Most recent staff pick: Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker
"Mental illness is a difficult subject to navigate due to its necessarily imprecise nature and the stigma attached to the afflicted. Schizophrenia, in particular, too often reduces its sufferers to little more than a diagnosis and a burden. However, Robert Kolker approaches his subjects with empathy and respect, humanizing a medical oddity and challenging readers to confront their preconceptions about disease and the bonds of family."
Mental illness is a difficult subject to navigate due to its necessarily imprecise nature and the stigma attached to the afflicted. Schizophrenia, in particular, too often reduces its sufferers to little more than a diagnosis and a burden. However, Robert Kolker approaches his subjects with empathy and respect, humanizing a medical oddity and challenging readers to confront their preconceptions about disease and the bonds of family.
"Some guys have it all: functional alcoholism, IBS, a face like mayonnaise puts him on its sandwiches. Colin Jost has been responsible for some of the most iconic sketch comedy on TV over the last fifteen years. His writing is esoterically brilliant, jarringly funny, and, when it needs to be, the dumbest thing you've ever seen. This memoir is not unlike lobster at a diner - a weird choice but, ultimately, the only correct one."
"There is power in being proper. Nice, southern ladies have always been the unacknowledged gatekeepers of authority, and everybody knows it - it just wouldn't be polite to talk about. Grady Hendrix's cultural pastiche of Charleston in the '90s explores the particular anxieties of good housekeeping back when men were still men, women were still women, and vampires were still fiends that ate your children at night. A little hydrogen peroxide will get the bloodstains right out."
"This cookbook boils over with simple yet elegant recipes that effortlessly vivify the home kitchen. Québécois meals are served by way of Los Angeles with a Polish garnish for the consummate, cosmopolitan dining experience. The cauliflower steaks with turmeric and crunchy almonds are edible poetry."
"To thoroughly examine the life of a stranger is, in one sense, to give oneself over partially to their experiences and, in another, to confer one's own experiences onto them. The biographical construct becomes a mirage shared by the biographer and subject, with the truth living somewhere inside the mirror. Jenn Shapland spent years searching for identity and meaning amid the debris of Carson McCullers's life, and this hypnotic book approximates her transformation."
"The dizzyingly sensational elements of this taut thriller are wired together to light up the brain's pleasure centers like a short-circuited jackpot machine. An international syndicate of assassins works all angles of a diamond smuggling conspiracy that culminates in an iconic round of extreme dental torture. This is the Holocaust revenge fantasy that once and for all declares that it isn't safe to be a Nazi."
"The landscape of Oklahoma is so flat and wide open that some days it seems possible to be sucked into the vastness of the sky. During the Great Depression, these infinite skies were dyed black with the windswept topsoil from America's failing farms, and blinding dirt descended on the ruined lands for years. In "The Worst Time", Timothy Egan laments the policies and practices that caused the Dust Bowl and eulogizes the lives it tore apart."
"The Donner Party was condemned to death long before they tearfully bit into their first charred morsel of human flesh. They were deceived by profiteering charlatans, doomed by the dispassionate cruelty of nature, and betrayed by their own hubris from the start. In this lyrical history, Daniel James Brown maneuvers unflinchingly through one of the most desperate chapters in the American story."
"Dessa is a rapper, a jazz singer, a philosopher queen, a rattlesnake, and an active volcano. This collection is a gunpowder tonic of furious psychic energy that remixes and redefines the potential of personal narrative. Each of these essays should end with a mic drop."
"Liz Phair is infamous for her unflinching honesty in the face of taboo. From the naked candor of Exile in Guyville to the raw text of Horror Stories, the confetti queen of alt-rock has made a career of stripping away the glamour from life in the limelight. The nonlinear essays that constitute this hyper-literate memoir are intimate, painful, and at times shameful, but these are the achingly true memories that roughly approximate a human life."
"Cleansed by fire and forgotten by time, the Overlook Hotel still has its hooks in Danny Torrance decades after his father rampaged through its haunted corridors. Scarred and sobered by a life spent running from his ghosts, the shining has dimmed within him, but, when a gifted child is threatened by a consortium of supernatural evil, he is given a rare chance at redemption. Danny must shine one last time or succumb to darkness forever."
"What is the measure of life? The accomplishments one achieves throughout its course, indifferently checked off like items on an itinerary? The experiences one shares with one's fellow man, lost to time as precise memory becomes indistinct nostalgia? Or is it something more -- something that can flow from one being to another, something that can be calculated and metered out arithmetically? The space vampires can measure life, and the space vampires can take it away."
"Thirteen stories describe thirteen bewitching landscapes in this strange cartography of fear. Familiar terrain transforms into lurid phantasmagoria, and nostalgia is corrupted by malevolent pandemonium. This is a world where death is a mirage, and illusions are sharper than facts. Joe Hill, as always, shines on."
"The Year of the Monkey lives in the places where the abstract brushes against reality. Patti Smith's hypnotic novel of loss, confusion, and longing propels its inhabitants - both invented and achingly real - across bleached landscapes, barreling through candy wrapper logic toward an inevitable, timeless unknown. The fugue poetry of the narrative spreads like ivy across the disorienting architecture of an absurd year."
The abduction of Sally Horner is a grand tragedy in and of itself. A little girl is taken from her home and smuggled torturously across the country over the course of two years, only to become a tabloid scandal upon rescue. The most surreal fold in the story, however, is how an obscure Russian-American author twisted these headlines into one of the most celebrated novels of the twentieth century. In "The Real Lolita", Sarah Weinman details this bizarre saga with narrative expertise, detailed research, and, above all, respect for the often sidelined victims of circumstance.
"The Apology" is Eve Ensler's speculative memoir of her father, her greatest influence, her abuser. This groundbreaking work of epistolary catharsis is written from the negative space beyond death but within the agonizing grasp of memory, granting simultaneous spiritual absolution to both tyrant and victim. This profound exercise in forgiveness leads us inexorably down the path toward total self-acceptance.
"The great fish moved silently through the night water, propelled by short sweeps of its crescent tail." So begins the calm, measured narration that launched a thousand nightmares, pumping brackish dread through the veins of a generation. Peter Benchley's abyssal masterpiece dissects the deep-seated paranoia that swims just beneath the surface of any close-knit community and shows that nothing tears a small town apart like itself. Or maybe a giant, man-eating shark.
Stephen King's classic meditation on the fragility of the human psyche and the quickening madness of isolation is as haunting today as in its conception. The mundane and the macabre are expertly interwoven in ever-tightening braids throughout the novel to fabricate a frozen tapestry of supernatural suspense. Drink deeply of the red rum, and allow the undisputed master of horror to enchant you with his intoxicating prose.
The piecemeal redemption of Helene Stapinski's outlaw family roughly approximates Jersey City's troubled ascent to legitimacy from its inception as a city of smokestacks and vice to "America's Golden Door". When casual graft was the rule of the day and knowing whose palms to grease spelled the difference between poverty and cornucopia, the author's family was embroiled in the same urban corruption that caricatured New Jersey for generations. Five-Finger Discount chronicles Helene Stapinski's life from within a criminal enterprise and what comes after.