Dusk, Night, Dawn
For many of us, it’s been about a year since we first went into lockdown, and a year since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. If you’re looking for some light amid the darkness of the past year, look no further than the ever-wise Anne Lamott. In the short essays here, Lamott ponders the scary times so many have lived and are living through, and considers how to capture small moments of everyday joy. It’s important to forgive ourselves for our own human failings, she reminds us, and it’s important too to leave the door open for love.
Klara and the Sun
Klara is an Artificial Friend who spends her days sitting on the shelf of a store. Day after day, she watches human beings come in and walk out of the store, taking with them other Artificial Friends, newer models than Klara, whose own power source is somewhat defective and short-lived. One day, though, Klara is finally picked out by a sickly child named Josie and her stone-faced mother. As time goes on, Klara begins to spend time with Josie’s mother, because Josie herself is too ill to go on outings. Who is Klara really for? What will her future hold?
The Life of the Mind
Dorothy lives the exhausting life of the perpetual adjunct: she teaches four classes per semester, earns a meager amount for each, and spends her free time applying to one of the few English faculty positions that open up each year. She lives in her mind more than anywhere else, a fact that becomes ever more apparent when she has a miscarriage and watches her body expel what might have been a child one day in slow bloody bursts. Feeling like a failure—regardless of how unfeminist the sentiment—Dorothy begins to reconnect with what she wants, and how she might yet live.
How Beautiful We Were
The long-awaited second novel by award-winning Imbolo Mbue, author of Behold the Dreamers, is finally here! Here, Mbue turns her prose to the fictional African village Kosawa and an American oil giant, Pexton, whose pipelines wreak havoc on land and people alike. In 1980, villagers have already suffered and died due to the toxins spilling into their ground and water, and although Pexton makes promises to repair and make reparations for the damage, they come to naught. What is a child growing up amidst such corporate violence to make of it? Thula, one such child, vows to fight for change.
At the end of 1972, New Year’s Eve, a boat pulls up to the Maiden Rock lighthouse off the coast of Mortehaven, Cornwall. The boat is carrying a relief for one of the three men occupying the lighthouse, Arthur Black, Bill Walker, and Vincent Bourne, except that the man finds none of them there. The doors are locked from the inside, Arthur’s log describes storms that haven’t occurred, and the table is set for an uneaten meal. Where did the men disappear to? Twenty years later, a writer returns to unravel the mystery, reaching out to the men’s wives and girlfriend.
Martha Hall Kelly
Georgy, a New York City debutante, joins her sister Eliza to become a volunteer nurse with the Union army when the Civil War starts. Anne-May, wife of the Peeler Plantation owner, is dismayed when her husband joins the Union side and watches over the plantation with a cruel hand, working to help the Confederacy. Jemma, enslaved and then sold by Anne-May, is forced to make a terrible choice—freedom or family?—and ends up disguised as a man, conscripted into the Union army. In this epic saga of the Civil War, women are at the center—but they are certainly not always heroes.
In this quiet and stirring debut novel, an unnamed narrator grapples with the aftermath of a miscarriage by caring intensely for a brood of chickens. Chickens, she reasons, have needs that she can fill, and she works hard to fill them even as she deals with their sudden and mysterious deaths, shifting and intense weather, her present yet absent mother, and her husband’s obsession with whether or not he’s going to land the prestigious university job he wants. Isolated even amid the crowd of people in her life—there’s a best friend as well—our narrator comes to appreciate small, tangible joys.
The Sweet Taste of Muscadines
Lila is the only one of her siblings who remembers what life was like in Wesleyan, Georgia, before their father was killed in Vietnam. After his death, everything changed, including and especially their mother. When Lila’s mother dies of an apparent heart attack in the muscadine grape arbor behind the family estate, the siblings reunite in the town they grew up in: Lila and her brother, Henry, got away and stayed away as soon as they could, but their younger sister, Abigail, was always their mother’s favorite, and she stayed. As they reunite in grief, the siblings unearth old secrets.
Black Girl, Call Home
Jasmine Mans is a spoken word poet and the resident poet at the Newark Public Library, and in this, her second collection, she asks vital questions about what it means to be a woman, Black, queer, an American from Newark, New Jersey. Mans explores the ways already marginalized communities experience further internal strife and how often those painful divisions can be traced back to white supremacist structures of power, patriarchy, and toxic masculinity. There is joy here too, in the love Mans expresses for Black queer women and girls, in her embodied reflections, and in the power of words.
But You're Still So Young
What does it mean to be an adult? According to sociologists, five markers of what we call adulthood are finishing school, leaving home, marriage, gaining financial independence, and having kids. While many young people’s parents may have done all these in their 20s, many millennials and Xennials aren’t reaching these milestones until their 30s and beyond. Journalist Kayleen Schaefer, now in her 40s, uses herself and seven others as subjects and dives into how financial upheavals, career changes, and the shifting nature of how we live have affected these adulting milestones, finding the truth amid the stereotypes of “supposed to’s”.
Food is complicated. The beauty industry encourages us to diet, to be slim, to be fit. Meanwhile, food deserts abound, leaving many with few choices of meals. And what about the fad diets that encourage us to eat as much of [Insert Diet Food Here] as we want? Journalist Michael Moss investigates how giants of the food industry—including Nestlé, Mars, and Kellogg’s—develop chemicals and sugars that exploit our bodies’ potential for addiction. Worse yet, the companies selling diet foods (often the same ones) have a vested interest in us eating as much of it as we’ll buy.
Memory is fallible, yet so many of us fear forgetting. If you didn’t know Lisa Genova, bestselling author of Still Alice, was also a neuroscientist (or if you forgot!), don’t fret. In her approachable, lovely new book Genova demystifies the process of forming individual memories, why we forget some things, and why we need to forget in order to have space to remember. She teaches us what is normal to forget and what is cause for alarm, as well as how we can become better at remembering. But, she also reminds us, we are more than our memories.
Luvvie Ajayi Jones
Luvvie Ajayi Jones knows what it’s like to be afraid, and she knows that she’s not alone. So many of us are afraid to be who we are, say what we need to say, and advocate for what we want. Using her own professional life—fumbles and triumphs alike—as well as the advice of her professional troublemaker grandmother, Ayaji Jones lays out steps for becoming more ourselves so that we can speak truth to power and fight for what we want and need, for ourselves and each other, in order to achieve success. Fear isn’t eradicated, but it can be surmounted.
The Soul of a Woman
Novelist Isabel Allende brings us a wise memoir about womanhood, love, passion, and living—and she has lived. At nearly 80, Allende reflects back on her precocious feminism, which she developed watching her mother struggle to support Allende and her two siblings. With her early thirst for justice, Allende was part of feminism’s second wave in the 1960s and wrote for Paula magazine, even as she was also a young, married mother of two. With compassion for herself and women at large, Allende writes of the ways she changed with relationships, time, and life experiences.
Whether you’ve stayed in the town you grew up in or left yourself, you surely recognize the tension between those who leave and those who stay. Journalist Grace Olmstead is one of those who left—in her case, she left Emmett, Idaho, a tiny farm town that her great-grandparents and grandparents helped make into a vibrant community that she remembers as the perfect place to grow up. Should she return? As part of her investigation into Emmett and other places like it, Olmstead looks at how small farming communities suffer under government policies and the weight of Big Agriculture and asks whether modern living is destroying our roots.
A World Without Email
It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you’ve pivoted to a work-from-home lifestyle during the pandemic, your inbox has become nearly impossible to manage. Even before March of last year, many people felt that their workflow—managed constantly via hasty and panicked emails—was untenable. Computer science professor and author Cal Newport has been researching this phenomenon and presents a different way in which our work-life becomes less reliant on the constant chatter of emails and Slack channels, allowing us to focus more deeply on the actual work we do. Newport argues fewer emails are the future, so get ahead of it.
When I Ran Away
Gigi Harrison, nee Stanislawski, has just left her husband Harry and their two children. She and Harry first met properly when they were both fleeing the collapse of the Twin Towers and recognized each other from the coffee shop they both frequented. Gigi’s younger brother, Frankie, never returned home, and the weight of survivor’s guilt sat squarely on Gigi’s chest for years. Long after that day, she and Harry ran into each other again, fell in love, married. In a seedy hotel, Gigi slowly recounts to readers how she came to leave the man who seemed fated for her.
Emily Gold has everything she might want: a career as a psychologist at NYU, a loving husband, and a new pregnancy. But it all changes when she has a miscarriage, and her husband uses his work to distract from his grief, leaving her to handle her sadness alone. She’s never told him that she had another pregnancy once, with her college boyfriend, Rob, that ended in a miscarriage too. Her life took a sharp turn after that. Now, as she keeps hearing Rob’s new song on the radio, she decides to reconnect. But can she blend her past and present?
The Beauty of Living Twice
Sharon Stone, famous for her roles in movies like Basic Instinct and Casino, never found Hollywood an easy place to be, although it was, in some ways, familiar. As she describes in these pages, the abuse that hides under the glamour and money of that rarified sphere in many ways replicated the violence and trauma she suffered in her childhood. In 2001, she had a stroke, and in this intimate memoir she details her recovery, how she worked her way back into herself, learned how to use her voice for good, and came to appreciate her loved ones even more.
Dedicated to “those who feel all the feels,” illustrator Manjit Thapp’s new book is a beautifully rendered look at an artist’s emotional seasons, based in a six-season calendar originating in South Asia. Over time, the narrator experiences both renewal and despair, growth and disruptive anxiety, and finds herself in cycles of artistic creation and fervor as well as days of dreary unproductivity. But these changes aren’t due to willpower, to “getting over” anxieties, but rather due to the seasonal nature of so many of our emotions: there are good days and bad, and that’s okay. Humans, like plants, are changeable.
They say that March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, and so many of our favorites reads this month are about precisely that part of the cyclical, seasonal nature of human beings: we are capable of growth and also of collapse, but neither is a straightforward, unstoppable trajectory. From glorious poetry to bracing feminist memoirs to journalism that probes the nature of our rootedness, and, of course, to novels exploring the breadth and depth of human experience, our favorites this month are filled with reads perfect for the inching beginnings of spring. Here are the best new books of March 2021.