Top Reads for September
Whether you want to keep up with what’s happening in politics or pop culture, we’ve got you covered with this jam-packed edition of Top Reads. Prepare to be scared with Stephen King’s It, celebrate a new literary talent with Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling, and get a peek inside North Korea and Trump’s White House with Nothing to Envy and Devil’s Bargain.
Katie: The big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s horror story It is one of September’s most highly anticipated movies. The novel also happens to be the star of another September event — the annual Banned Books Week — thanks to being one of the most banned books ever, according to the American Library Association, for its violence, sexual themes, gross out gore, and obscene language. (Who wouldn’t let loose a few choice words when facing down THE ultimate demon lurking in the dark?) Reading It will scare the sh*t out of you.
But It is more than a killer clown. King captures the magic of childhood, and lifts the reader’s spirit high with his depiction of the shielding power of friendship in the face of dank evil for a group of grammar school kids in the 1950s, who call themselves the “Losers’ Club.” The book breaks your heart, too, floating to the surface the anger and sadness kids suffer as they grow aware of the failures of their would-be adult protectors.
It will terrify you. But read it. It’s worth losing a couple nights of sleep.
Julie: One of the first (of many to come) post-mortems of the 2016 presidential election, Devil's Bargain focuses on the influence of Steve Bannon and the right-wing populist furor he helped stoke.
Although much of the book recounts the well-known — yet still shocking — events of the 2016 campaign, Bloomberg Businessweek’s senior national correspondent Joshua Green is at his best when pulling back the curtain on Trump’s inner circle and diving deep into Bannon’s professional and political evolution. We hear the interactions of a now infamous cast of characters — Ivanka, Jared, Reince, Kellyanne, Bannon, and Christie — as the election results unfold. We also learn of Bannon’s working class democratic roots, his Navy service in the Middle East, his foray into banking at Goldman Sachs, and his time in Hollywood — all before he took the helm at Breitbart News.
Green also highlights watershed moments — like Trump’s utter humiliation at the hands of President Obama and Seth Myers at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner — that, in retrospect, can be seen as critical markers along Trump’s path to the White House.
Bannon may be out of the White House, but he's far from gone. Devil's Bargain helps us understand his past influence and consider his potential continued impact on American politics.
My Absolute Darling
Alex P.: I’ve just recently started My Absolute Darling. It was inevitable that I would pick it up; with rave reviews across the board, this debut novel is preceded by its reputation. And already I’m enamored with the teenage protagonist: Turtle has been getting the lion’s share of the book’s attention, and for good reason. But the writing is also wonderful, delicate yet searing. I’ve been emotionally preparing for what I know will be difficult chapters — the advance praise has also given insight into the abuse that Turtle will suffer in this novel — but I can’t imagine turning away from this story. If first impressions (and the reviews of the masses) are any indication, My Absolute Darling is one for the books.
Nothing to Envy
Alex K.: Nothing to Envy is the chilling true story of the ordinary people of North Korea. Through hundreds of interviews with defectors from Chongjin — North Korea’s 3rd largest city — Los Angeles Times journalist Barbara Demick paints a harrowing picture of the lives of citizens governed by dictatorship. Echoing the twisted dystopia of 1984 and the horror of Elie Wiesel’s Night, Demick shows the effect of entrenched communism, propaganda, famine, and fear on the average North Korean. What leaves the reader most haunted, however, is the essential humanity of the people of North Korea — the love that blooms under a night sky free from electricity, the strength of spirit in spite of unbelievable hardship, and the courage it takes to seek a better life in the face of ominous danger. Amidst blaring news headlines of crisis and escalation, Nothing to Envy pulls back the curtain on the world’s most reclusive country and serves as a reminder of the essential humanity of us all.
Ashley: From the start, it’s easy to see why R.J. Palacio’s debut touched so many people and inspired a forthcoming movie adaptation starring Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, and Jacob Tremblay. Wonder tells the story of August Pullman, a young boy who has craniofacial abnormalities and is teased and bullied by many of his new classmates in middle school. Inspired by an incident in her own life involving her children meeting a girl with similar facial deformities, Palacio writes with the utmost empathy and nuance for the situation. What makes the book really stand out is the use of different perspectives, from August’s sister, Olivia (who feels like life gravitates around August), to some of his friends, like Summer (who decides to eat lunch with August each day, even though the rest of their classmates avoid him). Though writing in multiple perspectives can often feel like a gimmick, in Wonder it properly conveys the weight of other character’s realities and how August affects them. Palacio maintains a breezy, beautifully simple yet believable voice across all characters, and in the end, you’re a part of August’s universe, too.
Crossing the Chasm
Jen: After my boss told Inc. that Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore was the most impactful business book he’d read, I immediately added it to my Scribd library. Only a few pages in, Moore notes that when a startup fails, “With unerring accuracy, all fingers point to — the vice president of marketing. It is marketing’s fault.” Gulp. (Or, more accurately, in the famous words of Bunk Moreland, “sheeeet.”)
I’m glad I kept reading because instead of a how-to guide to flaying the marketing team, Moore guides readers through the technology adoption lifecycle. He provides an overview of the chasm that exists between early adopters and mainstream consumers, where many great products “languish and companies die.” It is sobering to walk to through the graveyard of ‘superior’ products that failed to dominate their markets, yet, there are many lessons to be learned from their mistakes. Crossing the Chasm outlines common errors and provides tangible steps to avoid them. After finishing it, I felt armed with focus and inspiration. I recommend to anyone at a technology company!
Alex P. (again!): I finally got around to reading Han Kang’s Man Booker prize-winning book, The Vegetarian. It’s a slim read, but contains multitudes: The novel explores everything from mental illness to sex to family to art, and much else in-between. But more so than its themes, it’s the book’s precise language — almost cuttingly sharp — that stays with you long after you’ve finished it. Kang is already a literary celebrity in her native South Korea; with The Vegetarian, she’s well on her way to becoming one in the States, as well.