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The events of the past two years have left many people, including despair and loss. These feelings can lead to tunnel vision from which it is difficult to escape, but reading can help us find a way out. We can adapt to new ideas that build hope, reassure us, and help us imagine the possibility of a different world.
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As 2021 draws to a close, we asked staff to share books that made us think or do things differently this year. We hope these books lead you into the new year with a new sense of purpose and peace.
He explains: “I am very interested in people’s family life. “I thought I was wasting my time, but the truth is, what is more interesting than how people live? I personally don’t think of anything. Maybe war, death or something, but not for me. I like to know how they eat food, what they do with it, what it looks like.”
Colvin, who died in 1992, was celebrated during his lifetime as a quiet writer of quirky bohemian romances. But since his death, a cult has started around his food, the columns he wrote for Gourmet magazine in which he celebrated his domestic life: washing dishes in the bathtub of his house a little bit of the East Village, eating steaks and eating seafood. , he ate a roasted turkey neck, saving it for himself after Thanksgiving “without a hint of guilt because I did all the work.” Colvin’s food label is built on a dedication to delicious, simple, well-cooked food; What he describes in one of his books as a kind of family feeling.
Both were revived this year as part of Laurie Colwin’s Harper Perennial and Vintage Year. Both are good, but if you have to choose one, go for it
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. This is what Colvin’s philosophy advocates, his reason for “freeing up time” for simple family problems like what people eat and how they eat it. Because what could be more interesting than living people? –
I heard a lot about the organization of the streets of Washington: anger, confusion, general disbelief that such a conflicting disorder was allowed. I did not think that I would not feel awe, nor gratitude. But when I picked up Amir Alexander’s book,
, he took me through Euclidean geometry, French gardens, and absolute monarchies, ending with an explanation of why the DC map is the way it is.
It was another reminder to me that everything in the world – even the most absurd things – is a product of cultural and social history. Street maps are political arguments. Gardens are powerful conversations. You just have to dig (or read Alexander’s work) to understand what is being said. –
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In early 2021, the anniversary of the closure of Covid-19. This commemoration went hand in hand with America’s expanded vaccination campaign and came with the understanding that, eventually, it would all be over.
It was a reminder that results are not that simple. Aleksievich’s book shows the collapse of the Soviet Union through the oral accounts of people who lived through it – soldiers, former party leaders, factory workers. Aleksievich, a Belarusian journalist who won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature, lets his subjects speak. What you get are these intimate pictures of everyday life set against the chaos of the collapse of the USSR.
Together, the oral histories reveal a collective dismay at the end of communism and the criminal and corrupt capitalism that replaced it. This is followed by longing for the Soviet Union, as people tell the horror stories of life under it. The past is revisited in the turmoil of the present.
It made me think about how we will remember this time—this epidemic, but also the social, political and economic upheavals that accompanied it. Anna North and I collected an oral history of the epidemic from the perspective of the New York area, but
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I wondered what people might say in another five or 10 years. Alexiewicz’s work shows that memory reflects what we’ve had in that time like it doesn’t exist now. Almost two years into this epidemic, we are not sure where this will lead us, so we are still building and building our previous team. –
I like the point of view. If the book is written in anything but the first person or the third person singular, please put it in my hands immediately. Some readers will find this type of game very interesting, but not me. The story conventions we follow to describe the world and the people in it often do not describe the world or the people in it.
It might be the book I used the most this year. Secretary A.E. Osworth weaves the story of a young woman working in the video game industry who is almost forgotten by the faceless crowd of the internet in a way that makes a lot of sense in the first person. The crowd narrates this book, which means the reader is constantly bombarded with “we” statements (like the title!).
Osworth is smart enough not to leave the reader trapped in the misogynistic crowd throughout the book. They find ways to identify certain groups of that crowd, especially the queer voices within it who feel marginalized by the actions of the majority, even though those queer people are also “watching Eliza Bright.” You can watch someone online because you’re stalking, or you can watch because you want to help, but the feeling of being watched is still what your target sees most. Osworth and their novel understand that writing too much about our online lives is not.
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After all, who wants to hear that? I know we are living in a climate crisis of our own making; I just want to read the book under the cover, hidden in the burning world. But if we continue to stumble into disaster—and it may be too late to try—we may do worse than we did.
This is a rare book that can make “I told you so” surprising, terrifying, and funny. There is still much to this story that author Lydia Millett leaves unclear, but the battle lines are drawn from the beginning: it is the children and the parents who have been defeated by the world.
The setup is a disaster on a small scale. A few wealthy families live in a vacation home near a lake, and all of them can’t keep it together. Millais cleverly uses the opportunity to make us dislike both camps equally (it’s hard to sympathize with uncaring parents or cruel rich kids whom even rich kids envy). But when push comes to shove, we learn more about what their loyalties are.
The brutal battle these heroes are fighting not only provides insight into the future path of life. I would always want them to achieve this – to have their franchise spread around the world, rather than being shot down quickly.
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There is no straight line between art and action. But this book also left me ready to enter an absurd battle.
I am slowly getting back to reading after months of not being able to look at a book. Part of what helped me get back to normal was listening to audiobooks with Calvin Kasulke.
I was very happy that I finished the whole thing in one sitting. It’s a novel told entirely about Slack messaging, fully voiced, and centered around a boy whose mind is trapped inside the tool itself. From there, it continues outward, showing casual and entertaining conversations that are not associated with most white people’s work. This story would have been more accurate in our telephonic reality.
Kasulke’s author is witty and wistful, often with turns of phrase that I, a mid-millennial boss, would immediately recognize as a shame. The experience of reading (or, you know, listening to) that book reminded me so much of all the ways to tell a story—even using the non-pretentious tools that most of us organize our work with. . Professional life. If you are someone who is interested in knowing how stories are constructed, it is worth checking out this book, no matter how your brain is expanded.
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