February may be a short month but it is also vital and packed with meaning. For Black History Month, we invite you to learn and celebrate the history of Black Americans, which is a key part of American history overall. February is also solidly in the depths of winter, when many of us may want to curl up and hibernate, a perfect time for delving into your TBR pile. There’s also Valentine’s Day when you might want to gift a beloved near or far (or yourself, your own beloved!) with some escapist adventures. We’ve got it all for you right here, in our monthly faves.
Four Hundred Souls
Ibram X. Kendi
In 1619, the first ship carrying African human beings arrived on the shores of what would, more than a century later, become the United States of America. In the 400 years since, Black Americans have lived, loved, suffered, rebelled, worked, raised children, danced, organized, laughed, fought, cried, and every other human experience in between, as this glorious community history shows. 80 writers of different disciplines each took on a five year period between 1619 and 2019, and 10 poets provide closing verses to each 40-year period, leading to a chorus of voices telling a vital part of American history.
The Kitchen Front
England, 1942: England has been fighting in World War II for two long years and the BBC begins airing a cooking show hosted by a Mr. Ambrose Hart to help women (expected to pick up the slack in the workforce and at home) make their rations go far with tasty recipes. The BBC decides that he should have a woman co-host to make the show more popular, and they run a three-part competition to find the perfect one. Will it be war-widow Audrey? Her married-rich sister, Gwendoline? Kitchen maid Nell? Or Zelda, an elite chef? (P.S. The book comes with yummy recipes.)
A Bright Ray of Darkness
Did you know that Ethan Hawke (yes, that one, with all the Oscar noms) has been a novelist for quite a while? In this, his fifth (!) book, and first in nearly two decades, Hawke explores the aftermath of public humiliation of celebrity proportions and the healing dissociation that can come from disappearing into a role onstage. William is 32 when his marriage implodes after the tabloids pick up on a brief affair, and he takes his grief to his first stage role on Broadway in a production of Shakespeare’s Henry IV. There, he rekindles his passion for acting—celebrity’s opposite.
The Bad Muslim Discount
Syed M. Masood
Anvar and Azza meet as young adults when the latter moves into the former’s building. But long before their first encounters with one another, they each rebel against circumstances and family in drastically different ways. Anvar’s family migrates from Pakistan to the U.S. when he’s a teen, and his devoutly Muslim mother and brother both find their place here while his less religious father flounders. Azza, meanwhile, learns to take care of her father’s home in Iraq after her mother dies, and makes her way to the U.S. later, after Americans torture her father. This irreverent debut has much heart.
The Black Church
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
For centuries, the Black church has been a strong staple of Black American experience, and, in this book, historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. dives into the many cultural and social movements that arose from it, as well as the dire times of need in which it failed. The Black church has served as a sanctuary, a place of worship, and a space for organizing, for community warmth, and mutual aid. It’s given rise to musical traditions galore. From its earliest days to the present, Gates reveals an ultimately hopeful history. (And for more, tune into “The Black Church,” a two-part PBS special!)
Book Club: A Journal
Read it Forward
Do you have a book club? Do you want to start a book club? Then this journal is perfect for you. Whether it’s just you and your sister or you and five work friends—meeting virtually or IRL—keep track of your reads, your discussions, and your plans for next meeting with this tailored journal that includes meeting activities and games, book recommendations for when you’re stuck, and plenty of space to jot down your own thoughts while you read.
Many of us think of learning as something that happens in school, or during our free time. But we’re all capable of learning all the time, and we’re similarly capable of unlearning the things we think we know. Adam Grant, professor and organizational psychologist, explores how we can learn to change our minds or be open to the possibility of reframing and expanding our opinions. Drawing on research and anecdotes galore, he encourages us to learn to listen and let in new ideas that challenge us, instructs us how to live in that uncertainty and doubt, and allow ourselves to change.
When Lex was 15, she escaped the abusive household she was raised in and helped free her five siblings from it as well. In the media, she became known as Girl A, the one who got away. Lex is now in her 30s and learns that her mother has died in prison, leaving Lex as the executor of the family estate, which includes the very house of horrors she escaped from all these years ago. She vows to turn the place into something good, but she needs her siblings’ approval to do so. Tracking them down awakens her memories and theirs.
Dr. Robert Livingston is a social psychologist who has spent decades researching racism and translating theory into practice at various companies in his work as a diversity consultant. In this debut, he shows us how and why racism thrives, and demonstrates that tribalism is a deeply human instinct in which we create barriers between an “us” and a “them” as protective measures. Dr. Livingston also shows how social change requires social exchange, and how conversations about racism, its history and its causes, along with empathy, can spur people into meaningful action and sacrifice in the service of real, lasting change.
God I Feel Modern Tonight
If you haven’t encountered Catherine Cohen’s poems on social media yet, well… you should go find them, because they’re great and funny and poignant and often all too relatable. In this collection, Cohen, a comedian, writer, and soother-amid-the-pandemic-er, writes of heartbreak and its forever-newness, how men act after sex, how much she wishes she got off of her phone, and so much more. This is one for the millennials—and the millennials’ parents, older siblings, younger siblings, and maybe, one day, the millennials’ kids who will need to look back and figure out why we’re like this.
My Year Abroad
Tiller might have had a rather even-keeled life if he hadn’t met Pong Lou while he was in college. Pong sees some kind of potential in Tiller and sweeps him into his scheme of creating and marketing a healthful juice. The two travel across Asia to meet with potential backers for the plan. These adventures are narrated by Tiller from his new life in the suburbs with Val and her son who are both in the witness protection program. From his seemingly safe and simple domestic existence, Tiller vacillates between past and present, and how they’ll affect his future.
The Witch’s Heart
Angrboda is a witch thrice burned: but upon her final burning by Odin, her powers desert her, and she flees Asgard, leaving her heart behind. When trickster god Loki finds her and returns her heart, the two fall in love and have three children together. As Angrboda raises her children away from Odin, her prophetic powers begin to return, leading to a keen awareness that the peace she has enjoyed these years will surely not survive for long: she sees the coming apocalypse and her children’s involvement in it. Will she let the future unfold or fight to change it?
The Future Is Yours
Best friends Ben Boyce and Adhi Chaudry strike gold when they manage to invent a kind of time machine—but not one that catapults you into the future literally. No, instead, they manage to access the internet of precisely one year ahead of the current time, and can see exactly what’s going to occur then. They form The Future, a company capitalizing on this technology, but soon begin to see the ramifications: the future they’re accessing can’t be changed, which means that they’re basically watching their free will erode before their eyes. Meanwhile, the billionaires circle hungrily, hoping for more moolah.
Inspired by Edith Wharton’s classic novella, Ethan Frome, The Smash-Up is a hypertimely update. In Benjamin’s take, Ethan Frome is trying to take middle age on the chin in small-town Massachusetts, when a national event, his wife’s involvement, and allegations against his business partner make things just that much harder. Zo, who’s been involved in organizing women locally since the 2016 election, is infuriated over the latest Supreme Court nominee; Alex, her and Ethan’s daughter, is wrestling with her ADHD; and Maddy, hired to help Alex, ends up complicated things even more. Family drama and hijinks ensue.
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture holds one of the premiere collections of documents regarding slavery and abolition, and in this anthology, editor Michelle D. Commander has curated a wide-ranging set of documents and literary writings that bring to life both the individuals and communities enslaved in the United States. In this volume, readers will witness many lesser-known figures fighting for their freedom, working toward abolition, and speaking up for their humanity, exemplifying that all movements involve so many unsung heroes whose acts of rebellion, small and large, help pave the way for meaningful change.
Like Streams to the Ocean
What gives our life meaning? Some might say it’s family or love, others might say it’s work and ego. Jedidiah Jenkins says it’s all four of those, plus friendship, home, death, and the soul. In the writings collected here, Jenkins asks the fundamental questions we all have about life: Who are we? Why are we here? What are we made of? While answers to such questions are never one-size-fits-all, Jenkins invites readers into ongoing conversations about the people and places around them and how to find meaning there. Along the way, you might just begin to appreciate your you-ness.
Two Truths and a Lie
In 1990, a man named Jesse Tafero was executed in Florida after being convicted of murdering two police officers in 1976. Ellen McGarrahan was there when he died, as a reporter for the Miami Herald. Later, when doubt began to be sown about Tafero’s guilt, McGarrahan realized how deeply she’d trusted the authorities’ version of events, and was moved to become a private investigator, getting at the truth her own way. But that execution never left her, and in her debut, she delves deeper into the events of 1976, chasing a sense that there was much more to the story than was revealed at the time.
Priyanka Chopra Jonas
You might know Priyanka Chopra Jonas from her leading role in Quantico, from her career in Bollywood, via her Instagram fame, or perhaps you know her for being Nick Jonas’s wife (he’s ten years her junior, which we think is fantastic). Regardless, prepare to get to know her a lot better. In this memoir, Chopra Jonas opens up about the constant uprooting during her childhood in a military family, her career aspirations as an aeronautical engineer, and how those changed drastically after her mother entered her into the Miss India World contest, triggering her shift to acting, and much more.
Tangled Up in Blue
Rosa Brooks, a tenured law professor at Georgetown, decided in her forties—with two children, a dog, and a mortgage—that she wanted to understand from the inside out how policing in America worked. She trained as a reserve police officer (a volunteer position with the D.C. Metro police) and began spending time with other cops, observing how they worked and what they thought about their job and the communities they descended upon. Having witnessed appalling racism alongside idealists acting in good faith, she attempts here to find the nuance and complexity in a deeply broken system that has harmed so many.
Between Two Kingdoms
When Suleika Jaouad was 23, she was trying to make it in the “real world,” that mythical place inhabited by adults. Just when she thought she couldn’t cut it, she learned that the fatigue and the never-ending itch she’d been experiencing were not her inner demons but advanced leukemia. For four years, in and out of the hospital for treatments, she wrote about the experience and grappled with her own mortality. When she emerged, essentially cured, she realized she still didn’t know how to make it in the real world—and she set off on a road trip to find out.