Top Books for December

This year has gone by in a furious whirlwind, and this holiday season, we’ve all earned a break to read more. Curl up by the fire (or at least, the yule log video on Netflix) with: a pair of books reflecting on the changing, increasingly divisive political climate of America, an illuminating memoir about being transgender and punk rock from the lead singer of Against Me!, and a heartwarming holiday romance from Jay Asher. 

Alex: There’s no dancing around it: as a young woman living in San Francisco, the results of this election came as a complete surprise to me. I’ve been trying to find my bearings through — of course — reading.
Two books have caught my attention since the election: Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance, a recently released memoir that examines the collapse of the American middle class in the Midwest through one family’s ostensible ascension towards “the American dream”; and George Packer’s The Unwinding, a 2013 tour-de-force that examines that same collapse by interweaving political, historical, and cultural journalistic snapshots from the final three decades of the 20th century. It’s been fascinating to view the same concerns from two such different perspectives — one so broadly focused and the other so intimate — and both have been illuminating. Now that the contentiousness of the election is behind us, works that help bridge these gaps of recognition in an increasingly fractured country are more valuable than ever.


David: My cousin gave me a copy of the album Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose almost 14 years ago. It’s an amazing album, and it introduced me to the signature growl of Against Me!’s lead singer, Laura Jane Grace. Of course, when Reinventing Axl Rose was released, Laura Jane Grace was known as Tom Gable. She revealed in a 2012 Rolling Stone interview that she was transexual and has been living as woman ever since. As a fan, it was rewarding to see the band and the fanbase fully embrace Grace’s experience. Now, with the release of her groundbreaking memoir, Tranny (written with the help of journals that Grace kept from an early age), we’re given new insight into Grace’s life, her musical career, and the trials and tribulations that come with being a transexual in the modern American music scene. Whether or not you’re a fan of Against Me!, Tranny is nothing less than an illuminating read that’s written by a brave — and empowered — author. 

What Light

Ashley: If you’re looking for a cute, cuddly romance to snuggle up by the twinkly lights of your Christmas tree with, look no further than What Light. It’s certainly a departure from Jay Asher’s lone previous solo work, the haunting and beloved Thirteen Reasons Why, but after the rough ride that has been the year 2016, What Light is a welcome present this holiday season. It follows Sierra and her family as they migrate south after Thanksgiving to sell their Christmas trees on their private lot. There, at her once-a-year home-away-from-home, Sierra starts falling for a handsome boy named Caleb who, for some reason, buys a whole lot of Christmas trees. Caleb has a “dark past” that he and Sierra have to grapple with that is refreshingly not too dark (nobody is physically injured! It's a YA Christmas miracle!). It’s a predictable story about the importance of forgiveness, but an endearing one with an addictive sweetness that will get you into the holiday spirit.

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