Our most recent selection of books we’ve enjoyed is what you might call a hodgepodge. But, the general theme seems to be finding one’s place be it on a map, in a book, or in the world.
Free by Lea Ypi
For precocious 11-year-old Lea Ypi, Albania’s Soviet-style socialism held the promise of a preordained future, a guarantee of security among enthusiastic comrades. That is, until she found herself clinging to a stone statue of Joseph Stalin, newly beheaded by student protests.
Communism had failed to deliver the promised utopia. One’s “biography”—class status and other associations long in the past—put strict boundaries around one’s individual future. When Lea’s parents spoke of relatives going to “university” or “graduating,” they were speaking of grave secrets Lea struggled to unveil. And when the early ’90s saw Albania and other Balkan countries exuberantly begin a transition to the “free market,” Western ideals of freedom delivered chaos: a dystopia of pyramid schemes, organized crime, and sex trafficking.
With her elegant, intellectual, French-speaking grandmother; her radical-chic father; and her staunchly anti-socialist, Thatcherite mother to guide her through these disorienting times, Lea had a political education of the most colorful sort—here recounted with outstanding literary talent.
Otherlands by Thomas Halliday
The past is past, but it does leave clues, and Thomas Halliday has used cutting-edge science to decipher them more completely than ever before. In Otherlands, Halliday makes sixteen fossil sites burst to life on the page. This book is an exploration of the Earth as it used to exist, the changes that have occurred during its history, and the ways that life has found to adapt-or not. It takes us from the savannahs of Pliocene Kenya to watch a python chase a group of australopithecines into an acacia tree; to a cliff overlooking the salt pans of the empty basin of what will be the Mediterranean Sea just as water from the Miocene Atlantic Ocean spills in; into the tropical forests of Eocene Antarctica; and under the shallow pools of Ediacaran Australia, where we glimpse the first microbial life.
Otherlands also offers us a vast perspective on the current state of the planet. The thought that something as vast as the Great Barrier Reef, for example, with all its vibrant diversity, might one day soon be gone sounds improbable. But the fossil record shows us that this sort of wholesale change is not only possible but has repeatedly happened throughout Earth history. Even as he operates on this broad canvas, Halliday brings us up close to the intricate relationships that defined these lost worlds. In novelistic prose that belies the breadth of his research, he illustrates how ecosystems are formed; how species die out and are replaced; and how species migrate, adapt, and collaborate.
Index, A History of the by Dennis Duncan
Most of us give little thought to the back of the book—it’s just where you go to look things up. But as Dennis Duncan reveals in this delightful and witty history, hiding in plain sight is an unlikely realm of ambition and obsession, sparring and politicking, pleasure and play. In the pages of the index, we might find Butchers, to be avoided, or Cows that sh-te Fire, or even catch Calvin in his chamber with a Nonne. Here, for the first time, is the secret world of the index: an unsung but extraordinary everyday tool, with an illustrious but little-known past.
Charting its curious path from the monasteries and universities of thirteenth-century Europe to Silicon Valley in the twenty-first, Duncan uncovers how it has saved heretics from the stake, kept politicians from high office, and made us all into the readers we are today. We follow it through German print shops and Enlightenment coffee houses, novelists’ living rooms and university laboratories, encountering emperors and popes, philosophers and prime ministers, poets, librarians and—of course—indexers along the way.
The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd
Nell Young’s whole life and greatest passion is cartography. Her father, Dr. Daniel Young, is a legend in the field and Nell’s personal hero. But she hasn’t seen or spoken to him ever since he cruelly fired her and destroyed her reputation after an argument over an old, cheap gas station highway map.
But when Dr. Young is found dead in his office at the New York Public Library, with the very same seemingly worthless map hidden in his desk, Nell can’t resist investigating. To her surprise, she soon discovers that the map is incredibly valuable and exceedingly rare. In fact, she may now have the only copy left in existence . . . because a mysterious collector has been hunting down and destroying every last one—along with anyone who gets in the way.
To answer that question, Nell embarks on a dangerous journey to reveal a dark family secret and discovers the true power that lies in maps . . .
Checkout 19 by Claire-Louise Bennett
In a working-class town in a county west of London, a schoolgirl scribbles stories in the back pages of her exercise book, intoxicated by the first sparks of her imagination.
As she grows, everything and everyone she encounters become fuel for a burning talent. The large Russian man in the ancient maroon car who careens around the grocery store where she works as a checkout clerk, and slips her a copy of Beyond Good and Evil. The growing heaps of other books in which she loses–and finds–herself. Even the derailing of a friendship, in a devastating violation. The thrill of learning to conjure characters and scenarios in her head is matched by the exhilaration of forging her own way in the world, the two kinds of ingenuity kindling to a brilliant conflagration
When we Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut
When We Cease to Understand the World is a book about the complicated links between scientific and mathematical discovery, madness, and destruction. Fritz Haber, Alexander Grothendieck, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrodinger: these are some of luminaries into whose troubled lives Labatut’s book thrusts the reader, showing us how they grappled with the most profound questions of existence. They have strokes of unparalleled genius, alienate friends and lovers, descend into isolation and insanity.
Some of their discoveries reshape human life to the better; others pave the way to chaos and unimaginable suffering. The lines are never clear. At a breakneck pace and with a wealth of disturbing detail, Benjamin Labatut uses the imaginative resources of fiction to tell the stories of scientists and mathematicians who expanded our notions of the possible.
Don’t Cry for Me by Daniel Black
As Jacob lies dying, he begins to write a letter to his only son, Isaac. They have not met or spoken in many years, and there are things that Isaac must know. Stories about his ancestral legacy in rural Arkansas that extend back to slavery. Secrets from Jacob’s tumultuous relationship with Isaac’s mother and the shame he carries from the dissolution of their family. Tragedies that informed Jacob’s role as a father and his reaction to Isaac’s being gay.
But most of all, Jacob must share with Isaac the unspoken truths that reside in his heart. He must give voice to the trauma that Isaac has inherited. And he must create a space for the two to find peace.
The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa
Bookish high school student Rintaro Natsuki is about to close the secondhand bookstore he inherited from his beloved bookworm grandfather. Then, a talking cat appears with an unusual request. The feline asks for—or rather, demands—the teenager’s help in saving books with him. The world is full of lonely books left unread and unloved, and the cat and Rintaro must liberate them from their neglectful owners.
Their mission sends this odd couple on an amazing journey, where they enter different mazes to set books free. Through their travels, the cat and Rintaro meet a man who leaves his books to perish on a bookshelf, an unwitting book torturer who cuts the pages of books into snippets to help people speed read, and a publishing drone who only wants to create bestsellers. Their adventures culminate in one final, unforgettable challenge—the last maze that awaits leads Rintaro down a realm only the bravest dare enter . . .
The Hummingbird by Sandro Veronesi
Marco Carrera is “the hummingbird,” a man with an almost supernatural ability to remain still amid the chaos of an ever-changing world. Though his life is rife with emotional challenges—suffering the death of his sister and the absence of his brother; caring for his elderly parents; raising his granddaughter when her mother, Marco’s own child, is no longer capable; loving an enigmatic woman—Marco carries on with a noble stoicism that belies an intensity for living. As the years pass and the arc of his life bends, Marco finds himself filled with joy for the future as the baton passes from him to the next generation.
A beautiful and compelling journey through time told in myriad narrative styles, The Hummingbird is a story of suffering, happiness, loss, love, and hope—of a man who embodies the quiet heroism that defines daily life for countless ordinary folk. A thrilling novel about the need to look to the future with hope and live with intensity to the very end, Sandro Veronesi’s masterpiece—eminently readable, rich in insight, and filled with interesting twists and revelations—is a portrait of human existence, the vicissitudes and vagaries that propel and ultimately define us
The High House by Jessie Greengrass
Perched on a sloping hill, set away from a small town by the sea, the High House has a tide pool and a mill, a vegetable garden, and, most importantly, a barn full of supplies. Caro, Pauly, Sally, and Grandy are safe, so far, from the rising water that threatens to destroy the town and that has, perhaps, already destroyed everything else. But for how long?
Caro and her younger half-brother, Pauly, arrive at the High House after her father and stepmother fall victim to a faraway climate disaster—but not before they call and urge Caro to leave London. In their new home, a converted summer house cared for by Grandy and his granddaughter, Sally, the two pairs learn to live together. Yet there are limits to their safety, limits to the supplies, limits to what Grandy—the former village caretaker, a man who knows how to do everything—can teach them as his health fails.