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Disasters: Imaginary & Otherwise

Some of the books I've been thinking about lately seem unsettlingly well-matched to our strange times. Consider Yun Ko-Eun's The Disaster Tourist (Counterpoint, translated by Lizzie Buehler). Yona Kim is a program manager for a Korean travel company that specializes in "surveying disaster zones and molding them into travel destinations‚Ķ. Learning about misfortune was what Yona did." Even as I read this novel last summer, I was past wondering who might book such a trip (see Chernobyl tours). Ironically, thousands of people had just been rescued from Covid-laced cruise ships worldwide.

All Animals A-Board

Animal books, like counting books and abecedaries, are part of the bedrock of children's literature. The following board books excellently showcase animals to teach about opposites, family and, well, the animals themselves.

'Hell of a Year, Isn't It?'

"Hell of a year, isn't it--Mr. Frost, Ted [Roethke], & now Louis [MacNiece], whom I loved. Keep well, be good, the devil roams." This sentence, also appropriate for 2020, opens a letter in 1963 to Robert Lowell that is included in The Selected Letters of John Berryman, edited by Philip Coleman & Calista McRae (Belknap Press). Sylvia Plath and William Carlos Williams also died in '63. Hell of a year indeed.

Gift Books for Kids, Tweens & Teens--Plus, Vampires Are Back!

I love this gift book issue because it gives me a chance to design a list for readers of all ages that includes fiction, nonfiction, classics and books that invite engagement through puzzles, journaling and crafting. Even more, I love using this space to tell you about a few more titles that would be great for gift-giving. The theme? Vampires!

Art to Enjoy at Home

One thing I didn't realize how much I'd miss in this year of staying home and staying alone as much as possible is art. I used to visit museums frequently, but circumstances have made that difficult. Sure, there's a lot of art on the Internet, but the screen creates a distance that tends to diminish scope and color and overall effect. So, I have grown to appreciate the visually arresting power of art books, and tend to pore over them, engrossed by color and image, as well as the context provided by expert editorial contributors. These don't have to be massive, expensive monographs to be enjoyable, either.

Beyond Hidden Figures: Women in STEM

The female mathematicians of NASA, many of them Black, made vital contributions to the U.S. space program. Margot Lee Shetterly gave their stories a huge boost in her blockbuster book, Hidden Figures (Morrow, $17.99), which inspired a hit film. But women have been making standout contributions in STEM fields for decades, and their stories take both fictional and nonfictional forms.

Inside the White House

Could former President Barack Obama have known into just what world his reflections on the 44th presidency, A Promised Land(Crown, $45), would be released?

Swimming, Scones and (Reliably) Sweet Endings

During this turbulent year, I've been tempted to revive a reading habit I dropped long ago: flipping to the end of a book before I start it, to make sure everything will turn out all right. (My mother used to scold me about this practice, but I've caught her doing it, too.) Fortunately, some of my favorite feel-good authors provide stories where I know the characters will get their happy ending, without me having to sneak-read the last page.

Food, Race and American History

The best cookbooks are windows into other kitchens, other cultures, other countries--an invitation to step into someone else's food traditions and, in so doing, better understand the world around us and ourselves. That's why cookbooks will forever beat any Internet recipe collection in my world; I am as hungry for the stories and the photos cookbook authors prepare as I am for the dishes they promise I can make at home.

Audiobooks for a Trying Political Year

To say that 2020 has been trying is somewhat of an understatement; throw in the stress of the upcoming U.S. election, and I, for one, find myself too distracted to sit still with a book. Instead, I've been walking--and listening to audiobooks to help me make sense of this strange, uneven time:

Live from New York, It's Saturday Night!

Early in the first Saturday Night Live episode to air after the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks, speaking to an audience and nation still shaken, SNL creator Lorne Michaels asked then-mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani, "Can we be funny?" Giuliani's comeback: "Why start now?"

Nifty Board Book Tricks

Fun format surprises in the board books below--color changes, mix and match, flaps and die-cuts--will likely capture the attention and spark the excitement of pre-readers. 

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