Today's releases include a profane paean to “one of the great weirdo cities of the world,” and a novel that captures the profound complexity of female friendships. Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Books of the Month.
If Oklahoma City didn’t strike me as a place that would make a particularly interesting subject of a 400-page “biography,” I probably wouldn’t be alone. Apologies to every Oklahoman: We’d all be wrong. Sam Anderson’s Boom Town is the story of the city’s quest to become a “world-class metropolis,” a biorhythmic cycle of booms and busts from its Wild West "Land Run" origins to its apocalyptic weather and the tragedy of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The engine of the story is the Thunder, the National Basketball Association franchise lifted from Seattle by a cadre of oilmen with the help of henchman David Stern, then the league’s overweening commissioner. But you don't have to be a basketball junkie to love this book (honestly though, it helps); its eccentric and often iconoclastic cast of characters—including Wayne Coyne (the tirelessly weird frontman of the Flaming Lips), "Holy Chief Meteorologist and Severe Weather Savior" Gary England, and a host of civic movers-and-shakers of varying integrity—keeps Anderson's unconventional "biography" fast-paced, fun, and unpredictable—much like the team the Thunder became in the years after the move. Hopefully it will be just as popular. --Jon Foro
A deep, complicated love between two very different women lies at the heart of Frances De Pontes Peebles’ new novel, The Air You Breathe. Dores and Graça grow up on the same sugar-cane plantation in Northern Brazil, but while Dores is the plain but clever daughter of a lowly worker, Graça is the spoiled, lovely daughter of the house, who demands that Dores become her playmate and accomplice. Their unequal friendship continues as the girls’ passion for samba takes them to Rio and eventually, Los Angeles, where Graça’s voice and Dores’s songs bring them international fame – for a time. Peebles’s story, inspired in part by the lives of Carmen Miranda and lesbian songwriter Chavela Vargas, lightly traces the history of Brazil from the 1930s to the 1950s as well as Hollywood’s prevailing attitudes toward foreign (and female) artists. Her sensitive, poetic writing evokes Brazil’s rough beauty and the sensual lure of the music that shapes Dores and Graça’s lives. This is a gorgeous, immersive novel about a bond so strong that it “is like air – you can forget it exists, and that it is essential to your life.” --Sarah Harrison Smith