We’re branching out into some new subjects in this week’s list of suggested books: numbers, graphic novels, and honest living!
Sisters in Resistance by Tilar J Mazzeo
In 1944, news of secret diaries kept by Italy’s Foreign Minister, Galeazzo Ciano, had permeated public consciousness. What wasn’t reported, however, was how three women—a Fascist’s daughter, a German spy, and an American banker’s wife—risked their lives to ensure the diaries would reach the Allies, who would later use them as evidence against the Nazis at Nuremberg.
In 1944, Benito Mussolini’s daughter, Edda, gave Hitler and her father an ultimatum: release her husband, Galeazzo Ciano, from prison, or risk her leaking her husband’s journals to the press. To avoid the peril of exposing Nazi lies, Hitler and Mussolini hunted for the diaries for months, determined to destroy them.
Hilde Beetz, a German spy, was deployed to seduce Ciano to learn the diaries’ location and take them from Edda. As the seducer became the seduced, Hilde converted as a double agent, joining forces with Edda to save Ciano from execution. When this failed, Edda fled to Switzerland with Hilde’s daring assistance to keep Ciano’s final wish: to see the diaries published for use by the Allies. When American spymaster Allen Dulles learned of Edda’s escape, he sent in Frances De Chollet, an “accidental” spy, telling her to find Edda, gain her trust, and, crucially, hand the diaries over to the Americans. Together, they succeeded in preserving one of the most important documents of WWII.
An Honest Living by Dwyer Murphy
After leaving behind the comforts and the shackles of a prestigious law firm, a restless attorney makes ends meet in mid-2000s Brooklyn by picking up odd jobs from a colorful assortment of clients. When a mysterious woman named Anna Reddick turns up at his apartment with ten thousand dollars in cash and asks him to track down her missing husband Newton, an antiquarian bookseller who she believes has been pilfering rare true crime volumes from her collection, he trusts it will be a quick and easy case. But when the real Anna Reddick—a magnetic but unpredictable literary prodigy—lands on his doorstep with a few bones to pick, he finds himself out of his depth, drawn into a series of deceptions involving Joseph Conrad novels, unscrupulous booksellers, aspiring flâneurs, and seedy real estate developers.
Set against the backdrop of New York at the tail end of the analog era and immersed in the worlds of literature and bookselling, An Honest Living is a gripping story of artistic ambition, obsession, and the small crimes we commit against one another every day.
Geography is Destiny by Ian Morris
When Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016, the 48 percent who wanted to stay and the 52 percent who wanted to go each accused the other of stupidity, fraud, and treason. In reality, the Brexit debate merely reran a script written ten thousand years earlier, when the rising seas physically separated the British Isles from the European continent. Ever since, geography has been destiny—yet it is humans who get to decide what that destiny means.
Ian Morris, the critically acclaimed author of Why the West Rules—for Now, describes how technology and organization have steadily enlarged Britain’s arena, and how its people have tried to turn this to their advantage. For the first seventy-five hundred years, the British were never more than bit players at the western edge of a European stage, struggling to find a role among bigger, richer, and more sophisticated continental rivals. By 1500 CE, however, new kinds of ships and governments had turned the European stage into an Atlantic one; with the English Channel now functioning as a barrier, England transformed the British Isles into a United Kingdom that created a worldwide empire. Since 1900, thanks to rapid globalization, Britain has been overshadowed by American, European, and—increasingly—Chinese actors.
In trying to find its place in a global economy, Britain has been looking in all the wrong places. The ten-thousand-year story bracingly chronicled by Geography Is Destiny shows that the great question for the current century is not what to do about Brussels; it’s what to do about Beijing.
Watersong by Clarissa Goenawan
When Shouji Arai crosses one of his company’s most powerful clients, he must leave Akakawa immediately or risk his life. But his girlfriend Youko is nowhere to be found.
Haunted by dreams of drowning and the words of a fortune teller who warned him away from three women with water in their names, he travels to Tokyo, where he tries in vain to track Youko down. But Shouji soon realises that not everything Youko told him about herself was true. Who is the real woman he once lived with and loved, and where could she be hiding?
Watersong is a spellbinding novel of loves lost and recovered, of secrets never spoken, and of how our pasts shape our futures.
The Moment by Andrea Constand
When Bill Cosby was convicted on three counts of aggravated indecent assault in 2018, the verdict sent shock waves around the globe. Some were outraged that a beloved icon of family values, the man dubbed “America’s dad,” had been accused, let alone convicted. Others were stunned because they had waited so long to see justice; in accusations going back decades, more than sixty women recounted how they’d been drugged, raped, and assaulted at Cosby’s hands. Andrea Constand is just one of these women, but her case could still be criminally prosecuted.
Constand’s legal marathon required her to endure an excruciating civil suit, and two harrowing criminal trials. It was her deep sense of personal and social responsibility, fostered by her close-knit immigrant family and values earned through team sports, that gave her the courage to testify at the criminal trial–something she agreed to do not for herself, but for the more than sixty other women whose stories would never be told in court. Ultimately, Constand’s testimony brought a powerful man to account. Cosby spent nearly three years in prison before his conviction was overturned on a procedural technicality in June 2021.
In The Moment, Constand opens up about the emotional and spiritual work she did to recover from the assault and the psychological regimen she developed to strengthen herself. She also gained a new understanding of the resiliency of human spirit, and the affirming knowledge that stepping up and doing the right thing, even when the outcome is uncertain, is the surest path to true healing. From the woman who has been called “the true hero of #MeToo,” The Moment is a memoir about the moment a life changes, as hers did when she was assaulted; about the moment, nearly a decade later, when she stood up for victims without a voice and put herself through an arduous criminal trial; and about the cultural moment, signified by the #MeToo movement, that made justice and accountability possible.
MOTHERCARE by Lynne Tillman
When a mother’s unusual health condition, normal pressure hydrocephalus, renders her entirely dependent on you, your sisters, caregivers, and companions, the unthinkable becomes daily life. In MOTHERCARE, Tillman describes doing what seems impossible: handling her mother as if she were a child and coping with a longtime ambivalence toward her.
In Tillman’s celebrated style and as a “rich noticer of strange things” (Colm Tóibín), she describes, without flinching, the unexpected, heartbreaking, and anxious eleven years of caring for a sick parent.
MOTHERCARE is both a cautionary tale and sympathetic guidance for anyone who suddenly becomes a caregiver. This story may be helpful, informative, consoling, or upsetting, but it never fails to underscore how impossible it is to get the job done completely right.
Dog Flowers by Danielle Geller
When Danielle Geller’s mother dies of alcohol withdrawal during an attempt to get sober, Geller returns to Florida and finds her mother’s life packed into eight suitcases. Most were filled with clothes, except for the last one, which contained diaries, photos, and letters, a few undeveloped disposable cameras, dried sage, jewelry, and the bandana her mother wore on days she skipped a hair wash.
Geller, an archivist and a writer, uses these pieces of her mother’s life to try and understand her mother’s relationship to home, and their shared need to leave it. Geller embarks on a journey where she confronts her family’s history and the decisions that she herself had been forced to make while growing up, a journey that will end at her mother’s home: the Navajo reservation.
Dog Flowers is an arresting, photo-lingual memoir that masterfully weaves together images and text to examine mothers and mothering, sisters and caretaking, and colonized bodies. Exploring loss and inheritance, beauty and balance, Danielle Geller pays homage to our pasts, traditions, and heritage, to the families we are given and the families we choose.
The Biggest Number in the World by David Darling and Agnijo Banerjee
We all know that numbers go on forever, that you could spend your life counting and never reach the end of the line, so there can’t be such a thing as a ‘biggest number’. Or can there?
To find out, David Darling and Agnijo Banerjee embark on an epic quest, revealing the answers to questions like: are there more grains of sand on Earth or stars in the universe? Is there enough paper on Earth to write out the digits of a googolplex? And what is a googolplex?
Then things get serious.
Enter the strange realm between the finite and the infinite, and float through a universe where the rules we cling to no longer apply. Encounter the highest number computable and infinite kinds of infinity. At every turn, a cast of wild and wonderful characters threatens the status quo with their ideas, and each time the numbers get larger.
A Career in Books by Kate Gavino
Shirin, Nina, and Silvia have just gotten their first jobs in publishing, at a University Press, a traditional publisher, and a trust-fund kid’s “indie” publisher, respectively. And it’s . . . great? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ They know they’re paying their dues and the challenges they meet (Shirin’s boss just assumes she knows Cantonese, Nina cannot get promoted by sheer force of will, and Silvia has to deal with daily microaggressions) are just part of “a career in books.” When they meet their elderly neighbor, Veronica Vo, and discover she’s a Booker Prize winner dubbed the “Tampax Tolstoy” by the press, each woman finds a thread of inspiration from Veronica’s life to carry on her own path. And the result is full of twists and revelations that surprise not only the reader but the women themselves.
Charming, wry, and with fantastic black-and-white illustrations, A Career in Books is a modern ode to Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything, and perfect for fans of Good Talk, Younger, and The Bold Type, as readers chart the paths of three Asian-American women trying to break through the world of books with hilarious, incisive, and heartbreaking results.
Elizabeth Finch by Julian Barnes
This novel of unrequited platonic love takes aim at the singular character of the exacting Elizabeth Finch. When Neil, adrift in his 30s, takes her adult education class on Culture and Civilization, he becomes deeply fascinated by this private, withholding yet commanding woman. While other personal relationships and even his children drift from his grasp, Neil hangs tight to Finch and her unorthodox application of history and philosophy to the practical matters of daily living. As much as he wants to figure her out intellectually, he want to please her. Both are impossible.
In Neil’s story, readers are treated to everything they cherish in Barnes: his eye for the unconventional forms love can take, a compelling swerve into nonfiction (this time through Neil’s obsessive study of Julian the Apostate, following the trail of crumbs Elizabeth Finch has left for him), and the forcefully moving undercurrent of history and biography as both nourishment and guide in our daily lives. Finch is a character who challenges the reader as much as her students to think for themselves, and leaves us searching for a way to deal with one of her simplest of ideas: “Some things are up to us, and some things are not up to us.”