African Americans have been struggling for independence, equality and respect from the moment they were brought to the New World in chains. As that struggle continues today, it’s instructive to look back on our turbulent history to learn from the past and hopefully improve on the future. The five books featured here can help us to do just that, examining historical themes that serve as milestones on the journey of progress.
As Valentine’s Day draws nigh, our thoughts turn to romance. These three books explore dating and relating from a variety of viewpoints.
An unnamed, ingenue heroine. A dramatic location by the sea. A wealthy and cultured older gentleman. If this sounds like the plot of the beloved mystery Rebecca, it is—but Rachel Pastan’s third novel pays homage to the Daphne du Maurier classic while adding a few new twists. Alena’s young heroine is a curator at a small art museum in the Midwest. Visiting the Venice Biennale with her employer, she is introduced to Bernard Augustin, the wealthy and enigmatic founder of the Nauquasset, a museum on Cape Cod that specializes in cutting-edge work.
At the start of The Swan Gondola, Timothy Schaffert’s enchanting new historical novel, two elderly spinster sisters discover a man in their front yard who has fallen from the sky (or from a hot air balloon, at least). The man in question is Ferret Skerritt, a ventriloquist turned star-crossed lover with an incredible tale to tell.
Few writers engage readers in thinking about the meaning of scientific discoveries as well as Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer at The New Yorker. Kolbert’s enviable talents, her wit and intelligence, the clarity of her prose, are on full display in The Sixth Extinction, a fascinating and alarming book that examines mass extinctions of life forms, past and present.
Eric Carle asked a handful of children’s illustrators a question: What’s Your Favorite Animal? The answers are creative jewels by 14 beloved artists, including Mo Willems, Rosemary Wells, Lane Smith and Jon Klassen. Children and adults alike will enjoy the varied responses, each on a two-page spread, including anecdotes, childhood memories and more—all with illustrations, of course.
The end of the world is coming, and it will start in the small town of Ealing, Iowa. While skateboarding and smoking in an abandoned alley they’ve nicknamed Grasshopper Jungle, best friends Austin Szerba and Robby Brees are accosted by neighborhood bullies. After a scuffle, the boys’ shoes and skateboards wind up on the roof of a dilapidated pancake house. When they sneak up to the roof later that night to retrieve their missing items, Austin and Robby have no idea that they’re about to witness a series of events that could result in the end of the human race.
If you knew the world was going to end in less than a week, how would you spend your final days? Though few people would likely answer that question by piling into a car and taking a road trip across the country, in Mary Miller’s The Last Days of California, that’s exactly what the Metcalfs choose to do. Believing they will soon ascend to their rightful home in the kingdom of heaven, this family of four sets out from Alabama with the goal of reaching California by the end of the week so that they might be among the last people on Earth to witness the impending Rapture.
The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success is true to its title, flipping an entrenched view of success on its ear. Author Megan McArdle argues for the value of failure, not just in business but law enforcement, job hunting, even love. Writers like to toss around the Samuel Beckett advice to “fail better,” but what does that mean in practice?
Brimsby is a hat maker. He lives in a tiny cottage in the country, and his best friend, a badger, visits daily to chat over delicious hot tea. When his bestie leaves to become a sea captain, Brimsby is lonely and sets out to make some new friends. Birds high up in a tree are too busy keeping warm to pay him any mind. When Brimsby returns with hats for each, large enough to cover their nests and keep out the wind and snow, he makes more than enough new friends in one fell swoop.