Our 51 Favorite Books of 2023

  • November 27, 2023

Declare certain books “the best”? Such hubris! But there's something special about these, and we hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

Our 51 Favorite Books of 2023

The Matter of Everything: How Curiosity, Physics, and Improbable Experiments Changed the World by Suzie Sheehy (Knopf). Reviewed by Stephen Case. “Do scientists shout ‘Eureka!’ when making major discoveries? No…Isaac Asimov purportedly said. Instead, they mutter, ‘That’s funny.’ One epic that’s funny event cropped up in 1895, when German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen, tinkering with a glass tube, forever revolutionized medicine and inspired a subsequent cornucopia of jaw-dropping innovations. This we learn from the splendid The Matter of Everything by Suzie Sheehy, holder of a doctorate in physics from…Oxford, where she investigates breakthrough particle-accelerator technologies. What did Röntgen do, exactly? Using a vacuum pump, he sucked the air out of the tube, hooked up electricity, and turned it on. The tube lit up, as expected. However — surprise, surprise — on the far side of the room, there glowed an unconnected phosphorescent screen. Action at a distance! That’s funny.”

Ghost Music: A Novel by An Yu (Grove Press). Reviewed by Angela María Spring. “Ghost Music asks us questions key to our own circumstances today. How have we allowed our emotional landscapes to separate from our bodies? As a society, why do we let ourselves, in this age of covid-19 and obscene healthcare disparities, live this way: sick, and only getting sicker? If Ling Ma’s Severance gave us a chilling pre-pandemic glimpse of how our capitalistic system could foster a virus that turns humans into automatons doomed to a living death, then Ghost Music shows us how we might find the trigger that wakes us up, forces us to confront our demons, and helps us heal.”

I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself: A Novel by Marisa Crane (Catapult). Reviewed by Tara Campbell. “I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself contains multitudes: dry humor, vibrant characters, unapologetic queerness and eroticism, the political manipulation of safety and respectability, the push and pull of mother-daughter relationships, and the questioning of what one says (and doesn’t say) to those one loves most. It is, in sum, a book about guilt, grief, and forgiveness — the hard kind you have to give yourself.”

Night Wherever We Go: A Novel by Tracey Rose Peyton (Ecco). Reviewed by Carrie Callaghan. “While their communal voice emphasizes their unity, each woman gets her own voice, too, in a deft maneuver that Peyton executes perfectly. The story moves easily from woman to woman, including even Lizzie, the white woman who owns the enslaved and clamors for them to have babies so she can have a ready wet-nurse to replace her own uncooperative breasts — no matter that doing so would mean weaning any enslaved babies early. The composition of the group waxes and wanes, as one woman leaves and another arrives, only to depart. ‘The road to becoming a we was not a honeyed one,’ they tell us. Part of the genius of the novel is that we feel their individual and their mutual pain.”

Skull Water: A Novel by Heinz Insu Fenkl (Spiegel & Grau). Reviewed by Alice Stephens. “Narrated in Insu’s straightforward voice, Skull Water feels both old-fashioned and refreshingly new. Thankfully unburdened by the overly complicated narrative structure currently favored in historical novels, the timeline is chronological, from 1974-1975, with some interim chapters narrating Big Uncle’s wartime experience. Inviting the reader into Insu’s bicultural world, Korean words are italicized but not defined, and author Fenkl refers to people in direct translation from their Korean designations, such as Nokchon Cousin and Country Sister.” 

Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey from Slavery to Freedom by Ilyon Woo (Simon & Schuster). Reviewed by Kitty Kelley. “Master Slave Husband Wife hits all the marks of a masterpiece: unforgettable characters, stirring conflicts, breathtaking courage, and a pulsating plot wrapped around an unforgiveable sin. Author Woo is a rare breed of writer — a scholar with a Ph.D. who’s nevertheless mastered the art of narrative nonfiction. She tells this story with incomparable skill, following the Crafts from Philadelphia to Boston, where they become icons of the abolitionist movement, traveling the antislavery lecture circuit. But the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 forces them to keep on the run. By law, they’re still enslaved and deeply in danger, especially once Robert Collins, Ellen’s owner back in Georgia, hires bounty hunters to track them down.”

The Red Balcony: A Novel by Jonathan Wilson (Schocken). Reviewed by Amanda Holmes Duffy. “We learn that Ivor doesn’t feel at home in Palestine, nor does he identify with the Jews there, although he has been the victim of antisemitic remarks himself. Things become a lot more complicated than they seem, and there is always another wrinkle. It’s as if the middle pages of The Red Balcony were written by a different, more sober Jonathan Wilson. You can’t judge a book by its cover or by its concessions to popular culture — the latter just another compromise in a book about compromises. The dust jacket calls this work ‘a gripping novel of sex, love and justice.’ It’s actually a much more serious and considered book in disguise.”

The Diary Keepers: World War II in the Netherlands, as Written by the People Who Lived Through It by Nina Siegal (Ecco). Reviewed by Peggy Kurkowski. “Siegal masterfully organizes her eloquent diarists to paint a holistic picture of a nation torn between collaboration and resistance. She also asks tough questions about how much ordinary people knew about the mass incarceration and slaughter of their Jewish neighbors. In the chapter ‘What Do You Have to Know to Know?’ she engages with what Holocaust scholars call “the knowledge question” and analyzes Dutch historians’ contributions on the question, contextualizing them with the diaries themselves to ‘see how people made choices that had an ethical and moral dimension, living history forward, within a vast sea of uncertainty.’”

I Saw Death Coming: A History of Terror and Survival in the War against Reconstruction by Kidada E. Williams (Bloomsbury Publishing). Reviewed by Paula Tarnapol Whitacre. “The harrowing title of Kidada E. Williams’ new book, I Saw Death Coming, is a quote from Abraham Brumfield of South Carolina, who was targeted, along with his wife, Emeline, because he engaged in ‘big talk’ about his civil and political rights. (Each chapter title, except for the wrap-up, directly quotes a survivor.) Williams, an associate professor of history at Wayne State University, places us inside people’s homes, alongside them in bed in some cases, as they hear men riding up on horseback and must calculate in a split second whether to fight, flee, or hide.”

Best Minds: How Allen Ginsberg Made Revolutionary Poetry from Madness by Stevan M. Weine (Fordham University Press). Reviewed by Mike Maggio. “Not only is Best Minds an examination of the influence of madness on Ginsberg and his work through the eyes of a psychiatrist, it is also a study of mid-20th-century psychiatry and the role Ginsberg played in fostering change in the field. Throughout the book, Weine attempts some literary analysis, yet this is not a literary study. Instead, it’s an analytical treatise that illuminates previously unknown details of the poet’s life. For this reason alone, it will be a valuable reference for future Ginsberg scholars.”

Who Gets Believed?: When the Truth Isn’t Enough by Dina Nayeri (Catapult). Reviewed by Gretchen Lida. “Perhaps it’s this razor-sharp understanding of the reality that plausibility often hinges on performance that makes Nayeri the perfect guide on her book’s exploration of truth and believability. Much like the documentarians in ‘4.1 Miles,’ she graphically depicts in Who Gets Believed? the duress endured by her subjects, showing that their ability to sell their true stories to those in authority — to convince them that what they’re hearing is fact — is a fundamental part of determining which victims find succor, and which have doors slammed in their faces.”

The Language of Trees: A Rewilding of Literature and Landscape by Katie Holten (Tin House). Reviewed by Samantha Neugebauer. “In her afterword, Holten calls The Language of Trees ‘a love letter to a vanishing world.’ She says by reading in her font, we’re forced to slow down and ‘re-read everything.’ It’s true, like when you begin reading in a second language. Moreover, we can download her Trees font and write with it ourselves, which is what I did with this review after first completing it in English. It seemed only fitting to talk about those long-gone oaks of my childhood in a language celebrating their world. Try it yourself.”

We Were Once a Family: A Story of Love, Death, and Child Removal in America by Roxanna Asgarian (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Reviewed by Alice Stephens. “We Were Once a Family is a heartbreaking and infuriating portrait of a broken system that favors family separation and punishment over social services and compassion. It’s also a galvanizing call for reform of the racist and classist policies that encourage the breakup of poor families in order to place children with more ‘desirable’ ones. These challenges are manifold and go to the very root of the ills that beset our nation, but as Dontay’s story makes clear, neglecting the most vulnerable only deepens the cracks in an already fractured society.”

A Brutal Reckoning: Andrew Jackson, the Creek Indians, and the Epic War for the American South by Peter Cozzens (Knopf). Reviewed by Peggy Kurkowski. “A Brutal Reckoning is an engrossing and objective study of the war that opened American expansion into the Deep South in the early 19th century and sent a proud Native American people into exile. Impressively detailed, it provides the definitive account of the Creek confederacy and its failure to overcome its own divisions in the face of a militantly expansionist white nation.”

Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma by Claire Dederer (Knopf). Reviewed by Yelizaveta P. Renfro. “Monsters is an expansive and big-hearted work, part memoir, part cultural criticism, part paean to complexity and nuance, and a full embrace of the human experience. It’s a cry to respond to art not just with the analytical mind or the critic’s prim embrace, but with the full range of emotion, with the whole body, the complete biographical self. It is a refreshing book that is at times uncomfortable, even painful, but necessarily so. We cannot simply label the monsters, put them in cages, and excise them from our lives, because they are everywhere among us. They are us.”

Once Upon a Prime: The Wondrous Connections Between Mathematics and Literature by Sarah Hart (Flatiron Books). Reviewed by John P. Loonam. “In high school, I learned that the world is divided in half: Some of us are math and science people, and some of us are humanities people. I look back on that lesson with regret — it allowed me to justify my poor effort and poor grades in math class — but life has since provided a number of reasons why giving up on math was a bad idea. Now Sarah Hart has provided another one, while calling the division itself into question. Once Upon a Prime is her new study of the ‘Connections between Mathematics and Literature.’ It is a playful, generous book that wears its considerable erudition lightly and offers a welcome mat to those of us who find ourselves on one side of the divide and trying to cross over.”

King: A Life by Jonathan Eig (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Reviewed by Kitty Kelley. “In this biography, his sixth book, Eig writes like an Olympic diver who jackknifes off the high board, slicing the water without a ripple. He performs with sheer artistry, like Picasso paints and Astaire dances. In unspooling the life of King, Eig presents a complicated man who attempted suicide twice; who was plagued by clinical depression so deep it required hospitalization; who chewed his nails; and who gave up the ‘true love’ of his life, a white woman named Betty Moitz, because he realized, with her, he would never be accepted as a preacher in Black churches. The late Harry Belafonte, who himself married a white woman, told Eig that King never stopped talking about Moitz, and King’s mentor in graduate school described him after the break-up as ‘a man with a broken heart,’ adding, ‘he never recovered.’”

Small Mercies: A Novel by Dennis Lehane (Harper). Reviewed by Bob Duffy. “For Lehane’s Small Mercies heroine, and for readers, there are stark epiphanies along Mary Pat’s headlong descent, heartbreaking moments as her one-time certainties are wrenched away. Through every suspenseful turn, a remarkable effect persists. Through every bloody excess on her careening march toward a dire awakening, this Boston mother remains wholly sympathetic. We’re behind her all the way, battered and noble, with Southie allotting her only small mercies. This is a novel aglow with brilliant, painful ironies, a virtuoso demonstration of skill and control in revenge-tragedy form. Don’t let this book pass you by.”

Juno Loves Legs: A Novel by Karl Geary (Catapult). Reviewed by Mike Maggio. “Sometimes, a novel comes along that touches you like no other. It might be the storyline that tears at your emotions, or perhaps the idiosyncratic characters who capture your heart. If you’re really lucky, the prose itself may flow in a way that’s so immersive, you hardly notice you’re reading because you’ve been fully transported into its fictional world. Karl Geary’s Juno Loves Legs does all of this and more.”

Into the Groove: The Story of Sound from Tin Foil to Vinyl by Jonathan Scott (Bloomsbury Sigma). Reviewed by Eugene L. Meyer. “Remarkably, and to the author’s delight, despite the ever-evolving formats for recorded music, vinyl ‘keeps getting back up.’ I read recently that the original 1959 vinyl record of Miles Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue’ could be worth thousands now. As for current top artists, everyone from Beyoncé and Taylor Swift to Harry Styles releases brand-new albums on old-school vinyl. After 265 pages of text, Scott shares an epiphany: ‘It wasn’t the format that was important, it wasn’t how you listened to anything. It was what you were listening to, and how what you listened to made you feel.’ To bring us full circle in his excellent, absorbing book, he adds, ‘And it all came from the groove.’”

Like the Appearance of Horses: A Novel by Andrew Krivak (Bellevue Literary Press). Reviewed by Marilyn Oser. “This pattern of leaving the land; of experiencing danger, trauma, and imprisonment of one kind or another; and of eventually returning to the same place but a different reality — this death and rebirth — forms the core of the family’s saga. The narrative, though, is anything but linear. It unfolds in eight sections that move back and forth in time, like jigsaw pieces of a picture, each segment deepening a part of the story until all of it has been laid bare.”

A Stranger in Baghdad: A Novel by Elizabeth Loudon (Hoopoe). Reviewed by AA Bastian. “As Mona reaches adulthood and the climate becomes more volatile, Diane is increasingly caught between two very different players in the country’s political dynamics: Duncan and her husband. While both seek to conceal from her precisely what they’re doing, she seems to know more than they’d like. This makes her a threat. The author looks at her characters from multiple angles throughout the novel, exploring their foibles and prejudices alongside their triumphs and passions. In the process, she conjures an intimate, intricate portrait of how people’s lives are jostled and remade as a changing country’s fortunes ebb and flow.”

The Postcard: A Novel by Anne Berest (Europa Editions). Feature by Kitty Kelley. “Now comes another un-put-down-able book, The Postcard, by French writer Anne Berest, who defines her Holocaust work as an ‘auto-hybrid,’ an ‘autobiography of sorts,’ and ‘a true novel’ that she’s wrapped in bits of fiction to protect the grandchildren, still alive, who had nothing to do with the unconscionable crimes committed by their relatives during World War II. Berest begins her story with a mysterious postcard featuring Paris’ Palais Garnier opera house sent to her mother. On the back are the names of her mother’s grandfather, grandmother, aunt, and uncle — all annihilated in Auschwitz in 1942. No note. No signature. No return address. Most disturbing to Berest was the image of the Opéra Garnier — the central locale of the Nazis during their occupation of France.”

Loot: A Novel by Tania James (Knopf). Reviewed by Carrie Callaghan. “James’ most sensitive portrait comes at the end of the novel, with a mismatched odd couple — whose identities I won’t reveal for spoiler purposes — whose flawed romance rings perfectly, tragically true. They, like some of the other characters, dance up to the edge of camp but are too complex to become punchlines. James humanizes the ridiculous and, in doing so, makes an optimistic assertion about resilience in the face of the cruelty of colonialism. For though her characters are yanked around by one another’s ambitions, greed, and fear, they are never tugged so far that they leave their hearts behind.”

The Dissident: A Novel by Paul Goldberg (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Author interview by Cathy Alter. “Introducing Paul Goldberg at Politics and Prose in Washington, DC, recently during the launch of Goldberg’s latest novel, The Dissident, moderator Andrew Weiss described the book as being ‘like a Coen Brothers directing of a Bond film.’ He was serious. How else to describe a story that follows a ragtag bunch of Jewish refuseniks in mid-1970s Moscow trying to solve the murder of one of their own with the clock ticking? Henry Kissinger is about to arrive, and the group’s de-facto leader (who discovered the homicide) must find the killer or risk becoming a suspect himself. Goldberg’s inventive caper skewers everyone in it, from the KGB to the protagonists to the authors of a book called The Laws of Jewish Life. It’s also a love letter to the country of Goldberg’s birth.”

Crook Manifesto: A Novel by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday). Reviewed by Jennifer Bort Yacovissi. “Shuffle introduced us to Ray Carney: husband, father of two, full-time furniture-store owner, and part-time fence. He came up under the unsentimental tutelage of his single father, Big Mike, a freelance criminal generalist who took whatever unseemly jobs came his way. Big Mike would drop his son off for daycare at the local bar whenever he was working. Nonetheless, Carney’s greater impulse is to be on the straight and narrow — or at least he wants to want to be. He needs to measure up in the eyes of his wife’s upper-middle-class parents, and he truly desires a safe and stable home life for Elizabeth and their children, May and John. What he discovers in his journey as an entrepreneur in Harlem, unfortunately, is that grift is everywhere and staying legitimate is harder than it looks.”

Demoiselles of Numidia: A Novel by Mohamed Leftah; translated by Lara Vergnaud (Other Press). Reviewed by Susi Wyss. “Demoiselles of Numidia is not for the fainthearted. Any novel about a group of subjugated prostitutes and the men who exploit them can be expected to be a hard read. And yes, since the book doesn’t provide one, let me add a trigger warning here. One can well imagine that translator Lara Vergnaud — who does an impressive job preserving the author’s playfulness with language — had as hard a time with this novel as she did with one of his others. Still, Demoiselles of Numidia is an important part of Leftah’s literary legacy. Thirty years after the publication of the French version, this tragic work remains timely and relevant, encouraging the reader to reflect on universal themes of gender norms, the self-perpetuating cycle of violence, and the inextricable ties that forever bind victims and their victimizers.”

Saint Juniper’s Folly by Alex Crespo (Peachtree Teen). Reviewed by Nick Havey. “At the center of Saint Juniper’s Folly is a clever mystery that Crespo unfolds in tantalizing chunks. What is going on with the house we come to learn is called Blackwood? Why is Jaime the only one who can’t leave its boundaries? And why are Taylor and Theo the right ones to undo whatever magic is keeping Jaime prisoner? I loved unraveling the answers to these questions and look forward to more of Crespo’s writing. It is, in a word, enchanting.”

All the Sinners Bleed: A Novel by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron Books). Comment by K.L. Romo. “The author takes us into the psyche of the first Black sheriff in a rural Virginia county, who’s hunting a white serial killer. Cosby’s powerful prose and Southern vernacular skillfully transport us to the Deep South, where sometimes not even justice is color blind.”


Forgiving Imelda Marcos: A Novel by Nathan Go (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Reviewed by Keith Donohue. “At the time the novel begins, Lito is running out of time. Alone and dying in a hospital, he reaches out to his estranged journalist son in America, promising him a ‘scoop’ beneficial to his career, and shares through a series of letters the story of the drive with Cory Aquino and the secret meeting between the two old rivals, the oligarch and the reformer. Notionally a gift to his prodigal son, Lito’s letters soon expand and digress into the tale of his hardscrabble life; the role of his own largely neglectful father; the circuitous journey Lito took from a communist-guerrilla commune in the mountains to being taken in as a young man by the Aquinos; how he met his son’s mother; and, ultimately, the consequences of his lifetime separation from his child.”

The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession by Michael Finkel (Knopf). Reviewed by Charles Caramello. “Finkel has crafted The Art Thief with finesse and élan. He tells his tale of obsessive desires and ornate objects in measured and unadorned prose; employs a supple structure that separates the multiple threads of the tale while also exploring their weave; and advances the linear plot with narrative strategies that not only anticipate its foregone conclusion without giving it away, but also incorporate into the unfolding events his retrospective analyses of them.”

Counterweight: A Novel by Djuna; translated by Anton Hur (Pantheon). Reviewed by Andrea M. Pawley. “Forget about blinking while reading this book. If you do, you might miss the lines explaining how Han Junghyuk is related to Han Suhyun, or who Han Bugyeom is. Love interests come into play, too, with all their associated lineages, accomplishments, and grievances. Not all mysteries will be resolved by the novel’s end, but that doesn’t matter. Fast-paced and exhilarating, Counterweight is worth the ride.”

August Wilson: A Life by Patti Hartigan (Simon & Schuster). Reviewed by Kitty Kelley. “Yet as Patti Hartigan writes — gloriously — in August Wilson: A Life, the first major biography of the man, Wilson’s genius was singular and his work universal, winning him two Pulitzer Prizes and 29 Tony Awards. While Hartigan, a former theater critic for the Boston Globe, genuflects to Wilson’s monumental talent, she does not spare him his faults. Hypersensitive to slights and given to explosive rages unleashed on waitresses or workmen below him in status, Wilson was an errant husband who married three times and took countless lovers. His first priority in life — above family and friends — was his work. ‘For him,’ Hartigan states, ‘writing was a force necessary for survival.’”

Brooding Over Bloody Revenge: Enslaved Women’s Lethal Resistance by Nikki M. Taylor (Cambridge University Press). Reviewed by Peggy Kurkowski. “While not an exhaustive catalog of every instance of lethal resistance on the part of enslaved women, the book achieves Taylor’s goal of building a ‘blueprint’ for future research into this woefully understudied aspect of slavery. Buttressed with reams of powerful primary source material interpreted through the author’s penetrating lens of Black feminism, Brooding Over Bloody Revenge is a savagely brilliant look at oppressed women forced to seize justice for themselves.”

Eight Bears: Mythic Past and Imperiled Future by Gloria Dickie (W.W. Norton & Company). Reviewed by Gretchen Lida. “The book is part travelogue, part nature writing, and part profile. In search of her titular bears, Dickie goes far beyond the confines of America’s national parks, embarking instead on a worldwide tour. She studies ursidae in Vietnam, India, Canada, Peru, and other countries that still have wild ones in their midst. Throughout, the book walks a delicate and essential line of “both/and,” noting that truth is often found in maddening contradictions. Yes, bears have inflicted pain on mankind, but we have also inflicted pain on them. Yes, they are a beloved part of folklore, but they are also archetypical fairytale monsters.”

Hangman: A Novel by Maya Binyam (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Reviewed by Sally Shivnan. “At the end of the novel, the narrator’s own trust in his tale is upended in a unique, remarkable way that invites readers to revisit their assumptions as things fall into place that had not seemed out of place before. The conclusion is in keeping with the absurd elements everywhere in the story and with the dreamlike quality of the narrator’s journey. It’s a clever ending that some may find too clever. ‘So, I stood where I stood,’ Binyam’s narrator declares at one point, ‘waiting for my life to happen.’ Plenty ends up happening for him on this otherworldly trip to the trippy otherworld that is Maya Binyam’s Hangman.”

Happiness Falls: A Novel by Angie Kim (Hogarth). Reviewed by Bob Duffy. “At the outset, there’s a sleepy suburban ambience about Happiness Falls, which takes place just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. A man and his 14-year-old son have set out for a morning walk in a nearby park, as they do most days. But today the boy stumbles home alone, distraught and at a hellbent run, his clothes spattered with blood. When his mom and older twin siblings question him, he’s unable to tell them what happened. The missing-person opening is a fictional commonplace, but author Angie Kim reinvigorates the formula with a host of remarkably non-standard particulars, nudging this, her second book, past the familiar whodunit drapery. The result is a challenging, thoughtful novel of ideas that nevertheless holds fast to a traditional mystery’s rhythms of sequential discovery.”

Budapest: Portrait of a City Between East and West by Victor Sebestyen (Pantheon). Reviewed by Anne Cassidy. “Liszt is just one of many artists, writers, and politicians whose stories are woven into the book. Another is Count István Széchenyi, who helped bring modern Budapest into being by ensuring there was a permanent bridge between Buda and Pest — according to one theory, because he had a mistress on each side. An updated version of Széchenyi’s 19th-century span contributes to contemporary Budapest’s fairytale charm. That and the Parliament Building, which has been described as a ‘Turkish bath crossed with a Gothic chapel.’ It’s the Parliament Building, in fact, that graces the cover of this volume and gives it something of a guidebook feel. Budapest is not a guidebook, though. It’s more expansive than that. But after reading it — after absorbing the tragic and inspiring history of Hungary and its capital — you’ll want a guidebook to see for yourself the city that Sebestyen so lovingly brings to life.”

The Which of Shakespeare’s Why: A Novel of the Authorship Mystery Near Solution Today by Leigh Light (City Point Press). Reviewed by Marcie Geffner. “The play, for its part, is godawful to the point of hilarity. And while Harry’s ramblings might not all make sense — and certainly won’t prove that de Vere penned Shakespeare’s works — it’s fun trying to follow his twisted logic as he attempts to confirm de Vere’s authorship. What elevates The Which of Shakespeare’s Why above farce is its unsettling suggestion that it might be impossible to prove who actually wrote, well, any long-ago work. Can evidence be found in the attribution of the work to a particular author, the historical circumstances surrounding its creation, or the details of the author’s life? Maybe. Or maybe not. Either way, you’ll LOL along with the sly author of this rollicking tale, whoever they may be.”

Every Drop Is a Man’s Nightmare: Stories by Megan Kamalei Kakimoto (Bloomsbury Publishing). Reviewed by Molly McGinnis. “It would be fitting but too simple to call this collection haunting. The stories in Megan Kamalei Kakimoto’s Every Drop Is a Man’s Nightmare are so lavishly imagined, and their characters — from young women to mythical beings to watchful ancestors and even Hawaii itself — are so defiant, that to offer any solid definitions seems like a betrayal of the book’s ethics. Here, boundaries between the past and present, the living and the dead, are not so much flimsy as nonexistent.”

Pockets: An Intimate History of How We Keep Things Close by Hannah Carlson (Algonquin). Reviewed by Yelizaveta P. Renfro. “The author examines a number of explanations for why women’s clothing has not offered pockets in such constant abundance as men’s: Women’s fashions changed rapidly (high-waisted dresses, bustles, and other features making it challenging to incorporate pockets) while men’s suits have remained relatively stable; women feared unsightly ‘bulges’ caused by pockets that could ruin a form-fitting look; industrialized production methods for manufacturing womenswear lagged behind menswear by about a hundred years; and so on. The bottom line, though, is that if pockets are a tool of preparedness and power, clothing lacking them impacts its wearers.”

Necessary Trouble: Growing Up at Midcentury by Drew Gilpin Faust (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Reviewed by Patricia Schultheis. “Necessary Trouble is both an engaging memoir and an essential social history. Readers will find it a book well worth reading on both counts. Author Drew Gilpin Faust, the first female president of Harvard, began her academic career as an historian, an area of interest that perhaps was inevitable. A sense of the past permeated every aspect of her childhood in Virginia horse country. ‘I knew I lived in history,’ she writes. ‘Nearly a century after Appomattox, Virginia was still breathing the air of war and defeat.’”

The Heart of It All: A Novel by Christian Kiefer (Melville House). Reviewed by Anne Eliot Feldman. “Kiefer’s expertly drawn characters rarely lose sight of ‘the fierce terror of life’s essential fragility, not only brittle but actively aflame.’ While most are ‘surviving paycheck to paycheck, on loan, on credit, on faith,’ it is their human frailties that move us to the core. Mary Lou wonders if the career path she chose might’ve been far less ambitious than she was capable of achieving. She and others like her put in long hours at tedious jobs they hate but need. Anthony’s hyper-awareness of being a 19-year-old Black man in an all-white community is palpable when he takes an innocent stroll at night while Tom’s daughter, Janey, walks nearby. Tom and Sarah, for their part, persist in a difficult marriage.”

Mobility: A Novel by Lydia Kiesling (Crooked Media Reads). Reviewed by Samantha Neugebauer. “Fundamentally, Mobility is a work of climate fiction, and its final chapter paints a bleak near-future picture of what’s to come if middle-management all-stars like Bunny continue to prioritize their material comfort and career ambitions over making unpopular though morally right choices. While our leaders (along with the Phils and Franks of the world) wield the most power, Kiesling suggests that shills like Bunny also make the looming — or, rather, existing — environmental catastrophe possible.”

The Parrot and the Igloo: Climate and the Science of Denial by David Lipsky (W.W. Norton & Company). Reviewed by Christopher Lancette. “But as fascinating as the destination of denialism is, the author’s stops along the way are equally enthralling. The first section of the book is dedicated to inventors we only thought we knew — including Franklin, Thomas Edison, and George Westinghouse. The second section heralds the scientists most of us have never heard of unless we have a bunch of letters after our names or are green junkies. People like Roger Revelle, an oceanographer and climate-study pioneer who, as early as the 1950s, posited that adding too much carbon dioxide to the atmosphere could lead to global warming. And figures like Jim Hansen, a NASA climate scientist nicknamed ‘the Paul Revere of Global Warming,’ who testified to Congress in 1988 that the age of a hotter planet had arrived.”

Night Watch: A Novel by Jayne Anne Phillips (Knopf). Reviewed by Kristin H. Macomber. “Early on in Night Watch, in a quiet moment before one of the most brutal battles of the war, Phillips gives her most complicated character a respite in the shade of flowering dogwood, where the soft petals remind him of the curve of his beloved’s hand. A second later, he senses the approach of a monstrous enemy, Confederate troops marching toward his regiment, their lockstep footfalls shaking, ever so gently, those fragrant and delicate blooms. There are dozens of passages in Night Watch that deliver moments so vivid, so full of sensory awareness, that they demand both immediate rereading and the folding down of the appropriate page’s corner so they can be revisited.”

Two Roads Home: Hitler, Stalin and the Miraculous Survival of My Family by Daniel Finkelstein (Doubleday). Reviewed by Paula Tarnapol Whitacre. “As children, Mirjam and Ludwik were not fully aware of many events that allowed them to survive. Mirjam’s father’s prewar connections in Switzerland helped the family obtain papers that attested to Paraguayan citizenship. As part of a prisoner exchange, they were sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp — itself a horror — and finally released. While obviously grateful, Finkelstein makes clear that ‘the Belsen exchange which freed my mother can be thought of as a miracle…But what happened to my mother was not really a miracle. That there were such small numbers swapped and that it happened so late, is closer to a scandal.’ Throughout the war, Allied leaders either dragged their feet or actively undermined efforts to get Jews out of Europe.”

Blackouts: A Novel by Justin Torres (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Reviewed by Carr Harkrader. “Readers’ patience for such intriguing, digressive, confusing, interrupted, and allusive writing may determine their reaction to the book…But reading the novel a second time felt like picking up another book. New details stepped out as if from behind a curtain. This time around, the story seemed to be about the perplexing impact of parentage. That’s because Blackouts focuses, in part, on the contributions Jan Gay made to the research undergirding “Sex Variants” and how that work was appropriated by the study’s main (straight) author. Her research was taken from her and grew into something entirely different. But Gay has her own stories, the reader discovers, told within and around her erasure.”

The Globe: How the Earth Became Round by James Hannam (Reaktion Books). Reviewed by Anne Cassidy. “Throughout the book, Hannam explores the role of religion and culture in scientific thinking. Manicheans and Zoroastrians had trouble reconciling a spherical world with their beliefs. The Chinese clung to their perception of a square earth and circular heaven until the 18th century. Saint Augustine knew about the round world from Aristotle, but because it didn’t sit well with a literal reading of the Bible, he kept quiet about it. In general, though, religion has squelched science less often than we think, Hannam asserts.”

Ndima Ndima by Tsitsi Mapepa (Catalyst Press). Reviewed by Susi Wyss. “Eventually, Zuva and Nyeredzi’s collective grief over losses to violence and disease lead them both to have crises of faith, creating a divide between them that Nyeredzi must attempt to bridge. It is a testament to Mapepa’s writing that, as she intended, readers feel pulled into the women’s woes, a constant reminder that, according to Zuva, ‘We are all related through humanity.’”

To Free the Captives: A Plea for the American Soul by Tracy K. Smith (Knopf). Reviewed by Sarah Trembath. “In between memories, researched realizations, visits with folks, and all that she learns about her upwardly mobile loved ones, Smith paints a picture of what it really meant/means to be Black and survive, ‘to stand up against blow after psychic blow.’ She writes not of the big tragedies and blockades that we already know about but of the all-but-invisible humiliations endured and sometimes transcended by proud people with little recourse to challenge them outright. Using the poet’s skill of rendering in words things all but impossible to render in words, Smith tells us about how a prayer is heard.”

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