Our Spotlight Pick this month is Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West–a timely and original tale of two young lovers who end up refugees when their home country descends into chaos. Instead of fleeing on foot, or by boat or plane, Nadia and Saheed hear about a mysterious door, a portal to a faraway place…(that is not Narnia, but has its own perils). Senior Editor Chris Schluep says that Exit West is "an intimate human story about an experience shared by countless people of the world, one that most Americans just witness on television."
Check out more of our favorites below, along with some thoughts about why we liked them. Or have a look at the full list here.
The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge
The Night Ocean, a novel that is, on the surface, about Lovecraft’s secrets but reveals far more about the dark power of stories on our belief in reality. As the book opens, the narrator’s husband has apparently committed suicide by drowning himself in a remote lake in the middle of winter. But the body has not yet been found, and Charlie’s suicide note quotes that of Lovecraft’s supposed lover, a man who either killed himself or deliberately vanished in Mexico City a half century before. As Mar, a psychiatrist, waits for the icy waters to warm and relax its grip on Charlie’s body, she retraces her husband’s investigation into the murky details of Lovecraft’s life, immersing herself in the long-buried truths—or lies, or something greater than truths or lies—about Lovecraft and his young protégé, Robert Barlow. Bit by bit, terse details escape about Mar’s fraying marriage and her husband’s Lovecraft obsession. In counterpoint, she offers full-color accounts of Lovecraft’s affair with Barlow and Barlow’s years in Mexico City. Stories bloom within stories, and soon, like Mar’s husband, you’ll find yourself unable to find the horizon between fact and fiction. Weird, unsettling in its acuity, and beautifully written, La Farge’s novel sways between an homage to fantastical fiction and an unwrapping of our too-human desires.
Irresistible by Adam Alter
Irresistible is a deep and wide-ranging study of addiction, and there is much food for thought here. Alter seems especially concerned about how children and teens interact with technology, citing that they are the most vulnerable of us all. But as adults we are much more susceptible than most of us imagine—we may think we’re just interacting with a screen, but it’s important to remember that there are dozens of highly-paid people behind that screen whose only job is to make sure that we don’t stop.
Learn Better by Ulrich Boser
Learn Better. What my family didn’t realize at the time was that by teaching them what I’d learned, I myself was absorbing the lesson better than I would have if I’d just reread it again. That was only one of dozens of methods I’d consumed in
Learn Better to help me understand, retain, and connect information better than through the old (and less effective) systems of highlighting and rereading. Boser’s smart and approachable writing style engaged me at once as he laid out six methods for becoming an expert at whatever you like, whether it’s basketball, parenting, or quantum physics. Experiments, data, and anecdotes back up his techniques, but almost as important, he explains learning in such a clear way that aha! moments abound. “Learning does not have a comfort zone,” he says, following up later with: “To develop a skill, we’re going to be uncomfortable, strained, often feeling a little embattled.” He emphasizes that expertise is not the most important quality of an effective educator: “We need instructors that know their subject—and know ways to explain their subject.” Boser even puts himself of the spot, suggesting that readers should question whether they believe an author’s arguments in order to bring analytical thinking to a subject, which will cement that knowledge (or their rejection of the author’s thesis) deeper in their brains. There’s a lot to absorb here, but happily you have an expert teacher guiding you now on your own path toward effective learning.
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
All Grown Up doesn’t fit the bill, and she’s fine with that (if her mother and much of society is not). But while living a life according to one’s own playbook has its perks, it also has pitfalls, and Andrea isn’t immune to a little existential crisis. Cue the passive aggressive trips to her therapist, a revolving door of unsuitable suitors, and the near-abandonment of one of the true loves of her life: her art. So steeped in ennui is she that Andrea (almost) fails to register when life tries to yank her from it; Her best friend’s seemingly perfect marriage is imploding, as well as her brother and sister-in-law’s—the result of trying to cope with their child’s precarious, and incurable illness. And they need Andrea, something that takes a little while to sink in, but once it does, she realizes that the road to adulthood is not paved with “real” furniture. It’s an epiphany that will punch you in the heart, and Attenberg has perfect aim.
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