Hello again! We at the library hope your semester has gotten off to a good start, and that you’re enjoying the great weather we’ve been having lately. I myself have been so excited about the apparent start of fall (we’ll see if it sticks this time) that I’ve nearly forgotten to recommend some great new reads for the month. Whoops! Fortunately, since our New & Noteworthy and Overdrive collections are adding new titles all the time, it’s easy to find something new to read, even on short notice. Here are just a few of these new selections!
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead. In this latest novel by Whitehead, winner of last year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, furniture salesman Ray Carney finds himself at the center of a heist gone wrong in early 1960s Harlem. Specifically covering the years 1959 to 1964, the reader watches as Ray attempts to balance his slightly doubled life as an upstanding entrepreneur who occasionally fences stolen goods for thieves, a balance that is slowly unraveled by a heist at the locally renowned Hotel Theresa perpetuated by his cousin Freddie in the first act. Freddie, who is far more of a career criminal than Ray, arranges for him to fence the products of the heist, and this intrusion into his work has consequences that run the course of the book. Along the way, Ray also plans revenge against an unscrupulous banker, and this act brings with it its own host of various and sundry characters and events. As the story takes shape, too, it meaningfully engages with the contemporary history of Harlem, all the while maintaining its humor and gentle parody of 20th century crime fiction. You can read reviews here and here.
Already Toast: Caregiving and Burnout in America by Kate Washington. In this book, Washington chronicles her own experiences of caregiving from 2016 to 2018 while linking them to the extensive, collective struggle of unpaid family caregivers in the contemporary United States. With often devastating detail, she describes the way in which her husband Brad’s sudden lymphoma diagnosis completely upended the lives of herself and her family, his rare illness repeatedly evading treatment and requiring Washington to devote all her time to learning how to care for him at the expense of her career and relationships, including with Brad himself. Washington deftly contextualizes these experiences by discussing how systemic barriers play out in caregiving situations, noting, among other things, how unpaid caregivers—who are disproportionately women—are routinely denied any kind of meaningful support in modern-day American society. Though she ends her account by discussing Brad’s general improvement after a stem-cell transplant (which it is by no means a full recovery), she uses her experience to call for increased structural support for caregivers. You can read a review here and listen to an interview with Washington here.
Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So. This short story collection, So’s posthumous debut (he died in December 2020 at the age of 28), tells the stories of numerous Cambodian-American characters, young and old alike, in California’s Central Valley. The stories primarily concern themselves with generational and cultural differences between the characters as they each reckon with their Cambodian identity in various ways. At a donut shop, a wedding, a car repair shop, and still many other settings, So’s characters interact and clash over what this identity should mean and how it manifests in their lives. In all, the stories touch on themes of sexuality, the cultural importance of food, generational ties, and the enduring legacy of the Cambodian genocide, among other topics. You can read reviews here and here.
Craft: An American History by Glenn Adamson. In this exhaustive survey, stretching some four centuries, curator Adamson covers the importance of craft in American history, emphasizing its universal presence in all the cultures that form the modern-day United States. In defining craft as “whenever a skilled person makes something with their hands,” too, Adamson’s reach is quite broad, studying everything from the effect of the industrial revolution on American craft to the much more recent impact of e-commerce and social media. Throughout this lengthy discussion, Adamson is quick to discuss the long and fraught relationship between craft and capitalism, noting the repeated tendency of American culture to characterize craft as unserious and lacking in value, and to characterize crafters—particularly those of marginalized identity—in exploitative, demeaning, and fetishistic ways. In all, the book is a nuanced and fascinating read. You can read reviews here and here.
The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-eun (translated by Lizzie Buehler). In this dark satire of late-stage capitalism, originally published in South Korea in 2013 but published in English for the first time last year, Yun tells the story of Yona, an employee at a travel company that specializes in disaster tourism, arranging tours to locales devastated by all kinds of momentous crises for the perceived moral betterment of their customers. Yona has worked for the company for 10 years, coordinating tours and assessing what locations would bring in the most clients, but is on the brink of quitting after facing the sexual harassment of her boss and getting demoted for no clear reason. In a last-ditch effort to keep her in the company, she is directed to travel to an island called Mui, the company’s least popular destination. There, Yona discovers a seemingly ludicrous plot being carried out by the company: to bring in more clients, the company will create a disaster on the island, one that will surely kill a significant number of its inhabitants. From here, Yona must make some critical decisions, and Yun portrays her subsequent period on the island in a terrifying and yet darkly humorous way. You can read reviews here and here.