You’ll notice that some of our "best books of November" went on sale in late October. Sometimes there are so many great releases in a given month that we have to bump a few favorites to the following month. That’s what happened with the books you see here, starting with Joe Hagan’s colorful portrait of the founder of Rolling Stone magazine. Senior editor Jon Foro says that Jann Wenner "wielded an outsized influence over popular culture for decades, and his biography would have to match." Sticky Fingers does. "One way to know that the book is good: Although Wenner reportedly regrets the result (he has denounced it as “tawdry”), he doesn’t dispute it. Hagan did him a favor. This is certainly not hagiography, but ultimately, Wenner will loom larger for it."
Learn more about a few of our favorite picks of the month below, or browse the rest of the best of November here.
In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende
In the Midst of Winter opens with endearingly oblivious academic Richard Bowmaster, who is rattled after taking his cat to the vet, and rear-ends a car driven by Evelyn Ortega. Ortega is not in the country legally, it’s her boss’s vehicle, and he’s not the sort of person you want to cross (ask the dead body in the trunk). So begins a madcap adventure to dispose of the deceased and ensure Ortega’s safety, a plan hatched by Bowmaster’s tenant and colleague, Lucia. For such a zany setup, Allende does a deft job of illuminating the plight of undocumented immigrants, and readers will be charmed by Lucia and Richard—two people in the winter of their lives, who end up bumbling towards an invincible summer (a hard-won one at that). You will happily bumble along with them.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Long Way Down is a book you can’t help but burn through in a single sitting, and the author intends for it to be so. The story, told in verse at a staccato pace, tells of the murder of a brother who meant everything to fifteen-year-old Will, and we feel his pain in every one of Reynolds’ carefully chosen words. There is a code where Will lives —The Rules—and they include avenging the death of a loved one. No matter what. Will has seen The Rules followed, has seen the circular violence of them, and thought to choose differently. But in Reynolds’ exceedingly apt metaphor, Will’s loss is like a tooth torn from deep in your mouth by a stranger wielding pliers–though you know the tooth is gone, your tongue cannot help but return over and over to the raw place it used to be. And is no more. Anger and sadness guide Will’s hand to take the gun from his brother’s broken dresser drawer. Bottomless grief pushes him out the door of his eighth floor apartment and into the elevator, intent on seeking revenge. But on that short ride down, time slows with every floor, cracking open a new possibility for Will… Because sometimes rules don’t make sense anymore. And sometimes they should be broken.
Long Way Down does things with language that pack a punch and with elegant simplicity address complex emotions that I still want to talk about months after reading it.
Vacationland by John Hodgman
Vacationland, John Hodgman describes an afternoon he spent building cairns – those steeple-shaped piles of stones you see along hiking trails. He’s with a friend, the jazz musician Jonathan Coulton, who has a knack for this kind of thing. But Hodgman’s first cairns are “ass”: “Naturally,” he says, “I went for the big rocks, the showy ones with flashy colors and boss marbling. I hauled them out of the mud as if strength mattered even for a second in cairn building and used them as the base for huge, high monuments to overthink … And then I would step back and see how terrible they were.” Just when a metaphor for the writing process begins to stand out too starkly, Hodgman lets the grandeur of his creation fall. “Oh, I forgot to mention: we were high out of our minds.” Throughout
Vacationland, Hodgman strikes a delicately calibrated, seemingly artless balance of pathos and humor. A memoir, of any sort, by a man whose success as a writer (of the Complete World Knowledge trilogy), podcaster, and actor has allowed him to own not just one, but two vacation homes seems fated to evoke resentment in many readers, but his portrayal of the ways he’s fulfilling his “Caucasian class destiny in the most loathsome way possible,” never feels braggy. He’s self-deprecating, disarming, and funny, and readers will come away feeling that the privilege was all theirs.
–Sarah Harrison Smith
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