanie Allen, Maeve Travis, Keith Lazard and Derrick Chism--all Vassar alumni--claim they are bonded by unconditional love, devoted to each other, willing to forgive any transgression. Instead, guilt, fear and secrets unite them. A decade ago in college, a young man fell off a roof while they were all drinking. Rather than call an ambulance or the police, they left him there, worried that this accident would taint their futures. Later, wracked with guilt, Keith's girlfriend died by suicide.
Now, they've all gathered for the weekend at Jonathan's Catskills mansion, but the real agenda is to force New York City gallery owner Keith into rehab. A car crash, after which one friend is dead and one is missing, brings in Detective Julia Scutt, whose sister's murder 20 years ago still has repercussions. Another unrelated death ramps up the action.
McCreight (A Good Marriage) swirls the plot with each friend's personality while building on the local residents' ongoing tensions with the wealthy weekenders, with intimidating contractors who are demanding payment that Jonathan's fiancé, Peter, has neglected, and mobsters whom Keith owes. Each plot point adds to the fractures in the group, as do the anonymous e-mails threatening to expose each person's secret, leading to the surprising denouement.
The group's carelessness with each other and with outsiders emphasize their chaotic lives in the engrossing Friends Like These. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer
Discover: In this gripping standalone thriller, five self-centered friends who met in college are bound by guilt and fear dating back to an accidental death.
by Sarah MacLean
Sarah MacLean kicks off her Hell's Belles series with Bombshell, featuring the bold and scandalous Lady Sesily Talbot in a feminist historical novel that will delight MacLean's longtime fans just as it introduces new readers to her work.
Sesily Talbot has never cared much for her reputation. The London elite calls her "Sexily" behind her back, a moniker she does nothing to discourage, in no small part because it's not entirely untrue--and because it gives her cover to go about her business taking down the worst of the London aristocracy without anyone noticing. But when her sister's best friend and business partner, Caleb Calhoun, returns to London after years away, she quickly realizes that her ruse as the reputation-less Lady may not hold up to his (very close) scrutiny.
MacLean (Daring and the Duke) has a knack for historical romances filled with both tension and intrigue, and Bombshell is no exception. The chemistry between Sesily and Caleb is substantial on every page of this well-paced tale, with passionate scenes between the two that defy the classic trope of the virginal aristocratic lady seduced by an all-knowing male suitor of some variety. Even more enticing than the romance between the two, though, is the intrigue behind both players' resistance to their undeniable attraction to one another. And at the heart of that intrigue is Sesily and her band of forward-thinking renegade friends--each with the promise of romances of their own to come. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: The author of the Bareknuckle Bastards books begins a new feminist series with this sultry historical romance featuring an unstoppable, reputation-less heroine.
Food & Wine
Sourdough Culture: A History of Bread Making from Ancient to Modern Bakers
by Eric Pallant
Searching #sourdough on Instagram produces more than 5.1 million results--and counting! An unexpected resurgence in the bread's popularity is perhaps one of the more unlikely side effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, making Eric Pallant's Sourdough Culture: A History of Bread Making from Ancient to Modern Bakers a perfectly timed publication.
Pallant, an environmental sciences professor, has spent decades baking sourdough and years researching the history of sourdough and bread-making. His interest began in the 1970s when he was given some starter that purportedly was begun by 19th-century gold miners in Cripple Creek, Colo. Sourdough Culture is both the fascinating story of his journey to find the roots of his own starter and a well-researched history of human bread-making and consumption.
Pallant covers bread throughout many eras, including ancient Egypt and the French Revolution, showcasing the natural wonder that is sourdough. As he explains, "A bread made with sourdough bears more than six thousand years of history." He explores those millennia of history through delectable recipes from multiple cultures, interviews with modern bakers, historical examples of processes that tried to take breadmaking shortcuts, and detailed scientific explanations of why sourdough is sour. Sourdough Culture is perfect for history buffs, food science nerds and bread eaters alike. It will inevitably have sourdough-proficient readers feeding their starters in preparation for a baking bonanza, and is bound to inspire novices to begin a sourdough journey of their own. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Flagstaff, Ariz.
Discover: This fascinating book charts 6,000 years of sourdough history, from ancient Mesopotamia to modern Instagrammers.
Biography & Memoir
Things I Have Withheld
by Kei Miller
Literary chameleon Kei Miller (The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion) has produced award-winning short stories, novels, poetry and essays. Things I Have Withheld is arguably his most stupendous title to date. These 14 exquisitely vulnerable essays explore his Jamaican heritage, his British residency, his worldwide travels. Divulging searing conversations he's self-silenced, Miller--a globe-trotting gay Black man--produces a magnificent examination of race, sexuality and identity. "The moments when I am most in need of words are exactly the moments when I lose faith in them," he writes. Reading Miller is an act of empathy: "I suspect it is the same for a great many of us. We keep things to ourselves. We withhold them because of fear."
Miller begins with a call for assistance from James Baldwin: "I think everything of your essays and it is essays that I have been trying to write but have stopped and need your help"--especially regarding confrontations he's repeatedly eschewed about careless racism. In the standout "Mr Brown, Mrs White and Ms Black," three Jamaican neighbors anticipating an upcoming party contemplate experiences based solely on their skin color. Other essays reveal family secrets about ancestry; crimes against Black bodies and women's bodies; presumptions outsiders vocalize to and about Jamaicans; the fine line between homophobia and belonging; white entitlement and appropriation.
As a gay Black man from a Caribbean island working as "a full-fledged professor" in Britain--a historical center of colonialism--Miller by necessity has become especially facile in code-switching. His written language effortlessly adapts as he slips from his "own Jamaican patois" to adaptations and mannerisms necessary to deal with various locations, situations, communities. What he produces from such experiences is a wrenching record--gorgeously encapsulated--of what he's had to withhold to survive. Filling the silence proves lifesaving. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Jamaican-born, globetrotting writer and poet Kei Miller produces a stupendous collection of exquisite, revealing essays confronting race, sexuality and identity.
Karachi Vice: Life and Death in a Contested City
by Samira Shackle
In Karachi Vice: Life and Death in a Contested City, British-Pakistani investigative reporter Samira Shackle incisively explores recent violent events in Karachi, Pakistan's industrial and financial center, through the accounts of five working-class Karachiites.
Shackle offers a truly intimate view of the port city's reckoning with terrorism and crime, having spent extended periods in Karachi's most dangerous neighborhoods to understand the complex dynamics among rival gangs, corrupt officials, extremist political groups and citizens struggling to make an honest living. A storyteller at heart, she captures with engaging detail the day-to-day experiences of a schoolteacher, an ambulance driver, a television reporter, a community architect and a villager protesting the destruction of her home by a wealthy developer.
The ambulance driver, Safdar, works for Pakistan's largest charitable organization, the Edhi Foundation. The foundation's office in Karachi keeps a stone swing outside for abandoned babies, while its hospital and ambulances treat the poor, and rescue those injured in violent political clashes and gang-related crimes. Shackle juxtaposes the good work of the foundation and people like Safdar with the criminal masterminds who control public access to essential utilities like water, and the ineffectual, corrupt authorities who look the other way.
Understanding Karachi, perched on the Arabian Sea, is critical to understanding Pakistan, says Shackle, who lives in London and helpfully chronicles major events of the last 30 years. The author's enthusiasm for her mother's birthplace is contagious and she is eager for readers to experience, through her debut, the gravitational pull and irrepressible sprit of Pakistan's most cosmopolitan metropolis. --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer
Discover: A penetrating work of narrative nonfiction offers a rare insider's look into Pakistan's largest city and its recent turbulent history through the voices of its working-class heroes.
Essays & Criticism
Graceland, at Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache from the American South
by Margaret Renkl
Everyone should have a friend like Margaret Renkl: thoughtful, engaged, compassionate and, above all, acutely observant. Since that's not always possible, the next best thing is to share her company in the diverse and consistently stimulating essay collection Graceland, at Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache from the American South.
An offhanded conversation in 2015 led to an invitation to Renkl (Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss) to write her first column for the New York Times. A few columns later, she was offered a monthly slot to write about "the flora, fauna, politics and culture of the American South," hoping to educate those living outside that territory that "there is far more to this intricate region than many people understand."
Arranged by themes that include the natural world, politics and social justice, family and community, and arts and culture, Renkl's 59 concise essays demonstrate impressive erudition, especially when she ventures into nature to explore subjects like the revival of the Tennessee coneflower, the decline of pollinators like the monarch butterfly and her disdain for the U.S.'s pesticide-drenched "killer lawns." Her prose is both graceful and evocative, well-attuned to "the unfathomable natural beauty of a place that is still predominantly rural and very often wild."
There are portions of Graceland, at Last certain to provoke the ire of both the South's fiercest critics and its equally ardent defenders. What they all should be able to agree on is that Margaret Renkl is both unfailingly honest and deeply empathetic in creating the vivid portrait of her home region that emerges organically from these intensely personal and well-informed essays. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer
Discover: Margaret Renkl's 59 masterly essays illuminate the complexity of life in the contemporary American South.
Nature & Environment
This Is Climate Change: A Visual Guide to the Fact
by David Nelles , Christian Serrer
Using research gathered from more than 100 scientists, David Nelles and Christian Serrer interpret climate change data and capture it visually in This Is Climate Change: A Visual Guide to the Facts. They urge readers to "See for Yourself How the Planet Is Warming and What It Means for Us" as they walk their audience through clearly illustrated, logically ordered chapters covering topics that include how the Earth's climate functions and the impact of rising temperatures on the cryosphere (frozen areas), the oceans, weather, ecosystems and, of course, humans.
Of significant interest to climate change doubters, or those who simply want better to understand human-made climate change, is a detailed section that explains and negates other possible causes of global warming. Nelles and Serrer, university students in Germany, are dedicated to presenting a balanced explanation of climate change, free from hyperbole and thoroughly cited.
Though this tidy little book, which reads like a nonfiction picture book aged up for adults, comes in at only 128 pages, it's packed with information (a lengthy bibliography is provided digitally). This book will take some time to digest, but the resulting understanding will prove useful in conversation or when interpreting the news.
At the end, the young authors urge, "We must all become involved in the public conversation, and support sustainability, environmental protection, and climate justice, both at work and in our everyday lives."
This balanced, visual approach will help readers engage in this conversation as informed global citizens. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels
Discover: In This Is Climate Change, David Nelles and Christian Serrer visually present a balanced, meticulously cited explanation of climate change--its causes, impacts and outlook.
Children's & Young Adult
by Yuyi Morales
Bright Star, a powerful, radiant picture book by Pura Belpré Award winner and Caldecott honoree Yuyi Morales (Dreamers), begins with an eager observation: "Child, you are awake!"
A doe sees that her fawn has opened her eyes. After allowing the fawn to wake gently, the mother coaxes her babe into getting ready for the day as if it's a celebration: "You are ALIVE! You are a bright star inside our hearts." Then, with a cry of "Vámonos!" they are ready to go. The pair walk through the desert and on every page, new animals join them. The passage turns dangerous as they reach a cement wall topped with barbed wire--a wall that impedes the migration patterns of many animals. The soft earth tones and golds of the day are traded for marbled grays with cool splashes of a starry sky. Though predatory animals have come out, they are there to protect the animals who can't protect themselves.
Morales pairs sparse but evocative language with dream-like illustrations made with acrylic paint on paper, photographed textures, digital painting, weaving and embroidery. Every sentence is an encouraging caress and reminder to children that "we"--loved ones, caretakers, allies--"are here to protect you." She fills each page with magnificent creatures, and her use of light ignites the images with the warmth of the sun or the gentle glow of the moon. Despite the grueling metaphor of desert migration, and an allegory for human immigration, Morales's words have a susurrating effect that lets readers know there is a new day ahead. Bright Star is a marvel and a masterpiece, both a lullaby and a cry for survival. --Zoraida Córdova, author and freelance book reviewer
Discover: The migration pattern of desert animals is disrupted by a border wall in this beautifully illustrated, graceful allegory of immigration.
by G.Z. Schmidt
The Dreamweavers by G.Z. Schmidt (No Ordinary Thing) is set during China's Ming Dynasty and seamlessly incorporates folklore and magic into a vivid middle-grade adventure about sibling bonds and destiny.
Twelve-year-old twins Mei and Yun don't have many friends in their small village in the mountains of southern China. They were raised by their Grandpa Wu after their parents disappeared six years ago in the dreadful, haunted City of Ashes. Grandpa Wu taught them that "not even the most powerful person in the world can diminish your true value." This lesson is important, as the twins often see things others don't: "soft mists hovering over the river of fish" or sunny wisps of smoke hanging over their cat's ears. When Grandpa Wu is arrested by the emperor's son for allegedly serving him tainted mooncakes at the Mid-Autumn Festival, the twins embark on a rescue mission that reveals an ancient curse and unlocks long-lost family secrets.
Chinese mythology and philosophy play a prominent role in The Dreamweavers, with Schmidt sewing the Jade Rabbit (a popular character in Chinese culture), the dream world, and yin and yang into her spellbinding story. One successful way Schmidt does this is with the twins' personalities. While Mae is "as restless as an ant on a frying pan," her brother, Yun, is "careful, cautious" and moves at an "ant's pace." The twins' opposite traits complement each other and strengthen their connection, helping them on their quest. An entrancing story about the power of dreams, helping others and controlling our own destinies. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: In this spellbinding Chinese folklore-inspired middle-grade adventure, 12-year-old twins embark on a mission to save their grandpa, revealing an ancient curse that unlocks long-lost family secrets.