Hello again! We at the library hope you’re enjoying the long winter break. If by chance you find yourself in need of new reading material, here are some recommendations of ours for this month. As always, these books come from our New & Noteworthy and Overdrive collections, and we highly recommend checking them out whenever you want something new to read – these collections feature new material all the time.
Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi. In this debut novel, shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize, Doshi tells the story of an intensely fraught mother-daughter relationship. Antara, a prosperous woman living in modern-day Pune with her husband and infant daughter, reflects on and grieves the difficult childhood she faced with her mother, Tara. When Tara became swept up in the teachings of a charismatic guru, she abandoned her marriage to live at the ashram where he resided. Though she took the young Antara with her, she was neglectful and sometimes overtly abusive towards her, leaving Antara with psychological wounds that continue to fester in her adulthood. Complicating Antara’s present understanding of Tara is her decision to take her in after she develops dementia. Though Tara’s condition does much to superficially soften the relationship between the two women, it also seriously complicates Antara’s necessary search for closure. Amidst this portrayal of a difficult relationship, Doshi also provides a searing satire of the wealthy and privileged in contemporary India through her portrayal of Antara’s entitled and often vacuous social circle. You can read reviews here and here.
My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland. In this genre-bending memoir (not a biography, though it contains elements of one), Shapland comes to understand facets of her own life as a queer and chronically ill person while studying the life of Carson McCullers, the renowned 20th-century Southern Gothic novelist, and herself a queer and chronically ill person. McCullers, perhaps best known for her novels The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and The Member of the Wedding, empathetically wrote of outsiders in her fairly short lifetime, drawing on a personal experience that Shapland finds to have been largely overlooked by her biographers. Her experience with McCullers begins with an internship at the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center, an archive in which she discovers a number of McCullers’ love letters to another woman. What follows is a strong investigation into McCullers’ life as a lesbian in the mid-twentieth century, interspersed with Shapland’s personal anecdotes about coming to terms with her own sexuality. Throughout this intense discussion of McCullers’ life, Shapland readily questions her own perception of the author, and her personal identification with her, making for an engaging and self-aware read. You can read reviews here and here.
Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. In this book, a finalist for this year’s Pulitzer Prize in history, historian Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor takes a clear look at the long history of housing discrimination and segregation in the modern-day US. While she begins her study in the early twentieth-century, in the age of the Great Migration and legally-sanctioned redlining, she particularly focuses on the late 1960s and later, when the Fair Housing Act was passed by Congress. While this act, along with related legislation passed as a part of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiative, outlawed de jure housing discrimination and was designed to create paths toward homeownership among the marginalized, Taylor argues that these measures actually preserved housing inequality among Black Americans, and enabled its existence into the present day. Highlighting the public-private nature of these measures (noting how the federal government largely relegated the task of guaranteeing mortgages to the private sector), Taylor writes of how they ultimately created a system of predatory lending, enriching the real estate industry while providing little concrete relief to Black homeowners, an issue only exacerbated by the succeeding Nixon administration. Throughout this vivid telling of history, Taylor emphasizes the accounts of Black families affected by these policies, driving home the personal ramifications of the flaws in the system. You can read an interview with Taylor here and a review here.
The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. In this novel, Hargrave builds on the historic 1621 witch trials that unfolded in the Norwegian town of Vardø, and, through the characters she creates, crafts a compelling commentary on what lies at the root of witch trials and cultural suspicion more broadly. In 1617, an intense storm overtakes the region of Finnmark, leaving many dead, including 20-year-old Maren’s father, brother, and fiancé. For a few years, the survivors of the storm cope as best as they can—two women rise up as leaders in the village, while Maren’s sister-in-law turns to her traditional Sami beliefs—but their way of life is threatened when the infamous Scottish witch hunter Absalom Cornet arrives at the behest of local authorities. He brings with him a timid young wife, Ursa, whom he met and wed in the Norwegian city of Bergen. Maren ends up taking Ursa under her wing, and the love that develops between the two women centers the novel, even as the witch hunter sows an increasing path of violence. He targets any woman who fails to conform to the religious or social norms of Vardø, and eventually, he sets his sights on Maren, spelling serious trouble for both her and Ursa. You can read reviews here and here.
A World Beneath the Sands: The Golden Age of Egyptology by Toby Wilkinson. This fascinating study takes a critical look at the so-called Golden Age of Egyptology, which the historian Toby Wilkinson defines as taking place roughly between the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone in 1822 and the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. The rush on the part of Britain and France to learn about and produce scholarship on Ancient Egyptian civilization—processes which often took the form of plundering antiquities for the British Museum and the Louvre, respectively—is argued by Wilkinson to be the result of a kind of imperialist arms race between the two nations, as they each attempted to prove their might as colonial powers. Wilkinson discusses at length the consequences of this rush, noting that the insights learned about Ancient Egypt came at a severe cost, including the oppression of the Egyptian people and the destruction of many historical sites and artifacts. In particular, Wilkinson asserts that the occupation and widespread theft of the British and French had the unintended consequence of mobilizing the Egyptian people into developing a national identity for themselves, built both on the history of Ancient Egypt and the intense desire for self-government. In relaying this history, Wilkinson is quick to punctuate his account with vivid descriptions of the major figures who brought it into being. You can read reviews here and here.