Books we are talking about

Chris Schluep on November 12, 2020
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Books we are talking about

The books on our minds this week are all involved in some recent activity. Although it was published in 2016, J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy is getting a makeover of sorts with a new Netflix release. Adrian reminds us that we're all interested in seeing how that turned out. Vannessa is focusing her attention on a book that published just yesterday. I am anticipating a book of comics that publishes next week. And Seira is the most forward-looking of us. She has started reading Tarryn Fisher's follow-up to last year's hit The Wives. It's called The Wrong Family, it publishes in January, and it's looking good so far.


Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

This 2016 memoir of growing up and getting out has just been made into a Netflix movie by Ron Howard, starring Glenn Close and Amy Adams. Depending on which film review you believe, it’s either “awful” (Vox) or “a sure bet for Oscar love, and deservedly so” (Chicago Sun-Times)—but reading the varied reviews reminded me of what I liked about the book itself. Vance’s family’s roots are in Appalachia, and a generation ago his grandparents moved to Ohio for better jobs. But better jobs don't always mean a wholeheartedly better life, and Vance struggles with a deadbeat mom, a culture of poverty, and a legacy of violence that his middle-class upbringing doesn’t erase. If you liked Educated by Tara Westover, Heavy by Kiese Laymon, or The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom, you’ll find in Hillbilly Elegy a familiar story about family culture and personal identity, told through Vance’s own personal lens, that you shouldn’t miss. —Adrian Liang


A Wealth of Pigeons: A Cartoon Collection by Steve Martin

This book definitely belongs in the small universe of great ideas. As a book person, I'm kind of disappointed that I didn't know about it until very recently. It would have given me more time to eagerly anticipate its arrival. Steve Martin has teamed up with New Yorker cartoonist Harry Bliss to create a book of comics, and it just might be the gift book of 2020. We could all use a few extra laughs. Now we can give people a few extra laughs as well. —Chris Schluep


Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present by Ruth Ben-Ghiat

I'm fascinated by "strongmen" as Ruth Ben-Ghiat—professor of history and Italian studies at New York University—refers to them. Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Robert Mugabe, Vladimir Putin, Mobutu Sese Seko, Muammar Gaddafi, Augusto Pinochet and their ilk: what combination of charisma, ego, and daring made/makes these men capable of seizing power at the cost of the rule of law and social norms, not to mention common decency? And what dark alchemy enables them to persuade vast swaths of the population to support and defend them? Ben-Ghiat's book distills a hundred years or more of strongmen down to a playbook, a series of markers by which we shall know them. Her stated hope is that by being able to identify them we can stop them in future, but I can’t help but think of Seamus Heaney: "History says, don't hope on this side of the grave." —Vannessa Cronin


The Wrong Family by Tarryn Fisher

I loved Tarryn Fisher’s last novel The Wives. So once I found out she had a new one coming in January, I began talking with my fellow mystery lovers about how soon I could read it. I just started an advance copy of the book and have already encountered a nice surprise that has me mulling things over and wishing I had another reader to consult on this plot point alone. A story about what appears to be a perfect family, the woman who has moved in with them, and the dark secrets lurking below the surface of each of their lives. Can’t wait to finish and discuss The Wrong Family in full detail... —Seira Wilson


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