A powerful memoir that examines the ways in which institutionalized racism permeates our judicial system, Fredrik Backman returns with another reassuring and endearing yarn that will expand your empathy in unlikely places, and Claudia Rankine challenges herself and her readers to confront questions about privilege and bias.
Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Books of the Month.
A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom by Brittany K. Barnett
As a child of a mother who did jail time, Brittany K. Barnett understands the grave implications of a parent lost to “the striped Looney Toons suit.” As she writes in A Knock at Midnight: “There’s something about seeing your childhood hero, your guiding star, fallen. It rocks you to your core.” In this deeply personal memoir, Barnett shares how as a young Black girl she was surrounded by drugs growing up in the south—her mother, a nurse, at times was addicted to crack, and her boyfriend dealt drugs—how her family fueled her, why she pursued law, and became dedicated to defending those unfairly incarcerated for minor drug crimes. As she learned, inequality lurked everywhere: “The discrepancy in sentencing blew my mind. I began to wonder whether America’s harsh drug sentences were tied to the drugs in a man’s hand or the melanin in his skin.” While A Knock at Midnight is a brilliant memoir of Barnett’s own journey, it also chronicles the stories of three of her clients. Their lives—including their crimes, their families, and their jail time—are rendered with such care and compassion that it is impossible to put this book down. It is also impossible not to root for Barnett and her clients as she fights to get them the justice they deserve, and never had. A Knock at Midnight is a profoundly moving memoir that reveals the incredibly racist world of the feds, the courts, and the laws that throw away people’s lives—for life. —Al Woodworth
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
An everyday apartment open house becomes the stage for Backman’s latest novel, when a bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. As the title hints, each member of the group bares his or her own anxieties, not just about the hostage situation, but about their individual lives. Backman is a funny, charming story teller, and Anxious People is a fine showcase for his talents as a writer. There are twists and surprises. There are editorial asides. Beneath it all, there is a deep sense of warmth and empathy. Backman is particularly gifted at creating a community of memorable characters and opening up their mental states to readers. And many readers of Anxious People will in turn reflect on their own anxieties. Ultimately, Backman seems to be telling us that—though it be a messy, ambiguous world we inhabit—we can turn toward one another to find calm and assurance. This is a novel that can, and should, be embraced by anxious people everywhere. —Chris Schluep
Just Us: An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine
Like her award-winning Citizen, Claudia Rankine’s Just Us is comprised of short vignettes, photos, excerpts from textbooks, tweets, historical documents, poems, and her own experiences as a Black woman, which serve to unravel the reality of the racism that runs rampant in our country. From chatting with strangers on airplanes, to recounting moments in her classroom, Rankine challenges herself, her students, and her readers to ask questions about privilege, racism, and bias, and then to listen. Throughout Just Us, Rankine annotates her own words and thoughts, as a way of reminding the reader of her commitment to understanding the evolutionary nature of thought, identifying bias, and then addressing it. In so doing, she encourages the reader to be ever vigilante and open to conversation. Rankine’s brilliance shines through her ideas and her facility with language, but also through the construction of Just Us, which is a truly visual and active inquiry into race. This book is catalyst for not only edification, but for participation and action. —Al Woodworth
A powerful memoir that examines the ways in which institutionalized racism permeates our judicial system, Fredrik Backman returns with another endearing yarn that will expand your empathy in unlikely places, and Claudia Rankine challenges herself and her readers to confront questions about about privilege and bias.