Top Reads for June
Gearing up for summer, we’ve gotten a bit obsessed with con artists, in particular disgraced tech founder Elizabeth Holmes and Anna Delvey/Sorokin. We’re also into new fiction from Stephen King and Lauren Groff, and very interested to see how the Sweetbitter TV show compares to the original book.
Alex: I recognized a story in the middle of Lauren Groff’s latest collection; if I remember correctly, it was published in The New Yorker sometime in the last year. But even before I got to the familiar tale, I knew it was coming. As soon as I started Florida I recognized the nightmarish tone and claustrophobic jungle settings that link each of these stories, where petty angst and silly errors can all too easily coalesce into something deadly.
Groff has an immense talent for turning quotidian discontent on its head, revealing the essentiality of human experience lurking just below something trivial. Her narrators span ages and genders and circumstances, but the author's sharp sense of black humor is present throughout. And then there’s the landscape: as the title suggests, the flora and fauna of Florida are the stars of these stories. It’s not just the snakes, alligators, and panthers that might get you; there’re the bugs that bite and the palmettos that scratch, the sun that burns. It’s a hostile place. But for all that, Groff’s characters are also — begrudgingly — enamored with their environment. Perhaps some ecological subtext could be read into the collection; a place like Florida reminds us that the world does not exist to comfort or cater to us. A fair warning: the air conditioning will sound much louder when you’ve finished these stories.
Katie: Elizabeth Holmes seemed like the next Steve Jobs. Her startup, Theranos, promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a game-changing blood testing device. The charismatic, young Stanford dropout convinced titans of industry and tech to invest in a big idea that sounded “too good to check.” At its height, Theranos was valued at almost $10 billion. Magazine covers splashed her story everywhere.
But not everyone was in her thrall. A Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter at the Wall Street Journal got an inside tip alleging fraud and deception, saying Holmes was hyping a healthcare technology that didn’t work and using sleight-of-hand blood testing — all at high health, financial, and emotional cost for the patients being duped. This page-turner is the result of the deep investigation triggered by that tip. It details the lies, intimidation, secrecy, legal bullying, and public misrepresentation that made everything come crashing down. I couldn’t put it down. And I can’t stop talking about it.
You may think you know the main beats of this story from headlines, but there is so much more juicy, crazy stuff that happened than the news cycle could handle. It’s all in this highly addictive book. Every other page had me exclaiming, “What?!” in disbelief over yet another insane thing happening behind the scenes at Theranos.
Tifa: I chose this audiobook on a whim and I’m glad I did. The story begins when a monstrous crime is committed in a neighborhood park and all the signs — fingerprints, DNA, motive — point to one man. Open and closed case, right? Nope. Ironclad alibi. And things get even more bizarre from there. Like … really, really bizarre. If you’re in the mood for a relentlessly unsettling thriller, with a curious and varied cast of characters, this one’s for you. Not only is the story a wild ride, it’s narrated by Will Patton, whose voice you might recognize from his roles in Armageddon, Falling Skies, or The Good Wife. He does an excellent job creating a tense atmosphere and even adjusts his voice for different characters. It’s fascinating and at times hilarious. But just a heads-up! If you haven’t already read Stephen King’s Bill Hodges series (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, and End of Watch), this one definitely contains spoilers, so give those a listen first!
Maybe She Had So Much Money She Just Lost Track of It (New York Magazine)
Karyne: Anna Delvey seemed to have it all: money, high-powered friends, and ambition. But as the world around her fell apart and it turned out that not even her name was real — her actual name is Anna Sorokin — you can’t help but wonder: Who was footing the bill? The most recent issue of New York Magazine takes a look at this crazy story that sounds like the plot of a feature film (in fact, she said in a recent article that she’d love for Jennifer Lawrence or Margot Robbie to play her in the inevitable movie).
Not That Bad
Ashley: You were catcalled? Well, at least you weren’t physically harassed. You were touched inappropriately? At least you weren’t raped. You were raped? At least you weren’t killed.
These are the well-meaning but uncomforting sentiments this collection of personal essays dissects and fights against, written by people who have been body shamed, assaulted, raped, or otherwise sexually abused. At one point in their lives, to survive the trauma, editor Roxane Gay and many of the essayists assured themselves their experiences were “not that bad.” But these gut-wrenching, heartbreaking essays prove that every experience in the spectrum that makes up rape culture is, in fact, that bad, and society isn’t doing anyone any favors by sticking to this “at least you aren’t dead” narrative. It’s frightening to read the early essays and see how many college students seemingly don’t even know what constitutes rape or consent (hence one in five women reports having been sexually assaulted on campus, a statistic that hasn’t improved in decades). Read this book to see that you’re not alone. Read this book to make sure you know what consent really means. Give this book to doubters of the #MeToo movement. It’s necessary for everyone to hear these voices.
Stephanie: Sweet. Salty. Sour. Bitter.
Twenty-two-year-old Tess arrives in New York City in the summer of 2006 with little more than her car and a little toll fare in her pocket. Determined to find a job waiting tables, she goes door to door leaving resumes with any establishment that will take them. Soon, she stumbles upon a place that seems a cut above the rest. A place with pink chairs, white linen tablecloths, and a pristinely dressed general manager with impossibly clean fingernails. This, she decides, is home. When Tess is invited to train to be a backwaiter here — one of the most lauded restaurants in Manhattan — her entire world opens up. She learns how to clear, how to three-plate-carry, and how to navigate seamlessly amongst her peers but, most importantly, she learns how to taste.
Sweetbitter is more than just a love letter to the famed Union Square Cafe, which was founded by Danny Meyer and made legendary by the publishing and society elite who frequented the place in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s a sultry, addictive coming-of-age story that perfectly captures the heat, intensity, and magic of summer in New York, now turned into a TV show starring Ella Purnell and produced by author Stephanie Danler herself.
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