Top Reads for March
For March, we’ve done some early spring cleaning — instead of “Top Books,” we’re now picking “Top Reads” so we can highlight great articles from our magazine offering as well, like Rumana Ahmed’s account of being a Muslim in President Donald Trump’s White House. The books this month — including George Saunders’ first novel and Roxane Gay’s latest — are happy to share the spotlight with their new brethren.
Lincoln in the Bardo
Alex: I’ll get right to the point: George Saunders’ much-anticipated first novel is as terrific as everyone hoped. The acclaimed short story author’s black humor and absurdism appear in spades, but the book is also anchored by a deep pathos. It’s a pleasure to read, and strikes at the chords of American history, as well as at broad themes of war, grief, death, and love.
The Lincoln of the title is in fact Willie, the president’s beloved eleven year-old son, who dies of a fever in the midst of the Civil War. His spirit joins a cacophony of others who have chosen to tarry in a sort of purgatory — much of the book’s humor comes from the absurd and grotesque manifestations of the spirits, and of their Greek chorus commentary, especially present in the audiobook’s broad and incredible cast — but children are not meant to stay behind. Willie lingers to experience visits from his father; the President attends his son’s grave, overcome with the grief of his loss and the larger tragedy of the war at hand. It’s hard to imagine there was anything left to know about Abraham Lincoln, but this portrait of the man as grieving father is a far more vulnerable and intimate depiction than any I’ve seen before. All told, the novel is a masterful balancing act between humor and pathos, and between history and fiction.
The Killer Wrote Code (Bloomberg Businessweek)
David: From 1982 to 2001, Bangalore, India doubled its population. The boom was due, in no small part, the the vast globalization offered by emerging tech industries. Texas Instruments opened a software design center there in 1985, and in 1998 a Bangalorean coder invented Hotmail. In fact, this boom was so substantial that it inspired Thomas Friedman’s 2005 best-seller on globalization, The World is Flat.
Of course, all this growth has come with a few negative side effects. In Ben Crair’s excellent “The Killer Wrote Code,” he explains the current state of the Indian “techie,” or tech worker, and explores India’s obsession with tech industry crime. As Crair writes: “a long-standing journalistic adage says, ‘If it bleeds, it leads.’ In India, if it codes, it explodes.”
Ashley: Back in 2013, I read Roxane Gay’s short story “North Country” — about a black female engineer who moves to Upper Michigan and deals with subtle racism and sexism and her coldness and falls in love with a nice man — and knew that I was discovering a new favorite author. Though Gay has exploded in popularity since then with her novel An Untamed State and collection of essays Bad Feminist, it’s heartwarming to see “North Country” included in this latest collection of short stories, Difficult Women. The stories explore the trials of womanhood, from painfully real depictions of violence (“I Will Follow You,” “Break All the Way Down”) to metaphorical, fairytale-like vignettes about vulnerability (“Water, All Its Weight,” “Requiem for a Glass Heart”). It can be a difficult read at times just from the sheer weight of unspeakable sadnesses, but there’s a deep love and tenderness for all of the difficult women that shines through. As is the nature of short stories, not every story landed for me, but every one definitely lingered in my mind. This collection further cements Gay’s literary rockstar status.
I Was a Muslim in Trump’s White House (The Atlantic)
Karyne: Rumana Ahmed is a hijab-wearing Muslim American, whose parents immigrated to the United States in the late 1970s. In this piece from The Atlantic, she writes about her experience in the White House, where she was most recently on the National Security Council. She describes the stark differences between the Obama and Trump administrations, as well as her reasons for leaving. And after reading her account of what the White House was like during her final week there, I can’t really blame her.
The Reporter Who Knew Too Much
Jenn: Former criminal defense attorney and legal analyst for CNN, ESPN, and USA Today, Mark Shaw stopped by the Scribd office recently to discuss his twenty-fifth book, The Reporter Who Knew Too Much.
In 1965, leading investigative reporter and well-respected media icon Dorothy Kilgallen was found dead in her townhouse at the age of 52. She was in the process of writing an explosive tell-all book about the JFK assassination. Autopsy reports ruled her death “accidental.”
Armed with newly discovered key evidence, eyewitness interviews, and secret government documents, Shaw turns the cold case into a captivating “whodunit” murder mystery — featuring suspects like Frank Sinatra, J. Edgar Hoover, Mafia Don Carlos Marcello, and a “Mystery Man.” Shaw’s case is so compelling, it even caught the eye of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office: Following the release of the book, the DA has announced that they are reopening their investigation into Kilgallen’s death 51 years ago.
For more information on The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, check out our interview with Shaw below.
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