Is there ever a better time to read than these winter months? So much darkness and cold means all the more reason to turn on the warm lights, face away from screens, grab your favorite hot drink (make mine a very black tea with milk, please), cuddle under a blanket and crack into a pile of books, the bigger the better. It will make you positively look forward to night falling so early, if it means you can get down to reading sooner. Here are five books I’m glad I read in January, all of which are available at your local bookstore and the Concord Free Public Library.
Agent Josephine: American Beauty, French Hero, British Spy by Damien Lewis (Public Affairs). Remarkable history of Josephine Baker’s World War II adventures. This one-of-a kind lady had brains, chutzpah, and courage to spare when the world needed her. Awe-inspiring and a terrific recommendation for young adults who need role models.
The Survivalists by Kashana Cauley (Soft Skull). This funny novel explores the mindset of preppers, who believe in stocking up on bizarre supplies, practicing drills and engaging in interpersonal drama while waiting for the end of the world — even in Brooklyn. What an impressive debut by Cauley! She gracefully shifts between social satire, how-to tips on living in an emotionally fragile communal household, and the similarities between scrambling up the capitalist ladder,and facing down a coming apocalypse.
Putin by Philip Short (Holt). A doorstopper of a biography that lists significant historical events that explain why Putin is every bit as scary and anti-Western as you thought, but also that his view of America as Russia’s dark twin isn’t entirely unfounded. Short details many instances of American aggression and double dealing with Russia that make the reader pause, while still presenting Putin as the ultimate national populist.
A Divine Language: Learning Algebra, Geometry, and Calculus at the Edge of Old Age by Alec Wilkinson (Farrar). Gives one hope that mathematical studies can be for everyone and why. Gives those of us who were never that brilliant (ahem, competent) at higher math a reason to work our brains a little harder.
Three Roads Back: How Emerson, Thoreau and William James responded to the greatest losses of their lives by Robert D. Richardson; with a foreword by Megan Marshall (Princeton University Press). There are days when none of us might feel very resilient, especially in these strange times. What a comfort that these three men, despite their privileges of race, gender, class and education, also felt fragile when faced with illness, death, loneliness and despair at the loss of loved ones. How they thought, worked and traveled to find the courage to go on is the topic of this slim little book by Richardson, one of the great biographers. Their often unseemly reactions to hardship, life lessons and beautiful moments of inspiration are all the keener during winter’s chill.
Bonus Audio Book – Widowland by C.J. Carey, read by Esther Wane. My favorite dystopia from last year makes for an excellent listen on Hoopla, available with your Minuteman Library card. What would happen if Britain had gone for appeasement with Germany in 1939, and wound up as the Nazi’s favorite protectorate? Rose Ransom works in the elitist Ministry of Culture, rewriting English classic works of literature to make them more acceptable to a totalitarian regime. She is sent to investigate who is creating graffiti across the country containing forbidden quotes from female authors. Could it be from the slums of Widowland, where older, childless, single women live, willing to risk everything for freedom? Rose is ripe for recruitment to the feminist cause in this thrilling tale, beautifully told by Ware. And there’s a sequel coming!