Every Friday, our editors share which books, audiobooks, and comics have been keeping us company throughout the week. This week, a YA novel about a literally haunted teen, an epic history of the Progressive Age from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Team of Rivals, startling wise stories from a gifted debut author, and more.
Ashley: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer has been messing with my mind for months. Every time I see its beautiful but frightening cover while browsing Scribd’s YA page, a little voice in my head urges me to read it, wonders why I haven’t already read it, repeats the phrase “the unbecoming of Mara Dyer” over and over trying to unpack its strangeness. Unlike Mara, the voices in my head are not dead people or other such hallucinations.
Unlike me, Mara can’t get the dead people to stop haunting her by simply reading a book. She tries moving, from Rhode Island to Florida, but her three dead friends follow her. Though she survived the same accident that took her friends’ lives, she can’t remember anything about it. As the memories slowly come back, they pose more questions than answers. What’s really going on here? Does Mara have the ability to kill people with mere thoughts? How does sexy smoker English-accented bad boy love interest Noah Shaw play into all this (besides being hot)? Discerning what’s real or not real in Hodkin’s haunting debut has me hooked, even as it scares me out of my wits.
Niree: Once, someone asked me where I saw myself in ten years, and I said: I want to know everything. My rational brain knows it’s not actually possible to know everything, but between a questionably healthy obsession with Jeopardy and an insatiable lust for the memorization and recitation of facts, I figure I’ll make decent headway in this lifetime.
One of the best tools I’ve encountered in my quest for omniscience is The Intellectual Devotional. At 365 pages long, there’s a brief but comprehensive lesson for each day of the year. To encourage repetition, each day of the week has a dedicated subject: from Monday history lessons to Wednesday art history, to literature, philosophy, religion, music, and science. With each person, event, concept, or work, there’s a brief introduction followed by a more in-depth look at the context or implications of each lesson. Expect to cover everything from real and prime numbers (easy) to moral relativism, and the Peace of Westphalia (more complicated). Keep this invaluable little volume in your back pocket and whip it out the next time you have no idea who or what a Hokusai is.
Justin: In Doris Kearns Goodwin’s latest book, we find ourselves at the dawning of a new century, with a president struggling to rouse a recalcitrant congress to act on the most important issues of the day: rising income inequality, a class of wealthy individuals who seem to operate by a different set of rules to the disadvantage of an increasingly squeezed middle class. At the same time, the rules of journalism, especially political journalism, are changing. Eccentric publishers are making large bets on deeply reported long-form essays that explore the widening fissures in American society. The year is 1904, but you could be forgiven for thinking it was 2015.
Doris Kearns Goodwin has an almost preternatural ability to turn the past into a lens through which the present becomes more clear. In Team of Rivals, she told the story of Lincoln’s unorthodox approach to cabinet building and we couldn’t help but see it reflected in President Obama’s own inclusion of his former opponents in key positions. In The Bully Pulpit, she returns to a different age and a different Presidency, but again our present situation looms large. We see Theodore Roosevelt’s use of the “bully pulpit” and his relationship with the press to speak to circumvent a congress reluctant to act and nod in recognition. At the same time, we see how a bold generation of journalists, represented by McClure’s and Collier’s, challenged the industrial elites and ushered in a golden age of investigative reporting.
Mallory: Shortlisted for the 2015 Stella Prize, the Australian literary award that celebrates writing by women, this acclaimed three-part debut wades into the murky waters of family and identity with a maturity beyond the author’s young age.
The judges for the Stella Prize celebrated how van Neerven “moves with ease between realism and fantasy, using elements of myth and mysticism in her storytelling. From one story to the next, the content is always rich and suggestive and the writing is always beautiful and clever. Each of these stories is told with passion and conviction; van Neerven writes with the confidence, maturity, and subtlety of someone twice her age, and with startling originality.”
This is a very understated way of saying van Neerven’s writing hits you in the gut. She describes horror with beauty, and pulls a buried family legacy out of the ground and turns it into something mythical. And she does it in a way that feels true to her age — she is certainly wise beyond her years, but that means she is wise enough to have courage about what she knows and humility about what she doesn’t.
Alex P: If you’ve ever wondered where those scientists whose beliefs fly in the face of the scientific consensus come from, this is the book for you. If you’re easily outraged by the manipulative machinations of the most powerful political and industrial forces in America, though, proceed with caution.
This thoroughly researched book exposes the handful of contrarian scientists who intentionally misled the American public, fostering doubt around well-established scientific fact. From the connection between smoking and lung cancer to the existence, causes, and effects of global warming, these scientists—often with deep ties within the implicated industries—trafficked in denial to undermine public confidence and enrich themselves and their benefactors.
It’s a wonder the authors are able to approach such an inflammatory subject with great nuance. I especially liked their clarification of the importance of doubt in science, and how these scientists and industries manipulated it:
Doubt is crucial to science—in the version we call curiosity or healthy skepticism, it drives science forward—but it also makes science vulnerable to misrepresentation, because it is easy to take uncertainties out of context and create the impression that everything is unresolved. This was the tobacco industry’s key insight: that you could use normal scientific uncertainty to undermine the status of actual scientific knowledge.