Why Didn’t You Just Do What You Were Told?: Essays

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Wright, Zauner, Simon, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Richard Wright, Michelle Zauner, our own Ed Simon, and more—that are publishing this week. Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. ant to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today. The Man Who Lived Underground by Richard Wright Here's what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Man Who Lived Underground: "The power and pain of Wright’s writing are evident in this wrenching novel, which was rejected by his publisher in 1942, shortly after the release of Native Son. Fred Daniels, a Black man who lives in an unidentified American city, is on his way home after a hard day’s work for the Wootens, a well-to-do white couple. Before he can reunite with his pregnant wife, Rachel, Daniels is unjustly seized by three white cops for the murder of the Wootens’ next-door neighbors. After he’s beaten, Daniels signs a confession, naively hoping that doing so will enable him to see Rachel. The cops take him to see her ('No one can say we mistreated him if we let ’im see his old lady, hunh?' one says), and she goes into labor, necessitating a rush to the hospital, which provides an opportunity for Daniels to escape. From that point forward, Daniels hides out in the sewers. Wright makes the impact of racist policing palpable as the story builds to a gut-punch ending, and the inclusion of his essay 'Memories of My Grandmother' illuminates his inspiration for the book. This nightmarish tale of racist terror resonates." Why Didn't You Just Do What You Were Told? by Jenny Diski Here's what Publishers Weekly had to say about Why Didn't You Just Do What You Were Told?: "This effortlessly readable posthumous essay collection from Diski (1947–2016) (In Gratitude) shows her at her best. In 'A Feeling for Ice,' she writes about her troubled childhood and her longing to visit Antarctica: 'I wanted white and ice as far as the eye could see.' 'It Wasn’t Him, It Was Her' explores the reputation of Nietzsche’s sister, Elisabeth, known primarily for having 'corrupted Nietzsche’s work.' 'He Could Afford It' investigates Howard Hughes’s obsessive compulsions: 'What made Hughes remarkable,' she writes, is that 'there was no practical reason for him to try to control his madness.' In 'I Haven’t Been Nearly Mad Enough,' she compares writer Barbara Taylor’s memories of mental institutionalization with her own: in the midst of fear, both found a sense of community. Diski’s works are varied and surprising, and she puts a fresh spin on the personal essay with her bracing, singular prose, never veering into self-indulgence: 'One of the basic beliefs we all have... is that we are who we are because we know that by definition there can be only one of us. I’m Jenny Diski. You therefore aren’t.' To miss these essays would be a shame." Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner Here's what Publishers Weekly had to say about Crying in H Mart: "Musician Zauner debuts with an earnest account of her Korean-American upbringing, musical career, and the aftermath of her mother’s death. She opens with a memory of a visit to an Asian American supermarket, where, among fellow shoppers who were 'searching for a piece of home, or a piece of ourselves,' Zauner was able to grieve the death of her mother, Chongmi, with whom she had a difficult relationship. Her white American father met her mother in Seoul in 1983, and Zauner immigrated as an infant to Eugene, Ore. In Zauner’s teenage years in the late 2000s, Chongmi vehemently opposed Zauner’s musical dreams and, in one outburst, admitted to having an abortion after Zauner’s birth 'because you were such a terrible child!' The confession caused a rift that lasted almost six years, until Zauner learned of her mother’s cancer diagnosis. After Chongmi’s death in 2014, Zauner’s career took off, and during a sold-out concert in Seoul, Zauner writes, she realized her success 'revolved around [my mother’s] death, that the songs... memorialized her.' The prose is lyrical if at times overwrought, but Zauner does a good job capturing the grief of losing a parent with pathos. Fans looking to get a glimpse into the inner life of this megawatt pop star will not be disappointed." An Alternative History of Pittsburgh by Ed Simon Here's what Publishers Weekly had to say about An Alternative History of Pittsburgh: "Pittsburgh native Simon (Furnace of this World), a staff writer at The Millions, explores 'the major thematic concerns' of his hometown in this rich and idiosyncratic history. Beginning 300 million years ago, when Allegheny County was the swampy domain of giant amphibians and 'sun-dappled mangroves,' the petrified remains of which formed western Pennsylvania’s extensive coal deposits, Simon spotlights 'representative moments' from the region’s history, including the founding (c. 1142) of the Iroquois Confederacy by the Great Peacemaker, Deganawidah, and his follower, Hiawatha, and the birth of composer Stephen Foster in Pittsburgh on July 4, 1862. Simon also details Andrew Carnegie’s roots in the radical socialist politics of mid-19th-century Europe and sketches the steel baron’s rise from 'bobbin-boy in a weaver’s shop' to 'the richest man who ever lived'; notes the influences of Pittsburgh on famous sons including playwright August Wilson, jazz composer Billy Strayhorn, and artist Andy Warhol; and details how Democratic mayor David Lawrence and Republican financier Richard King Mellon partnered in the late 1940s to 'completely redesign' the city’s 'gritty, decayed, rusting core.' Though consequential events such as the collapse of the U.S. steel industry get relatively short shrift, Simon marshals his historical snapshots into an incisive survey of the region and its inhabitants. Even Pittsburgh history buffs will learn something new." Also on shelves this week: We Are Bridges by Cassandra Lane and Permafrost by Eva Baltasar. Bonus Link: —The Ed Simon Archives