Weekend reading

Vannessa Cronin on March 20, 2020
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Weekend reading

Some weeks, "always look on the bright side of life" is easier said than done. Thankfully, reading can help. This weekend, editors' picks range from a former boy soldier writing about the lives of those on the margins and the "connections we forge to survive the fate we’re dealt," to a long-dead Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher offering comforting words for when life is stressful, and from a hard-nosed, retired detective facing the destruction of his life's legacy, to a young student falling for a hot vampire with eternal life. And then there's the book about the fish taxonomist...


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Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller

These days, before I go to sleep, I like to clear my mind with engaging nonfiction that will push the day’s events away. Why Fish Don’t Exist (April 14) fits the bill perfectly. Mostly the story of a man in the 1800s who becomes a fish taxonomist just as the scientific world is being roiled by Charles Darwin’s ideas on evolution, it’s also a story about persevering when common sense, common knowledge, and even your parents are telling you it might be time to give up. Miller brings a witty and wry voice to a scientific saga that could easily be a dry one, adding to each page the kind of personality that made books such as Kirk Wallace Johnson’s The Feather Thief and Bill Bryson’s The Body a joy to read, even as you absorb marvelous new knowledge about the natural world. —Adrian Liang


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Little Family by Ishmael Beah

Ishmael Beah is the author of the 2007 memoir A Long Way Gone, which described his own experiences as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. It was an important book and a big best-seller, one that we included in our list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime. He followed that up in 2014 with his first novel, The Radiance of Tomorrow, about what happens when survivors of war, from both sides, return home. Now he has written his second novel, which publishes in late April. The book is about five young Africans who have formed a little family. There’s a great point in the beginning of the book where a character thinks of his grandmother’s words. She tells him it doesn’t matter how you got here, you were meant to live, and so you should go out and do that. Given what’s ahead of us in the next months or year, books like this take on a new meaning. How do people bond and survive in circumstances much worse than most of us will know? And what can we learn from it? —Chris Schluep


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Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

These musings by Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius are a comfort, and a guide, for stressful times (c. AD 171-175, or today). Example: “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” For anyone needing help building emotional resiliency, or just to be reminded that, while we may not have control over the external world, we do have control over our internal one, these profound reflections mine meaning from chaos. —Erin Kodicek


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Crave by Tracy Wolff

The cover of this book caught my attention immediately, and once you read the book description—which includes a really hot teen vampire named Jaxon—there’s the obvious comparison to Twilight that’s impossible to avoid. I won’t pretend I wasn’t skeptical when I started Crave, but I’m really enjoying it so far! At 592 pages, the book is a beast, but the chapters are short and Wolff does a great job of pacing it for that “just one more chapter” lure. The setting is an elite boarding school in remote Alaska, but this school is housed in a full-on castle, complete with gargoyles. This might sound cheesy but somehow it’s totally working and I’m loving the picture Wolff is painting for me. Ditto for the instant sizzle of tension between the protagonist Grace and hot vampire boy. Wolff’s characters feel realistic and modern, which also keeps Crave—thus far—from being over the top. I know there will be dragons and werewolves, and for some reason yet to be uncovered, Grace is the lone sheep in this den of good-looking wolves. I’m just giving myself over to this young adult fantasy novel that is doing a fantastic job of taking my mind off real life and transporting me to a castle in the wilderness filled with the beautiful, the mysterious, and the supernatural. —Seira Wilson


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Running Out of Road by Daniel Friedman

I read and loved Daniel Friedman's Edgar-nominated debut novel, Don't Ever Get Old, when it came out nearly a decade ago; I still remember how much it made me laugh. It had me right at the opening line: "In retrospect, it would have been better if my wife had let me stay home to see Meet the Press instead of making me schlep across town to watch Jim Wallace die." I loved the follow up too: Don't Ever Look Back, and waited impatiently for the third book. So far, Running Out of Road is worth the six-year wait. Baruch "Buck" Schatz, is a gruff, straight-talking, retired Memphis PD detective. In his 90s now, he's facing tough medical decisions about Rose, his wife of 72 years. Except Buck's dementia is getting so bad he can't even fake knowing what's going on from one moment to the next anymore. But when an NPR producer calls to talk to Buck about whether he coerced a confession out of convicted serial killer Chester March 35 years ago, Buck's memory doesn't fail him. He remembers Chester March and he remembers March was a killer. But can Buck keep it together long enough to protect his reputation—and a career-high conviction—and see justice finally served? Checking in with one of the funniest, orneriest curmudgeons in crime fiction is exactly what I need this weekend. —Vannessa Cronin


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The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

I’m reading The Undocumented Americans this weekend by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio. Like the people she meets and profiles in her book, Villavicencio is an undocumented immigrant, and this book is a tribute and investigation into their lives—the hardship, the hard work, the vulgar dismissals, the hope that they carry. Her writing is frank and wry, allowing the people whose stories she tells to shine with their own personalities and quirks. This is a portrait of America—unfiltered, undocumented, moving and challenging; and it’s the book I want to read right now. —Al Woodworth


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