Some Summer Nonfiction Staff Reviews
Recent titles in hardcover (and paperback)
Several times a month, The Ribbon will run a collection of recent Literati bookseller reviews of recent titles. Please enjoy the following reviews of summer nonfiction releases — hardcover and paperback.
The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between by Hisham Matar
It’s a remarkable book that can have me dogearing, underlining, looking up political history, and holding back tears within the span of a page, but Matar’s memoir is beyond remarkable. Thoughtful, nuanced, wildly intelligent, and heartbreaking at every turn, Matar’s reckoning with his father’s arrest, imprisonment, torture, and probable but unknown death is nothing short of genius.
You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein
This book made all kinds of sounds come out of my mouth, none quite appropriate for the public spaces I happened to be in. Certain passages made me bark with laughter, others produced a wry chuckle, still others made a deep cackle rise out of my diaphragm in a way that delighted me and terrified bystanders. But the noise that I made the most, and loved making the most, was an, “Ohhhhahaha.” Ohhhhahaha to Klein discovering the mundanely sexy secrets of womanhood, ohhhhahaha to her slow dance from hell with Dale the Chipmunk, and ohhhhahaha to the tyranny of baths! Part recognition, part cringe, and part relief at finally being able to laugh at what used to make me cringe, Ohhhhahaha and I became good friends as I ripped my way through Klein’s essays. I’d rather be friends with Klein, but I’ll settle for knowing, if her essays are any indicator, that in another, better universe I would be.
But What If We’re Wrong?: Thinking about the Present as If It Were the Past by Chuck Klosterman
Klosterfans rejoice! Here is the book Gen X’s philosopher king has been building toward, one that combines his love of hypotheticals, his contrarianism, and his unparalleled pop-culture analysis to tackle the question that has nagged him throughout his career: why do we perceive the world the way we do? What about the possibility “that we are unable to isolate or imagine something fundamental about the construction of reality, and that the eventual realization of whatever that fundamental thing is will necessitate a rewrite of everything else?” As in: What if we don’t actually understand gravity? What if America’s commitment to democracy winds up being its downfall? What if Roseanne comes to be seen as “the most accidentally realistic TV show there ever was?” In trying (and, by his own admittance, likely failing) to predict what will matter to people in the future, Klosterman reminded me that empathy, even more than accuracy or insight, inspires the best criticism.
The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle That Brought Down the Klan by Laurence Leamer
American history heavyweight Laurence Leamer chronicles one of the most revolutionary civil suits of the twentieth century, “Donald V. United Klans of America”. A seamless blending of race and law, The Lynching serves as a sociological artifact and a remarkable opportunity to expand one’s knowledge of the ousting of one of America’s most prominent and dangerous hate groups. Leamer weaves in an impressive cast of characters from Michael Donald, who is violently murdered at the hands of two Alabama Klansmen, to the Imperial Wizard himself — Robert Shelton. His portrayal is vivid, often heart-wrenching, and, at times, seemingly more fantastical than any work of fiction. The Lynchingcouples a thrilling narrative with an impeccable snapshot of our nation’s history and forces us to acknowledge some of our ugliest wounds.
Patient H.M.: A Stort of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich
Patient H.M. is an extraordinary work of narrative nonfiction. Covering over 80 years of history, Dittrich explores the often dark evolution of neuroscience, the “birth” of Patient H.M., and the memory research that occurred over the course of his life. But what makes this book remarkable is Dittrich’s approach; it is less a straight biography and more a kaleidoscopic investigation to which the reader has been invited. The role H.M. plays in the history of brain science is fascinating alone, but the dark undercurrent of Dittrich’s intertwining family narrative makes the book especially riveting.
Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole
Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things is a collection of essay that draws from the author’s considerable contributions to periodicals of note, including his award winning “On Photography” column for The New York Times Magazine. One might be inclined to call Cole a cultural critic, but in contrast to these tremendous essays such a title seems to simply affix upon the writer a too-tidy disposition. One forgets that he is also an accomplished photographer, an award-winning writer of fiction, pursued a medical doctorate, more still — and so he approaches his subjects with the toolkit not of a critic, but of a mind of deep inquisitive prowess. Most captivating here are pieces that subtlety engage the tradition of the travelogue, then profoundly open up that tradition’s rhetorical scope
For Those who have yet to experience the formal inventiveness of Cole’s novel Open City or semi-autobiographical novella Every Day is For The Thief, or those who indeed have, but have yet to read his incisive, arresting meditations on art, race, literature, politics, and their intersections, who may have missed them when they first appeared, are lucky — Known and Strange Things will be, for them, as it has been for me, an education.