Even though our holidays might have felt way too short, we got in some reading over the break in time for the first set of staff recommendations of the year! Ranging from classics to hot off the press, time itself is a subject in this week’s picks.
The World for Sale by Javier Blas and Jack Farchy
The modern world is built on commodities – from the oil that fuels our cars to the metals that power our smartphones. We rarely stop to consider where they have come from. But we should.
In The World for Sale, two leading journalists lift the lid on one of the least scrutinised corners of the world economy: the workings of the billionaire commodity traders who buy, hoard and sell the earth’s resources.
It is the story of how a handful of swashbuckling businessmen became indispensable cogs in global markets: enabling an enormous expansion in international trade, and connecting resource-rich countries – no matter how corrupt or war-torn – with the world’s financial centres.
The Anomaly by Hervé Le Tellier
In their own way, they were all living double lives when they boarded the plane: Blake, a respectable family man who works as a contract killer. Slimboy, a Nigerian pop star who uses his womanizing image to hide that he’s gay. Joanna, a Black American lawyer pressured to play the good old boys’ game to succeed with her Big Pharma client. Victor Miesel, a critically acclaimed yet largely obscure writer suddenly on the precipice of global fame.
About to start their descent to JFK, they hit a shockingly violent patch of turbulence, emerging on the other side to a reality both perfectly familiar and utterly strange. As it charts the fallout of this logic-defying event, The Anomaly takes us on a journey from Lagos and Mumbai to the White House and a top-secret hangar.
The Sinner and the Saint by Kevin Birmingham
The Sinner and the Saint is the deeply researched and immersive tale of how Dostoevsky came to write this great murder story—and why it changed the world. As a young man, Dostoevsky was a celebrated writer, but his involvement with the radical politics of his day condemned him to a long Siberian exile. There, he spent years studying the criminals that were his companions. Upon his return to St. Petersburg in the 1860s, he fought his way through gambling addiction, debilitating debt, epilepsy, the deaths of those closest to him, and literary banishment to craft an enduring classic.
The germ of Crime and Punishment came from the sensational story of Pierre François Lacenaire, a notorious murderer who charmed and outraged Paris in the 1830s. Lacenaire was a glamorous egoist who embodied the instincts that lie beneath nihilism, a western-influenced philosophy inspiring a new generation of Russian revolutionaries. Dostoevsky began creating a Russian incarnation of Lacenaire, a character who could demonstrate the errors of radical politics and ideas.
His name would be Raskolnikov.
Crossings by Alex Landragin
On the brink of the Nazi occupation of Paris, a German-Jewish bookbinder stumbles across a manuscript called Crossings. It has three narratives, each as unlikely as the next. And the narratives can be read one of two ways: either straight through or according to an alternate chapter sequence.
The first story in Crossings is a never-before-seen ghost story by the poet Charles Baudelaire, penned for an illiterate girl. Next is a noir romance about an exiled man, modeled on Walter Benjamin, whose recurring nightmares are cured when he falls in love with a storyteller who draws him into a dangerous intrigue of rare manuscripts, police corruption, and literary societies. Finally, there are the fantastical memoirs of a woman-turned-monarch whose singular life has spanned seven generations.
With each new chapter, the stunning connections between these seemingly disparate people grow clearer and more extraordinary.
The Right to Sex by Amia Srinivasan
How should we talk about sex? Since #MeToo many have fixed on consent as the key framework for achieving sexual justice. Yet consent is a blunt tool. To grasp sex in all its complexity—its deep ambivalences, its relationship to gender, class, race and power—we need to move beyond yes and no, wanted and unwanted.
We do not know the future of sex—but perhaps we could imagine it. Amia Srinivasan’s traces the meaning of sex in our world, animated by the hope of a different world. She reaches back into an older feminist tradition that was unafraid to think of sex as a political phenomenon. She discusses a range of fraught relationships—between discrimination and preference, pornography and freedom, rape and racial injustice, punishment and accountability, students and teachers, pleasure and power, capitalism and liberation.
To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara
In an alternate version of 1893 America, New York is part of the Free States, where people may live and love whomever they please (or so it seems). The fragile young scion of a distinguished family resists betrothal to a worthy suitor, drawn to a charming music teacher of no means. In a 1993 Manhattan besieged by the AIDS epidemic, a young Hawaiian man lives with his much older, wealthier partner, hiding his troubled childhood and the fate of his father. And in 2093, in a world riven by plagues and governed by totalitarian rule, a powerful scientist’s damaged granddaughter tries to navigate life without him—and solve the mystery of her husband’s disappearances.
These three sections are joined in an enthralling and ingenious symphony, as recurring notes and themes deepen and enrich one another: A townhouse in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village; illness, and treatments that come at a terrible cost; wealth and squalor; the weak and the strong; race; the definition of family, and of nationhood; the dangerous righteousness of the powerful, and of revolutionaries; the longing to find a place in an earthly paradise, and the gradual realization that it can’t exist.
What unites not just the characters, but these Americas, are their reckonings with the qualities that make us human: Fear. Love. Shame. Need. Loneliness.
About Time by David Rooney
For thousands of years, people of all cultures have made and used clocks, from the city sundials of ancient Rome to the medieval water clocks of imperial China, hourglasses fomenting revolution in the Middle Ages, the Stock Exchange clock of Amsterdam in 1611, Enlightenment observatories in India, and the high-precision clocks circling the Earth on a fleet of GPS satellites that have been launched since 1978. Clocks have helped us navigate the world and build empires, and have even taken us to the brink of destruction. Elites have used them to wield power, make money, govern citizens, and control lives—and sometimes the people have used them to fight back.
Through the stories of twelve clocks, About Time brings pivotal moments from the past vividly to life. Historian and lifelong clock enthusiast David Rooney takes us from the unveiling of al-Jazari’s castle clock in 1206, in present-day Turkey; to the Cape of Good Hope observatory at the southern tip of Africa, where nineteenth-century British government astronomers moved the gears of empire with a time ball and a gun; to the burial of a plutonium clock now sealed beneath a public park in Osaka, where it will keep time for 5,000 years.
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Written at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Persuasion is a tale of love, heartache and the determination of one woman as she strives to reignite a lost love.
Anne Elliot is persuaded by her friends and family to reject a marriage proposal from Captain Wentworth because he lacks in fortune and rank. More than seven years later, when he returns home from the Navy, Anne realises she still has strong feelings for him, but Wentworth only appears to have eyes for a friend of Anne’s.
Moving, tender, but intrinsically ‘Austen’ in style, with it’s satirical portrayal of the vanity of society in eighteenth-century England, Persuasion celebrates enduring love and hope.
Joan is Okay by Weike Wang
Joan is a thirtysomething ICU physician at a busy New York City hospital. She’s a workaholic with little interest in having friends, let alone lovers, and her medical colleagues misread her dedication to work as ambition. The daughter of Chinese parents who immigrated to America to secure the American dream, Joan sometimes looks up and wonders where her true roots lie: at the hospital, where her white coat makes her feel needed, or with her family, who try to shape her life by their own social and cultural expectations.
After Joan and her brother, Fang, were grown, their parents moved back to China, hoping to live out the balance of their years in their homeland. But when Joan’s father suddenly dies, her mother returns for a visit to America, determined to connect with her daughter while staying at Fang’s sprawling Greenwich estate. The hospital, and life on the Upper West Side, provide Joan some cover–until things shift yet again. First an outspoken man moves into the apartment next door and tries to draw Joan out of her comfort zone, and into the lives of their neighbors. Then, the hospital’s new HR “wellness initiative” requires Joan to take a mandatory leave of absence, to foster a better work/life balance.
On the cusp of the Chinese New Year and for lack of better options, Joan decamps to Fang’s to regain her equilibrium–until the day she must return to the city to face a crisis larger than anything she’s encountered before.
Due January 18
The Appeal by Janice Hallett
The Fairway Players, a local theatre group, is in the midst of rehearsals when tragedy strikes the family of director Martin Hayward and his wife Helen, the play’s star. Their young granddaughter has been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, and with an experimental treatment costing a tremendous sum, their fellow castmates rally to raise the money to give her a chance at survival.
But not everybody is convinced of the experimental treatment’s efficacy—nor of the good intentions of those involved. As tension grows within the community, things come to a shocking head at the explosive dress rehearsal. The next day, a dead body is found, and soon, an arrest is made. In the run-up to the trial, two young lawyers sift through the material—emails, messages, letters—with a growing suspicion that a killer may be hiding in plain sight. The evidence is all there, between the lines, waiting to be uncovered.
Due January 25