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Find more Reading Together in Challenging Times
A book discussion can be a good way for readers to gain new insights and information, find comfort, and share ideas and feelings. These books, works of both nonfiction and fiction, address tough issues—from institutional racism to classism, environmental concerns, and pandemics—with varying degrees of intensity. Whether your group likes to face issues head on or ease into a gentler discussion, there is something meaningful here for every reader and discusser.
Diamond Doris: The True Story of the World’s Most Notorious Jewel Thief. By Doris Payne and Zelda Lockhart. 2019. Amistad, $25.99 (9780062917997).
At the core of Payne’s astonishing memoir about her audacious life as a jewel thief is her determination as a Black woman to resist systemic racism.
Eat Joy: Stories & Comfort Food from 31 Celebrated Writers. Ed. by Natalie Eve Garrett. 2019. Black Balloon, $22 (9781936787791).
This anthology of writers’ recollections of “hard times . . . and the foods that helped them make it through” includes recipes in each author’s own words, resulting in a widely varied and genuinely moving collection.
Heavy: An American Memoir. By Kiese Laymon. 2018. Scribner, $26 (9781501125652).
Writing directly to his mother, Laymon applies the title of his miraculously personal memoir to his body and his memories, to his inheritance as a Black man and his mother’s son, and also to the weight of truth—and writing it.
I Don’t Want to Die Poor. By Michael Arceneaux. 2020. Atria, $17 (9781982129309).
Arceneaux’s writing on the intersection of his crushing student loan debt and our cultural understanding of this common financial stranghold is meticulously researched, gut-bustingly funny, and rich with niche references to delight audiences.
In the Dream House. By Carmen Maria Machado. 2019. Graywolf, $26 (9781644450031).
In this chilling and precise memoir, Machado explores the trauma of an abusive relationship in “rooms,” each of which uses a different genre to explore personal and societal issues of gender and same-sex relationships.
The Language of Butterflies: How Thieves, Hoarders, Scientists, and Other Obsessives Unlocked the Secrets of the World’s Favorite Insect. By Wendy Williams. 2020. Simon & Schuster, $26 (9781501178061).
Williams’ entertaining, contagiously enthusiastic scientific history includes advocacy for countering the negative effects of climate change and pollution.
Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir. By Natasha Trethewey. 2020. Ecco, $27.99 (9780062248572).
In her exquisite, hard-hitting memoir, poet Trethewey chronicles her youth as the daughter of a white father and an African American mother, and confronts the horrors of her mother’s murder.
One Mighty and Irresistible Tide: The Epic Struggle over American Immigration, 1924–1965. By Jia Lynn Yang. 2020. Norton, $26.95 (9780393635843).
Yang maintains a rapid-fire narrative pace and a high level of intrigue as she recounts shifting public opinion and congressional battles over immigration in this gleaming work of historical truth-mining.
The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy. By Anna Clark. 2018. Holt/Metropolitan, $30 (9781250125149).
In this mind-blowing account of the Flint water crisis and attempted cover-up, Clark reveals how this Michigan city was poisoned by its leaders and largely abandoned to its fate by the state, in a call-to-arms tale of political cowardice and rampant disregard for the public.
Tales of Two Planets: Stories of Climate Change and Inequality in a Divided World. Ed. by John Freeman. 2020. Penguin, $18 (9780143133926).
Masterful essays, stories, and poems by 35 writers around the world create a clarion global chorus as they articulate what it feels like to live with the mounting casualties of pollution, extinction, and climate change.
Tigerland: 1968–1969; A City Divided, a Nation Torn Apart, and a Magical Season of Healing. By Wil Haygood. 2018. Knopf, $27.95 (9781524731861).
Haywood’s laugh-and-cry chronicle portrays the talented and determined athletes at an underserved, all-Black high school in Columbus, Ohio, who overcame enormous odds to win back-to-back state championships, embodying the pride and protest of the Black Power movement.
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion. By Jia Tolentino. 2019. Random, $27 (9780525510543).
In her kinetic essays, Tolentino addresses her childhood as a rare Asian American in a Texas evangelical community, her role in a teen reality-TV show, and her Peace Corps stint, delving into race, gender, sexual assault, and feminism.
American Spy. By Lauren Wilkinson. 2019. Random, $27 (9780812998955).
Wilkinson’s exciting novel of a brilliant CIA operative’s 1986 mission in Burkina Faso, and its aftermath, blends high-stakes political drama, insightful characterizations, and rich settings.
As Bright as Heaven. By Susan Meissner. 2018. Berkley, $16 (9780399585975).
A woman and her three daughters narrate their story of moving to Philadelphia for the family mortuary business, just as the 1918 flu pandemic sweeps in.
Blacktop Wasteland. By S. A. Cosby. 2020. Flatiron, $26.99 (9781250252685).
Beauregard “Bug” Montage agrees to do one last job before leaving crime behind for his wife and kids, but things go awry in this deeply human noir tale of a Black man trying to do good.
Book of the Little Axe. By Lauren Francis-Sharma. 2020. Atlantic, $26 (9780802129369).
Rosa flees tyranny against free Blacks in Trinidad, and by 1830 she’s living among the Crow Nation of Montana, in Francis-Sharma’s revelatory tale of colonial turmoil, slavery, and Western expansion.
The Deep. By Rivers Solomon, et al. 2019. Saga, $19.99 (9781534439863).
In this evocative, short novel, Yetu holds the communal memory of the society of aquatic beings descended from women thrown off slave ships, until the burden breaks her and she flees to the surface.
Interior Chinatown. By Charles Yu. 2020. Pantheon, $25.95 (9780307907196).
Yu conflates history, sociology, and ethnography with the timeless evils of racism, sexism, and elitism in an ingenuous, comically satirical, multigenerational epic about an Asian American actor contending with Hollywood stereotypes.
Lakewood. By Megan Giddings. 2020. Amistad, $26.99 (9780062913197).
Overwhelmed with taking care of her sickly mother, a young woman accepts an invitation to participate in mysterious research studies, but doesn’t anticipate the isolation caused by the experiments, or their terrifying effects.
The Pull of the Stars. By Emma Donoghue. 2020. Little, Brown, $28 (9780316499019).
In this gripping historical novel of a world beset by a pandemic and political uncertainty, Donoghue portrays a dedicated nurse and other extraordinary women working in an influenza-besieged Dublin hospital in 1918.
Survivor Song. By Paul Tremblay. 2020. Morrow, $27.99 (9780062679161).
During a rabies pandemic, a pediatrician and her pregnant friend embark on a desperate journey to save the baby, in a novel that is as gorgeously written as it is terrifying.
Things You Would Know If You Grew Up around Here. By Nancy Wayson Dinan. 2020. Bloomsbury, $27 (9781635574432).
In this debut shot-through with magical realism, a drought in Texas Hill Country is broken by torrential rains and flooding, and characters struggle as rivers and trees teem with displaced snakes and long-extinct animals.
We Cast a Shadow. By Maurice Carlos Ruffin. 2019. Random/One World, $27 (9780525509066).
In Ruffin’s trenchant satire, set in a disturbingly familiar near future, Nigel is determined to “demelanize” his biracial son so he can survive in a society that views Blackness as a disorder and forces Black men to choose between self-respect and survival.
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