What to Read this Month: December 2021

As the semester begins to wind down, we at the library hope you’ll have some time to rest and potentially cross some books off your list! If you’re looking for new books to add to your reading list, look no further. One of these five titles, from our New & Noteworthy and Overdrive collections, just might do the trick! If not, though, don’t worry; new titles are being added to these collections all the time, so you’re guaranteed to find something that catches your eye. Have a happy and restful winter break!


The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story: Hannah-Jones, Nikole, The New York Times Magazine, Roper, Caitlin, Silverman, Ilena, Silverstein, Jake: 9780593230572: Amazon.com: BooksThe 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, edited by Nikole Hannah-Jones. In the two years since Nikole Hannah-Jones’ 1619 Project first appeared in the pages of the New York Times Magazine, it has become a household name, praised by numerous historians for its compelling and thorough reframing of the United States’ origin story while also igniting a vitriolic backlash among rightwing figures both within the US and beyond. This first book edition of the project includes the content of its original New York Times appearance while also expanding upon its aims with the inclusion of more details, notes, and seven additional essays. Although the Project was always sweeping and comprehensive in its examination of several centuries of American history, this edition builds on that, resulting in the fullest and most vivid iteration of the Project to date. You can read reviews here and here.


Amazon.com: Alec: A Novel: 9780374102609: Canzio, William di: BooksAlec by William di Canzio. Di Canzio’s novel is both a reworking and a continuation of E. M. Forster’s Maurice, which was originally written in the 1910s but remained unpublished until 1971 owing largely to the happy ending Forster provides to his gay protagonist, Maurice Hall. In this original novel, Maurice, a member of the English upper-class, ultimately finds himself able to forge a successful romantic relationship with the gamekeeper Alec Scudder, despite the rampant homophobia and classism permeating English society during this period. Di Canzio expands on Forster’s story in two major ways: first, he retells the events of Maurice from Alec’s point-of-view, which differs significantly from Maurice’s, and secondly, he confronts Forster’s original ending with the realities of World War I: in this telling, Maurice and Alec’s relationship is threatened when the two, now soldiers, are stationed apart from each other across Europe. With the addition of Alec’s perspective and these new events, di Canzio’s novel is an excellent complement to Forster’s. You can read reviews here and here.


Amazon.com: How Beautiful We Were: A Novel: 9780593132425: Mbue, Imbolo: BooksHow Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue. Mbue’s second novel, which was recently named by the New York Times as one of the ten best books of the year, focuses on Kosawa, a village in an unnamed West African country that has long been beset with troubles inflicted by Pexton, a massive American oil corporation. The year is 1980, and although Pexton has repeatedly attempted to placate Kosawa’s residents with periodic, unproductive visits by their representatives, it remains obvious that their operations in the area have caused the egregious levels of pollution and illness to which they are subjected. Things come to a head when, over the course of the corporation’s latest visit, the residents decide to take the Pexton delegates hostage, spurred on by Konga, who is known as the local madman. Witnessing these events is a young girl, Thula, on whom the novel eventually focuses. As Thula grows, she becomes determined to seek justice for her community, and her journey eventually takes her to the US, where she gains undergraduate and graduate degrees. Upon her eventual return to Kosawa, she seeks to mobilize her peers into fighting Pexton and the dictatorship leading her country, facing numerous barriers along the way. You can read reviews here and here.


Amazon.com: Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath eBook : Clark, Heather L. : Kindle StoreRed Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath by Heather Clark. Clark’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated biography of Sylvia Plath recounts her life and legacy with both details and a level of care that have hitherto not been seen in the many previous accounts of the poet’s life. A lot of the work she undertakes in relaying the events of her life involves dismantling the mythologization surrounding Plath and her death, offering a fresh reexamination of her poetry, her mental health, and the numerous figures that influenced her, ranging from her parents to mentors to friends. All of these details contribute to one of the most exhaustive portraits of Plath published to date, one that appears astonishingly unscathed by the longstanding, often prurient public fascination with her personal life and death, making it an exceedingly satisfying and sensitive read. You can read reviews here and here.


Chouette: Oshetsky, Claire: 9780063066670: Amazon.com: BooksChouette by Claire Oshetsky. Oshetsky’s debut novel tells the otherworldly story of Tiny, a cellist living with her reliable–if somewhat boring–husband, who inexplicably has an affair with a female owl and even more inexplicably becomes pregnant with a hybrid owl-human baby, the eponymous Chouette. Despite the child’s obvious strangeness, which isolates Tiny from others in her life and evokes dire warnings from nearly every doctor who sees her, her mother immediately loves her unconditionally. She is fully supportive of Chouette and seeks not to change her, even as she is forced to give up her career and even as Chouette’s undeniably owl-like behavior completely upends all normalcy in her life. She faces a tough battle in this determination as her husband seeks exactly the opposite, pursuing “cures” for Chouette at every turn. In tracing Tiny’s pregnancy, Chouette’s early childhood, and her later independence, Oshetsky, who is herself autistic and a mother, offers a unique meditation on the nature of neurodivergence, pregnancy, and motherhood, the fantastic elements of her story providing a unique lens through which to view and understand these massive topics. You can read reviews here and here.

4 thoughts on “What to Read this Month: December 2021”

  1. Thank you, Ms. Twiddy, for reading and recommending my new novel, ALEC. I’d like to make a suggestion about the links to reviews. Please consider including this incisive essay in The New Republic by Alexander Chee.

    https://newrepublic.com/article/163578/em-forster-afterlives-maurice-alec

    Or this thoughtful, prepublication review (starred) in Booklist.

    https://www.booklistonline.com/Alec-/pid=9747777

    By comparison, the comments in Kirkus are glaringly superficial.

    1. Hello,

      Thank you for your interest in the blog! I appreciate your comment here. I actually read the New Republic piece a few weeks ago as I was preparing this post, and I thought it was excellent. I’m happy to replace the Kirkus link with it — thank you for reminding me of its existence. And I take your point about Kirkus, too. Unfortunately I think the uniformly short format of Kirkus can easily lend itself to superficiality. On the other hand, I am often tempted to include their reviews because they are so concise and unpaywalled, as well as reliable in the sense that they’ll likely have a review of nearly every novel I choose to include. Just thought I should explain my thought process here.

      Thank you again for reading my post!
      Anna

      1. Thanks for informing me. I do understand about paywalls.

        Happy Holidays to you! Honored to be noticed by your distinguished library.

        BTW: Do you know Neal Bell? Professor of dramatic writing at Duke. (I’m sure his plays are in the library.) Great writer and teacher–esteemed friend and mentor.

        –WdC

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