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Find more Booklist Editors' Choice
As we do every year, the Adult Books editors carefully assessed all those glorious starred titles we revisited in our December 15 issue and selected the very best of the best, seeking a broad range of outstanding books for public library collections that combines literary and intellectual excellence with popular appeal.
Arts & Literature
1,000 Books to Read before You Die: A Life-Changing List. By James Mustich and others. Workman, $35 (9781523504459).
Lively, witty, insightful prose describes the appeal of 1,000 titles across all fields of literature, from fiction to philosophy, nature to technology, followed by suggestions for similar reading experiences—an addictive reference work for librarians and patrons alike.
American like Me: Reflections on Life between Cultures. By America Ferrera. Gallery, $26 (9781501180910).
For this essential collection, Ferrera called on famous Americans—Lin-Manuel Miranda, Michelle Kwan, Roxane Gay, Kumail Nanjiani, and dozens of others—to share their experiences of living in the U.S. with more than one cultural, racial, ethnic, or national identity.
Heavy: An American Memoir. By Kiese Laymon. Scribner, $26 (9781501125652).
Laymon applies the title of his spectacular memoir, a 2019 Carnegie Medal finalist, to his body and his memories; to his inheritance as a student, a teacher, a writer, an activist, a black man, and his mother’s son—and, most of all, to the weight of truth, and writing it.
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. By Alexander Chee. HMH/Mariner, $15.99 (9781328764522).
The quotable, pristine essays in this memoiristic collection consider Chee’s family’s struggles, his AIDS activism and related losses, his tarot obsession, the labor of writing, the legacies of trauma, and the essentiality of making and having art.
Anthony Powell: Dancing to the Music of Time. By Hilary Spurling. Knopf, $35 (9780525521341).
Spurling fluidly incorporates the life and works of British novelist Anthony Powell, whose 12-novel sequence, A Dance to the Music of Time, remains one of the high-water marks of twentieth-century literature.
In Extremis: The Life and Death of War Correspondent Marie Colvin. By Lindsey Hilsum. Farrar, $28 (9780374175597).
Journalist Hilsum masterfully covers both the personal and professional lives of her friend and colleague, the singular war reporter Marie Colvin, who died under fire in Syria in 2012.
The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke. By Jeffrey C. Stewart. Oxford, $39.95 (9780195089578).
Stewart has written a definitive biography of Alain Locke, the intellectual who philosophically helped shape the Harlem Renaissance, tracing his remarkable life and deep and lasting influence.
Visionary Women: How Rachel Carson, Jane Jacobs, Jane Goodall, and Alice Waters Changed Our World. By Andrew Barnet. Ecco, $28.99 (9780062310729).
Barnet reveals the heretofore underappreciated “shared ethos” that propelled these four original thinkers and risk-takers to alert people to the dangers of unbridled technology, consumerism, and environment decimation, and chart more balanced ways forward.
Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work. By Alison Green. Ballantine, $16 (9780399181818).
Business blogger Green covers some of the most common workplace issues and offers specific language to address them, empowering workers at all levels to use candor and kindness to advocate for themselves and for a healthy workplace.
History & Travel
All the Dreams We’ve Dreamed: A Story of Hoops and Handguns on Chicago’s West Side. By Rus Bradburd. Lawrence Hill, $26.95 (9781613739310).
The incredibly powerful story of two Chicago men and how their lives have been intertwined with inner-city basketball and gun violence.
Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding, Its Apocalyptic Weather, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-Class Metropolis. By Sam Anderson. Crown, $28 (9780804137317).
In his time-traveling, civics-minded, and thoroughly person-focused history of Oklahoma City, Anderson’s enthusiasm for the city’s singularity—and the implications of it—is beyond infectious.
The Library Book. By Susan Orlean. Simon & Schuster, $28 (9781476740188).
After feeling “transfixed” during her first visit to Los Angeles’ Central Library, Orlean launched an avid investigation into its dramatic history, including the suspicious, terribly destructive 1986 fire; the library’s resplendent restoration; and its ongoing evolution. In all, an ardent praise song to libraries. (Top of the List winner—Adult Nonfiction)
Tigerland, 1968–1969: A City Divided, a Nation Torn Apart, and A Magical Season of Healing. By Wil Haygood. Knopf, $27.95 (9781524731861).
The story of the remarkable success of the basketball and baseball teams at East High School in Columbus, Ohio, during the turbulent late 1960s is transformed in Haygood’s telling into a rollicking and wrenching drama of unity and hope.
Brown. By Kevin Young. Knopf, $27 (9781524732547).
Young’s thrilling, formally intricate poems about an American boyhood and racial injustice are fully loaded with history, protest, pop culture, sorrow, and joy.
New Poets of Native Nations. Ed. by Heid E. Erdrich. Graywolf, $18 (9781555978099).
Erdrich’s masterfully curated, immensely important Native American anthology showcases the work of “Twenty-One Poets for the Twenty-First Century,” including Layli Long, Craig Santos Perez, Natalie Diaz, and dg nanouk okpik.
Science & Technology
Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter. By Ben Goldfarb. Chelsea Green, $24.95 (9781603587396).
Environmental journalist Goldfarb presents a fresh, historically grounded look at the beneficial impact of the once nearly extinct, now resurgent beaver, a remarkably industrious, habitat-enriching species.
Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth. By Adam Frank. Norton, $26.95 (9780393609011).
With solid science and lots of fun, Frank argues how and why we Earth dwellers should seek out and learn from other planets’ civilizations, accessibly explaining extraterrestrial-existence theories and incorporating references to Carl Sagan, the Mars rovers, and prosthetic Klingon foreheads.
The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineering Created the Modern World. By Simon Winchester. Harper, $29.99 (9780062652553).
With his customary flair, Winchester illuminates the essential role of precision engineering in our gadget-run world, vividly portraying inventors and describing wondrously exacting tools and machines and what they enable us to do.
Defining Documents in American History: LGBTQ+ (1923–2017). Ed. by Michael Shally-Jensen. Salem, $295 (9781682178942).
A compendium of letters, laws, articles, photos, and more provides an overview of LGBTQ+ issues, with text that clarifies each document’s importance in the ongoing struggle; appropriate—essential, even—for public, high-school, and college libraries.
Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America. By Beth Macy. Little, Brown, $28 (9780316551243).
Virginia-based journalist Macy’s years of following the still-unfolding U.S. opioid epidemic earned her remarkable access to the addicted and the people who tirelessly care for them, making this 2019 Carnegie finalist a many-faceted and timely read.
Energy: A Human History. By Richard Rhodes. Simon & Schuster, $30 (9781501195357).
Rhodes examines the ingenuity and consequences of humanity’s efforts to uncover, unleash, convert, and consume various forms of energy during the last five centuries.
A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America. By T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong. Crown, $28 (9781524759933).
This thoughtful work by two Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporters is both a personal story of rape and a true-crime procedural of catching a methodical rapist, told with suspense, thoroughness, and consideration of the victims.
Fascism: A Warning. By Madeline Albright. Harper, $26.99 (9780062802187).
Former secretary of state Albright analyzes past and present Fascist regimes and calls for us to pay attention to the changes underway in America and our global standing under the Trump administration.
Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side. By Eve L. Ewing. Univ. of Chicago, $22.50 (9780226526027).
With lively, accessible writing and a varied approach, Harvard-trained sociologist and poet Ewing examines Chicago’s 2013 closing of majority-black public schools alongside the longer histories of segregation and education in the city.
The Gift of Our Wounds: A Sikh and a Former White Supremacist Find Forgiveness after Hate. By Arno Michaels and others. St. Martin’s, $26.99 (9781250107541).
The cofounders of the anti-hate group Serve 2 Unite detail their journey toward a partnership in the wake of a horrific shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012.
High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing. By Ben Austen. Harper, $27.99 (9780062235060).
Austen’s impressive study of Chicago’s now-demolished 23-tower Cabrini-Green public housing project, which focuses on the biographies of several former residents, is a fascinating local history of profound national relevance.
The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border. By Francisco Cantú. Riverhead, $26 (9780735217713).
Cantú’s memoir of working for the U.S. Border Patrol, a 2019 Carnegie Medal finalist, offers explanations of the policies and realities—and the author’s firsthand experiences of them—that keep the border an intensely scrutinized topic of public discussion.
No Turning Back: Life, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria. By Rania Abouzeid. Norton, $26.95 (9780393609493).
Journalist Abouzeid offers an intense, expert, enlightening, and often personalized account of the complicated, catastrophic, and seemingly endless civil war in Syria.
One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy. By Carol Anderson. Bloomsbury, $27 (9781635571370).
Anderson examines how governments at every level are attempting to exclude voters based on undisguised racial profiling, denying millions their most essential American right.
The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row. By Anthony Ray Hinton and Lara Love Hardin. St. Martin’s, $26.99 (9781250124715).
Hinton’s memoir is the troubling, moving, and ultimately exalting story of the decades he spent on death row for a crime he didn’t commit, his refusal to be diminished by his wrongful imprisonment, and his unwavering commitment to forgiveness.
Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality. By Sarah McBride. Crown Archetype, $26 (9781524761479).
In a memoir that is part autobiography and part social advocacy, the first transgender person to speak at a national political convention makes a passionate case for universal rights for the LGBTQ community.
American Histories. By John Wideman. Scribner, $26 (9781501178344).
Wideman’s story collection blurs the line between fact and fiction, form and function, and history and autobiography as he tackles race, family, and art from nearly every imaginable angle.
Bellewether. By Susanna Kearsley. Sourcebooks/Landmark, $16.99 (9781492637134).
The richly told story of a small-town museum curator looking for a fresh start parallels the imaginative historical narrative of a star-crossed love during the Seven Years’ War in this immersive, romantic novel with strong book-club appeal.
Cloudbursts: Collected and New Stories. By Thomas McGuane. Knopf, $35 (9780385350211).
This career-spanning collection of short stories by a master of the form displays again how McGuane—choosing his words with lapidary precision—is able to provoke deep emotion by revealing mundane experience through extraordinary circumstance.
Confessions of the Fox. By Jordy Rosenberg. Random/One World, $27 (9780399592270).
This eighteenth-century, anti-imperialist, anticapitalist love story tells the tale of notorious transgender thief Jack Sheppard and university professor Dr. Voth, who’s studying Sheppard in the present day. Irreverent, erudite, and not to be missed.
Don’t Skip Out on Me. By Willy Vlautin. HarperPerennial, $22.95 (9780062684455).
In telling the story of would-be boxing champion Horace Hopper, Vlautin strips away our defenses with close-to-the-bone prose that leaves us utterly exposed to the tragedy of being alive.
Eternal Life. By Dara Horn. Norton, $25.95 (9780393608533).
Envisioning eternal life as a double-edged sword, Horn constructs a novel about a Jewish woman and her husband who feel both edges of that sword. Rich in the great philosophical conundrums of living and dying but also in humor and passion.
Friday Black. By Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. HMH/Mariner, $14.99 (9781328911247).
Adjei-Brenyah’s dozen stories are disturbingly spectacular as he magnifies and exposes the truth about racism, injustice, consumerism, and senseless violence, ultimately issuing a call to redefine and reclaim our humanity.
Give Me Your Hand. By Megan Abbott. Little, Brown, $26 (9780316547185).
Two women working in a science lab share a toxic secret from their teenage years, as Abbott plunges us deep into an vividly realized world of intense competition. A brilliant riff on hard science, human nature, and the ultimate unknowability of the human brain.
Gnomon. By Nick Harkaway. Knopf, $28.95 (9781524732080).
The world of near-future Britain has become a complete surveillance state in Harkaway’s latest metafictional excursion into the wormholes of his imagination. A ferociously powerful polemic about technology and the individual.
The Great Believers. By Rebecca Makkai. Viking, $27 (9780735223523).
Makkai’s ambitious novel, a finalist for the 2019 Carnegie Medal, follows the early days of the AIDS epidemic in Chicago and is a tribute to the enduring forces of friendship, love, and art over everything.
Gun Love. By Jennifer Clement. Hogarth, $25 (9781524761684).
Pearl was raised in a car adjacent to a trailer park, and after her mother is killed in a shooting, she enters foster care. Clement’s stylistic flourishes and heartfelt sense of offbeat tragedy will evoke Flannery O’Connor.
If You Leave Me. By Crystal Hana Kim. Morrow, $26.99 (9780062645173).
Kim’s debut novel about the extended Lee-Yun family during the violent forging of modern South Korea renders multivoiced, multilayered ancestral and cultural history into stupendous testimony and indelible storytelling.
Jane Seymour, the Haunted Queen. By Alison Weir. Ballantine, $28 (9781101966549).
With first-rate historical ambience and high drama, Weir breathes new life into the story of the devout, sympathetic queen who bore Henry VIII’s longed-for son only to die soon after.
Killing Commendatore. By Haruki Murakami. Tr. by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goosen. Knopf, $30 (9780525520047).
In Murakami’s latest mind-expanding novel, a Tokyo portrait painter is transformed by what he finds in a mysterious hole near his rental home on a mountaintop. As always, Murakami grounds his wide-ranging imagination in the bedrock reality of human experience.
Lawn Boy. By Jonathan Evison. Algonquin, $26.95 (9781616202620).
Evison’s witty, bighearted portrayal of Michael Muñoz, a 22-year-old landscaper who cares for his disabled brother and dreams about writing the great American novel, celebrates authenticity.
The Mars Room. By Rachel Kushner. Scribner, $27 (97814767565540).
Smart, vigilant Romy, a stripper facing life in prison for murder, is a seductive narrator of tigerish intensity in Kushner’s powerfully inquisitive and unnerving novel of incarceration writ large. (Top of the List winner—Adult Fiction)
Mr. and Mrs. American Pie. By Juliet McDaniel. Inkshares, $14.99 (9781942645863).
This salty and sweet debut tracks Mrs. Maxine Hortence Simmons’ outrageous attempt to return to Palm Springs domestic perfection by winning a 1970 beauty pageant with the help of fellow misfits who agree to pretend to be her family.
November Road. By Lou Berney. Morrow, $26.99 (9780062663849).
Berney begins with the JFK assassination but quickly morphs this perfect blend of noir and love story into a road novel across midcentury Middle America.
Our House. By Louise Candlish. Berkley, $26 (9780451489111).
Fiona and Bram’s seemingly amicable custody arrangement goes wrong, as Fiona tells the hosts of a true-crime podcast; but Bram’s suicide-note confession tells a different story. Fast-paced, twisty, and catnip for fans of an unreliable narrator (or two?).
The Overstory. By Richard Powers. Norton, $27.95 (9780393635522).
Powers’ magnificent saga follows the converging paths of a diverse set of characters guided by a love for trees and forests and concern over their catastrophic destruction on our rapidly warming planet.
The Reservoir Tapes. By Jon McGregor. Catapult, $23 (9781936787913).
This remarkable collection of linked short stories circles around a 13-year-old girl who has gone missing from an English village. McGregor demonstrates an extraordinary ability to create complex, multidimensional characters in only a few spare sentences.
She Would Be King. By Wayétu Moore. Graywolf, $26 (9781555978174).
Moore’s spellbinding debut novel draws on folktales to dramatize the complex coalescence of the African nation of Liberia through the lives of three representative outsiders with supernatural powers.
Southernmost. By Silas House. Algonquin, $26.95 (9781616206253).
An epiphanic flood loses an Appalachian preacher his congregation and custody of his son, so he kidnaps the boy and runs to Key West in this deeply moving novel full of complicated, flawed characters and breathtaking language.
Summer Hours at the Robber Library. By Sue Halpern. HarperPerennial, $15.99 (9780062678966).
Set in a rural New Hampshire Carnegie library and featuring irresistible characters, Halpern’s funny, tender, and insightful novel of derailments and second chances celebrates public libraries as essential to our lives, communities, and democracy.
There There. By Tommy Orange. Knopf, $25.95 (9780525520375).
A web of at-first disconnected characters and an omniscient narrator voice Orange’s symphonic debut, a 2019 Carnegie Medal finalist, which explores what it means to be an Urban Indian and builds to the highly anticipated Big Oakland Powwow.
Transcription. By Kate Atkinson. Little, Brown, $28 (9780316176637).
Atkinson jumps between WWII and the 1950s to tell the story of a singular Englishwoman trapped in the vice of history. A wonderful novel about making choices, failing to make them, and living, with some degree of grace, the lives our choices determine for us.
Unsheltered. By Barbara Kingsolver. Harper, $29.99 (9780062684561).
Kingsolver considers our need for and the deep meaning of shelter as she tells the parallel stories of Willa, a present-day, unemployed editor trying to keep her family afloat, and the pioneering, real-life scientist Mary Treat (1830–1923).
Warlight. By Michael Ondaatje. Knopf. $26.95 (9780525521198).
Ondaatje’s exquisitely evocative and drolly charming tale about a brother and sister left in the care of a mysterious man in 1945 London casts subtle light on secret skirmishes and hidden wounds as war slowly morphs into peace.
Washington Black. By Esi Edugyan. Knopf, $26.95 (9780525521426).In 1830 on the island of Barbados, Washington Black escapes slavery in a hot-air balloon, accompanied by his master’s brother. So begins a wonderfully strange adventure, rich in character and voice.
Welcome to Lagos. By Chibundu Onuzo. Catapult, $26 (9781936787807).
Onuzo sets teeming Lagos against Nigeria’s slow suicide by oil and weaves a crisp story about five Nigerians embroiled in an Ocean’s Eleven-esque caper that exposes class and ethnic divides and the stain of colonialism.
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