Most recent staff pick: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
"Original and charming from the very first line, this beautiful story of ghosts and tradition, friendship and family deals gently with death and richly with life. Music and colors fly from every page as the protagonist processes her grief through synesthesia. That she is half Asian, an artist, and a daughter wildly curious about her mother’s inner world made it personal to me, but even without my bias there’s plenty to praise. The bold poetic choices. The subtle clicking pieces. The sensory experience of walking through Taiwan—it was wonderfully done. I can’t recommend this book loudly enough."
"I fell in love with this poetic, honest, and deeply personal book from the beginning for its immediate resonant confession: knowing that life is meaningless and we can joyously create our own meaning doesn’t always impart real joy. Miller, desperate for meaning, places her hopes in the star-naming, flower-collecting hands of the wildly resilient taxonomist David Starr Jordan. At first, Miller writes rosily, even seeming to brush past some unsettling details, but the story twists in incredible ways. Jordan’s chaotic biography takes Miller down a branching rabbit hole of taxonomy, philosophy, psychology, and finally, to her great heartbreak, eugenics. Writing transparently about the pain of losing an idol and everything he’d held for her, Miller bravely and vulnerably follows the story along the new path her pain opened up. That second story is a raw and beautiful gift, and I hope you read it. This is my favorite book I’ve read all year."
"For me, there’s nothing more comforting than a thoughtful, reflective person putting my strange, jumbled thoughts into beautiful words. Naturally, Zadie Smith dives inward, but my favorite moments were her studies of others. I hope that change in all of us lingers after this pandemic is over—a wild fascination with the deeper lives of others."
An eery-but-palatable, devour-in-one-evening potluck of strong perspectives. I found the plot thrilling in a slow, intangible way, and I loved watching the relationships shift in response to that obscure strangeness. I was especially intrigued by the mundanity that refused to yield to the extraordinary. The way the characters clung to the familiar was sometimes comforting and sometimes wildly unsettling, often sparking the fires of introspection and occasionally fanning them like mad.
"Fredrik Backman is the writer I aspire to be. Anxious People, like so much of his work, is hilarious and heartbreaking--scathing toward life's absurdities and idiocies but so compassionate toward our shared pain and loneliness. I've laughed so many times at sentences even when the paragraphs they're in are so sad. If you want to know that you've understood, if you want to understand someone you've always dismissed, if you want a reminder of the fullness of people and their memories and their grief, you couldn't be in better hands. Or, if you just like hostage dramas, it's pretty good for that too."
"A Deadly Education raises the bar for how thorough, clean, and wildly unique I now expect my magical systems to be. As fun and fast-paced as the plot was, the details were some of the most meticulous and rational I've ever encountered. It reminded me of the PerfectFit subReddit--only instead of Oreos sliding nicely into stainless steel containers, a good human being who just wants to be accepted absolutely has to go out of her way to look like a terrible person, because of the rules of magic. It was wonderfully crafted and a delight to read. I'll concede that I'm a little tired of snarkiness as a primary personality trait so El took a minute to grow on me, but on the other hand, taking a while to grow on people is sort of her deal. By the end of the story, I loved her, and I don't think I've been this anxious to read a sequel since childhood."
"Original and charming from the very first line, this beautiful story of ghosts and tradition, friendship and family deals gently with death and richly with life. Music and colors fly from every page as the protagonist processes her grief through synesthesia. That she is half Asian, an artist, and a daughter wildly curious about her mother’s inner world made it personal to me, but even without my bias, there’s plenty to praise. The bold poetic choices. The subtle clicking pieces. The sensory experience of walking through Taiwan—it was wonderfully done. I can’t recommend this book loudly enough."