“This is a female text.” These words recur throughout this book...an incantation calling us to an awareness of its significance. After all, the most common thing in the world is for a woman’s voice to be forgotten...buried.
This book is as defiant of attempts to pin it down as the woman who inspired it. It is the story of one Irish poet’s obsession with another, long dead but echoing through time thanks to a searing lament for her murdered husband. As Ni Ghriofa spends a decade immersed in motherhood, she becomes determined to find out more about Eibhlin Dubh as a woman, not just a black space in the lives of the men she loved.
As one who has also feared disappearing, Ni Ghriofa’s quest to salvage what shards she could of the woman who came before her felt life-saving. Eibhlin Dubh’s life became the trail of breadcrumbs Ni Ghriofa laid down so she could find her way out later. I’m glad she brought us along.
Full Disclosure: I read "Chatter" because Ethan is a friend. (He's a professor at U of M. But I'm telling you to read it because I loved it! Not only is it entertaining, it's useful. It's readable, funny, and relatable, filled with anecdotes to illustrate the concepts. It's also rich with practical actions and ways that you can put these findings to use.
It's a relief to admit it...we all talk to ourselves. In this book, we learn ways to use that talk to make our lives better. Turning research from interesting info into usable ways to change your mind, and your life, is a rare skill. Dr. Kross has it!
Think fast...your nine year old daughter is soon to be cruelly taken from you. You'll most likely never see her again. What do you give her to remember you by?
Let that break your heart...then consider the tens of thousands of mothers who faced that dilemma while enslaved here in the U.S. alone? Tiya Miles tells the story here of one such mother and her daughter, Ashley.
This is the sort of book that makes your heart beat faster as you read the first few pages, because you know you've found something special. Miles has made something beautiful. The book is lyrical, wonderfully creative, an act of fearless empathy, and scholarship with a beating heart.
Tiya Miles is at the top of her game here. Solid work did not surprise me after reading her earlier book, Dawn of Detroit. But this is next level.
In this beautiful book, the author takes us along as she practices, working at integrating the ways of knowing in which she has been trained: scientific botany and the Indigenous knowing of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
This is a song of praise, filled with reverence and gratitude for the world that surrounds and sustains us. This book is a gift.
This is a book about music in that music is about life. Abdurraqib has made his name as a music writer, and he is excellent at what he does. I ended up with a list of performances to seek out, to listen to...closer this time. But these essays are also about being Black in America, about joy, about grief both personal and collective. The author has said that when he finds beauty, he wants to hold it out in an open hand, never hoard it. That's what he's done here. On the podcast "On Being," Abdurraqib told Padraig O'Tuoma that he started writing poetry when editors said his writing was "too poetic," choosing to embrace what was meant as critique. Like the poet he is, he chooses the exact right detial, and writes sentences you NEED to read aloud. Savor this one.
The last several years in the U.S. have exposed a divide between those who belive that when some of us prosper, we all benefit...and those who see success as a game that requires a winner and a loser. Author Heather McGhee calls this the "Zero Sum Paradigm," and argues persuasively for uprooting it wherever we find it in American life. McGhee goes back to the birth of the nation, tracing the origins of this mindset. She explores its impact on policymaking in areas such as housing, welfare, education, and healthcare. Like Ibram X. Kendi, she focuses on the ideas that have shaped us over the individuals who espouse them. She is hopeful in her suggestions for how we might get to a future in which we ALL understand that our good is tied to each other's.
My copy of this book is so full of highlighting that it looks like I'm preparing for an exam. Maybe I am. The test: for all of us. How to be a good citizen. This book is now required reading.
The premise of this book, a tech startup that promises to give users their own personal rituals, was fascinating. The book delivered so much more than that, though.
The exploration of modern marriage, feminism, startups and tech culture, the ethics of AI...I loved Asha and was rooting for her. After finishing the book late at night, I couldn't stop thinking about it long enough to fall asleep.
Mark Doty does just what a poet is best at here: slowing down and looking closely, to defamiliarize a topic so familiar that we think we know it. His prose is so beautiful I read lines over just for the pleasure of it.
Thanks to Mark Doty, I've fallen a little bit in love with Walt Whitman.
For me, this book is about unintended consequences...how sometimes our best intentions are not enough to keep us from making errors with grave consequences.
This book is the story of an Indian-American Muslim family living in California, gathering together to celebrate the love marriage of their oldest daughter, Hadia. From that central point, Mirza spins out a story ranging decades, with chapters told by each member of the family.
Each time I thought I understood "what really happened," another chapter would reveal a new facet and I would have to shift my perspective again. Reading the end of this book was hard for two reasons: 1) I didn't want it to end. And 2) I was crying too hard to see. Beautifully poignant.
Sisters, feminism, witches...I was in. And I do not regret it.
In an alternative 1893, women are agitating for the right to vote, and witches are no more. The burnings took care of that. But when the three Eastwood sisters, long separated after a painful childhood, meet at a suffragist rally, it sets in motion a chain of events that could bring back the power that women have been denied. Voting is great, but add to it witching? Now that is worth risking it all.
Lyrical language, a diverse cast of compelling characters, and a disturbingly relevant conflict over who is threatened when women claim their power all add up to a highly recommended read.
"Square Haunting takes up [Virginia] Woolf's call for a different sort of history: it is a biography of five great women, about feelings and drawing rooms, but also about work, politics, literature and community. And, indeed, about war, which affected each of these lives deeply."
This group portrait of "five great women" who lived in Mecklenburg Square, London between the wars is history told by a fantastic storyteller. These women, and their time, come alive in vivid detail. The famous men who often get the limelight appear here as decidedly supporting cast. I alternated between outrage at the ridiculous obstacles put in these women's way by a thoroughly sexist culture and pride that women do manage, despite all that, to be great. I can't wait to see what Wade writes next.
At one point in this book the author acknowledges that his is one of a genre of "American Jews who travel to the Old Country"...and then asks us to pause and consider what that means. A whole genre!
Although this is not the only book of its kind I've read...it is the most irreverently funny one! Kaiser surprised me, often, and he tells a good, strange tale. Worth adding to the genre.
I started telling people they should read this book before I even finished it, starting with my teenage daughters. Don't let the YA label stop you, adults will find plenty here.
The book is skillfully plotted, with suspenseful storytelling, especially impressive from a debut author. Daunis, a protagonist worth following, tries to figure out who's behind the drug deals harming her community, while dealing with her questions of loyalty, belonging, and what it means to be a member of a community while coming into one's own strength.
The perspective of the book is firmly rooted in the Inidigenous culture which the protagonist and the author share. Boulley is a registered member of the Sault Ste Marie Chippewa tribe, and in this book she explores issues of US/Indigenous history, Anishinaabe language, culture, and medicine in ways that are so organic, and beautifully realized.
I also love the Michigan connection here. The book is set in Sault Ste Marie and Sugar Island. The author lives in SW Michigan now, and there are several mentions of Ann Arbor that come as welcome little nods.
Don't miss this one!
What a perfect little book! Like small watercolor sketch...a few lines, so deceptively simple. But if you keep looking you realize what mastery it takes, to have such restraint.
A story of summer (or summers?...no matter) made up of vignettes about a grandmother and granddaughter on a small island in the Gulf of Finland. With spare, lovely sentences and zero sentimentality, Jansson evokes summer and captures very real characters, perfectly. One to reread!
I had never seen anything quite like this premise: teens raised in a community of doomsday preppers, pushed together by their parents into an engagement, trying to plot a way out.
Becca is a great character, a real girl who finds herself in an impossible situation, caught between wanting to get herself free...and not wanting to leave her little sister behind as the community's beliefs seem to spiral towards disaster. I found myself rooting for her, and aching along with her as she tried to figure out how to something no teenager should have to do. Original, moving, and surprisingly funny!
The title refers to the sensation one gets when traveling through the sprawling, infinitely varied Ciudad de Mexico. It also perfectly desribes what it's like to read this book.
A sprawling set of essay-like chapters, written by a native of the city, this is a fascinating insider's tour of a strange, wonderful city. City characters, layers of history, inside jokes...it's all here.
Dip into this when you feel the need to go somewhere new.
Having read The Shephard's Life (and liked it), I was curious what James Rebanks would tell us next. This is the story of inheriting the farm in the English lake district that has been in his family for three generations. On inheriting it, he knew the farm was in crisis, and he set about trying to restore it, and find a balance between profitability and ecological responsibility.
Rebanks does a lovely job of using this personal story of his family's land to speak to the larger concerns of farming in general. Finding ways to feed people while being ever-better stewards of the land is a problem that we are all implicated in. This book suggests that there are solutions, if we care enough to implement them.
Although this is, indeed, a history of the Viking era, it is more than that. It is an attempt to get at what it was like to BE a Viking, starting with the fact that they didn't call themselves Vikings. The understood...no, KNEW, themselves to be 'children of Ash and Elm."
Sections of the book on gender, religion, warfare, childhood...all had very thorough explanations of what's known. I found it surprising how much of what we have learned about the Viking era is recent, within the last few decades. This was a fascinating read about a world very different from our own.
" She rides out of the forest alone. Seventeen years old, in the cold March drizzle, Marie who comes from France."
The spell these first lines cast over me never let go.
The book is the story of a 12th century nun, based on a historical figure, as she creates an intensely female world of power, wealth, and learning. I came to love these characters: their creativity, their loves and ambitions, their flaws and secrets.
Not only that, but the language...it was so beautiful it seemed to shimmer. Closing the book, I was in awe of Groff. How did she do that?
If you've enjoyed George Saunders' fiction, this is a chance to get inside his head and see how he does it. But even if you've never read a thing by him, before, this book deserves a read.
Yes, it's a book about how to be a better writer. I have no doubt it can help with that. But it is also about being a reader, and knowing that we are reading. It's about paying attention to what's happening, both on the page and inside us, when we read.
Few of us will ever be lucky enough to sit in a classroom with George Saunders, but this book is the next best thing.
This follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize winner, The Overstory, is a story of love and anguish; personal grief set against a backdrop of ecological devastation.
Powers really excels at sympathy, a sense of caring deeply about the sorrows and dilemmas of modern humans. I believe that the author's heart breaks for these people who live on his pages, and mine aches alongside his.
Bewilderment gives us a grieving father trying to do right by his vulnerable son. He is in an impossible position, and it's one we recognize. How do we live well, now? What does it mean to raise a child with hope in a world on fire?
Love and grief are two sides of the same coin, and Powers writes on the thin edge between.
I love a good romantic comedy. "Good" meaning:
1) It's funny. Not mildly amusing, but funny. I should want to read bits out loud to make someone else laugh with me.
2) It's smart enough to not insult my intelligence. Reading romance doesn't mean I'm stupid, don't treat me like I am.
3) Tension. Heat. I want to feel the chemistry, and CARE that it works out.
Here's the Us checks every box, as did its precursor., What If It's Us. That's a win for me! (and for you)
Logan Foster is a 12 year old orphan who's hoping for a family. But he hasn't found the right one to appreciate him yet. Margie and Gil seem promising, but they're hiding something....
Superhero stories are popular for a reason, they are such a fun way to explore questions of ethics, teamwork, sacrifice, and belonging. This one does not disappoint. Logan is a fantastic narrator: a lovable, funny, neurodivergent protagonist. His understated, sometimes blunt, delivery only highlights the drama and action this book is filled with.
I love this book, and I can't wait for a sequel. I hope Shawn Peters is working as fast as he can to give us more of Logan!
Yes, this is a story of a horse...and not just any horse, but one of the most celebrated racehorses in America. It is also much more than that.
Brooks uses the story of the horse to tell us a story about America, about race, money, and power in both the antebellum South and the current day North. Various threads are woven so skillfully into a tapestry that it is somehow a surprise how heartbreaking it is when finally seen in its entirety.
A reimagining of the story of the March sisters, set in WWII, and picking up after they have lost Beth, this novel felt like a worthy companion to Alcott's classic story. Each character felt lovingly imagined, the poignancy of their love and grief came through beautifully. Beth's sections, written in verse and tying the book together with her perspective in death, were an unexpected touch that I loved!
The morning after I finished this book, I told a friend how the first essay starts, and she said, "Oh, so a cheerful read..." No, I can't say it's cheerful, but I've never cared much for cheerful.
This book is beautiful, instead. It sits right at the intersection of love and grief, which as I get older I realize are two sides of the same coin.
These are essays for grownups, and I love them.
Not only do I LOVE that this novel is about high school field hockey players (strong women!), but Jeff Kass is one of our Ann Arbor authors! He teaches English and Creative Writing at Pioneer High School, when he can see some of the finest High School Field Hockey around.
To get this out of the way: This is NOT a cookbook. What it IS, is brilliant. Kendra (yes, we're on a first name basis) continues what she did in her first book, The Lazy Genius: Help you drill down to what's important to you, cut corners where it makes sense, and get your life together (ish). She does all of that in the tone of a helpful, nonjudgmental big sister. She's clear, organized, and most of all KIND. This book will help you cut through the overwhelm in the kitchen, whatever kind of cook you are...or aren't.
If this book does NOTshow up on "Best of 2022" lists, it will be an outrage.
Kelly Barnhill turns from her (already wonderful) books for young readers, and I'm grateful she did. This story of an alternate 1950s America, in which rebellious women turned into dragons, was thrilling, subversive, and original. It is also filled with passages of such poignant beauty that they deserve to be savored (with tissues nearby).
Do not miss this one.
To be fair, you will learn a little bit about Benedict Cumberbatch....BUT it's about much more than that. It's about the way we often lose ourselves in adulthood, forget what we loved. It's about letting go of too much...and how to get it back.
Carvan develops a bit of an obsession, in middle age, with a strange, British actor...and decides to embrace it. Along the way, she starts to question why that's so hard, and why so many find it laughable. Why shouldn't we embrace, with wild enthusiasm, what gives us joy? Sure, we can live without giving ourselves fully to whatever it is that thrills us. But why?!
Gilda is so desperately anxious, she can't bear to disappoint anyone, which is how she ends up accidentally taking a receptionist job at a Catholic church. Small problem: She's an atheist and a lesbian. She tries to make it work, though, and gets obsessed with the death of the previous receptionist.
The best part of this book is Gilda. She's so inept, such a mess, and so incredibly lovable. The intense anxiety that makes her morbidly aware of mortality also makes it weirdly, inappropriately hilarious. The book is warm, and awkward, and full of messy, human love, and the awareness that mortality is why being good to each other matters.
My 14-year-old daughter picked this one up first, and then kept reading sections to me. "Mom, did you know....?!" And I never did. Eventually I gave in and read it, and it did not disappoint.
Lucy Cooke is a zoologist, and in this book she fills in the picture of the half of the world's creatures that are usually ignored by evolutionary biologists. It is shocking how much we still don't know, and how much is being learned by younger, often female scientists. Besides that, she's hilarious!
What if Anne Boleyn really WAS a (powerful) witch? In this England, she was, and she established a coven which has served the Queens of England ever since.
The civil war, ten years ago, violently divided England's witches (and warlocks) over questions of relations with mundanes: peaceful coexistence or Witch Supremacy? It seemed solved, but tensions are rising again, and the apparent fulfillment of a prophecy adds to the issue by calling into question just who is qualified to be called a witch, anyway.
Four witches who grew up together are called to act together to protect the future, and are dismayed to realize that they do not agree on what that means.
Fantastic storytelling, so entertaining, AND thoughtful social commentary on gender identity, TERFs, tribalism, what "progress" means, and how far we go to protect "our own."
An honor student comes to campus, but she's no ordinary honor student. She's a psychopath, recruited to come to school to be part of a study in the Psych Department. Of course, confidentiality means that no one on campus knows about her, or her six co-participants. Seven secret psychopaths scattered among the student body. What could go wrong?
The surprise is not that the murders start...it's that one of the psychopaths is the victim. They're being hunted. Can they cooperate long enough to figure out who the killer is? How does a psychopath trust another?
Susan Rogers was a music producer for, among others, Prince. She then studied, and became a cognitive neuroscientist. She is the perfect person to write this book! Combining the science about how music affects us, and why we have the preferences we have, with her stories about her career in music is perfect!
I loved thinking more about my own musical taste, and history, and it was always entertaining. I find myself referring to this book every week or two since I read it months ago!
A writer who recently lost her mother visits London, triggering memories of the woman she is missing. Her mother was a much loved and difficult person, larger than life and fiercely private. Writing about her seems both fitting tribute and betrayal.
Reading this, I felt myself flipping from "IS this memoir?" and then telling myself that it doesn't matter.
Truly, it doesn't. "Truth", fiction, a blend of the two. It is art. And a beautiful meditation on what we're left with at the end of a full life.
Gratitude, delight, and now joy. If Ross Gay spends the rest of his life writing about, cataloguing, reveling in, emotions...I will follow right along as he does so, and consider myself fortunate. These longer essays gave him time to let a topic breathe, to meander around it, circle and expand his ideas in ways that I adored. It felt very much a companion to Hanif Abdurraqib's work. New life goal: See Hanif Abdurraqib and Ross Gay on a stage together, talking about their work. Book gods...make that happen?
The most entertaining way I've ever seen to learn about cutting edge psychology research, and its implications for us all. Two well-known cognitive neuroscientists team up with their son to tell the story of what they've learned, and the history of this kind of research. The characters of the Friths really come through here, and they are charming and quirky guides through their work, making it accessible and fun. I highly recommend it for those who are interested in the science of minds.
Three teenagers go for a drive on a summer night in 1985, and only two survive. The night reverberates through the novel, detonated and sending shock waves in all directions. A beautiful examination of the way our lives connect, and decisions change us in unanticipated ways, this book left me stunned and needing to sit and let it sink in for a while when I put it down. The prose is gorgeous while never being flowery. Precise observations and lovingly described detail create a world, and characters, so real it feels impossible that they are figments of the imagination. A triumphant return to fiction for Dani Shapiro!
I don't think I've ever laughed so much while reading about misogyny!
Janega is a medieval historian, and she has written a very witty, engaging, and eye-opening book illustrating how much influence medieval ideas still have on our world. The specifics of the justification for gender roles and expectations have changed, but women still end up lower in the hierarchy, and if we can be clearer on how we got here, we can create a new culture that works for all of us. I love a history book that shifts my preconceptions and stays with me, and this is one of those for sure!
I have loved Catherine since she was writing essays on mothering toddlers, and I was reading them in Brain, Child. (Does anyone else remember that?) Her kids are college students now, mine are teenagers, and Catherine's blend of poignancy and absurdity has accompanied me through a couple of decades like she's an old friend.
In this novel, based on her own experience, she gives us the story of a woman accompanying her lifelong best friend through a terminal cancer diagnosis, all the way to the end.
If you like laughing through tears, you're the perfect reader for this! If you find yourself feeling nostalgia for things that haven't even happened yet, you're one of my people! And Catherine is writing for us.