Top Reads for April

Is April really the cruelest month? None of our top reads for the month addresses that, but they do ask plenty of other tough questions: What is the life of a refugee like? What’s at stake in the battle over immigration reform? How do our laws and policies affect different people and communities? And, last but not least, how can you spring clean your computer so it doesn’t freeze every time you open a new tab?

Exit West

Alex: Exit West is an excellently written and beautifully observed piece of fiction. It seems necessary to state that outright, lest it get lost to the buzzy political context surrounding the novel. Because that context is hard to ignore: The book seems so pertinent to our current political climate that it’s tempting to imagine that Mohsin Hamid utilized clairvoyant powers when crafting the novel.

The story of a young couple’s burgeoning romance, Hamid’s story is set against the backdrop of an anonymous Middle Eastern country on the brink of civil war. The novel brings the absurdity of a familiar city suddenly transformed into a network of checkpoints and battle zones into sharp relief. But the story also takes a turn for the fantastical with the slow reveal of a series of doors that transport people to various countries around the world. Able to scrape together the costs for their passage, the couple takes a leap of faith — only to find themselves transported from the hell of war to the extreme discomfort of life as a foreign refugee.

It’s in this plot point that the brilliance of Hamid’s door motif becomes apparent. Rich countries are no longer isolated from the turmoil of poorer ones; the conflicts arrive, literally, at their doorsteps. And because the doors appear at random, there’s no way to prevent the arrival of refugees. The rich countries must contend with their new residents. As the novel’s characters discover, the wealthy countries cannot in good conscience forcibly remove the refugees without sacrificing their own humanity or their national identities. It’s not an easy path to coexistence, but it is, in many ways, the only viable one. Exit West is, in this way, a perfect illustration of fiction’s ability to give distant real-world conflicts an empathy and an urgency that straightforward reporting often struggles to convey.

The New Alamo (Newsweek)

Julie: The inauguration of President Donald Trump marked a new phase in the battle over immigration policy. Newsweek's in-depth cover story The New Alamo illuminates what’s at stake for those on the front-lines and America as a whole — especially since the infamous campaign promise to build a wall along Texas’ southern border, the state is a crucible where the conflicts over immigration play-out on a daily basis. In this article, hear from undocumented immigrants, who are deeply entrenched in American society, yet fear deportation at a moment's notice, as well as county sherifs who have a sworn duty to enforce the law. The New Alamo helps untangle the complexities of immigration and shows that the battle for its future has only just begun. 

Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice

Andrew: We’ve had a debate in this country for years over our criminal justice system. On one side, law and order advocates say we need strong police presence and strict sentencing rules to maintain the safety of society. And on the other side, people are asking questions. What are the consequences of policing and jailing? How do our laws and policies impact different people and communities? And how are our laws actually written and enforced?

Unfair falls squarely into that second camp of questioning the status quo. Illuminating without judging, it asks questions and opens eyes to the impacts that our police-and-punishment state has on the people it supposedly protects and serves.

I had the opportunity to interview the author, Adam Benforado, for our #ScribdChat series. He brings kindness and warmth to a topic that can leave the reader feeling chills. After all, so many people are ground up in the gears of our criminal justice system. But Adam asks questions, shares answers, and provides a vision for a more just world.

The Road to Sparta

Karyne: How far can you run? A mile? Ten miles? A marathon? What if you had to run 153 miles through rugged terrain, with only olives, cured meats, and dates to sustain you? 

In an effort to pay homage to his Greek history — Pheidippides ran for 36 hours straight from Athens to Sparta to seek help in defending Athens from a Persian invasion in the Battle of Marathon — Dean Karnazes competes in a race called the Spartathlon. It’s a grueling journey; the terrain is rugged and runners must keep a fast time or face disqualification. But that does not deter Karnazes from setting out to prove that he can do it — and he hones his Greek identity along the way. 

The Road to Sparta offers a unique glimpse into the mind of an ultrarunner and the many months of preparation that led him not to the finish line, but to the starting marks. (Be sure to check out our #ScribdChat with Karnazes on Tuesday, April 11 at 1:30 PDT on Facebook Live.)

The Complete Guide to Spring Cleaning Your Computer (Popular Science)

David: I bought my personal computer five years ago. It was a smart purchase, and the computer has served me well over a half decade of ownership, but lately things have gotten a little slow. Booting up the computer takes longer, running multiple programs at once is problematic, and I’m constantly plagued with notifications warning of a “full start-up disk.” I’m no tech expert, but I know enough about computers to know that these are warning signs that my computer needs a little spring cleaning. Luckily, Popular Science recently published The Complete Guide to Spring Cleaning Your Computer

Without getting lost in the quagmire of tech mumbo-jumbo, the article offers clear and simple tips for any computer user (like getting rid of older apps, clearing digital clutter, and physically cleaning specific parts of your machine). 

I’ve already seen a good bit of improvement on my computer since following Popular Science’s tips. Who knows, maybe my computer will make it another five years. 

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