Each week, Bookstr scans bestseller lists across the Internet to learn what people are reading, buying, gifting, and talking about most — just so we can ensure consistent, high quality recommendations. This week’s nonfiction picks are bestsellers, and showcase what’s resonating with audiences right now! Pick these up to see what everyone is talking about!
5. The Unwinding of the miracle by Julie Yip-Williams
The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams tells of her rocky beginnings to finding her path in life against all expectations. Born blind in Vietnam, she narrowly escaped death at the hands of her own grandmother before fleeing the political upheaval in her country in the 1970s. She eventually made it to the USA and started a family, but then, tragedy struck. She was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer and a difficult journey began. She sought guidance and finding none, began to write for herself, channeling her emotions into her work. Telling her story in a sprawling narrative, Julie offers guidance, joy, and channels her rage into cleansing, passionate anger. As inspiring as it is tear-jerking, this is a must-read.
4. Unicorn by Amrou Al-Kadhi
Unicorn by Amrou Al-Kadhi is a heart-wrenching and hilarious memoir about a young Muslim boy’s journey to becoming a proud, fearless drag queen. As a young boy, Amrou realized he was different when he found himself attracted to other boys, something his parents did not take kindly too and took strict measures to control him. But Amrou didn’t abandon his identity and through understanding marine biology, he accepted his own non-binary gender identity. Covering the relationship between Amrou, the world around him, and his own mother, this is a deeply enriching exploration of sexual identity that is an astounding read.
3. The Heat of the moment by Sabrina Cohen-Hatton
The Heart of the Moment by Sabrina Cohen-Hatton is a look into the life of a firefighter through the lens of a rare female firefighter.Dr Sabrina Cohen-Hatton has been a firefighter for eighteen years. She decides which of her colleagues rush into a burning building and how they confront the blaze. She makes the call to evacuate if she believes the options have been exhausted or that the situation has escalated beyond hope. This is her astonishing account of a profession defined by the most difficult decisions imaginable.Sabrina uses her award-winning research to reveal the skills that are essential to surviving – and even thriving – in such a fast-paced and emotionally-charged environment.
2. Underland by Robert Macfarlane
Underlandby Robert Macfarlane has been called the author’s masterpiece and it’s not hard to see why. A celebrated author of nonfiction books exploring the intersection between human nature and the natural world, with his new book Macfarlane delivers a downright epic exploration of Earth’s underworlds as they exist myth, literature, and nature itself. Exploring the sea caves of Greenland to the catacombs of Paris and underground fungal networks that run beneath the planet. Woven into these travels are stories about man’s relationship to the underground world, from cave paintings to divers to cave explorers and so much more. This is a fascinating, breathtaking novel you owe it to yourself to check out.
1. Love thy Neighbor by Ayaz Virji
Love Thy Neighborby Ayaz Virji is a timely book in today’s racially charged American climate. The author was living a comfortable life at an East Coast hospital in a big city but was forced to move to a small town in Minnesota to address the shortage of doctors in rural America. In 2016, this decision was tested when Donald Trump campaigned and the town swung in his favor. Some of the author’s most loyal patients began turning against him, questioning whether he belonged among them. Virji wanted out. But in 2017, just as he was lining up a job in Dubai, a local pastor invited him to speak at her church and address misconceptions about what Muslims practice and believe. That invitation has grown into a well-attended lecture series that has changed hearts and minds across the state, while giving Virji a new vocation that he never would have expected. This is a powerful novel about the consequences of toxic politics and the racism inherent across America, while pushing for a path to acceptance.
You can write a book anywhere! In the park, at your desk, in your bed, or even in jail.
That took a dark turn, but what did you expect when you clicked on this article? Heck, honestly, why did you click on this article? Are you going to jail? I’m not here to judge, I’m just here to encourage you to write a good book while you’re on the inside
For inspiration, you future/current convict, let’s look at seven authors turned prisoners/prisoners turned authors who gave us seven great literary works!
Thomas Malory knew how to spin a great sentences and knew just how to end up in prison.
French for The Death of Arthur, Malory’s book is one of the best-known works of Arthurian literature. Compiling the legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, Malory interpreted existing French and English stories and added original material. It streamlines the original legends is seen to be the definitive telling of the tales of Arthur.
It may strike you odd that Thomas Malory penned much of this book while sitting in London’s Marshalsea prison, awaiting trial on charges of masterminding a string of over 100 violent robberies. In fact, The British Library notes that “for unknown reasons, he turned to a life of crime”.
Malory had assembled himself a crew of twenty-six men and ambushed the Duke of Buckingham in an attempt to murder him. Latter, Mallory “stole livestock, and extorted money with menaces…was accused of rape on two occasions” and even led a an army of one hundred men in attacking Combe Abbey, “terrifying the monks and stealing their money and valuables”.
See, Central government was weak under Henry VI, who suffered from bouts of insanity, and Malory took full advantage, as Civil War broke out for the throne. (Side note: this Civil War came be known as the Wars of the Roses, which went on to inspire Game of Thrones.)
So in 1461, Malory was in jail, and that same year Edward IV ascends to the throne and Malory is released. In 1462 and Malory fought with the Earl of Warwick for Yorkists, Edward’s folk. But Malory remained loyal to that Earl of Warwick and when the Earl switched sides, so did Malory. Wrong move! The Earl lost, and the Yorkists were ticked off that Malory betrayed them. Thus, back to prison Malory went. In 1470, while awaiting trial, Malory was released from prison thanks to Henry VI briefly regaining the throne. He would die five months later and be buried just across the road from Newgate Prison. Now that’s irony, kids!
As for his infamous book?
That got its first printed edition in 1485 thanks to William Caxton. Malory would only be acknowledged thanks to discovery of the original manuscript in 1934. Imagine the shock when people found out who Malory really was!
Italian philosopher and defense secretary, Niccolò Machiavelli became one of the fathers of political theory. He was diplomat in Florence and met Prince of the Papal States and son of Pope Julius II, Cesare Borgia.
By 1512 Machiavelli wasn’t living the high life anymore. Having fallen out of favor with the Medici banking family, who owned most of Italy, Machiavelli was imprisoned because they believed he was involved in a revolt.
In an attempt to get back in the Medici good books, Machiavelli wrote The Prince, arguing that rules had to be hard edged in trying times. The Prince was first published as a pamphlet in 1513 and published “in book form posthumously in 1532”.
It’s important to note that whether or not Machiavelli actually believed this or was just trying to regain his reputation hasn’t seemed to matter in the eyes of history. Despite his other political works, such as The Discourses on Livy and Life of Castruccio Castracani which expounded on his beliefs, his name has become synonymous with cruel rulers who distrust the people thanks to The Prince.
On a happier note, his treatise has been a touchstone of political strategy, revered by the likes of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon Bonaparte, and John Gotti.
He had reached the height of fame and success with his plays An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, but there was a small problem: Wilde was gay. And being gay was not okay back in the late 1800s. It was, in fact, a crime.
Wilde’s love affair with Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas didn’t go well. See, Lord Alfred Douglas’ father was the Marquess of Queensberry and he didn’t like Wilde nor what he saw as Wilde’s influence over his son.
To make a long story short: Lord Douglas’ father accused Wilde of being gay, Wilde sued for libel, and the lawsuit spread into Wilde himself was arrested and sentenced to two years hard labor in Reading Gaol.
This was where we he wrote De Profundis. Latin for ‘from the depths’, this very letter letter begins with “Dear Bosie” and ends “Your Affectionate Friend”, but we all know who he’s talking about.
The letter starts off with an autobiography, recounting his previous relationship with Douglas and how his fame led to his downfall, but the second half is where Wilde charts his spiritual development and how he views Jesus Christ as as a romantic, individualist artist.
It’s a poignant work of art, reflection, and love that we are luckily to have, especially considering it was published in 1905, five years after Wilde’s death.
In case you didn’t know Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Baptist Minister who was the spokesperson and leader of the civil rights movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Dr. King coordinated several marches and sit-ins against racial segregation.
He often found himself in jail. During on this instances, he read a public statement issued by eight white Alabama clergymen condemning his civil disobedience methods.
Thus came Letters from Birmingham Jail. A defense of civil disobedience, the letter makes argument that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws. Notably, King writes that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.
Published in 1933, Diseases of Canaries is a comprehensive work about the general health of canaries. It goes into the anatomy, feeding, how to treat for dangerous insects and parasites, how to treat injuries, and how to use drugs for canaries, among many other things.
The author was Robert Stroud. He was known for many things, but not all of them included birds. For one, he had an I.Q. of 112.
He was also diagnosed as a psychopath, which makes sense considering he shot a bartender to death after he failed to pay a prostitute Stroud was pimping in 1909, stabbed a fellow prisoner in 1912, and stabbed and killed a guard in 1916.
No, he didn’t invent the game ‘Marco-Polo’ but he did write a book while in jail.
Picture this: You’re going on a journey.
You’ve spent fifteen years on that journey traveling Central Asia and the Far East during the latter part of the 13th century. Good for you, you worldly person, but once you return to Italy you find that there’s a war between Venice and Genoa.
Whoa! You’ve been captured and tossed in jail because you’re a pretty famous Venetian. Bad luck, brother, and who knows when you’ll be out. But now that you’re here, what’re you going to do?
Talk someone’s ear off.
Image Via Ancient Origins
Luckily for us, Rustichello da Pisa didn’t tune for Marco out. He wrote down everything Marco told him. Good thing he was a writer! I mean, what are the odds that these two would be thrown in jail? Well, pretty high considering the war going on and how everyone was being thrown in jail, but you get my point.
Published in 1300, the book describes Polo’s travels through Asia between 1271 and 1295, and his experiences at the court of Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan.
Note that when I say ‘describes’, I mean describes. World Digital Library writes that “Marco Polo’s account was not just a simple record of the journey, but a description of the world—a mixture of a travel report, legend, hearsay, and practical information,” and, for better or worse, serves as one of the few travelogue to the Eastern regions of that era.
Jean Genet did time for petty theft. During his stay, Jean was given paper intended to be made into his bags. He broke the rules and wrote Our Lady of the Flowers. This didn’t go well. Once the manuscript was discovered, Jean Genet’s book was confiscated and burned. End of story, right?
Probably because it’s the heart-palpitating summer read you’ve (or at least I’ve) been waiting for.
I wrote an article earlier this year about how Netflix was adapting Blake Crouch’s yet-to-be-released novel Recursion; my only familiarity with Blake Crouch at that time was hisWayward Pines Trilogy and his novel, Dark Matter—the cake-hole blowing, mind-bender about a man desperately navigating the multiverse in order to return home to his family. If that article was to have matured, wrinkled and become the middle-aged version of its relatively naïve self, it would be this article. A not-so-book-review book review aimed to inform the world of the glorious ride that is Recursion (and its future with *our Lord and savior* Netflix).
*Cue angels singing*
Strap in and get comfortable—it’s going to be a bumpy ride. That’s the advice I would give to anyone about to read Blake Crouch’s newest novel, Recursion. Scratch that; the ride contains fewer bumps and more of the type of sudden drops experienced on a roller-coaster that has no business allowing four-foot-tall children to experience it. Exhilarating, panic-inducing, “OMG did I tell my mom I loved her this morning” madness.
Allow me to backpedal. Like the climb to the top of a track, Recursion is a story of building momentum. The book begins on November 2, 2018, and follows protagonist Barry. Barry is a detective with the NYPD, attempting to talk a woman out of jumping from the top of the Poe Building and to her death (obviously). The woman, Ann is suffering from a worldwide pandemic known as False Memory Syndrome (FMS)—a condition where the infected remember whole other lives that they supposedly never had. Ann remembers a husband and a son. Barry tries to relate to Ann’s emptiness, confiding in her the fact that he lost a daughter years earlier.
“At least she once existed.”
…I’m sure you can guess what happens next.
The beginning of Blake Crouch’s novel is undeniably cinematic, as is the whole story. At the center of the plot is the aforementioned NYPD detective and Helena, a scientist who, motivated by her mother’s Alzheimer’s, devotes herself to research which involves mapping the human brain—memory. Although a lot of what revolves around these characters could (by snobby losers) be dismissed as overtly cinematic and arguably mainstream; this thriller is one of the most gripping, moving, and coherent epics you will read this year. The stakes continue to rise as the characters’ reality literally crumbles… over and over.
The science seems to make sense (from the perspective of someone who got a D + in Physics); it never feels like Crouch is reaching with his theories or explanations. I might go as far as call him the Christopher Nolan of literature. A contemporary mastermind of thought-provoking and emotional storytelling.
Entertainment Weekly caught up with Crouch to talk about all things Recursion—they called it his “his most personal (and trippy) novel yet.” He divulges his inspiration for the novel as well as talks about the Netflix deal made nine months before the books’ publication last week. A film and series are in the works. Here’s a long and shamelessly exploited excerpt from that interview:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You mentioned this was project was really close to your heart. Why was it so personal? Did you find it challenging to execute? Was there any significant inspiration?
BC: This was a really, really hard book. This is definitely the hardest book I’ve ever done. I wanted it to do things that no other book I’d read had managed to do — without getting into spoiler territory, in the back half of the book, reality actually begins to disintegrate for our characters. I wanted to dramatize what that looks like. Michael Crichton [is an influence] for sure. I feel like he’s always looking over my shoulder and I’m looking over his. The way he would pick a scientific topic, whether it’s Chaos Theory or DNA manipulation, in each book he did he was tackling a piece of science. I feel a lot of inspiration from his body of work.
EW: Talk a little bit more about the idea behind the book.
BC: Coming off of Dark Matter, which was probably my breakout book, there was a bit of pressure: “How do you top that? What do you say that you haven’t already said before?” I kept thinking about, what is the thing that’s fundamental to the human experience? The more research and the more time I spent studying, I kept coming back to memory, and the way that memory is even more than incredible than we think it is. It sounds very obvious to say that our memories make us who we are. It’s even more than that. It’s fundamental to the way that we experience reality.
EW: So how did you want to play with that?
BC: Here’s a thought experiment, if you’ll indulge me: Imagine we’re sitting across from each other. Wherever you are, you’d see my image coming to you at the speed of light, and you’d hear my words coming a lot slower — still very fast, 600 miles per hour. What our brain does it holds the image that you see of me until the words arrive, and then it would sync the visual and the audio at the same time. The upshot of this is it’s about a half-second delay — which means that we are living in memory. We never experience what we think of as the present moment. Even the present moment is just this tape-delay, half-second reconstruction of what the present was a half-second ago. We live in memory. We live in our working memory.
EW: And of course, this is on the way to Netflix. It was announced as a major deal with Shonda Rhimes and Matt Reeves adapting the book into a movie and a series. What does that look like to you? What can you share about the development process so far?
BC: When it did come time to think about selling it to Hollywood, I was like, “I don’t know how this is going to work. This is definitely not a two-hour movie, but it feels bigger than the small screen, too.” I went into the process a little bit on edge — I was concerned that people wouldn’t see it the way I was seeing it. Remarkably, Shonda, Matt, and Netflix just stepped up like, “Hey, we know how to do this.” It’s very early days, in development, but I believe the plan is to launch it as a movie on Netflix, which can then spin off into multiple TV series. There are single sentences in the book that could be an entire season of television, that we just blow right past. The cool thing about a streamer like Netflix, which is breaking down the boundaries between film and television and what we can and can’t do, is it was sort of made for a book like this. Netflix was made for, “Let’s let the book be what it wants to be when it becomes a visual medium.” When they pitched it to me, they were like, “We’re envisioning this as a universe.” It’s exciting.
Recursion is one of those books you can’t stop reading because you have so many questions that NEED answers. How do you just go about your day not knowing? The last time I neglected all responsibilities and read until my vision blurred was with Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter. With Recursion, I read it in one sitting. A solid seven hours. I’m not sure if I’m proud of that or vaguely embarrassed. Other people were out in the world working over the course of those seven hours—diligently contributing to the machine that is society. Laughing, loving and experiencing. I allowed Blake Crouch to do all the living for me. AND THERE ARE LIFETIMES IN HIS NEWEST NOVEL.
Crouch’s novel admirably tackles humanity and what it means to exist. I walked away from that reading experience feeling a little bit better about my own circumstances. As the characters develop and make peace with their subsequent reality, so does the reader. I will watch the heck out of this, Netflix.
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to tell stories of great depth and complex characters, the literate. No, that’s not from the sonnet on the Statue of Liberty, nor is it the slogan for the International Dublin Literary Award—but perhaps it should be. The referenced lines are a quasi-quote from “The New Colossus” which I altered to reflect not only my envy but admiration for one Emily Ruskovich.
Idaho native and creative writing teacher, Emily Ruskovich just won the world’s richest prize for a single novel—€100,000 ($113,000) to be exact. Her novel, Idaho, was one of ten shortlisted entries (out of 141) from all across the globe which were up for the award. Ruskovich’s book was initially nominated by only a single source: the public library in Brugge, Belgium. The thirty-three-year-old mother found herself shell-shocked upon receiving the news as she questioned the reality of her situation. In an interview with The Guardian she said:
“I didn’t speak at first, then I reacted with great joy, but then I also felt really uncertain,” she says. “I couldn’t really believe it had happened. It was just a quiet little moment in the grass with my baby and my life was completely changed.”
“I cannot express how grateful I am to be the recipient of this astonishingly generous award,” Ruskovich wrote in a press release. “It is difficult to know how to respond to the magnitude of this kindness that has been so suddenly bestowed upon me.”
Idaho is set in the mountains Ruskovich is all too familiar with; having been raised in the Idaho Panhandle, her novel tells the story of a mother who kills her daughter while the pair are chopping wood in a clearing. The judges of the Dublin contest refused to refer to the story as a thriller, but instead described it as an exploration of mental uncertainty:
“[The novel] gradually uncovers the psychological abysses that would explain the inexplicable. The deed remains the deed, and the murderous evil of it stays ambivalent and mysterious to the end.”
Like all great writers, Ruskovich accredits her relationship with the world around her and her subsequent experiences (sensory) as inspiration for the novel. Describing her upbringing as “very rural,” Ruskovich recounts a time when she arrived at a clearing similar to the one in her story.
“Everything was beautiful, and there was the sound of grasshoppers and crows sunning themselves on the logs”, she immediately had “this intense feeling of grief as if the place itself had a memory and I had just stepped into the memory.”
“I just knew something terrible happened there. I’ve never had an experience like that in my life. I’ve received feelings from different places but this was different. My parents said it was like I was in a mild trance that whole day, they could tell something was wrong with me. I couldn’t get it out of my system so writing the novel was the process of figuring out what I imagined had happened in that place,” said Ruskovich .
Now living the dream that manifests itself on the other side of the struggle—Ruskovich (no longer tired…well she’s a mom so she’s probably perpetually tired…but no longer poor) plans on using her newfound financial freedom to properly embrace wordsmithing.
“It’s such a shocking amount of money to have won! I can’t believe there is a prize like this for a single novel. I don’t know exactly what I’ll do with it but I feel I can now make choices that will ultimately really benefit my writing,” she says. “It’s been the biggest honour of my life having a book out in the world and having readers.”
In its twenty-four years, Ruskovich is only the fourth American to win the International Dublin Literary Award.
Birthdays never stop being special; even when we grow tired of them, the people in our lives do not. Someone almost always shows up with a gift—socks, shirts, Doritos (thanks mom). It’s the thought that counts right? Pleasant reminders that we are not in the world alone. But, let’s be honest, sometimes the best gifts are the ones we personally pick out ahead of time. This was most definitely the case for young Anne Frank.
On June 11th, 1942, a day before her thirteenth birthday, Frank chose a gift. While browsing through a bookstore with her father, Anne Frank laid claim to a blank, red and checkered autograph book—Anne called this book “maybe one of my nicest presents [ever].” And it was. This book, which Anne famously used as a diary, would become (arguably) the most important book—no, the most important object—of the entire twentieth century.
The day after that fateful browse, many of Anne’s friends attended a birthday party at her family’s modest apartment. It was a gleeful day courtesy of a seemingly endless supply of cookies (not so much) and black and white movies. A day that accomplished the gargantuan feat of distracting Amsterdam youth from the grim reality of World War II. Unfortunately, Anne would never experience a birthday like that again. Three weeks later her family was forced into hiding…and three years after that, in a Nazi concentration camp, Anne died.
Anne’s father Otto, was the only family member to survive the war and went on to publish Anne’s diary. The Diary of a Young Girl is among the best-known books in the world. One of the most monstrous and discriminatory periods of human history documented through the eyes of a young girl—Anne Frank. Today, Anne is not only remembered by the billions of people who cherish the MANY translations of her diary, but also by the surviving attendants of her thirteenth birthday party. In her diary’s introduction, Anne expressed a desire to acquire a “truest friend” with whom she could confide her innermost thoughts and feelings; she names Jacque Van Maarsen as a potential candidate.
Jacqueline van Maarsen is now ninety-years-old. On Wednesday, Van Maarsen, along with Albert Gomes de Mesquita (who went to school with Frank), threw Anne a ninetieth birthday party. In the same tiny apartment (now restored), with a familiar looking autograph book and the same seemingly endless supply of cookies.
Also in attendance were students from the International School of Amsterdam. Elbow to elbow, Van Maarsen and Gomes de Mesquita did their best to answer as many questions as they could. The pair were asked about everything from survival to general advise. How does one proceed in an unforgiving world?
“I think you have to learn things from what happens. I’ve been helped by so many different people and they were Roman Catholic, Protestant, atheist, communist, rich, poor,” said Gomes de Mesquita. I’ve slept in twelve different places during hiding and my lesson is: Good people can be found everywhere.”
One student was particularly moved when Van Maarsen talked about how other people who endured the same hardships as Anne aren’t given the same amount of attention or appreciation.
“It was really incredible to meet them, not only as Anne’s friends but as survivors of the war,” said thirteen-year-old Sietse Munting. “I really tried to think about that and tried to think; ‘it’s not only Anne,’ he said. “Sure, we remember Anne because she’s very important — and we should remember her — but there were also many, many others who also faced this time.”
Although Anne Frank’s life may not have been long, what she was able to accomplish in her fifteen years of life, changed the world. Memoirs like hers make it impossible for us to ignore bigotry and violence. In a bittersweet way, the “truest friend” Anne desired came in the form of a gift she had chosen for herself. A gift that she shared her inner most thoughts and feelings with, and in doing so, confided in all of us.
Forever reminding us that we are not alone as long as we have a book.