With spring, a book lover’s fancy turns to reading some of the goodness that is bursting out all over, from the Concord Free Public Library’s New Book displays to our local bookstores full of choice reads. With all of that seasonal energy for new projects, why not tackle one of the sprawling books out there, from big-idea scholarship to novels that reflect Concord back to us?
The Story of Us, From Cave Art to K-Pop by Martin Puchner (W.W. Norton)
If your eyes have been opened to cultural appropriation, but at the same time you have a hunch that most culture is a result of some kind of scrounging, here’s Martin Puchner to explain how culture has always been fragmented, mixed, remade and reborn. We’re not off the hook for lying about when we’re borrowing — that’s stealing — or not acknowledging what we take — that’s theft too — or fudging the origins of one thing to suit our present goals — that’s rewriting history. But syncretism, the blending of different elements into something new, is healthy and creative — just don’t pretend one culture alone invented the wheel. The cover of this book is so gorgeous.
Humanly Possible: Seven Hundred Years of Humanist Freethinking, Inquiry, and Hope by Sarah Bakewell (Penguin Press)
After the hard work of recognizing all the appropriation we have blithely been carrying on, Bakewell assures us we can be a little of this, a little of that, and add up to a glorious whole. Whatever your belief system, this book will help you feel we are all trying to be better.
The Odyssey of Phillis Wheatley: A Poet’s Journeys Through American Slavery and Independence by David Waldstreicher (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
One of the most remarkable American women, Phyllis Wheatley was also an African, a slave, an intellectual, a freed person, a wife and mother, and one of the first great American poets. She helped shape Revolutionary America and in particular, Boston, more than we have ever realized. A triumph of research, this book acknowledges the work of Black historians and writers in keeping Wheatley’s complex legacy and work alive.
War Diary by Yevgenia Belorusets. Translated by Greg Nissan. (New Directions)
These photographs and essays on life in Kyiv directly after the invasion strike home for anyone who cherishes their safe, comfortable home and can’t imagine being uprooted . Belorusets, an artist and writer, captures the horror and disbelief that swept her city as the war began, but also moments of beauty and grace. When the Ukrainian conflict seems so far away, this reminds us that it is happening to real people in real time – our time.
The Everlasting Meal Cookbook: Leftovers A-Z by Tamara Adler (Scribner)
Adler’s lovely book of musings on food, The Everlasting Meal (2012) was one of those books that changed your view on something as fundamental as what we eat, how and why. Here she focuses on eliminating food waste with a collection of recipes to make delicious meals from all those bits and pieces in your pantry as well as dreary leftovers. It’s economical and environmentally responsible, but it’s also essential in spring to turn over a new leaf to munch.
I have a big stack of novels waiting for me to read too — was there ever a better feeling? First up is Birnam Wood by Eleanor Cattan (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) who won the Booker for her last novel 10 years ago, and is finally back with a tale of ecowarriors and capitalists in New Zealand. I’ve been anticipating I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai (Viking), a dark mystery that examines our obsession with true crime and justice. There’s Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano (The Dial Press), which seems to be the ultimate Concord Book Group book — town and gets involved with the online neighborhood message center – mischief ensues. Sound familiar?