Our Top Pick in nonfiction for June is Kristen Green's Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County, a personal and probing look at school segregation in one Southern community. After returning to her native Virginia in 2010, Green began to investigate the events in her hometown of Farmville, where community leaders closed the public schools in the 1950s rather than comply with court-ordered desegregation. Green eventually learned that her own grandfather was instrumental in founding a whites-only private academy in the town.
Alice Cary, a longtime BookPage reviewer, author and mother of three who lives in Groton, Massachusetts, explains why she jumped at the chance to review the book.
I was particularly eager to review Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County because I spent part of my childhood in Richmond, Virginia, attending school there in grades three through eight. With the advent of school busing in the early 1970s, I witnessed the small Episcopal school I attended double in size. Soon, a high school was built to accommodate this white flight from the possibility of busing.
From Richmond we moved to a Baltimore suburb. Today I have friends and family in that city, which I visit every summer. The riots following the tragic death of Freddie Gray filled me with sadness and horror; the poverty that plagues much of Baltimore is heartbreaking.
After spending my childhood in various Mid-Atlantic states, I have lived my adult life in an area of New England that is filled with beauty but lacking in diversity. I'm not sure many New Englanders can truly comprehend Southern and Mid-Atlantic racial relations, both past and present.
Such understanding continues to be vital for everyone, and Green's account sheds light on a shameful chapter of U.S. history. Her research and reporting are fascinating, while the personal accounts of her own family's experiences are not only compelling, but candid in a no-holds barred, essential way. Yes, I found myself nodding. That's exactly the way it was.
Some of the anecdotes Green shares evoked a memory of my paternal grandmother, a lovely Virginia lady who always seemed to be dressed in a suit and hat. To this day, however, I cringe when I recall an incident that occurred as we were driving her to the Richmond airport after a visit. She looked at a passing car, where a white woman was riding with a black man and a black child. "Hmmph!" my grandmother said, turning her head away. "Serves her right." My grandmother—whom I adored and for whom I am named—was hardly alone in her mindset.
Happily, my three children can't imagine such attitudes. I dearly hope they'll read Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County so they can fully comprehend some of the unjust beliefs and actions of our not-so-distant past—and, sadly, in some places, our present.
Meanwhile, I'm rooting for Kristen Green to win a Pulitzer Prize.
Are you ready to kick off the summer reading season? If so, you might want to start with one of these titles from the stellar lineup of new paperbacks out this week:
By Emily St. John Mandel
Vintage • $15.95 • ISBN 9780804172448
Mandel's beautifully wrought post-apocalyptic portrait of the value and persistence of art has drawn fans from all over, including the BookPage editorial staff, which named the novel the Best Book of 2014.
Elizabeth Is Missing
By Emma Healey
Harper Perennial • $15.99 • ISBN 9780062309686
Afflicted with dementia, Maud doesn't remember much, but she is certain of one thing: Her best friend, Elizabeth, is missing. So Maud is distressed that her family and the authorities won't take her concerns seriously. Healey was inspired by the experiences of her grandmother in crafting this suspenseful and impressive debut.
By Emma Straub
Riverhead • $16 • ISBN 9781594633881
A trip to Mallorca to celebrate the Posts' 35th wedding anniversary doesn't work out as planned in Straub's witty and engaging look at a two-week trip that will have transformative effects for everyone involved.
By Sarah Payne Stuart
Riverhead • $16 • ISBN 9781594633904
If you have a love-hate relationship with your own hometown, you'll have a special sense of appreciation for Stuart's smart and funny memoir about moving back to quaint Concord, Massachusetts, home of the Puritans, Louisa May Alcott and a present-day WASP culture obsessed with real estate.
I Am Malala
By Malala Yousafzai
Little, Brown • $16 • ISBN 9780316322423
The youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize tells the harrowing but inspiring story of refusing to be silenced after she was shot by the Taliban for her efforts to support education for girls.
The Map Thief
By Michael Blanding
Gotham • $17 • ISBN 9781592409402
True crime fans and collectors will appreciate this absorbing account of the criminal career of E. Forbes Smiley III, an antiquarian map dealer who was caught in the act of stealing rare maps from the Yale University Library in 2005 and eventually confessed to stealing dozens more. The paperback edition includes color photographs of several beautiful antique maps.
Where to start? There are so many great reads coming out in paperback this week that it’s hard to know where to begin. So we’ll kick things off with the lone nonfiction title on our list:
In the Kingdom of Ice
By Hampton Sides
Anchor • $16.95 • ISBN 9780307946911
Coming in at #9 on the BookPage list of Best Books of 2014, Sides' riveting account of a doomed 19th-century expedition to the North Pole is both thrilling and horrific. Trapped in the ice for two years, the crew of the U.S.S. Jeannette found themselves in an even more precarious position when their ship finally broke apart. This masterful true-life tale would make a gripping (and chilling) summer read.
The Book of Life
By Deborah Harkness
Penguin • $17 • ISBN 9780143127529
The USC historian concludes her magical All Souls trilogy with another dazzling time-travel adventure. If the thick, 500-page hardcover was too heavy for your beach bag, this paperback is the solution. Penguin is also releasing a new boxed set of all three books in the series (including A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night).
Etta and Otto and Russell and James
By Emma Hooper
Simon & Schuster • $15.99 • ISBN 9781476755687
Canadian writer Emma Hooper crafts a quietly powerful story about an octogenarian who sets off on foot from her home in Saskatchewan to see the ocean for the first time—a trek of more than 3,000 kilometers. Along the way, Etta travels through the past and present, as well as the loves and tragedies of her long life.
The Hundred-Year House
By Rebecca Makkai
Penguin • $16 • ISBN 9780143127444
Though this story features a Marxist scholar, an unemployed academic, an annoying mother-in-law and a ghost, the real star of the show is Laurelfield, the Chicago estate where 100 years of family history unfolds. This smart and surprising novel was #14 on our Best Books of 2014 list. The paperback also includes a story from Makkai's forthcoming collection, Music for Wartime.
By René Steinke
Riverhead • $16 • ISBN 9781594633836
The bonds among neighbors in the small Texas town of Friendswood are strained to the breaking point by two controversies: a toxic waste dispute and a rape investigation. Steinke, a 2005 National Book Award finalist (for Holy Skirts), drew her inspiration for the story in part from her own hometown.
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands
By Chris Bohjalian
Vintage • $15.95 • ISBN 9780307743930
Something entirely different from the talented Bohjalian in his 16th novel: a dystopian tale about the aftermath of a nuclear meltdown. The focus here is on Emily, a Vermont teenager who is left homeless and orphaned by the disaster. As she takes in 9-year-old Cameron and struggles to keep herself and the boy alive, Bohjalian portrays their plight with skill and sensitivity.
Thrills, enlightenment and gripping historical fiction await readers of this week's paperback releases:
Hope to Die
By James Patterson
Grand Central • $16 • ISBN 9781455515820
When five members of the Cross family are kidnapped by an obsessed genius, Alex must play the madman's game to get them back alive.
The Angel in My Pocket
By Sukey Forbes
Penguin • $16 • ISBN 9780143127574
In a profoundly moving meditation on grief and the path to healing, Forbes recounts her struggle to rediscover joy and meaning in life after enduring the death of her 6-year-old daughter, Charlotte. Descended from a long line of New England Brahmins and spiritual seekers (including Ralph Waldo Emerson), Forbes writes about her own dark night of the soul with grace and hard-earned wisdom.
By Laird Hunt
Little, Brown • $16 • ISBN 9780316370165
Narrated by a Civil War soldier who calls herself "Ash Thompson" to disguise her true identity, Hunt's widely praised novel gives palpable life to historical accounts of women on both sides who risked everything to take up arms. Readers will find themselves transfixed by Ash's unique voice and her struggle to survive the war and make it back home to her gentle husband Bartholomew and their Indiana farm. The paperback includes a reader's guide.
It's another big week for new paperback releases, with a strong roster of titles for both fiction and nonfiction readers:
My Salinger Year
By Joanna Rakoff
Vintage • $15.95 • ISBN 9780307947987
Rakoff's compelling recollections of her first job—working in the New York City literary agency that represented, among others, reclusive writer J.D. Salinger—was one of our favorite memoirs of 2014.
By Ruth Reichl
Random House • $16 • ISBN 9780812982022
In her delightful first novel, the former editor of Gourmet and author of the best-selling memoirs Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples combines a young food writer's coming-of-age story with an alluring World War II mystery. The paperback edition includes a reader's guide.
The Shell Seekers
By Rosamunde Pilcher
St. Martin's Griffin • $15.99 • ISBN 9781250063786
It's hard to believe, but this 1987 bestseller from the beloved British writer has never previously been released in an American trade paperback edition. Why now? This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Pilcher novel September and the 15th anniversary of The Winter Solstice. So her U.S. publisher is releasing new editions of all three books. Adapted for both film and television, The Shell Seekers is the kind of engrossing family saga that makes it an ideal beach read.
Everything I Never Told You
By Celeste Ng
Penguin • $16 • ISBN 9781594632921
Ng's moving debut novel, which landed on many best of the year lists and was selected by Amazon as the top book of 2014, opens with a stunning relevation: "Lydia is dead." In meticulously constructed layers, the novel reveals the repercussions of the teen's disappearance and death on her Chinese-American family in small-town Ohio. The paperback includes a Q&A with the author.
A Spy Among Friends
By Ben MacIntyre
Broadway • $16 • ISBN 9780804136655
When it comes to treachery, it's hard to top the story of Kim Philby, who headed Britain's spying efforts against the Soviet Union while secretly working for the enemy. In this masterful biography, which has been optioned for TV by Lionsgate, MacIntyre focuses on Philby's close friends Nicholas Elliott, of Britain's MI6, and James Angleton, of the CIA, both of whom were blindsided by Philby's betrayal.
By Laline Paull
Ecco • $15.99 • ISBN 9780062331175
The heroine of Paull's fascinating novel is an unlikely character: Flora 717 is a worker bee with lowly status in her hive. But when environmental issues put the hive under stress, Flora takes on new roles and begins a climb to power. Based in fact but keenly imagined, this is the ultimate in "buzz" books.
Two mega-best-selling novels lead the roster of paperbacks released this week:
The Invention of Wings
By Sue Monk Kidd
Penguin • $17 • ISBN 9780143121701
With more than a million copies sold since its hardcover publication in January 2014, Kidd's captivating historical novel is already a runaway hit with readers, and this new paperback edition should move it to the top of the list for reading groups everywhere. A book club kit from the publisher is available online.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
By Haruki Murakami
Vintage • $15.95 • ISBN 9780804170123
Another million-seller comes to paperback with this edition of the latest book from international literary star Murakami. A #1 bestseller in hardcover, the novel follows the “colorless” Tsukuru when his four best friends inexplicably shun him after college.
A Man Called Ove
By Fredrik Backman
Atria • $16 • ISBN 9781476738024
This quiet and thoroughly charming novel from one of Sweden's most popular writers has struck a chord with American readers. Ove, who has lost both his beloved wife Sonja and his job, is ready to throw in the towel, but his boisterous new neighbors, his mailman and even his newly adopted cat help to change his plans.
The Mockingbird Next Door
By Marja Mills
Penguin • $17 • ISBN 9780143127666
With the publication of Harper Lee’s newly discovered novel, Go Set a Watchman, just two months away, this controversial portrait of the author and her sister, Alice, at home in Monroeville, Alabama, is especially timely.
Out in paperback this week: a journalist's exposé, novels by two best-selling authors and a book of advice for new graduates. Cue "Pomp and Circumstance."
No Place to Hide
By Glenn Greenwald
Picador • $16 • ISBN 9781250062581
Two years after he broke the story of Edward Snowden and NSA spying, Greenwald's account of the scoop that shook the world is now available in paperback. The relentless investigative reporter details his earliest contacts and first meetings with Snowden, his clashes with authorities and his disdain for mainstream media outlets that, in his view, failed to question government surveillance programs.
The Children Act
By Ian McEwan
Anchor • $15 • ISBN 9781101872871
In the latest novel from the author of Atonement, a judge in London's High Court finds that difficulties in her marriage coincide with one of the most difficult cases of her career: the plight of a teenage boy whose parents refuse to allow a lifesaving blood transfusion.
By Jodi Picoult
Ballantine • $16 • ISBN 9780345544940
The 13-year-old daughter of an elephant researcher investigates the mystery of her mother's disappearance in Picoult's captivating and suspenseful novel. The paperback edition includes a reader's guide and an intriguing prequel: a 50-page story featuring the characters from the novel.
You Are Not Special
By David McCullough Jr.
Ecco • $16.99 • ISBN 9780062393340
Despite the somewhat disparaging tone of the title, McCullough's graduation book is anything but a downer. The high school English teacher (and son of the noted historian) expands on his viral commencement address with words of encouragement: Do what you love, don't be afraid to make mistakes and remember—we're all in the same boat.
Two prize-winning novels and a pair of distinctive memoirs top the list of new paperbacks available this week:
By Lily King
Grove • $16 • ISBN 9780802123701
With a richness of themes that is likely to make it a book club favorite, King's dazzling fourth novel fictionalizes the real-life love triangle of three prominent anthropologists in 1930s New Guinea: Margaret Mead, her then-husband Reo Fortune and her future husband, Gregory Bateson. The paperback edition includes a list of discussion questions.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North
By Richard Flanagan
Vintage • $15.95 • ISBN 9780804171472
Winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2014, Flanagan's powerful novel tells the story of the WWII "bridge over the River Kwai" through the eyes of an Australian surgeon. The story was inspired in part by the experiences of Flanagan's father, an Australian POW forced to work on the notorious Death Railway.
An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth
By Col. Chris Hadfield
Back Bay • $17 • ISBN 9780316253031
Best known to many for his entertaining YouTube videos (including a haunting David Bowie cover recorded in space), the first Canadian to command the International Space Station offers an inside look at what really goes on in an orbiting spacecraft. For those of us stuck firmly on the ground, Hadfield also explains how the lessons he learned in space—on things like leadership and perseverance—can apply to our everyday lives on Earth.
Tibetan Peach Pie
By Tom Robbins
Ecco • $15.99 • ISBN 9780062267412
In this long-awaited collection of "absolutely true stories," the author of Another Roadside Attraction and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues traces his unlikely path from small-town North Carolina boy to West Coast chronicler of the 1970s counterculture.
Take a guess (without peeking) which book soared to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list this week. The Girl on the Train? The latest from James Patterson? Erik Larson’s gripping narrative about the sinking of the Lusitania?
Nope. The hottest seller on Amazon is a financial advice book by an economics professor and two journalists—Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security. The surging demand for the book stems from two factors: the complexity of Social Security benefits and the swelling tide of aging Americans, all determined to “get what’s coming to them,” in other words, the most they can possibly collect in Social Security benefits.
The book’s three co-authors packed its 300-plus pages with crucial strategies to follow, details on when to begin taking benefits, advice for the married, the divorced and the widowed, and helpful lists like “25 Bad-News Gotchas That Can Reduce Your Benefits Forever.” All three authors have credentials to back up their recommendations: Laurence J. Kotlikoff is a professor of economics at Boston University, Philip Moeller is an award-winning financial journalist and Paul Solman is economics correspondent for “PBS NewsHour.”
The idea for the book sprang from a chat between tennis buddies Larry (Kotlikoff) and Paul (Solman). As recounted in the book’s first chapter, Solman thought he had a solid plan for maximizing benefits for himself and his wife. But Kotlikoff suggested a different route (taking spousal benefits), which eventually led to almost $50,000 in extra benefits for the couple. Shouldn’t everyone have a chance to do what Paul and his wife did? Why, yes, they should, the authors argue, and that’s why they set out to share what they’ve learned about Social Security and its arcane rules.
Though the hardcover edition of Get What’s Yours is currently sold out on Amazon, it’s still in stock at some other vendors; eBook and audio versions are also available.
If you tried to buy a copy of Pioneer Girl but couldn’t get the book in time for the holiday gift-giving season, you’re not alone. Demand for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s real-life story of growing up on the prairie outstripped supply, according to the book’s publisher, the South Dakota Historical Society Press. All major online book retailers currently list the autobiography as “out of stock.”
“We anticipated high demand, but sales of Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography have outpaced the most optimistic pre-publication estimates,” SDHSP marketing director Jennifer E. McIntyre tells BookPage. “We attribute this to continuing publicity, well-placed advertising and enthusiastic reviews. The South Dakota Historical Society Press is temporarily out of stock but will begin shipping again in mid-January.“
Wilder wrote the autobiography in 1929-30, but was unable to sell it to a publisher. She later adapted much of the material from the book for her fictional Little House series, which became a beloved literary phenomenon. Pioneer Girl was finally published for the first time in November, in a beautifully illustrated and meticulously annotated edition, edited by Wilder biographer Pamela Smith Hill. The book received glowing reviews from numerous national publications, including BookPage.
McIntyre advises readers to check www.pioneergirlproject.org for updates on the book’s availability.