In a year of bleak and shocking world events, my bookshelf has been similarly characterized by heartbreak, subversion, and sometimes both.
In Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng uses familiar thriller elements — a normal family rocked by tragedy! — as the backbone for a singular and exceptional story about how every generation is oppressed by the restrictions of the current one and the pressures of the last. In War of the Whales, Joshua Horwitz reveals how military sonar has repeatedly and fatally driven whales onto beaches. It’s a dark and unfamiliar twist on the familiar “save the whales” conservation trope, told through a rich and precise narrative; a sequence midway through, from a whale’s perspective, remains the most moving passage I’ve read this year. In A Burglar’s Guide to the City, Geoff Manaugh takes the most mundane aspects of architecture — walls, ceilings, fire escapes — and imbues them with a wondrous new quality by showing them through the eyes of burglars, the “idiot masters of the built environment, drunk Jedis of architectural space.”
And in White Rage, Carol Anderson describes the history of black rights in America, from the end of the Civil War to the finale of the administration of Barack Obama, showing how every advancement has been met by an insidious rollback, not from obvious quarters like the Klan, but from bureaucrats and legislators. “With so much attention on the flames,” she writes, “everyone had ignored the kindling.” It’s shocking, beautifully written, and, with white supremacy knocking on the White House door, more important than ever. Some books are great, some books are essential. White Rage is the latter.
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