The Book of Lost Friends
In 1987, Benny Silva, a new teacher, is deep in student debt. To get out of it, she takes a subsidized job teaching in a rural school in Augustine, Louisiana, and learns that while she thought she knew a thing or two about money woes, her life has been stable in comparison to many of her students living in deep poverty. A century prior, three women are thrust together on a journey during Reconstruction: Hannie, a freed slave; Lavinia, heir to a plantation; and Juneau Jane, Lavinia’s Creole sister. Their fate is just waiting to be unearthed.
It's Not All Downhill From Here
Loretha Curry knows that life is full of surprises and joys, and that getting older certainly doesn’t have to mean winding down. Her 68th birthday has arrived, and she’s got a successful beauty supply business, a husband who loves her and is still spry in the sack, and a group of friends she can rely on. Okay, yes, she doesn’t talk to her twin sister and has never met her grandkids, but everyone has some dark corners in their life, right? When fresh tragedy strikes, Loretha decides to face the shadows with gusto.
If I Had Your Face
Kyuri and Miho are roommates in Seoul with very different jobs: Kyuri, with a face hard-won through plastic surgeries, works as a drinking companion to wealthy businessmen; Miho is an artist recently back from studying in New York and hoping to rise on the beauty of her work rather than her face. Down the hall are their friends Ara, who works as a hairdresser, and Sujin, who is saving up for plastic surgeries like Kyuri’s. These four women, and married Wonna a floor away, struggle with the expectations placed on them as women in financially precarious times.
Good Morning, Destroyer of Men's Souls
Nina Renata Aron
When Nina Renata Aron first moved to California just after graduating high school, she met and fell in love with K, a young man with whom she had a brief romance. Years later, after college and graduate school, both married, Aron and K reconnected through social media, and the friendship soon became something else. But it wasn’t only K that drew Aron into the affair that contributed to the end of her marriage; it was K’s addiction, how much he needed her, how much Aron needed to be needed. Her memoir examines codependency alongside addiction, feminism alongside obsession.
There are spaces that become known for those who inhabited them, and Mecklenburgh Square in London is one of them: between World Wars I and II, five women whose work has remained firmly within literary and cultural consciousness lived in apartments in this square. Poet H. D., novelist Dorothy L. Sayers, classicist Jane Harrison, economic historian Eileen Power, and author Virginia Woolf were all drawn to the place for various reasons, not least of which were the cheap rent and central location within London. Though they weren’t all friends, they all insisted they deserved rooms of their own.
The Love Story of Missy Carmichael
Millicent Carmichael, known as Missy, has recently lost her beloved husband, Leo, and as if that weren’t enough, she’s also become newly estranged from her daughter, and her son has moved to Australia with his wife and Missy’s only grandchild. Lonely, prickly, and unsure of what she’s meant to do with the rest of her life, Missy unexpectedly faints one day at the park, and that’s when she meets Sylvie, a neighbor who introduces her to Angela, who asks Missy to watch her dog, Bob. New friends, a pet, and a sense of possibility begin rejuvenating Missy.
Sarah Menkedick experienced terrible grief and anxiety after becoming a mother, but it wasn’t the kind that could be easily diagnosed or understood as postpartum depression. Drawing from her own experience, interviews, and research, she examines the new normal that mothers in the US are expected to deal with: the lack of supportive structures, the excessive judgment of their child-rearing choices, and the have-it-all-mentality that seems impossible to keep up with. Menkedick looks at changes in the brain during pregnancy as well as motherhood as an identity, drawing from various fields for this comprehensive study.
How Much of These Hills Is Gold
C Pam Zhang
In a post–Gold Rush American West, two daughters of Chinese immigrants, Lucy and Sam, wake up to find their father dead. With no money to bury him properly, they take what they do have—his body, his pistol, and a stolen horse—and set off into the California hills to find a proper burial spot where they can lay him to rest with a silver dollar on each eye. In a past both vividly real and mythologized, these siblings pursue their own golden future.
The Book of Longings
Sue Monk Kidd
“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her,” Jesus said in the Gospel According to John, when a woman was about to be stoned to death. But who was that woman, really? Sue Monk Kidd fully imagines her in this novel as Ana, the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Roman tetrarch Herod Antipas. Very much her father’s daughter, Ana yearns to write and is allowed to for a time, but her position and gender require her to marry eventually. But Ana wants to make her own choices—will she get to?
Rana el Kaliouby
Rana el Kaliouby is a child of the computer age, who also happens to have been raised by one of the first women programmers in the Middle East. With her mother’s legacy and her father’s high expectations, el Kaliouby couldn’t help but aim high, even as she broke conventions along the way. As a divorced mother of two children and with a PhD from Cambridge in hand, el Kaliouby moved to the US to found Affectiva, a company working on EI—Emotional Intelligence for AI. In this memoir, el Kaliouby argues for the need of EI in a cold digital world.
Although the Civil War has ended and the institution of slavery has been abolished, Rue and many of the formerly enslaved Black men, women, and children in her community have stayed put on the lands they’ve been working for so long, and which were once owned by the now-deceased Marse Charles. Rue, having been trained by her mother, is the community’s midwife and healer, but when she helps give birth to a child with too-dark eyes and pale skin, and when other children begin getting sick, the townsfolks’ trust in her turns to suspicion.
Nina and her boyfriend, Lachlan, are good at what they do, which is theft, but the kind of theft most of us might forgive. After all, they only steal from those who really have too much, and only stuff their wealthy targets probably won’t even notice as missing (how often do they really look at that expensive antique vase in the nook, anyway?). But when Nina’s uninsured mom is diagnosed with cancer, Nina needs more money, and all at once, so she chooses a mark—a lake house in Tahoe she was once kicked out of—and puts her plan in action.
What We Carry
Maya Shanbhag Lang
Maya Shanbhag Lang wanted nothing more than her own mother’s help when she became a mother, but it was then, in the depths of postpartum depression, that she had to deal with rejection: her mother wouldn’t come. Lang had always known her mother to be fierce and independent, but this felt like something different. Years later, Lang discovered her mother may have already then been suffering from dementia at the time. As she begins caring for her mother—who was a physician, an immigrant from India, and a divorcée—Lang began to learn other secrets her mother held onto.
Attention: A Love Story
What does it mean to pay attention? What kind of attention do we value? Who has made these decisions for us, and how? Journalist Casey Schwartz spent a decade using Adderall for her own need to pay attention—of a certain kind, at least—before finally managing to quit and learning about other kinds of attention that might be noteworthy and useful. Here, she documents her journey through attention and moves beyond it into how other thinkers and writers have conceptualized the concept, how researchers have studied it, and what it means to pay attention in a world full of distraction.
Hidden Valley Road
Schizophrenia is likely one of the most stigmatized mental illnesses, not least because of its often sensational and inaccurate portrayal in popular media. There was a time not so long ago, however, when it was even less understood than it is today. The Galvins were a perfectly ordinary Catholic family, but all was not well behind the facade of domestic bliss. As their twelve children grew up, the older boys began, one after another, displaying unexplained behaviors; soon, six of the boys were diagnosed with schizophrenia, and the family became research subjects.
Redhead by the Side of the Road
Micah Mortimer is the kind of guy it’s easy to secretly hate, because his life is so optimized and organized that it makes the rest of us mortals feel sloppy and unproductive. But Micah is, at his core, lonely. He’s the super of his building in the afternoons and a tech consultant in the mornings, and though he’s dating a woman named Cass, she breaks up with him soon enough, when she realizes how he can extend himself to someone else but not to her. As Micah begins to realize how many walls he’s put up, they begin to come down.
Leave Only Footprints
When CBS Sunday Morning correspondent Conor Knighton’s heart was broken after a cancelled engagement, he took the idea of “walking it off” very seriously and decided to spend a year visiting each of the United States’ official national parks (there are 59 of them). Taking us along for the ride, Knighton tells us about the moments of kindness along the way, the hilarity, the odd experiences he would never have known to go looking for, and, ultimately, a renewed connection to nature and the land. He celebrates the national parks as the best of our impulses: to preserve our Earth.
Juliet and her two children drop everything—including, she hopes, her depression and malaise—when her husband, Michael, quits his job, buys a sailboat, and whisks the family on a seafaring adventure. For a while, it works: Juliet feels as buoyant as the boat Michael has named after her. But we know, because her narration is memories of the trip after it ended, that it won’t last. Michael’s narration, meanwhile, occurs in real-time, more or less, through his captain’s log. What will sweep the family ship back to shore?
The Knockout Queen
Meet Bunny: 6-foot-3, blond, with rock-hard abs and Olympic aspirations. Meet Michael, her new next-door neighbor: shorter than Bunny (like most people), long-haired, septum-pierced, gay, closeted. Michael has just moved in with his aunt after his mom was imprisoned for stabbing his violent dad; Bunny’s mom is dead, and her dad’s alcoholism is getting harder to hide. They can’t fix what’s happening to their families, but they can strike up a friendship as two semi-weirdos trying to fit in amongst the normies. But soon, another act of violence occurs that will define them both for years to come.
The Women with Silver Wings
Katherine Sharp Landdeck
Nancy Love was a pilot who, in 1942, led the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron; Jacqueline Cochran, another skilled pilot, trained new pilots for Love’s program. In 1943, their units were merged to create the Women Airforce Service Pilots, which accepted only 1,000 out of 25,000 women. There were issues inside both the individual and joint units, but overall the programs proved women’s immense capability and capacity for military work—and still, Congress shut them down. This book unearths these women’s remarkable stories.
There’s a new stillness to many of our cities. Many of us are scared, and many of us also have to keep getting on with it—keep working our essential jobs, keep caring for our loved ones. In the midst of this, whether we are grieving, waiting for the other shoe to drop, or wishing this were a bad dream, books can cradle us, distract us, make us smile and cry. For some relief, distraction, love, and community, check out our favorite reads for this month.
Featured image by Kevon Nicholas