In Victorian England, the circus featured “human curiosities”, aka the freak show. The “performers” are exploited and objectified but also experience fame as someone no longer relegated to the shadows. There is also an interesting back-story of the Crimean War. A richly detailed historical novel, an enthralling slice of Victoriana.
This is a fascinating fictionalized story of a real woman, Belle da Costa Greene, who in 1906 became the personal librarian to J. P. Morgan as he built the Pierpoint Morgan Library in New York city. Her expanding role in acquiring rare books, manuscripts and artwork is astonishing. But her prowess came at a deep personal cost; as a light-skinned African American woman, she had to masquerade as a white woman for her entire life. An insightful look at identity and legacy in America.
This is a remarkable book of street photography coupled with brief but insightful narratives from interviews with the subjects. The photos are outstanding but the narratives, the comments, are sometimes astonishingly candid. Comments range from the unbridled optimism of children to introspective insights from adults regarding loneliness and isolation that may include mental illness. This is a riveting book for NY-philes. Thanks Sarah, for giving me this book.
Gifty is a graduate student at Stanford, studying reward-seeking behaviour in mice. She is grieving the overdose death of her brother and the continuing depression of her mother. This is a cerebral story, meaning it takes place in Gifty’s mind as she grapples with tough issues: addiction and depression, grief and love, science and religion.
Amy notes: another book by Yaa Gyasi, who also wrote the excellent Homegoing.
The setting is rural Kentucky in 1936. Cussy (aka Bluet) has a rare genetic condition that produces blue skin (met-hemoglobinemia). Without marriage prospects (by choice), Cussy joins the Pack Horse Library Project, delivering books to remote desperately poor hill communities. The transformative power of books and literacy is offset by shocking prejudice against “coloreds” and some crushing poverty. So be warned, readers will shed some tears. Thanks Joyce, for this recommendation.
Ms. Schwab wrote the fabulous Shades of Magic trilogy and this new book is also a tour-de-force entry in the genre of speculative fiction. In 1714, Adeline (Addie) makes a Faustian deal with a devil (an old god of darkness) to avoid the tedium of an arranged marriage, asking for “time, a chance to live and be free”. She is granted immortality, but with a curse: that everyone who meets her then forgets her instantly, making her invisible. For 300 years, she struggles to leave her mark in the world. Then in 2014, she enters a bookstore in New York and the bookstore worker says “I remember you” because she stole a book the previous day! This is a sweeping fantasy: a love story that explores the differences between needs and wants, art and inspiration. The final setting of New York City with a central role of a bookstore is, of course, very attractive. Highly recommended.
Simply put, this is a brilliant imaginative book. Nora’s life at age 35 is consumed by regrets. She wishes to die but between life and death is a library where books provide opportunities to choose a different life, essentially portals to parallel existences. But a good choice may not produce a desired outcome. The story is deeply philosophical, about not only choices but how expectations drive decisions.
The Nickel Academy was a notorious reform school in Florida; young African-American boys could be assigned for months-years for trivial reasons. And they were subjected to horrible abuse: beatings, sexual assault, etc. The story focusses on two boys in the early 60s, Elwood and Turner, who have remarkably different viewpoints. Elwood has ideals based on the words of Martin Luther King; Turner is a cynical schemer. Which boy is more likely to survive the Nickel nightmare? The Jim Crow era in the South in the 1960s has evils that are perpetuated in the current #BLM times. Whitehead won the Pulitzer Prize for his previous book The Underground Railroad: both are highly recommended.