by G. Willow Wilson
Grove Press (2019)
Hard to pick what I loved most about The Bird King. Written by a Muslim woman with a strong, female protagonist, rich LGBTQ characters, brilliant historical context, chilling villains whose evil still affects us today, magical realism out the wazoo. Wilson has written an adventure tale for all ages that’s both a great read and a lesson in what was lost/found when the crushing dominance of Western culture came to full power in the 1400s.
by Ada Limón
Mikweed Editions (2018)
I’m in love with The Carrying. Limon is poignant and lovely and needed in the way of all the best poets, and it’s a volume of poetry that will only grow more beautiful with time. Her experience of barrenness is made emotionally lush here, and there is much wisdom and humor and grace for anyone finding themselves in a withering season. This and Bright Dead Things are two of the best works of contemporary poetry I’ve read to date.
by Marlon James
Riverhead Books (2019)
Marlon James is the twisted Tolkien of our time with Black Leopard, Red Wolf. He’s out here world building, demon chasing, and eye crushing while the rest of us are just trying to catch up and make sure we read him right. Still trying to screw my head on straight and forgive him for upending my previously conceived notions of what legend and myth can become. It’s a gruesome book, but boy it’s powerful too. Can’t wait for the next installment.
by Stephanie Land
Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive reveals the underbelly of poverty in America and the emotional/physical consequences it has for the people trying hardest to escape from it. For people who’ve been lucky enough to avoid living on state welfare programs, it’s a must-read before the next election!
by Ben Fountain
Hilarious and painstakingly researched, Beautiful Country Burn Again is a phenomenal read by Dallas native Ben Fountain. Alternating chapters between political essays and unbelievable recounts of current events, Fountain weaves a tapestry of historical context and cultural insight that helps explain the events of the 2016 election with the panache and outrage of Hunter S. Thompson and Christopher Hitchens without losing his readers in a mire of despair. Democrat or Republican, it’s a must-read before your next vote.
by Reza Aslan
Random House (2014)
Whether you’re a person of faith or just an amateur historian, Zealot by Reza Aslan is chock-full of insights about historical Jesus and how the modern church came to be. Focusing solely on the historical documentation and context of Jesus’ life brings both new perspective on the person and his ministry, as well as his disciples. Excellent food for thought for anyone curious about or impacted by the Christian faith.
by Richard Powers
W. W. Norton & Co. (2018)
The Overstory is the perfect book for a culture waking up to the environmental crisis. Richard Powers manages to make the narrative powerful but not preachy, intertwining characters with their environment in a way that radically changes each of their story lines. Saving the trees that literally form and allow their existence becomes not just a moral imperative, but a transformative one as characters discover who they really are by tuning into the natural, native story that surrounds and includes us all.
by Elliot Ackerman
Elliot Ackerman turns the traditional war story on its head in Waiting for Eden with his focus on post-war injury and recuperation rather than the glories of battle. A returning solider clings to the last vestiges of life while the ghost of a former brother in arms narrates the events that led to his wounds as well as the family dramas unfolding around his recuperating body. Unique and tender, this is a war story for the Iraq-Afghan era where there’s no end to war in sight, not even after death.
by Norman Mailer
Though it was written in the 60s, The Armies of the Night still shines with brilliant prose and wry humor. Mailer’s recounting of the March on the Pentagon is full of dark insight and cutting wit, and stands out as one of the first “I” novels to be published. Mailer uses himself as the central character in order to create a world in which fiction becomes history and history becomes fiction. This inverts our understanding of both current events and our role in them, pushing us to take a reckoning of what our country and our souls have become.
by Tommy Orange
Intertwining cultures and fates works well for Tommy Orange in There There. Rather than focusing solely on the historical context of Native American culture, Orange brings their story to present day Oakland, where characters relearn what it means to be Indian in a world that has outlawed and ignored their heritage by turns. Updated to demonstrate modern Indian struggles, characters overcome poverty, crime, and identity confusion to discover who they can (and can’t) be when they come together in unity and pride.
by Mary Beard
Mary Beard’s new overview of classical art and the role of the viewer, How Do We Look, has us reconsidering our understanding of ancient art and the uses of propaganda in the modern era. We love how she incorporates a myriad of cultures in her survey, and that she turns her critical lens on the artist’s audience to reinforce how important cultural and political context are for the interpretation of artistic works. Being an observer suddenly feels more powerful.
by Ben H. Winters
Mulholland Books (2019)
Golden State keeps the noir in sci-fi as Speculative Service detective Mr. Ratesic enforces the law of the land: no lying, not ever. In the age of “post-truth”, this book confronts the power of fact and what happens when the government takes honesty into its own hands.Characters and readers alike must decide what is real and who to trust as the story goes on; good practice for today’s political climate and the upcoming 2020 election.
by Guadalupe Nettel
Coffee House (2018)
After the Winter takes its characters’ isolation and shows us what they’re really made of when their storylines collide. True love to cemetery musings to better-late-than-never redemption, this one has it all.
by Tara Westover
Random House (2018)
Educated is a memoir unlike others; raised by fundamentalist, doomsday-prepping Mormons, Tara Westover escapes her abusive environment by teaching herself not just academics, but redemption as well. One of @nytimes Best Books of the Year!
by Audre Lorde
Crossing Press (2007)
Sister Outsider is a classic that deserves revisiting. Full of cutting wisdom, Lorde reminds activists and citizens alike that “Revolution is not a one time event.” Food for thought and for the soul in these politically charged times.
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