IDW: In Memoriam - John Lewis, Congressman, Icon, Beloved Author

Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe Issue for Friday, August 14, 2020

We have resumed curbside pickup and are offering limited in-person shopping by appointment. Please visit malaprops.com for important details. Thank you for your support!

From the Shelf

Cookbooks that Take You Places

I read cookbooks the way some people read travel guides. I spend hours imagining myself re-creating impeccable meals we enjoyed at fancy restaurants on our travels.

I have not been successful replicating many of those culinary wonders: in London, I made repeated visits to Dishoom. Physically weighty, Dishoom: From Bombay with Love (Bloomsbury, $35) is a thrilling tour of the region by cousins Kavi and Shamil Thakrar with their chef Naved Nasir, via hand-drawn maps, archival photos and personal essays. The recipes almost vibrate with the scents of cardamom and cumin. I would like to brag about my rajma--savory kidney beans spiced with garam marsala (didn't happen)--yet the Dishoom granola recipe is foolproof.

Pickled vegetables were my favorite component of most meals we ate in Tokyo. Japanese Pickled Vegetables by Machiko Tateno (Tuttle, $16.99) has a clean layout and glossy photos that sing "You can do this." I longed for the bright zinging taste of vivid carrot chunks, startling daikon slices, sweet-and-sour green cucumber ribbons, but muttered "too many hard-to-get ingredients--kombu seaweed?" Later, while staring down another bowl of pandemic ramen, I took the plunge. Raiding the pantry and fridge, I was able to make fresh cucumber pickles, quick carrot, radish, napa cabbage pickles and kimchi.

And this brings me to Keepers: Two Home Cooks Share Their Tried-and-True Weeknight Recipes and the Secrets to Happiness in the Kitchen (Rodale, $26.99). The subtitle says it all. Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion's sage advice, lighthearted humor and you-can-do-this cheerleading charm had me at the endpapers with its 23-point manifesto. By my estimation, I have cooked more than 300 meals since March 10. I am broken. Brennan and Campion put me back together. The pantry list alone was worth the price. "One-Bowl Summer Spaghetti" was a big hit, and Japanese-Style "Meat and Potatoes" is requested weekly, earning its place as a keeper. --Lisa Von Drasek, curator, University of Minnesota Libraries

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: Kings County by David Goodwillie


Zonderkidz: Pugtato Finds a Thing by Sophie Corrigan


Thomas Nelson: Beyond Valor: A World War II Story of Extraordinary Heroism, Sacrificial Love, and a Race Against Time by Jon Erwin and William Doyle

In this Issue...

Reviews

The author of This Will Be My Undoing tracks down her family's roots--and the roots of centuries-old Black disenfranchisement in the U.S.--in this bold work of memoir and ethnography.

Read this review >>

Where Are You, Agnes?

by Tessa McWatt

This debut picture book reverently reimagines the childhood of abstract expressionist painter Agnes Martin.

Read this review >>

In this meticulously researched and beautifully crafted book, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wilkerson argues that the U.S. has a race-based caste system.

Read this review >>

Review by Subjects:

Fiction Mystery & Thriller Romance Social Science Children's & Young Adult

Experiment: How to Argue with a Racist: What Our Genes Do (and Don't) Say about Human Difference by Adam Rutherford

From Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe

Upcoming Events

Live Stream: David Joy launches When These Mountains Burn

08/18/2020 - 6:00PM

We're thrilled to host the virtual launch event for David Joy's new novel! This event is free but registration is required. Please click here to register. Registrants will receive an email on the day of the event with the event link required to attend on Zoom. Order below to get a signed or personalized copy of When These Mountains Burn! Use the oder comments field to make your personalization request and provide the name to which the book should be authographed. Signed copies will be...

Live stream Reader Meet Writer: How to Argue With a Racist with Adam Rutherford

08/18/2020 - 3:00PM

We're pleased to be part of the Reader Meet Writer series of online events hosted by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance. This event is free but registration is required. Please CLICK HERE TO REGISTER. You will then receive an email on the day of the event with URL and password you'll need to attend. If you decide to attend and to purchase the author's book(s), we ask that you purchase from Malalprop's. When you do this you are supporting our work and keeping more dollars in our...

Book Candy

The Transformative Power of Crime Fiction

Criminal element recommended "16 crime novels that could save humanity."

---

Experts found hundreds of errors in Ernest Hemingway's published works, "mostly made by editors and typesetters," the Guardian reported.

---

Roald Dahl's fantasy adaptations, ranked by io9.

---

"Found: a mysterious, recipe-filled diary from 1968." (via Gastro Obscura)

---

"10,000 pigeon feathers cascade from a bookcase in Kate MccGwire's latest installation," Colossal noted.

Black Sparrow Press: Bukowski, a Life (Centennial)

Great Reads

Rediscover: Bernard Bailyn

Bernard Bailyn, the historian and Harvard professor who won two Pulitzers, a Bancroft Prize and a National Book Award, died last Friday at age 97. In his teaching and in his more than 20 books, he "reshaped the study of early American history with seminal works on merchants and migrants, politics and government, and recast the study of the origins of the American Revolution," the New York Times wrote. His best known work was The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, published in 1967, which "challenged the then-dominant view of Progressive Era historians like Charles Beard, who saw the founders' revolutionary rhetoric as a mask for economic interests. It was a fundamental distrust of government power, in Professor Bailyn's view, that led them to throw off the colonial yoke." The book led generations of historians to consider ideological interpretations in early U.S. history.

His other works include The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson (1975), a biography of the last colonial governor of Massachusetts; Voyagers to the West (1987), about the nearly 10,000 British immigrants to North America in the 1770s; and The Barbarous Years (2013), about the period between the founding of Jamestown and King Philip's War. In April, Norton published Bailyn's intellectual memoir Illuminating History: A Retrospective of Seven Decades ($28.95, 9781324005834).

Familius: Over in the Woodland: A Mythological Counting Journey by Nicole Abreu, Susanna Covelli, Shar Abreu

The Writer's Life

Isabel Wilkerson: A Portal to Understanding

photo: Joe Henson

Isabel Wilkerson won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 1994 for her work as Chicago bureau chief for the New York Times, and was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2016. Her first book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, among many other awards. She has taught at Princeton, Emory and Boston Universities and has lectured widely. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (reviewed below) is out now from Random House.

You very naturally and quickly inserted material related to the pandemic in this book. How do you handle that kind of lightness on your toes?

This book is so far-ranging: three continents, three cultures, the manifestations of the artificial hierarchies that caused so much tragedy in all three. The breadth and the scope of the research was just overwhelming. To build this story meant going into so many different aspects of life, to show how it affects all of us to one degree or another as we find ourselves entrapped in a caste system that we did not ask to be in. I was constantly adding, down to the wire. And then Covid-19 became an ever-present reality in the lives of Americans, and I had to figure out where it could go. It's been an extraordinary experience, just from a publishing standpoint, to have everyone working on this book spread out all over, trying to put together something this complicated, in addition to all the other projects that anyone who was working on this book was doing. It's a miracle. That it could come together at all is a testament to what can happen when people are dedicated and committed.

What's interesting is that it was already in there, because the book opens with a pathogen, and that was just a prescient--almost a premonition. There's something about how the mind works and intuition acts. A thesis of the book is that caste is so ever-present, an invisible powerful force in society and in all of our lives, that anything that happens somehow has a connection to caste.

This book involves such rich use of metaphor, in a serious piece of heavily researched nonfiction.

I think in metaphor. I'm primarily a narrative writer; narrative nonfiction is where I'm happiest, is the natural expression of my ideas. I find that I'm most at home in telling a story, and a metaphor is a story. It's making that connection, it's a way of reaching a reader through the most natural means that I know. I don't know of any other way.

American caste is both a novel concept and an instantly recognizable one. How does this book tread new ground?

The Warmth of Other Suns is the story of six million African Americans fleeing the Jim Crow South for the north and west over the course of much of the 20th century. Some would describe that as the story of a response to what many people would call racism. However, that word does not appear in Warmth, not in the text. It might be in the title of an article that I refer to--that book has 100 pages of notes--but that's not a term I use, because I don't think that it's sufficient to describe the phenomenon that undergirds interactions and structures of power in the United States. That doesn't mean racism does not exist, but I did not feel that it was the most applicable or accurate way to describe what people were fleeing, or what they met in the places that they fled to.

This book is a continuation of the perspective I took with Warmth. I think that using the word caste requires us as Americans to think differently. It automatically expands our sense of what we think we know. It's an uncommon word to apply to ourselves, so it gets you thinking in a way that words we're accustomed to using can blur. Because it's not a word that we're accustomed to using, it's not judgmental, doesn’t feel as if it's an accusation, doesn't automatically incite shame or blame or guilt. Not only is it accurate, but it is a portal to understanding. That's how I connect with the word as a writer.

Historically speaking, caste has on occasion been applied to the United States. Charles Sumner had used the word; Martin Luther King had used the word. Where people have looked deeply at the structures that we have inherited throughout American history, they have often come back to this word. But there's been nothing that dives deeply into what that actually means. This was an attempt to do that, and to go to the original caste system that would come to mind most readily, which would be India, and that of the short-lived, terrifying Third Reich, and the interconnectedness of those two and that of our own country.

Then there are the pillars, which I came to as a result of going deeply into the topic: what had been written before; the Laws of Manu, which is the code for the Indian caste system; the Nuremburg Laws; and, of course, the aspect of all this that I knew best, the Jim Crow laws in our own country. I researched them ever more deeply in order to emerge with what I have described as the eight pillars of caste.  

I read scores of books from multiple cultures. I collated and pulled together the histories and the ways of enforcing these caste systems into a more easily digestible rendering in one place.

At what point did you see the book take shape?

This has been simmering within me for a long time. Warmth was a precursor. It's about the Great Migration, but it's really about freedom and how far people are willing to go to achieve it, and the caste system that they were forced to flee. That's one reason why Warmth has remained so constant a presence in all the ups and downs we've seen since it came out. There's still been a hunger for it that defies the presumed topics, because the topic is so much bigger than the Migration itself.

I heard a side note on the news about anthrax emerging from the permafrost in Siberia in July of 2016. I didn't know what I might do, but I knew it was something. That was the beginning of this book. Who knew that by the time I would complete it, we would be in a global pandemic that would shut down humanity in its tracks. I didn't know at that moment I would write a book about caste, but that was the beginning of an understanding that this was big. The planet was in peril, humanity was in peril, and this was a seemingly small example that didn't get a lot of attention at the time, but it spoke to me strongly. Every passing month, every passing year after that, it became more urgent. It was a progression toward this book.

First the pandemic, and then the responses to George Floyd's murder, mark this book's entry to the world. It feels very timely, but also timeless.

Whenever I write, I seek to be timeless, and focus on the history. We keep seeing the repeat of the history that we're not paying attention to or don't know well enough. These events are shocking, but not surprising if you know the country's history. I go back to one of the many metaphors in the book, the old house: I'm essentially coming in as the inspector of the building and saying, these are the weak points that need attention. If you know your house, then you know what is wrong with it and you will seek to fix those things. If you don't know, you can't fix them. If you have no interest in knowing, you absolutely are not going to be able to fix those things.

Without transcending the artificial boundaries between us, without seeing the humanity in one another, we will continue to hurt each other. What we've seen recently has been brewing and simmering for 400 years. It rises and it falls, accelerates and slows, but it always comes back, because we're not dealing with the essential structures that have created the system we live in. Until those systems are addressed, it will continue. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Book Reviews

Fiction

The Boy in the Field

by Margot Livesey

More Info

More Info

The Boy in the Field is a stunning novel of tenderness, interconnectedness, cause and effect by Margot Livesey (The Flight of Gemma HardyMercury). Matthew, Zoe and Duncan are walking home from school one day when they find him, in a field with cows, swallows, bluebottles: a beautiful young man bloodied and unconscious. He speaks one word: "Cowrie," Zoe reports to the police. "Cowslip," says Duncan. "Coward," says Matthew. With their discovery, they save his life.

The teenaged siblings are close, loving and very different from one another. Matthew, the eldest, is thoughtful. He hopes to become a detective one day, and becomes obsessed with solving the mystery of who hurt the boy in the field, and why. He puzzles over motivations. Zoe has "a gift for finding things: birds' nests, their mother's calculator, a missing book, a secret." She worries over her parents' relationship and explores her own first sexual experiences; she is drawn to the ways in which people come together and apart. Duncan, the youngest, is observant, almost preternaturally sensitive and a gifted painter. Finding the boy will start him toward a discovery about his own life that might be destructive.

Livesey's deceptively simple prose renders each sibling as both sweet and complicated. Their shared experience, finding the injured young man, begins for each of them a different kind of acceleration: into adulthood, out of innocence, into reconfigured connections. Despite the violent crime related to its title and the insecurities that arise for various characters along the way, this brilliant novel offers a sense of beauty and safety in its quiet ruminations. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A single discovery touches three siblings' lives in surprising ways in this poignant, gleaming story.

Harper, $26.99, hardcover, 272p., 9780062946393

The Orphan Collector

by Ellen Marie Wiseman

More Info

More Info

When Ellen Marie Wiseman wrote The Orphan Collector, little did she know that a story set during the 1918 pandemic would drop in the middle of another. "No children played in the alley below, no women hurried out to run errands, no men whistled or smoked on their way home from work." It's September 1918, and deadly flu is sweeping the globe. In Philadelphia people are instructed to stay inside, wear masks and practice good hygiene--not easy in a crowded city with areas of crushing poverty. Thirteen-year-old Pia lives with her mother and infant twin brothers and they, like other immigrants, are mistrusted for their unfamiliar ways. Bernice, Pia's neighbor, scorns the German "newcomers" to the United States, because "They weren't like her and her family, whose relatives had lived in South Philly since the 1830s.... She wouldn't have been surprised to learn the flu started with them."

After her mother succumbs to the flu, Pia cares for her brothers until a well-meaning but catastrophic decision to leave them to look for food leads to their abduction by Bernice. Pia is sent to an orphanage and spends the next several years looking for her brothers. "Almost everyone had been touched by the flu," she thinks. "But... at least they knew what happened to them." Bernice's xenophobia becomes justification for her shocking behavior, with terrible repercussions for untold numbers of children. Wiseman (The Plum Tree) shows how humans are capable of great cruelty but also great compassion in this ultimately uplifting, compelling read. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: The 1918 flu pandemic is the setting for this emotionally crafted historical fiction about one orphan's search for her missing brothers.

Kensington, $16.99, paperback, 304p., 9781496715869

Mystery & Thriller

When She Was Good

by Michael Robotham

More Info

More Info

In Michael Robotham's gripping When She Was Good, psychologist Cyrus Haven digs into the past of Evie Cormac, the teenage girl he encountered in Good Girl, Bad Girl. As a child, she'd been found, filthy and feral, hiding in a house containing the corpse of a man who'd been tortured to death months earlier. Evie has never spoken about what happened, or even disclosed her real name and age. Authorities put her in a home for troubled teens after concluding the dead man was a pedophile who had kidnapped her.

But Evie is far from safe. A killer is still hunting her, and the only way to stop him is for her and Cyrus to confront her terrifying past and expose the truth about how and why she ended up in that murder house.

The Edgar-nominated Good Girl, Bad Girl establishes the relationship between Cyrus and Evie, but this well-paced follow-up provides sufficient background information. Like Joseph O'Loughlin from Robotham's long-running series, Cyrus is a psychologist with acute insight into the most damaged of people. This comes from having experienced trauma himself in his teenage years, a family tragedy he's still grappling with. He's the only adult Evie trusts with secrets from her past, but she's no damsel needing to be saved. She's strong-willed and resourceful and a "truth wizard," someone who can always spot lies. Though Cyrus and Evie know they will never outrun their demons, their determination to survive and refusal of victimhood are what make this series so powerful. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A psychologist helps a teenage girl revisit her tragic past in order to stop a killer in this consuming psychological thriller.

Scribner, $26, hardcover, 352p., 9781982103637

The Silence of the White City

by Eva García Sáenz , trans. by Nick Caistor

More Info

More Info

Already adapted into a film in its home country, The Silence of the White City is Spanish novelist Eva García Sáenz's complex mystery debut. She grounds the story in the family ties surrounding a series of murders that turn a summer of celebration into a nightmare.

During the summer festivals in Vitoria-Gasteiz, capital of Spain's Basque region, Inspector Unai "Kraken" López de Ayala is called to a double murder scene at a cathedral. The victims, a man and a woman, both 20 years old, lie naked, their hands resting on each other's faces, folkloric symbols nearby and bees trapped in their mouths. Everyone recognizes the MO as identical to a series of murders from 20 years earlier. Kraken can't comprehend how the killer, celebrity archeologist Tasio Ortiz de Zárate, has struck again. Caught by his identical twin brother, Ignacio, a police inspector, Tasio has spent 20 years in jail. As Kraken looks into the twins' twisted past and falls for his beautiful but married supervisor, the killer circles closer, while flashbacks to 1969 slowly reveal the startling motive behind the murders.

Family and community bonds frame Kraken's investigation, and sibling relationships, both warm and estranged, are a recurring theme. The proverb "For peace, a Hail Mary, which means... keep quiet like a coward" describes a local philosophy that has unwittingly obfuscated the truth. Set against a backdrop of tradition and revelry, The Silence of the White City twists and swerves its way to a wrenching resolution that will leave readers speechless. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A police inspector in Spain's Basque region investigates the apparent resurgence of serial murders from 20 years earlier, especially perplexing since the killer is in prison.

Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, $16.95, paperback, 528p., 9781984898593

The Fate of a Flapper

by Susanna Calkins

More Info

More Info

Susanna Calkins (Murder Knocks Twice; A Murder at Rosamund's Gate) brilliantly captures the vibe of the Prohibition era in The Fate of a Flapper. Gina Ricci, a pretty but practical woman, is ostensibly a drugstore employee. In reality though, she's a waitress at the speakeasy in the basement. Gina, whose hobby is photography, has a quick eye for things that are off-kilter, and her suspicions are immediately aroused by a party that's drinking too heavily and flamboyantly one evening.

The next day, Fruma, one of the women who was part of the rambunctious group, turns up dead. It's an apparent cocaine overdose, but the dead woman lived next to Gina's cousin Nancy, a Chicago policewoman, who is determined to solve a murder in order to boost her status within the patriarchal department. Nancy talks Gina into helping her look a little further into Fruma's background, and the two women quickly realize that Fruma's death was no accident.

With a noir flair, balanced by Gina's no-nonsense attitude, The Fate of a Flapper is a delightful historical mystery, which can be read as a standalone although it is the second in a series. Calkins does an excellent job balancing hallmarks of the era--the flappers, the corrupt cops, the moonshiners and the stock market gamblers--with enough depth to make the characters truly absorbing. Fans of Rhys Bowen's Molly Murphy or Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher will indubitably enjoy Susanna Calkins's Gina Ricci. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: This delightful historical mystery stars a no-nonsense speakeasy waitress as she investigates the death of a patron.

Minotaur Books, $17.99, paperback, 320p., 9781250190857

The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne

by Elsa Hart

More Info

More Info

Elsa Hart (The White Mirror; City of Ink) has previously written novels set in 18th-century China, but in The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne she explores a different place: London in 1703. Cecily Kay, wife of an English diplomat, has returned to London, hoping to identify some of the plant specimens she has collected abroad.

Cecily turns to Sir Barnaby Mayne, one of the most noted collectors in English society, whose house is crammed with plants, animals, precious gems, skeletons, rocks and sundry other items he has procured. Sir Barnaby is hosting a tour of his home for Cecily and several other collectors and natural historians when he's abruptly called away. The guests wander the house, until screams alert everyone, and they find Sir Barnaby's bloody corpse in the library. Sir Barnaby's gentle assistant shouts that he is the murderer, then flees the scene.

This scenario has a false ring to Cecily, whose naturally inquisitive mind soon realizes any number of the guests could have slipped to the library unseen. She begins a surreptitious investigation into the lives of the other members of the tour and of the Mayne household--and quickly finds her own life threatened in response.

Hart's meticulous research shows clearly in The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne, but never overshadows the intrigue of the mystery and the nuances of Cecily's character. A fascinating figure, Cecily has intelligence and bravery that make her the perfect lens through which modern readers can explore the era. Readers of historical fiction or thoughtful mysteries are both sure to love The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this intriguing historical mystery, a scholarly Englishwoman turns her attention from natural history to murder.

Minotaur Books, $26.99, hardcover, 352p., 9781250142818

Romance

The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows

by Olivia Waite

More Info

More Info

In The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows, Olivia Waite continues her sapphic Feminine Pursuits series with a historical romance set in 1820 England. This slow-burning love story is characterized by a profound sense of time and place, with deeply researched professions and politics as well as sensuous prose.

Agatha is a middle-aged widow who needs bees removed from the colony they've made in one of her printing press's storage rooms. Penelope, the town beekeeper, comes over to re-home the bees. It's an unconventional meet-cute, but it works for these two women and introduces them to each other's life's work. Waite is clearly as passionate about her characters' professions as the women are themselves--both historical beekeeping and printing drive the plot and characterization here.

Waite's words are carefully placed, with repeating themes and phrases that echo earlier scenes and sentiments. As the queen is put on trial by her husband for adultery, Agatha flirts with revolution, printing seditious songs by the Widow Wasp. But without a husband, she finds herself vulnerable to government threats and questioning her future. Meanwhile, Penelope is married to her brother's life partner, a marriage of convenience that has suited them both fairly well until this point. Waite threads questions of safety versus freedom throughout this romance. If marriage offers women protection but restricts their options, is it worth the trade?

Readers will cheer for women and queer people of all genders as Penelope and Agatha find their way through obstacles personal and political, to a future with each other--and their bees. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels

Discover: Olivia Waite's The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows pairs a beekeeper and a printer in a lush romance between two women in 19th-century England as they find a way to balance freedom and safety.

Avon, $6.99, mass market paperbound, 416p., 9780062931825

Social Science

Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots

by Morgan Jerkins

More Info

More Info

In a stunning hybrid of memoir, cultural criticism and ethnography, Morgan Jerkins, Zora senior editor and author of This Will Be My Undoing, untangles the webs of revisionist history that have plagued Black communities in the United States since well before the Great Migration. Using her own family's story as a case study, she retraces her ancestors' paths, traveling from her New York City home to the Lowcountry, Louisiana, Oklahoma and California in search of answers.

"This was the impetus of my trip: a recovery from forgetfulness, a pilgrimage from the lands abandoned to the routes traversed," she writes, detailing how the 1916-1970 mass exodus of Black Americans from the South to the North, West and Midwest provided economic opportunities but disconnected individual families. Because of this fracture--and its cause, racism--many Black families' customs and culture have been relegated to oral history, erased from the official record. 

"There is more potential in these black and native stories than one might think, but because of migration and the arbitrary, racist categorizations of laws and rolls, families have been separated," she explains. "Our stories have become bifurcated as a result: one side is the official story, and the other is the one we whisper to our relatives for generations." In Wandering in Strange Lands, Jerkins sets the record straight by exploring just how deep these root systems go. She avoids making any sweeping generalizations, instead choosing to carefully lay out how complex, fraught and awe-inspiring is the fabric of Black history in the U.S. In her powerful conclusion, she argues there is no promised land in the U.S. for the Black community: Black people are the promised land. --Lauren Puckett, freelance writer

Discover: The author of This Will Be My Undoing tracks down her family's roots--and the roots of centuries-old Black disenfranchisement in the U.S.--in this bold work of memoir and ethnography.

Harper, $27.99, hardcover, 304p., 9780062873040

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

by Isabel Wilkerson

More Info

More Info

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson (The Warmth of Other Suns) offers a singular and vital perspective on American society with Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. This examination of caste and its consequences on every aspect of culture is unusual, eye-opening and of life-or-death importance. As in her previous work, which she continues and deepens here, Wilkerson lives up to the scope and significance of her subject matter, delivering a book that is deeply researched, clearly structured, well-written and moving.

The root of so many social ills in the United States, Wilkerson argues, is not precisely racism but casteism, which is closely linked to the concepts of race invented and reinforced since before the country's founding. "Caste and race are neither synonymous nor mutually exclusive," she writes, and then explicates and defines her terms precisely, with the support of exhaustive research. "Caste is insidious and therefore powerful because it is not hatred, it is not necessarily personal. It is the worn grooves of comforting routines and unthinking expectations, patterns of a social order that have been in place for so long that it looks like the natural order of things."

Wilkerson's understanding of caste proposes a nuanced take on the Trump election: many working-class white voters did not in fact vote against their interests, but rather prioritized one interest--upholding the caste system--over others, including access to health care, financial stability and clean air and water. Caste is a thorough, incisive investigation of the often invisible workings of American society. Original, authoritative and exquisitely written, its significance cannot be overstated. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: In this meticulously researched and beautifully crafted book, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wilkerson argues that the U.S. has a race-based caste system.

Random House, $32, hardcover, 496p., 9780593230251

The Devil's Harvest: A Ruthless Killer, a Terrorized Community, and the Search for Justice in California's Central Valley

by Jessica Garrison

More Info

More Info

"I was a nice man before they killed my sister," Jose Manuel Martinez explained to Jessica Garrison in an interview. Garrison, BuzzFeed's West Coast investigations editor, learned of Martinez in 2014 when law enforcement reported capturing a professional hitman. The Devil's Harvest is a chilling and hypnotic account of Garrison's discussions with Martinez, stunningly blended with in-depth research into his crimes, the culture that spawned and spurred them, the authorities who chased him and the carnage left in his wake.

An adoring and gregarious family man, Martinez turned toward fierce protection of women and children after his older sister was murdered. Asked to avenge the rape of a friend's sister, he readily agreed and found he liked killing. Martinez lived in California's Central Valley, where income disparity is the state's highest. Martinez's "greatest asset" as a killer was understanding America's dark truth. "If you kill the 'right people'--people who are poor, who are not white... and who don't have anyone to speak for them--you can get away with it." He had found an ideal place to ply his trade.

A story with a complicated backdrop, The Devil's Harvest includes ideal measures of nearly half a century of Central Valley history (grape strikes, the rise of drug cartels, anti-immigrant sentiment) that reinforce the narrative and intrigue. Martinez's 35-year run of mayhem was dreadful; the ongoing concept that some lives count more than others is a plague. Garrison's writing is enthrallingly thriller-esque while it sheds light on real-world horrors. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A journalist sits down with a hitman and law enforcement officials to get the engrossing truth behind a decades-long killing spree in California's Central Valley and beyond.

Hachette Books, $27, hardcover, 336p., 9780316455688

How to Argue with a Racist: What Our Genes Do (and Don't) Say About Human Difference

by Adam Rutherford

More Info

More Info

Geneticist Adam Rutherford is no stranger to the contradictions of public scientific discourse. But some, like the nebulous histories of science and philosophy that surround discussions about racism, are more nefarious than others and must be faced head on. Rutherford writes, "I want to show that although, historically, science has been misused to institutionalize racism, today... science can and should be deployed as an anti-racist tool." Proffering How to Argue with a Racist as a "weapon," Rutherford clearly and effectively dissects the elements of anthropology, history and biology that fed into what became the study of genetics, and then social co-opting of genetics, regarding race in Western European cultures.

Rutherford's preface places the book in the context of the novel coronavirus and its racial aspects, and the institutionalized anti-Blackness that led to the death of George Floyd and subsequent global protests. Chapters are broken into topics that racists often deploy, addressing skin color, ancestry, myths about Blackness and athletic ability, and misconceptions about brain size and function. He systematically deconstructs where and how these biases arose, such as those in a 2002 genetics paper by Noah Rosenberg that is often quoted by racists to assert a scientific argument, and why the science actually does not support these claims. Rutherford does not shy away from taking a side, and tacitly demonstrates that scientists and other academics should take sides when facts are used in questionable ways. How to Argue with a Racist is filled with footnotes that provide both levity to a heavy subject matter and further explanation when needed. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer

Discover: A geneticist offers a timely discussion on how to counter racist arguments from a scientific point of view.

The Experiment, $21.95, hardcover, 240p., 9781615196715

Children's & Young Adult

Where Are You, Agnes?

by Tessa McWatt , illust. by Zuzanna Celej

More Info

More Info

Tessa McWatt's gorgeously written debut picture book, Where Are You, Agnes?, fictionalizes the childhood of Canadian American artist Agnes Martin (1912-2004). McWatt imagines what could have inspired the abstract expressionist's paintings through tidbits from her biography and quotations from interviews. The meditative text presents the young Martin as a curious child with a strong connection to her grandfather, who encouraged the budding artist to see the beauty in the everyday. Watching a rainbow across the spare Saskatchewan plains, he covers her eyes and asks if it is still beautiful: "Agnes thought for so long that it seemed she had forgotten the question. 'Yes!' she cried. Agnes felt something tingling inside." The family moves away from her beloved landscapes and her grandfather dies. But still, Martin could often be found creating art or thinking about the beauty around her--so much so that her family often asks, "Where are you, Agnes?" to pull her away from her reverie.

The illustrations, done by Zuzanna Celej (The Map of Good Memories) in watercolor, collage and colored pencils on paper, hint at the paintings for which Martin became most famous: gridded pieces done in neutral colors and faint lines. Celej's stark whites and earthy browns capture the minimalism of the artist's work, while also injecting bright splashes of joyous reds and sharp geometric shapes in a reflection of Martin's later paintings. The philosophical narrative and nature-filled illustrations combine to create a contemplative work that celebrates an underappreciated woman artist. --Shelley Diaz, supervising librarian, BookOps: New York Public Library & Brooklyn Public Library 

Discover: This debut picture book reverently reimagines the childhood of abstract expressionist painter Agnes Martin.

Groundwood Books, $18.95, hardcover, 44p., ages 6-9, 9781773061405

Luci Soars

by Lulu Delacre

More Info

More Info

With more than three dozen publishing credits, bilingual author/illustrator Lulu Delacre (Us, in Progress) knows how to balance text and art to achieve memorable literary results. In Luci Soars, Delacre introduces a girl whose noticeable difference--she doesn't have a shadow--draws out bullies, but she learns she can rise above her detractors.

Delacre begins her story in muted black-and-white as baby Luci grows to toddlerhood, her missing shadow unremarkable to loving family and friends: " '¡Qué linda!' was the way people saw me." As she matures, her lack draws stares, for which she compensates by walking "always in other people's shadows" even though she "longed to be in the light." At school, her bravery in stepping out into the open is met with pointed fingers, laughter and icy stares from the "mean shadows" who are her peers. Wiping her tears, she examines the blank space behind and wonders if the shadow is what keeps others on the ground.

Delacre deftly, cleverly captures Luci's shifting perspective in literal page-turns: she momentarily beckons readers into the white space of Luci's tearful thoughts, then returns outward with a fresh point of view. Suddenly, the bullies shrink against Luci's newly discovered, ascending self-reliance. Abandoning the black-and-white visuals, Delacre imbues Luci with vibrant hues, her jeans a cerulean blue, her shirt full of bright polka dots, the air around her aglow. With each consecutive spread, colors intensify as Luci claims the "superpower that makes me strong." By book's end, Luci uses that strength to break through the page, directly addressing readers: "I can change how I look at things.../ and so can you." Through her vivid new hero, three-time Pura Belpré Honoree Delacre encourages young audiences to step out from judgmental, unwelcoming shadows and soar. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: A girl born without a shadow discovers her superpower to rise above her grounded--stuck--bullies by shifting her perspective upward.

Philomel, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9781984812889

« prev issue


Shelf Awareness Readers Archive