As a bookseller at Barnes & Noble, I - obviously - spend a lot of time around books! From Personal Growth and Self-Transformation to YA and Young Readers to Adult Sci-Fi and Fantasy, I'm constantly snapping photos of books that stand out to me, even when shelved with thousands of others.
Working to broaden the scope of what I read, and let what I stumble on lead my reading habits, this list comprises my top fiction and nonfiction TBB (to be bought) books, each of them pulling me in based on synopsis and cover alone.
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps her House by Cherie Jones
In Baxter’s Beach, Barbados, Lala’s grandmother Wilma tells the story of the one-armed sister. It’s a cautionary tale, about what happens to girls who disobey their mothers and go into the Baxter’s Tunnels. When she’s grown, Lala lives on the beach with her husband, Adan, a petty criminal with endless charisma whose thwarted burglary of one of the beach mansions sets off a chain of events with terrible consequences. A gunshot no one was meant to witness. A new mother whose baby is found lifeless on the beach. A woman torn between two worlds and incapacitated by grief. And two men driven into the Tunnels by desperation and greed who attempt a crime that will risk their freedom – and their lives.
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is an intimate and visceral portrayal of interconnected lives, across race and class, in a rapidly changing resort town, told by an astonishing new author of literary fiction.
Release Date: 2 February 2021 ● Literary Fiction
All Adults Here by Emma Straub
When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus accident in the center of town, it jostles loose a repressed memory from her young parenting days decades earlier. Suddenly, Astrid realizes she was not quite the parent she thought she’d been to her three, now-grown children. But to what consequence?
Astrid’s youngest son is drifting and unfocused, making parenting mistakes of his own. Her daughter is pregnant yet struggling to give up her own adolescence. And her eldest seems to measure his adult life according to standards no one else shares. But who gets to decide, so many years later, which long-ago lapses were the ones that mattered? Who decides which apologies really count? It might be that only Astrid’s thirteen-year-old granddaughter and her new friend really understand the courage it takes to tell the truth to the people you love the most.
In All Adults Here, Emma Straub’s unique alchemy of wisdom, humor, and insight come together in a deeply satisfying story about adult siblings, aging parents, high school boyfriends, middle school mean girls, the lifelong effects of birth order, and all the other things that follow us into adulthood, whether we like them to or not.
Release Date: 4 May 2020 ● Literary Fiction ● Women's Fiction
We Germans by Alexander Starritt
In the throes of the Second World War, young Meissner, a college student with dreams of becoming a scientist, is drafted into the German army and sent to the Eastern Front. But soon his regiment collapses in the face of the onslaught of the Red Army, hell-bent on revenge in its race to Berlin. Many decades later, now an old man reckoning with his past, Meissner pens a letter to his grandson explaining his actions, his guilt as a Nazi participator, and the difficulty of life after war.
Found among his effects after his death, the letter is at once a thrilling story of adventure and a questing rumination on the moral ambiguity of war. In his years spent fighting the Russians and attempting afterward to survive the Gulag, Meissner recounts a life lived in perseverance and atonement. Wracked with shame—both for himself and for Germany—the grandfather explains his dark rationale, exults in the courage of others, and blurs the boundaries of right and wrong.
We Germans complicates our most steadfast beliefs and seeks to account for the complicity of an entire country in the perpetration of heinous acts. In this breathless and page-turning story, Alexander Starritt also presents us with a deft exploration of the moral contradictions inherent in saving one's own life at the cost of the lives of others and asks whether we can ever truly atone.
Release Date: 1 September 2020 ● Historical Fiction
Transit by Rachel Cusk
In the wake of her family’s collapse, a writer and her two young sons move to London. The process of this upheaval is the catalyst for a number of transitions—personal, moral, artistic, and practical—as she endeavors to construct a new reality for herself and her children. In the city, she is made to confront aspects of living that she has, until now, avoided, and to consider questions of vulnerability and power, death and renewal, in what becomes her struggle to reattach herself to, and believe in, life.
Filtered through the impersonal gaze of its keenly intelligent protagonist, Transit sees Rachel Cusk delve deeper into the themes first raised in her critically acclaimed novel Outline and offers up a penetrating and moving reflection on childhood and fate, the value of suffering, the moral problems of personal responsibility, and the mystery of change.
In this second book of a precise and short yet epic cycle, Cusk describes the most elemental experiences, the liminal qualities of life. She captures with unsettling restraint and honesty the longing to both inhabit and flee one’s life, and the wrenching ambivalence animating our desire to feel real.
Release Date: 19 December 2017 ● Adult Fiction
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?
In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.
Release Date: 13 August 2020 ● Science Fiction
Mothers and Strangers; Essays on Motherhood from the New South edited by Samia Serageldin and Lee Smith
In this anthology of creative nonfiction, twenty-eight writers set out to discover what they know, and don’t know, about the person they call Mother. Celebrated writers Samia Serageldin and Lee Smith have curated a diverse and insightful collection that challenges stereotypes about mothers and expands our notions of motherhood in the South.
The mothers in these essays were shaped, for good and bad, by the economic and political crosswinds of their time. Whether their formative experience was the Great Depression or the upheavals of the 1970s, their lives reflected their era and influenced how they raised their children. The writers in Mothers and Strangers explore the reliability of memory, examine their family dynamics, and come to terms with the past.
Release Date: 13 August 2019 ● Nonfiction ● Essays
Why We Can't Sleep; Women's New Midlife Crisis by Ada Calhoun
When Ada Calhoun found herself in the throes of a midlife crisis, she thought that she had no right to complain. She was married with children and a good career. So why did she feel miserable? And why did it seem that other Generation X women were miserable, too?
Calhoun decided to find some answers. She looked into housing costs, HR trends, credit card debt averages, and divorce data. At every turn, she saw a pattern: sandwiched between the Boomers and the Millennials, Gen X women were facing new problems as they entered middle age, problems that were being largely overlooked.
Speaking with women across America about their experiences as the generation raised to "have it all," Calhoun found that most were exhausted, terrified about money, under-employed, and overwhelmed. Instead of being heard, they were told instead to lean in, take "me-time," or make a chore chart to get their lives and homes in order.
In Why We Can't Sleep, Calhoun opens up the cultural and political contexts of Gen X's predicament and offers solutions for how to pull oneself out of the abyss--and keep the next generation of women from falling in. The result is reassuring, empowering, and essential reading for all middle-aged women, and anyone who hopes to understand them.
Release Date: 7 January 2020 ● Nonfiction ● Women's Studies
Beaten Down, Worked Up; The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor by Steven Greenhouse.
We live in an era of soaring corporate profits and anemic wage gains, one in which low-paid jobs and blighted blue-collar communities have become a common feature of our nation’s landscape. Behind these trends lies a little-discussed problem: the decades-long decline in worker power.
Award-winning journalist and author Steven Greenhouse guides us through the key episodes and trends in history that are essential to understanding some of our nation’s most pressing problems, including increased income inequality, declining social mobility, and the concentration of political power in the hands of the wealthy few. He exposes the modern labor landscape with the stories of dozens of American workers, from GM employees to Uber drivers to underpaid schoolteachers. Their fight to take power back is crucial for America’s future, and Greenhouse proposes concrete, feasible ways in which workers’ collective power can be—and is being—rekindled and reimagined in the twenty-first century.
Beaten Down, Worked Up is a stirring and essential look at labor in America, poised as it is between the tumultuous struggles of the past and the vital, hopeful struggles ahead.
Release Date: 6 August 2019 ● Nonfiction ● Politics ● Business
Searching for Black Confederates; The Civil War's Most Persistent Myth by Kevin M. Levin.
More than 150 years after the end of the Civil War, scores of websites, articles, and organizations repeat claims that anywhere between 500 and 100,000 free and enslaved African Americans fought willingly as soldiers in the Confederate army. But as Kevin M. Levin argues in this carefully researched book, such claims would have shocked anyone who served in the army during the war itself. Levin explains that imprecise contemporary accounts, poorly understood primary-source material, and other misrepresentations helped fuel the rise of the black Confederate myth. Moreover, Levin shows that belief in the existence of black Confederate soldiers largely originated in the 1970s, a period that witnessed both a significant shift in how Americans remembered the Civil War and a rising backlash against African Americans’ gains in civil rights and other realms.
Levin also investigates the roles that African Americans actually performed in the Confederate army, including personal body servants and forced laborers. He demonstrates that regardless of the dangers these men faced in camp, on the march, and on the battlefield, their legal status remained unchanged. Even long after the guns fell silent, Confederate veterans and other writers remembered these men as former slaves and not as soldiers, an important reminder that how the war is remembered often runs counter to history.
Release Date: 9 August 2019 ● Nonfiction ● Historical
While I'm sure there are more (and will be more), these are the titles I'm most excited to have stumbled on during my time at Barnes & Noble. If any of these stuck out to you, I'd leave to hear which one and why, and I look forward to compiling more of these articles!
Be sure to comment below and tell me your favorite genres and what books made you expand your tastes!
*Photos by me, synopsis by respective publishers.