Has a book ever made you long for home — only not your home, perhaps, but another’s. A stronger sense of identity? A feeling of culture, of connection, of deep community roots?
Black Cake did this for me — sucked me in like the unheeded hurricanes off the Island, ripping me down in its current. Rich, lyrical, beautiful, heartbreaking … Charmaine Wilkerson spins a multi-generational, multi-cultural saga like none I’ve read before.
What can I say? This novel has everything. Emotional resonance, complicated but relatable sibling and family relationships, deep love, heartbreaking separations, atmosphere and a sense of foreboding mingled with hope … I couldn’t get enough.
At the heart of the story is the titular dessert — a Caribbean black cake studded with soaked fruits, based on the author’s late mother’s recipe. But it’s not just about the food. As Wilkerson herself states, it centers around identity — innate and chosen. It was amazing to experience the transformations of each individual throughout the story.
And the water — it’s a character, too. Churning. Beckoning. At once welcoming and dangerous. Again and again, the Bennetts return to the ocean, and I found these slices of story deeply affecting. Perhaps because I’ve never learned to swim.
It’s been weeks now, and I’m afraid Black Cake has ruined me for other books. The audio was incredibly engrossing and well-done, with narrators Lynnette R. Freeman and Simone Mcintyre skillfully bringing the characters — their plights, joys, pains — to life.
Don’t miss it. Don’t sleep on it. Just run to this shoreline, friends, and dive in.
For me, it was May 1997 — with Taylor Hanson. ‘Til then, you know, I’d suffered through the usual schoolgirl crushes on classmates … and Peter Brady. But it was Taylor, with his long golden locks and uniquely charismatic voice, that really tugged at my 11-year-old heartstrings.
I’ve had many obsessions — sorry: hobbies — since. But Hanson remains a constant. My sister and I have seen them in concert dozens of times, most recently as last summer. Twenty-five years after I first stuck “Middle of Nowhere” into my Walkman, the opening chords of “MMMBop” still light me up inside. (I randomly heard the song while shopping last weekend and, with a 3-pound roast in my hands, still did a shoulder shimmy. As my husband likes to say: we’ve reached the age of this grocery story is playing my jams.)
Why do I bring up Taylor? Well, because for as long as I’ve had hobbies, I’ve been teased — sometimes gently, occasionally less so — for them. Hanson gave way to ‘NSYNC, and ‘NSYNC became John Mayer. But for the many years before I had a (real) first kiss and occupied myself with personal romantic drama, I lost myself entirely in the world of adoration. And fan fiction.
I’d nearly forgotten about it … pushed into the recesses of my juvenilia, if you will.
And follow I did — straight down the rabbit hole that was Australian writer Tabitha Carvan summing up the totality of my life in one book. Like me, Tabitha is a tired 30-something (or 40-something?) writer and mother of two young kids working to balance her career with parenting and marriage.
In the haze of her day-to-day life, she randomly gets sucked into “Sherlock” and its charming star, Benedict Cumberbatch. No one is more surprised than Tabitha when she’s suddenly googling Benedict at every opportunity, talking her husband into watching the popular TV series for the umpteenth time, and devouring online forums and “Sherlock” slash fiction.
I know it’s right there in the title, but it’s true: this isn’t strictly about Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s about carving out space for yourself in your own life. It’s also about embracing your passions — your uniquely you things — and reframing how you think about them. Why is it, Tabitha posits, that a middle-aged man can cheer loudly for hours at a football game without earning a second glance, but a woman doing the same at a Backstreet Boys reunion concert is immature or weird?
So unsurprisingly, this is also a book about feminism. I listened to the audio (very good, highly recommend) and was unable to underline my favorite passages, but one that really stood out was about Tabitha making a Benedict Cumberbatch photo the wallpaper on her phone. It felt wrong to her — but why? Because she was a mother. Mothers are supposed to have photos of their children as their wallpaper. Our children are supposed to be everywhere, with little space left for anything non-children. If not — can we really consider ourselves “good mothers”?
Tabitha talks about how Benedict infused joy in her life again. She interviews others who love the actor and dives headlong into the fandom, eagerly gobbling up anything to fuel her interest.
Over the summer, as my mother-in-law was dying and I was stressed at home with two active kids and needed an escape, I joined the rest of the world in obsessing over a truly under-appreciated, little-known talent: one Harry Styles. Perhaps you’ve heard of him? Listening to “Harry’s House” was the gateway drug. I got sucked into the Harry vortex as swiftly as I fell in love with Taylor Hanson all those years ago.
I spent the following months feeling … happy. And silly. I mean, I’m a happily married 37-year-old woman. Why was I looking up decade-old One Direction videos and researching the meaning behind Harry’s 50+ tattoos? Well … I mean, it was fun. I needed a distraction — something far from my “normal” life — and I found it with handsome, energetic Harry.
With the help of Tabitha, my new guru, I’ve totally reframed my thinking on “The Summer of Harry.” I’ve never been embarrassed by my interests, exactly; as I type, my work desk features a headshot of Harry below an engagement photo with my husband. I once owned enough Hanson T-shirts to not repeat a look for two weeks straight. In the early 2000s, I wrote an epic ‘NSYNC-inspired fan fic called “Love You Latte” that, if memory serves, involved Justin and the main character — Megan, obvs — meeting in a coffeeshop. Starbucks was the height of sophistication, thank you.
As I’ve aged, becoming more Mom than Megan, I do think about what is “age appropriate.”
But appropriate for whom? And to what end?
Life is short. Soak it up. Obsess over it. Like what you like and offer no apologies.
You know how a really great book just sort of … ruins you for others? We’re talking a novel so engrossing, so ingenious, so thought-provoking that you can’t help but feel saddled by that unmistakable book hangover after you’ve closed the last page? These reads inspire the push/pull we live for as readers: too good to put down, but too bittersweet to finish.
I was fortunate to discover several new favorites in 2021 — year of the continuing pandemic. As we all sought escape in different ways, I binge-read into the wee hours or sank into the couch while my kids got lost in Minecraft. After getting very into memoirs in recent years, the vast majority of my books read this year were fiction — and only one non-fic read made my top five this year.
Probably not a ton of surprises in this grouping, but here they are: the best o’ the best in what I happily enjoyed in 2021, in no particular order!
Tia Williams’ Seven Days in June (2021) is as thought-provoking as it is drool-worthy. This story of two successful writers reconnecting after a tumultuous teen romance was riveting. I absolutely loved Eva’s character — strong and flawed … in other words, human. And Shane is a hero truly worthy of the moniker. Williams created a heart-stopping world in which two people revisit the past in order to determine if there is a path for them in the future. As a writer and all-around book nerd myself, I really enjoyed the depictions of Eva’s vampire fic fandom and the crossover of how both leads are processing their past through their writing. Listened to this one on audio, and the production was excellent. Part of me still expects to bump into Williams’ characters on the street — less far-fetched given that part of the plot is set in Washington, D.C. The local flavor for this Marylander was the icing on top.
Emily Henry’s People We Meet on Vacation (2021) needs no introduction from the likes of me, but I found the heaps of praise totally justified. When done well, the friends-to-lovers slow build is so satisfying. And this book? Satisfying. For sure. Couldn’t stop reading until I knew how their feelings would eventually bubble up to the surface, and whew — steamy. Then passed along my copy to relatives, friends, coworkers … everyone, basically. It’s still floating around in Southern Maryland. I’ll eventually try to get it back — it’s one of the few books I could actually see myself re-reading.
Hilarie Burton Morgan’s The Rural Diaries: Love, Livestock, and Big Life Lessons Down on Mischief Farm(2020) was an impulse buy that made me grateful I have zero self-control in Target. I knew little about Hilarie beyond her early fame on “One Tree Hill,” but the cover spoke to me. This book was just fresh. I loved her honesty on universal topics like family, love and marriage — and less relatable (but fascinating!) musings on fame. Its setting in Rhinebeck, New York evoked such a strong sense of place that I found myself idly browsing AirBnBs so I could camp out near Samuel’s Sweet Shop. A tender, memorable memoir that will, I think, make an especially strong impression on mothers. Hilarie just gets it.
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Malibu Rising (2021) is a whole mood. This family saga manages to be both epic in scope and uniquely and memorably detailed. Reid doesn’t waste a word. I listened to the story on audio and appreciated the narrator’s impressive ability to coax separate intonations from each character, particularly brothers Hud and Jay. And like the incredible Daisy Jones & the Six, Malibu Rising found me again wanting to google Reid’s characters, so convinced was I that the Riva siblings were all actually surfing away their afternoon out there along the California coast. A must-read from a must-read author.
Finally, coming off the heels of my late “Hamilton” obsession, Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie’s My Dear Hamilton (2018) started my reading year off with a bang. Eliza Hamilton, wife of Alexander, is the heroine of a story that follows her from general’s daughter to new bride to mother to famous widow, with passion and devotion and loss running deeply through the narrative. I loved the examinations of early America alongside the stirring romance between Alexander and Eliza. Very engrossing and wonderfully written.
Looking forward to more up-until-2-a.m. reading moments in 2022!
What were your favorite reads this year? Share your recs in the comments, or join me on Instagram!
We’re all familiar with the summer read — a beach read, if you will … like, say, Beach Read.
Maybe it’s set on Nantucket, filled with colorful locals who despise the “summer people” but still depend on (and even fall in love with) them. Or we meet estranged sisters who return to the old summer cottage to mend fences after the passing of the family matriarch. Or, ooh! College friends who have grown in different directions, but reunite once a year to remember who they used to be before launching their high-powered careers (in PR, natch) with “free time” spent scrubbing at baby spit-up in the back of the minivan. If an old flame happens to show up on the shore, well … all the better.
I’m not putting down summer reads … not at all. Adulthood is fun because there is no syllabus. I read what I want and I don’t feel guilty about it. And a novel being classified as a “summer read” is no statement on its quality or general awesomeness. Take Taylor Jenkins Reid’s popular Malibu Rising, for example. Wow.
Anyway, you know all this. Summer reading is clearly a thing well beyond those mandatory lists in high school. That’s why therearesomanylists.
I get it. And as a list enthusiast, I also respect it.
But I think we’re missing a big opportunity here: Fall reads.
The fall read is where the magic truly happens. Trading our piña coladas for pumpkin spice lattes naturally lends itself to all things cozy, including stories … the classics, perhaps. Little Women. Or simply books set in autumn, regardless of subject — books that capture the warmth and anticipation of my favorite time of year.
I took a mental health day last week. After assisting with a family emergency, my husband made it quite clear that I was to actually enjoy my day while the kids were at school … not, you know, fill the hours by scrubbing toilets or reorganizing closets. That’s hard, of course. With Hadley and Oliver occupied, I can actually do the things that need to be done around the house. But much in the way that I once forced myself not to always spend my newborns’ precious nap times doing dishes, I decided I was going to read.
Well — binge-watch “LuLaRich,” the new LuLaRoe documentary on Amazon Prime … which is so nuts it feels like satire. Then read.
That’s how I found myself outdoors with a bag of fancy caramel apple kettle corn (from Target, don’t get too excited for me) with Joanne Rendell’s Crossing Washington Square, which has been sitting on my TBR shelf for a solid decade. That cool Friday afternoon held a whisper of fall with its golden, slanted sunlight. It was basically perfect. Even I, an indoor cat, could not waste it.
So I sat outside for two hours (!), getting swept up in the politics of an elite English program with warring professors in this modern twist on Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. We have college! New York City! Pompous MFA students! A budding romance! Fall leaves! It’s not earth-shattering, but it sure has been entertaining for this erstwhile English major.
So now that I’m fully embracing the fall read, I want more. I know somefolks are again participating in RIP-XVI, the Readers Imbibing Peril challenge for spooky season — but I get freaked out enough by the nightly news. I did once stay up until 2 a.m. reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, devouring it allat once because I’d mistakenly believed I had another week to finish for a British lit course. But have I read anything creepy since? No. Suspense is OK, but, like … Harry Potter-level suspense. Kid-friendly suspense, basically.
In Katherine A. Sherbrooke’s moving Leaving Coy’s Hill, a strong fictional depiction of real-life heroine, abolitionist and suffragist Lucy Stone, the answer is one we’ve been asking for centuries. For as long as women have been daring to dream of a world beyond their own hearth, that is.
Like Alexander Hamilton, Stone is a prominent American figure who hasn’t been entirely awarded her time in the sun. A prominent speaker at a time when the mere idea of women talking to men in public could be scandalous, Stone took on such lighthearted topics as the abolishment of slavery and voting rights before contemptuous, angry crowds. She swears young that she will never marry, having seen how quickly women become the property of their husbands … and lose all property and autonomy themselves. Yet we know that Leaving Coy’s Hill is, at its heart, a love letter from a mother to her daughter.
Bold, sensitive, intelligent, committed—Lucy Stone was a force dedicated to the building of a better country, a better world. We know the names of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (if we stayed awake in high school history classes, anyway), but Stone herself? She’s faded into the mists of time.
Lucy Stone was completely unfamiliar to me. Going into the book without any preconceived notions was probably a good thing. It didn’t take long for me to feel like Lucy was a close friend and I, the reader, her confidante. I felt those tugs of sisterhood and solidarity, to be sure.
What amazed me most in Sherbrooke’s powerful story is how so many themes prominent in pre-Civil War America continue to be present today. I certainly related to Lucy: her struggles, fears, perceived failures. As a wife. A mother. A worker. As someone who must find a way to weave all three roles together … sometimes to her own detriment.
I wished I could explain to [my mother] how different I intended my life to be. I didn’t know how to tell her that the awful circumstances she endured had provided much of the inspiration to sculpt my life from different clay. It felt like a cruel compliment. I hoped she had found more happiness than had been obvious to me.
Leaving Coy’s Hill, p. 196 (review copy)
I thought about how each generation of women gains a few inches here, a foot there—enough that, eventually, we’ve walked miles and crossed mountains. I thought about suffragettes marching with hecklers lining the streets. I thought about women forced from their professions when they showed obvious signs of pregnancy. I thought about efforts to offer paid family leave and protections against workplace discrimination. I thought about the joy of witnessing our first female vice president take office. I thought about #MeToo.
I thought of my grandmother, a homemaker, who always had something delicious and comforting simmering on the stove when I bounced in after school. I thought about my mother pursuing one of the narrow career paths—secretary, nurse or teacher—open to her as a young woman, and how she has carved out both a successful career and family life just the same.
I thought of my own history, the new opportunities available to me … the trailblazers and world-shaker-uppers I’ve known, including all the strong women I work with now in health care. And, of course, I thought of my own daughter, hazel eyes flashing, asking me question after question about the planets and declaring she will see them all herself one day. Maybe Comm. Hadley Johnson will call her ol’ mom super, super long-distance from Mars someday. I can only hope.
Lucy Stone is our foremother. If I may paraphrase “Hamilton,” her legacy has meant planting seeds in a garden that she never got to see. But her spirit, determination and bravery begin to get their due in Sherbrooke’s capable hands. Best of all? Sherbrooke paints her as a real, live woman … human.
[My husband] was due home any day now. I reflexively looked around the house. Every surface was covered in dust. I had no fresh food on hand save what little I could pull from the garden and had yet to pick up a new block of ice … Eggs needed to be gathered and cream and bread made. [My daughter] and I could live on oatmeal, syrup, and apples for a few days, but even Harry would expect better than that. The thought brought a new wave of anger. I had spent a lifetime ensuring I would never be judged by such things. And yet, in my rage, I wanted to prove I was capable of doing it all.
Leaving Coy’s Hill, p. 232 (review copy)
This quiet, enveloping novel gains more power by not letting readers feel its tremors immediately. Leaving Coy’s Hill is unassuming, thoughtful, steady, retrospective. I loved the strong female friendships portrayed (and betrayed, if you will). I love the complicated push/pull of “balance” and its ever-elusive nature, even in the 19th century. I loved that I could relate to a story set in a very different time in a way that was simultaneously comforting and inspiring. I loved that it inspired googling … and plenty of soul-searching.
The question popped up during one of my earliest trips to the famous falls — a bit of history, some trivia, as I walked the winding paths near its edge with my future husband. Spencer grew up 85 miles south of the cataract. There aren’t too many folks in Western New York who can’t tell you something about Niagara.
It wasn’t my very first visit. That came in 2004, when I was traveling around the Buffalo area with my parents and sister before the start of another school year. I’ve always been a waterfall fan — a waterfall nut, you might say. And my first glimpse of the Horseshoe Falls, from the landscaped paths on the Canadian side, certainly inspired awe. Taking the ubiquitous Maid of the Mist voyage to the base of Horseshoe Falls, I remember looking up and seeing nothing but violently falling water. We were close to disaster … but safe from it, too. Exhilarating.
I thought of this early trip so often while reading Ginger Strand’s Inventing Niagara: Beauty, Power and Lies (Simon & Schuster, 2008). Shaped — for good or for ill — by the land and people around it … creating myths, perpetuating others. A site of commerce, conflict and connection for centuries.
Americans call Niagara Falls a natural wonder, but the Falls aren’t very natural anymore. In fact, they are a study in artifice. Water diverted, riverbed reshaped, brink stabilized and landscape redesigned, the Falls are more a monument to man’s meddling than to nature’s strength.
Held up as an example of something real, they are hemmed in with fakery — waxworks, haunted houses, IMAX films and ersatz Indian tales. A symbol of American manifest destiny, they are shared politely with Canada. Emblem of nature’s power, they are completely human-controlled. Archetype of natural beauty, they belie an ugly environmental legacy still bubbling up from below. On every level, Niagara Falls is a monument to how America falsifies nature, reshaping its contours and redirecting its force while claiming to submit to its will.
The first time I saw Niagara, I felt overwhelmed by the urge to photograph it. Today I would pull out my iPhone, experimenting with panoramas, positioning my kids by a rainbow … but 17 years ago, my blocky cell phone and its tiny camera was OK for 10-cent text messages and not much else. I had to remember that first falls experience the old-fashioned way: living in the moment. (Thankfully, my mom had her own ever-present lens to document our adventures.)
The falls are a memorable experience. As Strand beautifully illustrates throughout Inventing Niagara, being there is a physical thing. It’s loud. It’s wet. It’s windy. Things I despise in any other scenario … but, you know, I’m willing to overlook all kinds of discomforts for the sake of waterfalls. Hence that sticky poncho above! And bobbing around on the Maid of the Mist’s open deck feels treacherous … but it’s a sanitized fear. The illusion of danger is part of the fun.
Inventing Niagara examines many aspects of the falls’ history, both real and mythical — everything from Seneca history as keepers of the Western Door to the region’s role in the Underground Railroad. These were allnew stories to me, and inspired lots of on-the-side googling to explore more. French tightrope walker Charles Blondin, who understood “the appeal of the morbid to the masses,” using his famed aerial walks as a metaphor for slavery before emancipation? This is some pretty fascinating stuff.
The romance and Hollywood-inspired section was great fun, too. Honestly, I had no idea Niagara featured in so many aspects of pop culture. Marilyn Monroe’s longest walk in cinema offered a different “view” at Niagara in the 1950s, and of course there’s the long history of the falls as a honeymoon capital of yesteryear. (Also, ever wondered how Viagra got its name?)
Of course, it’s not all misty fun. Strand gives equal attention to the environmental impacts on the region in the name of progress: the sad and criminal history of Love Canal, the genesis of the EPA’s Superfund program; power plants and the harnessing of the falls’ power; construction of a soulless parkway straight through town. Dead malls and vacant storefronts in the shadow of landfills. The juxtaposition of the American and Canadian towns, sharing a name … staring each other down from opposite the gorge. If you’ve ever wondered why there is such a stark difference between nations, you’ll definitely learn that and then some here.
What I loved most about Ginger Strand’s accounting of Niagara is her obvious love for the place. I thought the author’s voice featured perfectly within the narrative. It was like going on a road trip with an entertaining but slightly-obsessive friend, who uses the drive to tell you every fun fact about her latest obsession. (Privately … you’re just glad it isn’t drugs.)
She’s a strong, detailed, lyrical writer with a talent for drawing you immediately into a scene and making you feel at home. Strand isn’t analyzing Niagara with a calculated, dispassionate eye; she’s generating the full picture, accounting for its warts and sparkle in equal measure.
While Niagara’s “natural wonder” is now under human control, there remains an otherworldliness to it. It’s still beautiful.
As humans, we just have to decide the degree to which we’re willing to make believe.
I learned so much in Inventing Niagara — and paying attention to the man behind the curtain does nothing to diminish its power. If anything, my interest is stronger now, knowing just how many people have converged in their attempts to admire, own, tame, promote, or protect this thundering strip of land.
I think it ultimately comes back to that very human desire to utter three words — words echoed in the carvings often found on wooden park handrails, encased in lovers’ hearts on redwoods, scribbled into theme-park ride waiting areas … from sea to shining sea.
It was quite the reading year for me, friends! Not like the old days, exactly, but closer than I’ve been in the five years since welcoming my first child. I read 40 books, surpassing my annual goal of 36. That’s double what I accomplished two years prior, and 15 more than the year before.
On face value, it would be easy to say the pandemic thrust me back into the arms of my beloved books — and that’s partially true. But personally, even more than the virus, my son and daughter are now old enough to entertain themselves for more than 30 seconds — and I was able to get caught up in something for myself every now and then.
As I shared last year, I can feel bits of myself returning as Oliver is now 5 and Hadley is 3. Also? I just made more time for myself, accepting that I cannot pour from an empty cup. Reading is self-care. There were times I shunned the vacuum in favor of my Kindle, and I don’t regret it.
At the end of last year, I made some reading predictions for 2020 — not knowing, of course, that the world would soon come to a stand-still and we’d all be spending more time at home than ever. I wrote, “… I feel optimistic about what my reading year might bring. I plan to continue in my no-pressure way, finding stories that interest me and help me grow as a person, reader and mom.”
I think I accomplished that. In the wake of COVID-19 and ongoing racial injustice in 2020, I challenged myself to do more than just escape through books. While of course I read for enjoyment and entertainment, I also read to grow. I’m surprised by how many of my reads were non-fiction — and how much of an impression they had on me.
Maybe they’re ready to make one on you, too.
Katherine Center is an insanely talented writer and a sorceress who makes me lose all track of time. Things You Save in a Fire(2019) was a slow build that erupted into a major burn, leaving me with the malaise that follows a really great read after I closed the final pages. Cassie and the rookie — a love story for the ages.
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones & the Six(2019) was an audio, and I can’t honestly imagine loving it as much in print. The performance was incredible. It was so well-acted and realistic that I was often overcome with the urge to google the band, convinced this was a real documentary rather than a fictional account of a band’s ascendence and betrayals. After finishing, I found myself still researching any scraps of truth behind the novel (i.e. Fleetwood Mac). Very well done.
Jennifer Weiner is a stranger to few of us, and Mrs. Everything (2019) was a sweeping novel that introduced two new characters I couldn’t help but love. Jo and Bethie are the stars of this multi-generational storyline. Novels that span decades can feel sprawling and disconnected, but Weiner — talented as ever — made it work beautifully. I shed a few tears, had a few laughs, and finished with much to ponder about family and sisterhood. A full experience as a reader, and one of my favorite Weiner works to date!
Anissa Gray’s The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls(2019) was an early audio that captured my imagination. I really felt for each sibling in different ways (OK, each sister — Joe was tougher to empathize with). Lillian felt the most “real” to me: real, human, flawed … as are we all. Alternating viewpoints are read by different narrators, and the sumptuous quality of the language was really on display.
Margarita Montimore’s Oona Out of Order(2020) was my final read of the year. A fresh spin on the time-travel trope, Oona was thought-provoking and entertaining. Though I put the pieces together on several plot points early, that didn’t hamper my enjoyment in the slightest. The familiar moral of the story was a welcome reminder that the cup is already broken — and it is our goal to soak up every bit of happiness we can.
Brantley Hargrove’s The Man Who Caught the Storm(2018) was an instant favorite from last summer. I couldn’t put it down, first of all, and have often thought about storm chaser Tim Samaras since finishing. Compelling writing and a fascinating subject matter combined into one unforgettable story.
Running Away to Home(2011) called out to me from my bookshelves at the height of the pandemic. Jennifer Wilson’s story of moving her young family to her grandparents’ ancestral village in Croatia satisfied both my quarantine-induced wanderlust and the resonant ideas of being happy with the here and now. Jennifer and husband Jim realized the rat-race suburban life was leading to stuff, not satisfaction — and left in search of more. It was published a decade ago, but felt just as relevant today.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me (2015) needs no introduction. Read by the author, the audio version is powerfully affecting as Coates — in a slim volume that packs an unforgettable wallop — breaks down the construct of race and, in so doing, shakes the Dreamers awake. “This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it,” Coates writes to his son. As a parent, certain passages — “Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered” — were breath-stealers. Required reading for all.
Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham (2019) is another book so epic in scope, it’s hard to fathom it’s true. As I wrote then, I knew very little about Chernobyl except for its shorthand as a way to describe “an epic disaster,” and this stunning book is anything but. Fascinating, thought-provoking, and detailed to a degree that is truly stunning to behold. I can only stand back in total awe of Higginbotham’s creation: a true story that often reads like poetry, from “the throat of the reactor” to the cold beds of a Moscow hospital. I didn’t want it to end.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond (2016) needs no accolades from the likes of me … but I’ll give them anyway: this book — unbelievable in scope — is, I feel, what all great journalism aspires to be. I have remembered poignant scenes and lessons many times, and find myself talking about it often. In Milwaukee, Desmond follows eight families as they “struggle to keep a roof over their heads,” the description reads. “Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.”