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The Avid Reader
January 12, 2021 02:27 PM PST
Dip below the ocean’s surface and you are soon confronted by forms of life that could not seem more foreign to our own: sea sponges, soft corals, and serpulid worms, whose rooted bodies, intricate geometry, and flower-like appendages are more reminiscent of plant life or even architecture than anything recognizably animal. Yet these creatures are our cousins. As fellow members of the animal kingdom―the Metazoa―they can teach us much about the evolutionary origins of not only our bodies, but also our minds.
In his acclaimed 2016 book, Other Minds, the philosopher and scuba diver Peter Godfrey-Smith explored the mind of the octopus―the closest thing to an intelligent alien on Earth. In Metazoa, Godfrey-Smith expands his inquiry to animals at large, investigating the evolution of subjective experience with the assistance of far-flung species. As he delves into what it feels like to perceive and interact with the world as other life-forms do, Godfrey-Smith shows that the appearance of the animal body well over half a billion years ago was a profound innovation that set life upon a new path. In accessible, riveting prose, he charts the ways that subsequent evolutionary developments―eyes that track, for example, and bodies that move through and manipulate the environment―shaped the subjective lives of animals. Following the evolutionary paths of a glass sponge, soft coral, banded shrimp, octopus, and fish, then moving onto land and the world of insects, birds, and primates like ourselves, Metazoa gathers their stories together in a way that bridges the gap between mind and matter, addressing one of the most vexing philosophical problems: that of consciousness.
Combining vivid animal encounters with philosophical reflections and the latest news from biology, Metazoa reveals that even in our high-tech, AI-driven times, there is no understanding our minds without understanding nerves, muscles, and active bodies. The story that results is as rich and vibrant as life itself.
January 04, 2021 03:01 PM PST
In the Land of the Cyclops is Karl Ove Knausgaard's first collection of essays to be published in English. In these wide-ranging pieces, Knausgaard reflects openly on Ingmar Bergman's notebooks, Anselm Kiefer, the Northern Lights, Madame Bovary, Rembrandt, and the role of an editor with penetrating intelligence. Accompanied by color reproductions throughout, these essays illuminate Cindy Sherman's shadowlands, the sublime mystery of Sally Mann's vision, and the serious play of Francesca Woodman. These essays capture Knausgaard's remarkable ability to mediate between the personal and the universal, between life and art. Each piece glimmers with Knausgaard's candor and his longing to authentically see, understand, and experience the world.
December 31, 2020 12:42 PM PST
Humankind has always had the urge to memorialise, to make physical testaments to the past. There’s just one problem: when we carve a statue or put up a monument, it can wind up holding us hostage to bad history.
In this extraordinary history book, Keith Lowe uses monuments from around the world to show how different countries have attempted to sculpt their history in the wake of the Second World War, and what these memorials reveal about their politics and national identity today.
Amongst many questions, the book asks: What does Germany signal to today’s far right by choosing not to disclose the exact resting place of Hitler? How can a bronze statue of a young girl in Seoul cause mass controversy? What is Russia trying to prove and hide, still building victory monuments at a prolific rate for a war now seventy years over?
As many around the world are questioning who and what we memorialise, Prisoners of History challenges our idea of national memory, history, and the enormous power of symbols in society today
December 31, 2020 12:31 PM PST
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning and best-selling author: a captivating, brilliantly imaginative story of three extraordinary animals--and a young boy--whose lives intersect in Paris.
Paras, short for "Perestroika," is a spirited racehorse at a racetrack west of Paris. One afternoon at dusk, she finds the door of her stall open and--she's a curious filly--wanders all the way to the City of Light. She's dazzled and often mystified by the sights, sounds, and smells around her, but she isn't afraid.
Soon she meets an elegant dog, a German shorthaired pointer named Frida, who knows how to get by without attracting the attention of suspicious Parisians. Paras and Frida coexist for a time in the city's lush green spaces, nourished by Frida's strategic trips to the vegetable market. They keep company with two irrepressible ducks and an opinionated raven. But then Paras meets a human boy, Etienne, and discovers a new, otherworldly part of Paris: the ivy-walled house where the boy and his nearly-one-hundred-year-old great-grandmother live in seclusion.
As the cold weather and Christmas near, the unlikeliest of friendships bloom. But how long can a runaway horse stay undiscovered in Paris? How long can a boy keep her hidden and all to himself? Jane Smiley's beguiling new novel is itself an adventure that celebrates curiosity, ingenuity, and the desire of all creatures for true love and freedom
December 31, 2020 12:25 PM PST
Willis Wu doesn’t perceive himself as the protagonist in his own life: he’s merely Generic Asian Man. Sometimes he gets to be Background Oriental Making a Weird Face or even Disgraced Son, but always he is relegated to a prop. Yet every day, he leaves his tiny room in a Chinatown SRO and enters the Golden Palace restaurant, where Black and White, a procedural cop show, is in perpetual production. He’s a bit player here, too, but he dreams of being Kung Fu Guy—the most respected role that anyone who looks like him can attain. Or is it?
After stumbling into the spotlight, Willis finds himself launched into a wider world than he’s ever known, discovering not only the secret history of Chinatown, but the buried legacy of his own family. Infinitely inventive and deeply personal, exploring the themes of pop culture, assimilation, and immigration—Interior Chinatown is Charles Yu’s most moving, daring, and masterful novel yet.
December 31, 2020 12:21 PM PST
A shattering new biography of rock music’s most outrageous―and tragic―genius.
Over fifty years after his death, Jimi Hendrix (1942–1970) is celebrated as the greatest rock guitarist of all time. But before he was setting guitars and the world aflame, James Marshall Hendrix was a shy kid in Seattle, plucking at a broken ukulele and in fear of a father who would hit him for playing left-handed. Bringing Jimi’s story to vivid life against the backdrop of midcentury rock, and with a wealth of new information, acclaimed music biographer Philip Norman delivers a captivating and definitive portrait of a musical legend.
Drawing from unprecedented access to Jimi’s brother, Leon Hendrix, who provides disturbing details about their childhood, as well as Kathy Etchingham and Linda Keith, the two women who played vital roles in Jimi’s rise to stardom, Norman traces Jimi’s life from playing in clubs on the segregated Chitlin’ Circuit, where he encountered daily racism, to barely surviving in New York’s Greenwich Village, where was taken up by the Animals’ bass player Chas Chandler in 1966 and exported to Swinging London and international stardom.
For four staggering years, from 1966 to 1970, Jimi totally rewrote the rules of rock stardom, notably at Monterey and Woodstock (where he played his protest-infused rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner”), while becoming the highest-paid musician of his day. But it all abruptly ended in the shabby basement of a London hotel with Jimi’s too-early death. With remarkable detail, Wild Thing finally reveals the truth behind this long-shrouded tragedy.
Norman’s exhaustive research reveals a young man who was as shy and polite in private as he was outrageous in public, whose insecurity about his singing voice could never be allayed by his instrumental genius, and whose unavailing efforts to please his father left him searching for the family he felt he never truly had. Filled with insights into the greatest moments in rock history, Wild Thing is a mesmerizing account of music’s most enduring and endearing figures.
December 08, 2020 12:28 PM PST
From the outside, the Chengs seem like so-called model immigrants. Once Patty landed a tech job near Dallas, she and Liang grew secure enough to have a second child, and to send for their first from his grandparents back in China. Isn’t this what they sacrificed so much for? But then little Annabel begins to sleepwalk at night, putting into motion a string of misunderstandings that not only threaten to set their community against them but force to the surface the secrets that have made them fear one another. How can a man make peace with the terrors of his past? How can a child regain trust in unconditional love? How can a family stop burying its history and forge a way through it, to a more honest intimacy?
Nights When Nothing Happened is gripping storytelling immersed in the crosscurrents that have reshaped the American landscape, from a prodigious new literary talent
November 19, 2020 08:34 AM PST
Ari Eden’s life has always been governed by strict rules. In ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn, his days are dedicated to intense study and religious rituals, and adolescence feels profoundly lonely. So when his family announces that they are moving to a glitzy Miami suburb, Ari seizes his unexpected chance for reinvention.
Enrolling in an opulent Jewish academy, Ari is stunned by his peers’ dizzying wealth, ambition, and shameless pursuit of life’s pleasures. When the academy’s golden boy, Noah, takes Ari under his wing, Ari finds himself entangled in the school’s most exclusive and wayward group. These friends are magnetic and defiant—especially Evan, the brooding genius of the bunch, still living in the shadow of his mother’s death.
Influenced by their charismatic rabbi, the group begins testing their religion in unconventional ways. Soon Ari and his friends are pushing moral boundaries and careening toward a perilous future—one in which the traditions of their faith are repurposed to mysterious, tragic ends.
Mesmerizing and playful, heartrending and darkly romantic, The Orchard probes the conflicting forces that determine who we become: the heady relationships of youth, the allure of greatness, the doctrines we inherit, and our concealed desires
November 19, 2020 08:23 AM PST
Have you ever wondered why you have a brain? Let renowned neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett demystify that big gray blob between your ears. In seven short essays (plus a bite-sized story about how brains evolved), this slim, entertaining, and accessible collection reveals mind-expanding lessons from the front lines of neuroscience research. You'll learn where brains came from, how they're structured (and why it matters), and how yours works in tandem with other brains to create everything you experience.
November 11, 2020 11:27 AM PST
The co-host of the popular NPR podcast Planet Money provides a well-researched, entertaining, somewhat irreverent look at how money is a made-up thing that has evolved over time to suit humanity's changing needs.
Money only works because we all agree to believe in it. In Money, Jacob Goldstein shows how money is a useful fiction that has shaped societies for thousands of years, from the rise of coins in ancient Greece to the first stock market in Amsterdam to the emergence of shadow banking in the 21st century.
At the heart of the story are the fringe thinkers and world leaders who reimagined money. Kublai Khan, the Mongol emperor, created paper money backed by nothing, centuries before it appeared in the west. John Law, a professional gambler and convicted murderer, brought modern money to France (and destroyed the country's economy). The cypherpunks, a group of radical libertarian computer programmers, paved the way for bitcoin.
One thing they all realized: what counts as money (and what doesn't) is the result of choices we make, and those choices have a profound effect on who gets more stuff and who gets less, who gets to take risks when times are good, and who gets screwed when things go bad.
Lively, accessible, and full of interesting details (like the 43-pound copper coins that 17th-century Swedes carried strapped to their backs), Money is the story of the choices that gave us money as we know it today.
November 11, 2020 11:24 AM PST
Once a promising actor, Tim Brettigan has gone missing. His father thinks he may have seen him among some homeless people. And though she knows he left on purpose, his mother has been searching for him all over the city. She checks the usual places—churches, storefronts, benches—and stumbles upon a local community group with lofty goals and an enigmatic leader who will alter all of their lives. Christina, a young woman rapidly becoming addicted to a boutique drug that gives her a feeling of blessedness, is inexplicably drawn to the same collective by a man who’s convinced he may start a revolution. As the lives of these four characters intertwine, a story of guilt, anxiety, and feverish hope unfolds in the city of Minneapolis.
A vision of modern American society and the specters of the consumerism, fanaticism, and fear that haunt it, The Sun Collective captures both the mystery and the violence that punctuate our daily lives.
November 05, 2020 02:01 PM PST
France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever—and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.
Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.
But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.
October 28, 2020 11:42 AM PDT
1969: the height of counterculture and the year universities would seek to curb the unruly spectacle of student protest; the winter that Harvard University would begin the tumultuous process of merging with Radcliffe, its all-female sister school; and the year that Jane Britton, an ambitious 23-year-old graduate student in Harvard's Anthropology Department and daughter of Radcliffe Vice President J. Boyd Britton, would be found bludgeoned to death in her Cambridge, Massachusetts apartment.
Forty years later, Becky Cooper a curious undergrad, will hear the first whispers of the story. In the first telling the body was nameless. The story was this: a Harvard student had had an affair with her professor, and the professor had murdered her in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology because she'd threatened to talk about the affair. Though the rumor proves false, the story that unfolds, one that Cooper will follow for ten years, is even more complex: a tale of gender inequality in academia, a 'cowboy culture' among empowered male elites, the silencing effect of institutions, and our compulsion to rewrite the stories of female victims.
WE KEEP THE DEAD CLOSE is a memoir of mirrors, misogyny, and murder. It is at once a rumination on the violence and oppression that rules our revered institutions, a ghost story reflecting one young woman's past onto another's present, and a love story for a girl who was lost to history.