Top Reads for April

Spring has sprung! Celebrate the nicer weather and all that comes with it with a book about a conspiracy that rocked the press, an article about our amazing planet, a new Meg Wolitzer novel, and more.

Karyne: For Gawker, it was an easy First Amendment case that they had in the bag: Publishing the Hulk Hogan sex tape was ethical because of its newsworthiness. Hogan’s lawyers, however, built up an invasion of privacy case and ultimately won, leading to a $140 million settlement and the demise of both Gawker and the career of its founder, Nick Denton. The conspiracy in Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue is how Hogan’s lawsuit was bankrolled: by PayPal co-founder and billionaire Peter Thiel, who had his own vendetta against Gawker. 

Informed by interviews with several key players, Ryan Holiday’s Conspiracy reads more like a historical piece than journalism, and that’s by design. “What I was trying to do in the book was correct a mistake I felt too many reporters had made covering the story which was to treat this as simply a matter of news rather than of history,” Holiday said in a recent interview with Literary Hub. “To me this epic conflict, even if the stakes were relatively small, is a sweeping, timeless story and people would benefit from studying it.”

But once you come up for air, you realize the amount of access Holiday had in the saga. The result is nothing short of intriguing. 

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Stephanie: How do you become the person you are meant to be? 

Quiet college freshman Greer Kadetsky is still unsure of herself — and what it all means — when a serendipitous meeting with feminist icon Faith Frank changes the trajectory of her life. 

Faith is older, elegant, and has an ineffable ease about her; she dazzles everyone she meets with her signature boots and undeniable charisma. So, when Faith hands Greer her business card on her way out of a Ryland College bathroom following a speech she had just given, Greer could not be more thrilled. 

What follows in The Female Persuasion is a story as only Meg Wolitzer could tell it: An intimate yet epic novel about womanhood, power, ambition, mentorship — and what it means to be human in all of its complicated, heartbreaking glory.

The Beauty and Horror of 'Blue Planet II' (The Atlantic)

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Tifa: The article titled “The Beauty and Horror of ‘Blue Planet II’” in this month’s issue of The Atlantic just floored me. In it, the author James Parker describes the second installment of the episodic documentary as eloquently and musically as the series itself. I could try to relate to you how wonderful this show is, but I’ll let Parker do the heavy lifting; he expertly captures the essence of what makes the “Blue Planet” series so moving.

The Atlantic piece highlights all the stunning beauty, quirkiness, and often somber attributes of “Blue Planet II.” David Attenborough narrates, (as a lifelong Attenborough fan, he could read the phone book and I’d listen intently) and Hans Zimmer’s score perfectly complements. All of which Parker humorously details.

If you’re still on the fence on whether or not to watch, (I have no idea why you’d be on the fence at all — just watch it!) this article will no doubt persuade you with its vivid descriptions of both the show and even Attenborough himself, whom Parker describes with playful reverence.

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Julie: While Alanna Okun’s debut essay collection is a must-read for knitters, I wondered what it would hold for all of us non-crafters. As it turns out, a lot!

The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater is a meditation on the creative process and how it can soothe, nourish, and empower us.  

Through her reflections on crafting, Okun gives us a peek inside her world. We meet her friends and family, identify with her quirks, and empathize with her loves and losses. Okun’s writing is sharp and clever; her tone both humorous and touching. The audiobook, which she narrates, is particularly delightful and highly recommended for creators of all kinds.  

For those who may not have found a creative outlet yet, this book is motivation to kick the search into high-gear! 

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Adia: New power is exploding and it’s leading to monumental changes everywhere. In New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World—and How to Make It Work for You, authors Jeremy Heimans, co-founder and CEO of Purpose, and Henry Timms, executive director of the 92nd Street Y and co-founder of Giving Tuesday, show how this surging power is affecting business, politics, our lives, our communities, and the world at large.

New Power reveals how peer-driven, hyperconnected movements and businesses make a huge impact in our world, as well as how new power companies like Facebook and Uber are also making a large, albeit controversial, impact. The book touches on political conflicts between new and old power, which I found particularly interesting and hadn’t thought about until I read the book. Jeremy and Henry also address the rise of movements like #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo (and I’ll throw in #NeverAgain), all which have ignited worldwide calls to action.

New Power is an enlightening read, showing us where we’re going while empowering us to use this revolutionary model to make a positive impact in our lives, the lives of others, and shape our future for the better.

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Katie: Punk rock magical realism. That’s the best way I can describe Carmen Maria Machado’s debut collection of short stories, which has been racking up rave reviews. 

Also called “queer, feminist ghost stories,” Machado’s work channels Angela Carter’s bloody, feminist reworking of folktales, along with urban legends that have haunted generations of sleepovers. She’s been compared to Kelly Link and Helen Oyeyemi, but there’s no one else like her. 

Literary and surreal, the stories in Her Body and Other Parties defy category. They are sexy, but brutal. Otherworldly, but rooted in the female body. Funny, but deadly serious. A wife refuses to remove the ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual partners as an apocalyptic disaster unfolds. Women evaporate. One story reimagines episodes of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” with ghosts and doppelgängers. Truth seeps in by way of the uncanny in this collection, which Machado describes as the “surreal, liminal horror about being a woman or a queer person in the world.”

Full of warped pleasure, these stories are savagely good. Like the urban legend of the one-armed man who attacks couples in parked cars, once this book gets its hook in you, it won’t let you go.

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Alex P.: It’s been described as “Hitchcockian.” It’s set in Tangiers in the ’50s. The characters deal with life as an expat, obsessive friendships, and psychological unravelings. If Christine Mangan wrote her debut novel hoping to fulfill all my guilty-pleasure dreams, she succeeded. I only wish I had some vacation days lined up; this book would be the perfect poolside (or beachside, or plane-ride) read. 

Tangerine traces the friendship of Alice and Lucy, who become uncannily close after meeting in college. But following an undisclosed incident, Alice escapes to Morocco with her new husband. Even halfway across the world, she can’t outrun her memories for long; eventually, Lucy follows. That’s all I’ll say regarding the plot — this is a story that shouldn’t be spoiled. I will disclose that the rights to the novel have already been optioned by George Clooney’s production company, with Scarlett Johansson loosely attached to star. Intrigued yet?

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Ashley: Literature is a study of paradoxes. Many lovers of literary work seem to gravitate toward writers who can capture paradoxes simply and with a beautiful twist you haven’t noticed before. That’s why Terese Marie Mailhot’s short and devastating memoir has received such a effusive praise from just about everyone who’s read it. (And that’s a lot of people, since actress Emma Watson picked it as the Our Shared Shelf March/April book club read.) 

Heart Berries has fewer than 150 pages, but it’s far from a fast read. The effect of almost every sentence feels like a gut-punch, memorable and painful, wrestling with the contradictions present in womanhood, in pain, in identity politics. I would highlight one sentence immediately after reading it, only to read the next one and highlight that, too, after realizing Mailhot’s descriptions of her abusive childhood, the turmoil wrought by stereotypes of her race, and her struggles with depression as an adult, were so real and raw. As Sherman Alexie put it in the introduction, “[Mailhot] is wounded and seeking to wound. She is forgiving and vengeful. She is mentally ill and smarter than all of us. She is cynical and deeply, deeply romantic.”

Read it and see how many sentences you end up highlighting.


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