Weekend Reading

Seira Wilson on April 27, 2018
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This weekend's reading choices are an eclectic mix of books about Russia's super mafia, the life of comic genius Robin Williams, and the absurdity of everyday life, while others of us are already dreaming of drifting among tree trunks and road trippin' across the Last Frontier...


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We first fell in love with him as a lovable alien on the TV show Mork & Mindy, and that love affair continued as Robin Williams conquered the stage and screen. His mastery there belied a difficult personal life, the challenges of which he didn’t shy away from sharing. Still, there was so much we didn’t know. In Robin, Dave Itzkoff gives us a more complete portrait of a complicated man, and an entertainer that is sorely missed. This is going to be one of the big bios of the summer… -- Erin Kodicek

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I love a good mafia book, and Russian mafia? Even better. I just got a galley of The Vory: Russia's Super Mafia (available May 22) and can't wait to jump in. The unique culture and ethical structure for these men, the product of Stalin's gulags and camps, is so interesting to me and I'm curious if there are parallels with organized crime from other parts of the world.  The decades of research by the author are evident but so far it doesn't feel overly academic despite copious footnote citations. -- Seira Wilson

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Even a decade after reading Joseph O’Neill’s 2008 novel, Netherland, I have almost visceral memories of reading it (O’Neill won the PEN/Faulkner fiction award, so I wasn’t alone in my admiration.) His new short-story collection, Good Trouble, which Pantheon is publishing in June, has, so far, that kind of intensity. In “The Death of Billy Joel,” a character named Tom celebrates his impending 40th by taking his buddies on a golfing weekend in Florida. But their attempts at freewheeling fun fall flat, as if their lives have “largely… been reduced to a mere likeness of vitality.” O’Neill told the New Yorker that short stories feel like “a way of responding, however indirectly and incompletely, to the civic and moral emergency we’ve brought on ourselves.” Half way through, I’m all in for his midlife truth telling. – Sarah Harrison Smith

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The Amazon Books editors had the opportunity this week to hang out for a while with Richard Powers, author of The Overstory, who knows a heck of a lot about trees. While writing The Overstory, Powers was so inspired by what he learned about trees and how they communicate with each other that he moved to the Smoky Mountains, which is home to one of the few remaining old-growth forests in America. Inspired by his passion, I plan to not only read Your Guide to Forest Bathing but also get out into the woods and mindfully appreciate the nature around me. We’re at a time of year where the new leaves on trees gleam with every single shade of green in creation, and I don’t want to miss it. Interestingly, we seem to be at the front edge of a forest-bathing trend, with additional books on the subject either hitting shelves this month (Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness) or coming out later in the year (Shinrin Yoku: The Japanese Art of Forest Bathing and The Joy of Forest Bathing). Forest, here I come. –Adrian Liang

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Obviously, many dream of becoming successful travel writers. Also obviously, most of those are probably dreaming of pain d'épices in Provence or tiramisu in Tuscany, or anywhere one can pose a favorite stuffed animal for a snapshot in front of a tourist-friendly landmark. (Please stop doing that. That is over.) Mark Adams writes and travels, and I don’t know whether or not he likes pastries, but his destinations usually involve a little bit more adventure. In his latest, Tip of the Iceberg (May 15), he retraces the steps of Edward Harriman, who journeyed boldly to Alaska in 1899 with a coterie of eminent scientists and writers, including John Muir. Lacking his own expedition ship, he embarks on a tour of the public ferry systems and highways, exploring the Last Frontier and all of its fish, bears, ice, and dedicated individualists. – Jon Foro


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