Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Staff Recommendations, Week of July 11, 2023

It's a great week. Because there a lot (A LOT) of great new books hitting the shelves at Boswell. Here's our weekly guide to the new releases.

Let's begin with Daniel Goldin and his notes on the latest Sujata Massey novel, The Mistress of Bhatia House. Daniel says: "Perveen Mistry, the only female lawyer in 1920s Mumbai finds herself helping a servant who has been accused of a tea-induced abortion, though she claims it was taken to regulate her menstrual cycle. Why would the government even care about this? And what about the servant’s employers, who were spearheading the construction of a woman’s hospital, only to pull out at the last minute? Could the subsequent death of the family patriarch be somehow related? Perveen, a Parsi lawyer in a mostly non-Parsi world, is a strong and intelligent hero who has what it takes to prevail, despite being hobbled by cultural and political roadblocks. While this excellent series is always packed with fascinating historical details, The Mistress of Bhatia House is also timely, being that these fights over women’s health continue today."

Daniel also recommends Random Acts of Medicine: The Hidden Forces That Sway Doctors, Impact Patients, and Shape Our Health by  Anupam B Jena and Christopher Worsham. Daniel says: "If you’re stuck on what to read next and are choosing between a medical narrative, behavioral psychology, and economics, you're in luck because this book is all three subjects in one! Doctors Jena and Worsham (the former is also an economist!) look at the decisions that drive doctors and patients using natural experiments, culling existing data to duplicate conditions for comparison. Are you better off with an older doctor or younger one? Should you worry if you have a heart attack during a cardiology convention? You’ll also learn why it might not be so good to have a hospital on a marathon route or sing happy birthday to your surgeon. Whether the results reinforce your beliefs or confound them, I expect you’ll find Random Acts of Medicine as fascinating as I did."

A third recommendation from Daniel? Okay! He suggests Jews in the Garden: A Holocaust Survivor, the Fate of His Family, and the Secret History of Poland in World War II by Judy Rakowsky. Daniel says: "Reporter and editor Rakowsky teamed up with her older cousin Sam (a Holocaust survivor and Hero with a capital H) to find out what happened to the one survivor of a family massacre in rural Poland. Over thirty years, the two of them followed every lead as they tried to piece together a story that reveals the country’s centuries-long presence of Jews (almost 10% of the population by the 20th century), their almost complete decimation in the Holocaust, and their legacy in the country today. A powerful combination of memoir, history, and true crime."

Rakowsky appears at Boswell on Thursday, August 10, 6:30 pm. Cohosted by the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center. For more information and registration, click here.

Next is Jason Kennedy and his write up for Counterweight by Djuna, translated by Anton Hur. Jason writes: "This book was an outright trip to read. So many red herrings and mind swaps that I had to read several passages more than once. Great near-future imagery with space elevators and neuro-implants created by a Korean tech business and its single-minded CEO, who has perished before the story starts. The space elevator holds the keys to the future, but the dead CEO’s memories are needed to find them. Using a ‘worm,’ the CEO's memories are melded into a simpleton who loves studying butterflies. He quickly becomes the most sought-after individual. Yes, this is one crazy trip."

Jason also recommends The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet by Jeff Goodell. Jason says: "Looking at Texas at this point, I think we can all agree that heat is going to be a real problem for the rest of our lives. Jeff Goodell does a good job of weaving personal stories with digestible explanations of complex systems and topics. This is a warning call for us to prepare now, as the temperature isn’t going down anytime soon. There are ways for us to mitigate dying from the heat without contributing to overall carbon output. I’m naturally pessimistic, and I hate the heat, so this book completely depressed me on the outlook of this world. Goodell highlights the fact that heat will not affect us all equally – it’s the poor, impoverished countries will suffer the most. A sobering, necessary read."

Jason's third recommendation is another nonfiction title, The Parrot and the Igloo: Climate and the Science of Denial by David Lipsky. Jason says: "David Lipsky chronicles climate change, from the beginning of our awareness of it all the way to the screeching of its deniers. With humor (I laugh because it hurts to cry after reading some of these sections) and exhaustive research, Lipsky does not hide the fact that he is a strong believer in human-caused climate change. He points out how climate change (and denialism) became very, very political. Deniers took their lead from the tobacco industry (they lost, right? but I still see people smoking) and repeated the phrase, 'We need more research on this.' Even though climate change has been talked about since the 1880s, we still need more research. Right? Our newspapers from earlier in the 20th century heralded climate change in our future - yet fast-forward a few decades to find them backtracking as special interest groups took control. As Lipsky points out more than once in this book, 19 of the 20 hottest years have happened since 2000. Sobering, but still not enough for the deniers."

Let's throw it over to Rachel Copeland now for her recommendation of Hello Stranger by Katherine Center. Rachel says: "After a seizure leads to brain surgery to repair the same congenital condition that killed her mother, portrait artist Sadie Montgomery can no longer see faces. The pieces are there, but they no longer make sense - she can't recognize her best friend, her evil stepsister, her probably handsome veterinarian, or even her probably cute and definitely helpful neighbor - and she has scant weeks to paint a portrait in time for a portrait competition worth ten thousand dollars. Katherine Center does it again! She takes a condition that a surprising number of people cope with every day and turns it into a meditation on how we truly relate to each other - how do you recognize somebody, how can you trust your own instincts, when one major sense is taken away? You'll cry, you'll laugh, you might do a ton of research on prosopagnosia, and it's worth every minute."

And now we go to Chris Lee for two recs. First, The Vegan, the sophomore novel from Andrew Lipstein. Chris says: "I love, love, loved Lipstein’s debut last year (Last Resort), and all the hallmarks that make his writing as mesmerizing as train wreck videos are back. Hypnotic sentences? Check. The moneyed, millennial milieu of Brooklyn? Check. And a man of his time unravelling in warped, manic behavior impelled by a moral quandary of guilt and deceit? Check, check, and check. The book’s allusions to Dostoyevsky have been noted, though I’d venture that there are glimmers of Poe in there, too; in the sweeping passages of emotional torment and the body-horror, churning-guts depictions of what it is to consume another living creature’s flesh. Can a hedge fund manager really discover moral clarity in the melancholy eyes of his neighbor’s beagle? I have my doubts. But I’m sure of this: The Vegan has secured Andrew Lipstein a spot on my absolute must-read authors list."

Chris also recommends Sleepless City, the new novel from Reed Farrel Coleman. Chris says: "In a nutshell: imagine Jason Bourne joined the cast of NYPD Blue. NYPD fixer / secret-agent-super-cop Nick Ryan’s first adventure beats him up, blows him up, and stabs him, too, but no matter how worse for wear he winds up, he’s still got plenty of street smarts and hard-nosed wisecracks to carry him. Crime fans who like fiction boiled as hard as granite will dig this one."

Now it's Jen Steele with two recommendations. First, her take on The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale, the latest book by Jon Klassen. Jen says: "The Skull has a sinister feel in the best possible way! Inspired by a Tyrolean folktale, Klassen tells the tale of a runaway girl who happens to meet a talking skull in an abandoned castle in the woods. With Klassen’s signature illustrations and mischievous storytelling, The Skull is sure to be a favorite to read on a gloomy night by the fire."

Jen also recommends The Duck Never Blinks a picture book written and illustrated by Alex Latimer. Jen says: "The Duck Never Blinks is a playful and interactive picture book that will have young readers laughing out loud. Can you get the duck to blink? Read and find out."

And now, we have one paperback pick for you. Daniel recommends Crying in the Bathroom, the memoir by Erika L S├ínchez. Daniel says: "Crying in the Bathroom explodes on the page in all its glory, writing about her working-class first-gen upbringing and her academic and personal journey. I love how bookish she is and how her inspirations range from Virginia Woolf and Sandra Cisneros to Lisa Simpson and George Carlin. She can call out racism and patriarchy and lookism and well, many other things, with humor and pull-no-punches frankness. Sex, sexual health, mental health – nothing is off the table. And through it all, comes her rich writing voice, which folks will recognize from her acclaimed novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. To be clear, this is not a YA collection, but I can still imagine many adult fans of that novel luxuriating in this wonderful collection, chanting yes, yes, yes, as they make their way through.

That should be enough books to keep you busy for the week! We'll be back next time with more books. Until then, read on.

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