The best books of the year, as selected by Los Angeles Public Library staff. Perfect for holiday gift-giving! For more book lists and featured book reviews, check LAPL Reads.
The first authorized biography of poet, artist, feminist, scholar, cult figure, Kathy Acker, written by Chris Kraus. Kraus and Acker, although not close to each other, have shared friends, lovers, and artistic circles. In Kraus’s words, she began writing about Acker “through the distance, but with this incredible frisson of feeling that often I could write “I” instead of “she.”
Senator Franken outlines his journey to the Senate with his usual wit and sarcasm, though as a Senator he has dialed it down a bit. It’s always interesting to get an insider’s look, but particularly so in these current political times. This book is like having a seat at the table with the folks who are trying to do right by their constituents. The chapter on Ted Cruz (Sophistry) is a particular highlight.
The Khan family was thrust into the national spotlight when they appeared at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Now in this poignant and inspiring memoir, paterfamilias Khizr Khan recounts the path he took from a struggling Pakistani farm family to an unshakably patriotic American gold star family.
The Silk Road website launched in 2011, an anonymous marketplace on the dark web where one could buy drugs, fake IDs and firearms. It took 2 years and multiple agencies working together for the government to shut it down. This gripping book covers the rise and fall of the website and its creator, Dread Pirate Roberts.
Bell, the personable host of CNN’s United Shades of America, thinks that Americans with different social and political views would understand each other better if they spent more time interacting. He details his own personal evolution, from a bright, socially awkward kid in Chicago to a popular, alternative comic. His television show examines many distinctive ethnic subcultures that exist in American society through the lens of a liberal humorist.
Susan Burton's life took a dive into hell when her five-year-old son was killed by a van driving down her street. She began self-medicating, taking increasingly stronger illegal drugs, and for over fifteen years Burton was in and out of prison. By chance she found a private drug rehab facility and turned her life around. Through her organization, A New Way of Life, Ms. Burton is now an advocate for formerly incarcerated women.
Even though the Nazi party was ostensibly anti-drugs, drugs were readily available and widely taken in Nazi Germany. In fact, according to Ohler, Hitler spent his final days as a junkie, yearning for methamphetamines provided by a sycophant Nazi doctor.
Award-winning pastry chef Stella Parks presents recipes for classic American desserts, even for some of the commercially produced ones. She adds her advice on how to measure, sift, incorporate ingredients, prepare baking pans; provides numerous recipe variations, and includes stories about many favorites. Illustrated with color photographs and clear directions, so get baking!
Covering cannibalistic behaviors among animals as well as humans, zoologist Bill Schutt delves into the role of cannibalism in the natural world, while tracing the origins of cultural taboos against it. Schutt travels from the deserts of Arizona (studying cannibalistic tadpoles), to the Sierras (the Donner Party), to the modern-day kitchen (He meets with experts on the preparation and consumption of human placenta.). Not for the faint of heart (or stomach), but certainly a must-read for those intrigued by the taboo.
The story of Nicolas de la Reynie, lieutenant general of the Paris police in the 1660s, is part true crime novel, part history, part sordid romance, and part political suspense drama. An engaging read which presents a Paris of the past that is both exotic and strangely familiar.
In the follow-up to his bestselling Twilight of the Elites, MSNBC host and editor at large for The Nation, Chris Hayes presents a revolutionary model for viewing America. The Nation is where the law exists to protect the prosperous; the Colony is where the law exists to punish, instill fear, and maintain order. This disconnect provides an explanation for why different, citizens of what is ostensibly the same country, express such fundamentally divergent experiences.
Alice Waters, Chez Panisse founder, writes of her early life, including her bourgeois formative years in Van Nuys. She takes the reader through her political and sensory awakenings at UC Berkeley and Paris market stands and boulangeries. A memoir written with a measure of humility that is surprising for a foundational American cook, but much like her food: best ingredients, carefully and lovingly prepared for people she cares for deeply.
Food historian Michael Twitty examines his own culinary roots, traditions and recipes and of Southern food, and critiques how these reflect our views on race, provenance and many social issues.
Why was this woman arrested for driving? Was it a DUI? No, she was driving as a woman in Saudi Arabia, which was illegal. Manal al-Sharif did not seek any type of public attention, but that's what happened.
When a friend asks for advice on how to raise her newborn daughter as a feminist, Nigerian-born bestselling author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie responds with what would become a book, Dear Ijeawele. She offers this simple precept as a starting point: “I matter equally. Full stop.” She continues through fifteen indispensable suggestions, from encouraging a love of reading to rejecting biological determinism.
There was a time when art was happening elsewhere in the United States--not in Los Angeles. There was someone who had a different insight about this situation. Walter Hopps played a major role in promoting West Coast artists in the 1950s. This is a posthumous memoir, documenting a man who was often erratic in his work habits, but always passionate about all types of art and artists. This autobiography fills in major gaps in modern art history and the history of modern art in Los Angeles.
Arriving in her native Philippines for her beloved father’s funeral, Canadian writer Lorina Mapa begins to reminisce about her youth, growing up as the doted-upon daughter of a well-to-do family, listening to Western pop music and watching classic American films on video. All the while, the Philippines are in tumult as a popular uprising attempts to overthrow the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and install into the presidency Corazon Aquino, the widow of assassinated congressman Benigno Aquino.
Abducted and brought to the harem as a Russian (specfically Ruthenian) slave and Christian, Roxelana became the only Queen in the Ottoman Court. What caused Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent to free and marry her? There was more to the harem than seduction, and a great deal more to this woman who was smart, fascinating, shrewd, and a clever diplomat.
Bill Nye “the Science Guy” knows what it means to be a real nerd – it’s all about a passion for learning, noticing details, applying the scientific method and critical thinking. Incorporating stories and lessons from his own life, Bill Nye calls for nerds everywhere to apply their intelligence and creativity to “everything at once,” harnessing the power of problem solving and quite possibly, changing the world.
Adam Federman presents the life of Patience Gray, an important figure in modern food writing. Independent, iconoclastic, a type of earth mother who eschewed modern consumerism, she and her partner, the sculptor Norman Mommens, led a rugged life on the island of Naxos. LAPL owns these books by Gray: Honey from a weed : fasting and feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, the Cyclades, and Apulia; A Catalan cookery book : a collection of impossible recipes; Plats du jour
When Nicole was 16-year-old, she brought home a funny, shy, little dog from the shelter, and little did she know that Beija would become her best friend, constant companion and protector well into adulthood. Both Beija and Nicole had some issues to work through, but they did it together (not always successfully). Georges second graphic memoir is a beautiful, heart warming story of coming of age and discovering oneself.
There was a time when people would strap live pigeons to those stricken with the plague! That’s funny. And Get Well Soon is funny. It covers plenty of wacky cures and unnecessary bloodlettings. But this book is more than funny because the author doesn’t stop at the joke. Instead there are people who did the best they could, to care for and treat illnesses they didn’t understand, frequently at great personal risk.
In the early 1980s, a serial killer was preying on women in South Central Los Angeles, stumping LAPD detectives. Residents, relatives and community leaders were angered because of the long time it was taking to find the culprit, 1988 - 2002; police were frustrated by a lack of evidence. In 2010, familial DNA testing connected the murders to Lonnie Franklin, Jr., a mechanic and former city worker. His long-delayed arrest and trial took a toll on victims’ families, and the author, a former Los Angeles Weekly reporter who grew close to several family members, and stayed with the story for ten years.
Many histories, when they mention women, only talk about important women. All of the other women recede into the background, and we have no idea who they were, or what they did. Frequently, in histories, we know as little about these women as we do about extras in Hollywood movies. The Hidden Lives of Tudor Woman helps to make some of these women visible again, by telling their stories.
Despite what you’d assume from the subtitle, this book does not offer pat explanations about natural selection. Instead it is a glimpse into the various challenges that face contemporary evolutionary biologists, who cannot go back in time to definitively confirm their hypotheses. Written with the humor that has made this “young French punk scientist” so popular, this short book is especially illuminating for the lay reader.
Roxane Gay subconsciously dealt with an unspeakable sexual assault in her youth by eating, rendering herself invisible behind her own flesh. Now, decades later, Gay is morbidly obese and learning the myriad ways this world is not made for fat people. Written with her characteristic candor, this memoir devastates and unsettles with every turned page.
Continuing the magazine’s long tradition of presidential campaign coverage that began with Hunter S. Thompson, this book collects Rolling Stone contributing editor Matt Taibbi’s reportage from the 2016 campaign trail. Not only does he take Donald Trump to task for such an unconventional run, but Taibbi similarly excoriates both the Hillary Clinton camp for cleaving so decidedly to the Establishment, and the mainstream media for failing so miserably to see what was truly newsworthy. This book will surely be required reading for future students of political science trying to make sense of 2016.
Mainly a cookbook, but also a cultural tour of Istanbul and Turkish regions that reflect the cooking of Syria, Iran, Iraq, Armenia and Georgia. There are superb color photographs of food, people and landscapes throughout the book. The wife and husband team, respectively journalist Robyn Eckhardt and photographer David Hagerman, have spent twenty years traveling and doing research in Turkey. All kebabs are not alike, and there is a world of adventurous cooking and eating that awaits you.
Not too many pivotal figures in American history have seen their historical stock fall so sharply, over the combination of increased examination of an extramarital relationship with a slave and an unsympathetic portrayal in a popular Broadway musical, but Thomas Jefferson is that person. Boles presents him warts and all, as America’s most famous political thinker/slave owner/architect. Jefferson was one of our wealthiest Presidents, and wasted all his money buying stuff he didn’t need. In that way, he is still a man of our times.
A collection of essays, many of them translated into English for the first time, by a major twentieth-century Chinese writer, Lu Xun. His writings comprise prescient observations about the turbulent changes that were to come with a revolution in the mid-1930s.
Kachka Restaurant opened in Portland, Oregon during April, 2014, offering Russian cuisine to diners who were not quite sure what that was. However, to this day they, " . . .keep coming back for more." Bonnie Frumkin Morales offers a family history and background history for these special recipes that have origins going back to czarist days. Accompanying the recipes, suggested menus, table of contents and index are vivid color photographs of ingredients, food, family, and the restaurant. A trip to Portland is a must.
The Nobel Peace Prize, 2018. This prize was shared with Dr. Denis Mukwege, "for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict." Nadia Murad is a member of the Yazidi community who lived in Kocho, northern Iraq. She and her family lived a peaceful rural life with other families until their village was caught in the crosshairs of ISIS in 2014. People were killed and Nadia was abducted, beaten, tortured, repeatedly raped, and became part of the ISIS slave trade. She escaped and this is her story. Even though she is free, ISIS has continued to issue death threats because Nadia continues to speak out.
Over the decades, Finn Murphy has watched America change from the driver’s seat of his truck. Blessed with the gift of gab and armed with over a million miles on the road, he is just the person to give you a look into the sometimes misunderstood and often ignored world of long haul trucking.
For decades, MAD Magazine has famously published some of America’s most mordant satire. This volume, collecting both classic and new pieces about our new President, may very well be its apotheosis. But they don’t limit themselves to just our Commander in Chief: the magazine gets a few jabs in on Hillary Clinton, and the unprecedented stable of challengers for the Republican nomination.
Famed celebrity biographer Patricia Bosworth turns the spotlight on herself, and the men who shaped her young adulthood, in this roller coaster ride of a memoir. By the final chapter Bosworth is only 33-years-old, but has survived the suicides of her brother and her father, marriage to an abuser who tried to strangle her, and a near-fatal hemorrhage on an overseas flight to Italy following an illegal abortion. On the upside, she starred on the Broadway stage with Daniel Massey; became a member of Lee Strasberg’s legendary Actor’s Studio alongside Ben Gazzara, Paul Newman, and Steve McQueen; and shared the screen with Peter Finch and Audrey Hepburn in Fred Zinnemann’s The Nun’s Story. The reader is left hoping for a follow-up volume covering Bosworth’s amazingly successful reinvention of herself as an award-winning journalist.
As Bette Davis’ personal assistant for the last ten years of the actress’ life, Kathryn Sermak is truly the last word on the enduring Hollywood legend. Nearly 30 years after Davis’ death, Sermak has finally given us a glimpse into the life of this cinematic icon. A quick read, this memoir is both reverent and revealing, demonstrating Davis’ strengths and weaknesses while never devolving into a trashy tell-all.
What happens when a journalist dedicates herself to unearthing an unsavory family secret? Stapinski travels to the "boot of Italy" to interview, learn and discover her family's past and yet - she is met with resistance from those who stayed in the old country. She is given the cold shoulder and the evil eye by descendants of her grandparents' contemporaries. Not one to be deterred, Stapinski returns to Italy several times to research, talk and eventually shed light's truth on the family secret.
Beloved writer Neil Gaiman takes on classic Norse myths in his unique and darkly humorous tone.
25-year-old Connor Franta’s second memoir dives deep into the heartbreak the millennial vlogger-turned-millionaire entrepreneur experienced after the end of his first long-term romance, and after publicly coming out of the closet on his popular YouTube channel in 2014. Featuring Franta’s photography and his confessional poetry, readers and fans get a raw look at a side of him he doesn’t often show in his videos.
Two-time Edgar Award-winning cartoonist John Arne Sæterøy, better known mononymously as Jason, decides on his fiftieth birthday to embark upon the 500-mile pilgrimage to the Galician cathedral of Santiago de Compostela because it’s “either the Camino or a Porsche.” Along the way, he meets pilgrims and hikers from South Korea to Alaska and learns lessons about bedbugs, bravery, and the value of a good café con leche.
The history of the twentieth century is littered with quiet capitulations to despots and their tyrannical regimes. In this slim but powerful volume, Yale University professor of history Timothy Snyder offers twenty strategies, in scope both large and small, to offer resistance to an encroaching threat to American democracy.
Joudie Kalla shares her family's heritage of great Palestinian home cooking, which has been passed on from her mother, her grandmother and all the women who cooked before. Throughout the book there are spectacular color photographs of people, places and food. Kalla includes a table of contents, an index, and for unique ingredients there is a list of U.S. suppliers.
For relaxation and unwinding, the 43rd President of the United States was largely known for clearing brush from his Central Texas ranch, not for picking up a (paint) brush. After leaving office, Bush took up oil painting. In these portraits of wounded U.S. veterans of the Afghan and Persian Gulf wars, he portrays the light, shadow, and perspective in each veteran's face, and details their service, often describing his personal relationship with the person. The portraits reveal Bush's artistic growth plus his identification with and gratitude for the veterans' sacrifice in a stunningly intimate and unguarded fashion.
It is impossible to talk about the history of Southern food without talking about slavery, racism, and disenfranchisement. But if we can look straight at our history, as John T. Edge attempts, then there is community, innovation, and heroes to be found who have often been overlooked.
Joan Juliet Buck's father was a motion picture producer for Peter O'Toole and best friends with John Huston. Buck's best friend was Angelica. But, that's just the start of this biography because Buck doesn't stay in filmland for long. She makes her name in fashion publishing, ending up as the editor of Paris Vogue. Buck's adult life runs through the 1960s to the 1980s, prime years of the women's movement and she writes about how manners and fashion determined and reflected women's place in the world. A near tell-all with fashion's most enduring names as major players.
You might not realize it, walking through the stacks of your local library, but competition, feuds, and crime are wound throughout the history of printed books. Some of these stories are presented in Printer’s Error; a fast-paced, humorous narrative. The Romneys turn everything, from the destruction and recreation of a work of art, to the fate of the beleaguered author Charles Dickens in America, into a rollicking adventure, or a really good gossip session among friends.
Ayelet, an engaging, thoughtful, and witty writer (who is also a former lawyer, wife of author Michael Chabon, and mother of four), decides to take an unconventional and controversial approach to dealing with her depression and volatile mood swings. For one month, she takes daily microdoses of LSD. Although the experiment is short-lived, and some days are better than others, the strategy is ultimately successful.
We all know when something tastes good, but do we understand why? Samin Nosrat presents the four elements of superior flavor by exploring the science behind applying salt, fat, acid and heat to each dish we cook. Every recipe is delightfully illustrated and demonstrates how these elements improve the quality of the dish. Alongside stories of Samin’s childhood and her journey to becoming an award-winning chef, you’ll learn the techniques you need to master the elements of good cooking.
Edward Dolnick provides a highly illuminating, slightly horrifying history of the quest to discover exactly where babies come from. The answer, as we understand it, was not nailed down until well into the 19th century, so there is plenty of history and many stories of false trails for Dolnick to share. Included is the somewhat gruesome story of an anatomist who dissected his own father and brother in his quest to know more; a brilliant experimentalist who sewed boxers for frogs to prove something significant about semen, and many more similarly interesting tales.
While New Yorker cartoonist Shannon Wheeler’s book can be hilarious, like the “Shit My Dad Says” Twitter account that inspired it, it is also at times stultifying and shocking. Beginning with Donald Trump’s very first tweet in 2009 (announcing an appearance on a late-night talk show), Wheeler presents the President’s messages without editorialization, but accompanied by humorous black and white line drawings.
We all know that life can be unfair, but what do you say to a friend diagnosed with cancer? A loved one going through a divorce? An acquaintance whose mother has died? For all those times when you’re lost for words, this approachable, gently humorous and cleverly illustrated guide teaches you how to develop your emotional intelligence, learn to really listen and offer comfort when others are going through painful situations. Developing compassion and empathy takes practice, but there’s never been a better time to learn to be a better human being.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has never been one to shy away from a fight, and her latest book showcases that trademark pugnacity in spades. Painting a desperately stark picture, she details the various clever and ignoble ways that deep pockets have influenced American government into passing legislation that benefits the rich at the cost of the middle class.
Should you ever find yourself in a time machine, you must read Ian Mortimer’s series that prepares travelers for different parts of English history. This guide and its prequels are less recountings of famous people and historic events, than they are guides with important information about where to get a meal and find a bathroom, as you walk down a street in 1690s England.
You’ve seen the Laurel Thatcher Ulrich quotation on bumper stickers: “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” The women in this book are not well-behaved, and they’ve certainly made headlines if not history. Anne Helen Petersen takes ten criticisms often levied against women (e.g., too old, too shrill, too loud) and, using examples (Madonna, Hillary Clinton, Jennifer Weiner, respectively), begins an analysis of how those judgments are gendered, and in what ways they are used to push women back into line.
Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds, of the comedy-history podcast The Dollop, call Americans “adorable and hilarious monsters." Witness: teenagers in early 20th century New York causing a riot over men wearing straw hats too late into September; a doctor implanting goat testicles into thousands of men’s scrotums as a cure for sexual dysfunction; President Nixon granting Elvis Presley’s request for a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs; a hapless one-eyed man being accused of fathering a one-eyed pig and both being put to death. Adorable and hilarious monsters indeed!
Ward documents the history of how the United States became militarily involved in Vietnam. It is unique because there are interviews with combatants, family members, and politicans from both sides of the conflict. The book is also a companion to Ken Burns and Lynn Novick PBS documentary.
Samantha Irby has lived a life worth writing about, and has cultivated the skill to write about it well. As a youth, Irby’s alcoholic father punched her in the face for washing a dish incorrectly; her mother died of a very long, terrible illness. But despite these and other subjects that inspire her more poignant essays, she also wields a mordant wit that will have you guffawing and turning the page with glee, to tales of her moody cat (named Helen Keller), a sudden attack of intestinal discomfort while stuck in traffic with two college friends, adult toys, and more.
This is Hillary Clinton’s post-mortem of her historic but ultimately unsuccessful 2016 run for the Presidency. For someone who has been in public service for over four decades, she is remarkably candid, at times even approaching impolitic, in her chastisement of not only Donald Trump, but his campaign and surrogates, the media, Vladimir Putin, Bernie Sanders, former FBI Director James Comey--and herself.
By focusing on the different diets of six famous women Laura Shapiro looks into their lives and minds. Helen Gurley Brown, editor of Cosmopolitan, spent her life dieting. Eleanor Roosevelt wasn’t interested in fine dining, but she did want to support Americans during the Depression, so she served some of the least appealing meals ever in the White House, because they were frugal. Food preparation has been women’s work for a long time. Laura Shapiro makes it an expression of women’s lives and choices too.
Most biologists agree that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, but for the first time humans seem to be contributing most to this devastating loss of biological diversity. Lori Robinson and Janie Chodosh interview twenty of the world’s foremost conservationists, relating how they found their calling, how the work they do benefits the world around them, and what they foresee for the animals and world they love.
Elizebeth Smith and her husband, William Friedman, were important code breakers during World War II, and their work helped create what would become the NSA. Elizebeth Smith has never received the credit she deserves for her unique contirubtions to breaking numerous versions of the Enigma machine. The story of how she became a code breaker is as intriguing and unbelievable as are her many contributions.
The dictionary, that ubiquitous and basic reference book, gets a closer examination. Kory Stamper explains what it’s like to be a lexicographer. Lexicographers are those studious souls compiling definitions for everything from “an” to “zeppelinist” and deciding whether “OMG” belongs in the OED (Oxford English Dictionary). Stamper lets you peek behind the curtain at the rich, aggravating strangeness of the English language and the people who toil endlessly to describe it.
Seemingly out of the blue, transgender issues have dominated the headlines over the last handful of years. But with increased information comes increased misinformation (e.g., “Trans people are dangerous, mentally ill, and/or secretly gay”; “Trans people can’t find partners”; “You’re not really trans if you haven’t had surgery”). Laura Erickson-Schroth and Laura A. Jacobs seek to dispel these myths and many more with their timely new book.