BOOKS TO KNOW – Top 10 List – May 2016


1. What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours

March 8, 2016

By: Helen Oyeyemi

At 31, Oyeymi is something of a literary prodigy: She wrote her first novel while still in high school in England. She’s published five more books since then. Her latest, a short story collection, was hailed by NPR as “flawless.”

“It’s another masterpiece from an author who seems incapable of writing anything that’s less than brilliant,” the review said. The stories in the collection all center on keys, and toy with fairy tale tropes in inventively twisted ways.

There is a secret library, an abandoned baby and unsettling, possibly possessed puppets, but Oyeyemi treats even the most fantastical elements with grounded emotion.

2. Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

September 24, 2016

Carlo Rovelli

So you want to know a little something about quantum mechanics…

Rovelli’s eminently readable dispatches on physics are sheer joy for science enthusiasts. Even if you failed your high school physics class, his explanations of Einstein’s theory of relativity, gravity and black holes will challenge and delight you.

3. Evicted

March 1, 2016

Matthew Desmond

The economy may be on a path to recovery after the 2008 crisis, but eviction rates are still at record highs across the country. Desmond’s book is arguably the most comprehensive study of this crisis.

A Harvard professor and a MacArthur Fellow, Desmond embedded himself in low-income neighborhoods in Milwaukee for more than a year to understand the emotional and economic impact that comes with losing your home.

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of the women,” Desmond writes. “Poor black men were locked up, poor black women were locked out.”

4. Mr. Splitfoot

January 5, 2016

Samantha Hunt

“Mr. Splitfoot” is an eerie and electrifying read — mixing modern and gothic, and blurring the line between the living and the dead. The book follows Nat and Ruth, two foster children eager to escape the grasp of their fanatically religious caretaker. Their ticket out of the home is talking to the dead: They make money passing messages from the deceased to the grieving population of upstate New York.

The book’s parallel story line is set decades later, when Ruth’s pregnant niece sets out on foot for a cross-state journey that leads her toward a mystery in the woods. Even if the supernatural is not your cup of tea, the frenetic style of “Mr. Splitfoot” will sweep you up in the book’s wildly unraveling reality.

5. All the Single Ladies

March 1, 2016

Rebecca Traister

Today, only 20 percent of Americans are married by age 29, compared to nearly 60 percent in 1960. The rise of the single woman is at the heart of Traister’s book, which traces the roots of the trend and its social impact.

It’s not a new idea, Traister writes. Throughout history, when doors have opened (or have been broken down), women have poured through them — embracing birth control, becoming the majority of students enrolled at colleges and universities, holding political positions. The fact that fewer women are walking down the aisle isn’t because women have changed, but because their choices have changed.

6. Version Control

February 26, 2016

Dexter Palmer

This is more of a book with wild science than a science fiction book. Yes, there’s a time machine — but Philip, the physicist who invented it, would prefer you call it by its proper name: a causality violation device.

While Philip flounders in his career, dismissed by his colleagues, his wife Rebecca has started to notice there’s just something off with the world. Her co-workers at the dating service call center aren’t quite as she remembered them, and even the president speaking on TV seems different than he should be. Is reality coming apart at the seams?

NPR wrote, “It’s exhilarating. It’s exhausting. And the ending is a virtuoso performance that yanks the brain as it disorients the heart.”

7. The Nest

March 22, 2016

 Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

This is one of those books where the publishing story had the potential to overwhelm the book itself. The literary world was abuzz in 2014 when Ecco snapped up the rights to the book for seven figures. That kind of money is sometimes tossed at literary prodigies, the gossip went, but Sweeney is over 50 and “The Nest” is her first book.

The book, however, lives up to the hype. It follows the Plumb family, a set of wealthy New England siblings just months away from receiving a massive payout from their joint trust fund. That is, they were until their black-sheep brother crashes his car while drunk, with a 19-year-old waitress riding shotgun. The accident puts their trust fund, “The Nest,” into jeopardy and emotional chaos ensues. Sweeney’s wit is on full display, chronicling the damage money can cause to relationships.

8. When Breath Becomes Air

January 12, 2016

Paul Kalanithi

When Paul Kalanithi was in the final year of his residency, training to be a neurosurgeon, he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. He was 36. His life transformed in an instant, from doctor to patient.

Married with a young a daughter, he struggled with the diagnosis, but he didn’t stop working. Even after undergoing chemotherapy, he returned to his residency, and he wrote about his experiences.

9. All The Birds In The Sky

January 26, 2016

Charlie Jane Anders

Think fantasy and sci-fi can’t coexist? Anders smashes them together in this genre-bending flight of fancy that puts time machines, magicians, the end of the world and San Francisco all together in a blender.

Childhood friends Laurence and Patricia, who haven’t seen each other for years (with good reason), are reunited to harness their respective powers and possibly save the world. There are robot fashion models, a chance for romance and enough geek references to delight nerds and non-nerds alike.

 10. The Regional Office is Under Attack

April 12, 2016

Manuel Gonzales

Super-powered female assassins. A mysterious oracle. And a travel agency?

In Gonzales’ send-up of action movie tropes, a travel agency is just a front for a highly trained group of deadly women with mysterious powers who fight against the “amassing forces of darkness.” But someone has double-crossed the agency and — as the title suggests — the regional office is now under attack.

Gonzales ping-pongs between a teenage recruit roped into the chaos, a high level admin who just happens to have a robotic arm and the unwitting office workers caught in the crossfire. In the interstitial chapters, Gonzales provides an academic history of how the agency began and the dark secret at its core.

Full of winks and sly nods, “The Regional Office” is a literary romp through pop-culture stereotypes.


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