What to Read this Month: October 2020

This month, as we enter into the throes of spooky season (midterms), we at the library would like to offer up another selection of new additions to our collection to check out. These picks represent a mix of books in our New & Noteworthy Collection, as well as our Overdrive collection. Books are being continually added to both of these collections, so as always, we encourage you to explore them to discover new and interesting reading material.


Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam. Alam’s novel, which was released earlier this month, has already been hailed as one of the best novels published this year by the likes of the New York Times and NPR. At once a suspenseful thriller and biting satire, it tells the story of two households who unexpectedly end up sharing a space during what is quite possibly the apocalypse. Amanda and Clay, a middle-class white couple from New York City, decide to take a summer vacation in a remote corner of Long Island, renting a home there. Things take a strange turn when the home’s owners, a wealthy Black couple named George and Ruth, suddenly arrive, taking refuge from what initially seems to be a citywide blackout. What follows is a suspenseful commentary on issues ranging from race to disaster response in contemporary American society, as the two families gradually begin to realize that a much larger and much more dire occurrence is unfolding before their very eyes. You can read/listen to reviews here and here.


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The Lost Family: How DNA Testing Is Upending Who We Are by Libby Copeland. In this nonfiction study of home DNA test kits, Copeland, a journalist, explores the myriad unintended yet far-reaching consequences that often come with spitting into a vial to discover one’s genetic origins. What is often perceived to be a harmless novelty, Copeland argues, can be anything but, and the harm caused by these kits wreak havoc both on the individual and societal level. Copeland discusses this harm at length, sharing accounts of people making startling familial revelations, including several discoveries about parentage and adoption. But even more gripping is the commentary on the cultural ramifications of commodifying the human genome: our conceptions of race and identity, the use of genetic data to solve crimes, and the troubling relationship between the practice of DNA testing and eugenics. You can read a review here and here.


The Mirror of My Heart: A Thousand Years of Persian Poetry

The Mirror of My Heart: a Thousand Years of Persian Poetry by Women, introduced and translated by Dick Davis. This anthology of Persian-language poems, many of which first appear in English here, abounds with epigrams and elegies. As the title suggests, the chronological period covered by this work is extremely broad, beginning in the Middle Ages and ending in the 21st century. While Persian poetry has been studied at length for centuries, the voices of women poets have often been overlooked, by academics and other readers alike, mainly due to systemic issues in both Persian and non-Persian culture. But Davis, in translating these works, makes clear for his audience that women have played an invaluable role in the history of Persian poetry, with their works often asserting perspectives and concepts hitherto largely unseen by English-speaking audiences. The poems offer unparalleled insight into the lives of Persian women from century to century, and even the oldest poems represented in this anthology are quite accessible to a modern audience, owing to their beautiful and careful coverage of timeless issues, such as love and loss. You can read reviews here and here.


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Who Gets in and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions by Jeffrey Selingo. In this book, education journalist Jeffrey Selingo seeks to break down the overarching factors in college admissions decisions by offering a behind-the-scenes look at the process at three selective colleges and universities. His ultimate conclusion is that the factors controlling the process are largely outside the individual applicant’s control, but his journey in making that somewhat disheartening point makes for a compelling read, as Selingo offers an effective deconstruction of the concept of meritocracy, while also providing commentary on its seemingly inextricable place in contemporary American culture. The book also serves as an interesting complement to another recent journalistic work on college admissions, Melissa Korn’s and Jennifer Levitz’s Unacceptable: Privilege, Deceit & the Making of the College Admissions Scandal, which is currently available as an audiobook in our Overdrive collection. You can read a review of Selingo’s book here and here.


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Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy by Talia Lavin. In this book, Talia Lavin, a freelance writer known for her works in publications such as the New Yorker, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, relays her in-depth investigation of online and offline white supremacist culture. Long the target of online far-right trolls for her Jewish identity and antifascist writings, Lavin describes her effort to infiltrate white supremacist spaces as a journey to find out what draws people—largely young, disaffected white men—into online, far-right culture. Over the course of this journey, Lavin adopts false identities to achieve this end, and the book proves to be a harrowing account of this dangerous movement and what makes it run. And throughout, Lavin provides a compelling story with the many insights she makes. While the book is often darkly humorous thanks to Lavin’s entertaining voice, it nonetheless contains a great deal of disturbing content related to violence and hatred, something readers should keep in mind. You can read a review here and watch an online discussion with Lavin hosted by New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage here.

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