This week’s set of suggestions seem a little divided between the haves and the have-nots. But, mostly it’s about art: books, music, movies, and colour.
Once Upon a Tome by Oliver Darkshire
Some years ago, Oliver Darkshire stepped into the hushed interior of Henry Sotheran Ltd (est. 1761) to apply for a job. Allured by the smell of old books and the temptation of a management-approved afternoon nap, Darkshire was soon unteetering stacks of first editions and placating the store’s resident ghost (the late Mr. Sotheran, hit by a tram).
A novice in this ancient, potentially haunted establishment, Darkshire describes Sotheran’s brushes with history (Dickens, the Titanic), its joyous disorganization, and the unspoken rules of its gleefully old-fashioned staff, whose mere glance may cause the computer to burst into flames. As Darkshire gains confidence and experience, he shares trivia about ancient editions and explores the strange space that books occupy in our lives—where old books often have strong sentimental value, but rarely a commercial one.
By turns unhinged and earnest, Once Upon a Tome is the colorful story of life in one of the world’s oldest bookshops and a love letter to the benign, unruly world of antiquarian bookselling, where to be uncommon or strange is the best possible compliment.
Künstlers in Paradise by Cathleen Schine
For years Mamie Künstler, ninety-three-years-old, as clever and glamorous as ever, has lived happily in her bungalow in Venice, California with her inscrutable housekeeper and her gigantic St. Bernard dog. Their tranquility is upended when Mamie’s grandson, Julian, arrives from New York City. Like many a twenty-something, he has come to seek his fortune in Hollywood. But it is 2020, the global pandemic sweeps in, and Julian’s short visit suddenly has no end in sight.
Mamie was only eleven when the Künstlers escaped Vienna in 1939. They made their way, stunned and overwhelmed, to sunny, surreal Los Angeles where they joined a colony of distinguished Jewish musicians, writers and intellectuals also escaping Hitler. Now, faced with months of lockdown and a willing listener, Mamie begins to tell Julian the buried stories of her early years in Los Angeles: her escapades with eminent émigrés like Arnold Schoenberg, Christopher Isherwood, Thomas Mann. Oh, and Greta Garbo. While the pandemic cuts Julian off from the life he knows, Mamie’s tales open up a world of lives that came before him. They reveal to him just how much the past holds of the future.
The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism by Martin Wolf
All the Colour in the World by CS Richardson
Henry, born 1916, thin-as-sticks, nearsighted, is an obsessive doodler—copying illustrations from his Boy’s Own magazines. Left in the care of a nurturing, Shakespeare-quoting grandmother, eight-year-old Henry receives as a gift his first set of colouring pencils (and a pocket knife for the sharpening). As he commits these colours to memory—cadmium yellow; burnt ochre; deep scarlet red—a passion for art, colour, and the stories of the great artists takes hold, and becomes Henry’s unique way of seeing the world. It is a passion that will both haunt and sustain him on his journey through the century: from boyhood dreams on a summer beach to the hothouse of art academia and a love cut short by tragedy; from the psychological wounds of war to the redemption of unexpected love.
Projected against a backdrop of iconic masterpieces—from the rich hues of the European masters to the technicolour magic of Hollywood—All the Colour in the World is Henry’s story: part miscellany, part memory palace, exquisitely precise with the emotional sweep of a great modern romance.
Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond
In this landmark book, acclaimed sociologist Matthew Desmond draws on history, research, and original reporting to show how affluent Americans knowingly and unknowingly keep poor people poor. Those of us who are financially secure exploit the poor, driving down their wages while forcing them to overpay for housing and access to cash and credit. We prioritize the subsidization of our wealth over the alleviation of poverty, designing a welfare state that gives the most to those who need the least. And we stockpile opportunity in exclusive communities, creating zones of concentrated riches alongside those of concentrated despair. Some lives are made small so that others may grow.
Elegantly written and fiercely argued, this compassionate book gives us new ways of thinking about a morally urgent problem. It also helps us imagine solutions. Desmond builds a startlingly original and ambitious case for ending poverty. He calls on us all to become poverty abolitionists, engaged in a politics of collective belonging to usher in a new age of shared prosperity and, at last, true freedom.
All This Could be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews
Graduating into the long maw of an American recession, Sneha is one of the fortunate ones. She’s moved to Milwaukee for an entry-level corporate job that, grueling as it may be, is the key that unlocks every door: she can pick up the tab at dinner with her new friend Tig, get her college buddy Thom hired alongside her, and send money to her parents back in India. She begins dating women—soon developing a burning crush on Marina, a beguiling and beautiful dancer who always seems just out of reach.
But before long, trouble arrives. Painful secrets rear their heads; jobs go off the rails; evictions loom. Sneha struggles to be truly close and open with anybody, even as her friendships deepen, even as she throws herself headlong into a dizzying romance with Marina. It’s then that Tig begins to draw up a radical solution to their problems, hoping to save them all.
A beautiful and capacious novel rendered in singular, unforgettable prose, All This Could Be Different is a wise, tender, and riveting group portrait of young people forging love and community amidst struggle, and a moving story of one immigrant’s journey to make her home in the world.
Tauhou by Kōtuku Titihuia Nuttall
Tauhou is an inventive exploration of Indigenous families, womanhood, and alternate post-colonial realities by Kōtuku Titihuia Nuttall, a writer of Maori and Coast Salish descent. This innovative hybrid novel envisions a shared past between two Indigenous cultures, set on reimagined versions of Vancouver Island and Aotearoa New Zealand that sit side by side in the ocean.
Each chapter is a fable, an autobiographical memory, a poem. A monster guards cultural objects in a museum, a woman uncovers her own grave, another woman remembers her estranged father. On rainforest beaches and grassy dunes, sisters and cousins contend with the ghosts of the past – all the way back to when the first foreign ships arrived on their shores.
In a testament to the resilience of Indigenous women, the two sides of this family, Coast Salish and Maori, must work together in understanding and forgiveness to heal that which has been forced upon them by colonialism. Tauhou is an ardent search for answers, for ways to live with truth. It is a longing for home, to return to the land and sea.
Ghost Music by An Yu
For three years, Song Yan has filled the emptiness of her Beijing apartment with the tentative notes of her young piano students. She gave up on her own career as a concert pianist many years ago, but her husband Bowen, an executive at a car company, has long rebuffed her pleas to have a child. He resists even when his mother arrives from the southwestern Chinese region of Yunnan and begins her own campaign for a grandchild. As tension in the household rises, it becomes harder for Song Yan to keep her usual placid demeanor, especially since she is troubled by dreams of a doorless room she can’t escape, populated only by a strange orange mushroom.
When a parcel of mushrooms native to her mother-in-law’s province is delivered seemingly by mistake, Song Yan sees an opportunity to bond with her, and as the packages continue to arrive every week, the women stir-fry and grill the mushrooms, adding them to soups and noodles. When a letter arrives in the mail from the sender of the mushrooms, Song Yan’s world begins to tilt further into the surreal. Summoned to an uncanny, seemingly ageless house hidden in a hutong that sits in the middle of the congested city, she finds Bai Yu, a once world-famous pianist who disappeared ten years ago.
A gorgeous and atmospheric novel of art and expression, grief and survival, memory and self-discovery, Ghost Music animates contemporary Beijing through the eyes of a lonely yet hopeful young woman and gives vivid color and texture to the promise of new beginnings.
The Dog of the North by Elizabeth McKenzie
Penny Rush has problems. Her marriage is over; she’s quit her job. Her mother and stepfather went missing in the Australian outback five years ago; her mentally unbalanced father provokes her; her grandmother Dr. Pincer keeps experiments in the refrigerator and something worse in the woodshed. But Penny is a virtuoso at what’s possible when all else fails.
Elizabeth McKenzie, the National Book Award–nominated author of The Portable Veblen, follows Penny on her quest for a fresh start. There will be a road trip in the Dog of the North, an old van with gingham curtains, a piñata, and stiff brakes. There will be injury and peril. There will be a dog named Kweecoats and two brothers who may share a toupee. There will be questions: Why is a detective investigating her grandmother, and what is “the scintillator”? And can Penny recognize a good thing when it finally comes her way?
This slyly humorous, thoroughly winsome novel finds the purpose in life’s curveballs, insisting that even when we are painfully warped by those we love most, we can be brought closer to our truest selves.
Hang the Moon by Jeannette Walls
Most folk thought Sallie Kincaid was a nobody who’d amount to nothing. Sallie had other plans.
Sallie Kincaid is the daughter of the biggest man in a small town, the charismatic Duke Kincaid. Born at the turn of the 20th century into a life of comfort and privilege, Sallie remembers little about her mother who died in a violent argument with the Duke. By the time she is just eight years old, the Duke has remarried and had a son, Eddie. While Sallie is her father’s daughter, sharp-witted and resourceful, Eddie is his mother’s son, timid and cerebral. When Sallie tries to teach young Eddie to be more like their father, her daredevil coaching leads to an accident, and Sallie is cast out.
Nine years later, she returns, determined to reclaim her place in the family. That’s a lot more complicated than Sallie expected, and she enters a world of conflict and lawlessness. Sallie confronts the secrets and scandals that hide in the shadows of the Big House, navigates the factions in the family and town, and finally comes into her own as a bold, sometimes reckless bootlegger.
You will fall in love with Sallie Kincaid, a feisty and fearless, terrified and damaged young woman who refuses to be corralled.