This September, our community will hit the road with a group of resilient and resourceful “houseless” Americans traveling from one temporary job to another to make ends meet. “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century,” a work of immersive journalism by Jessica Bruder, beat out the novel “Sourdough” by Robin Sloan to be named this year’s One Read title.
Before the public vote, a panel of community members considered ten finalist books. This year’s titles sharply reflect current social consciousness and the political issues we are grappling with both locally and nationally.
One issue dominating news headlines is immigration. Lauren Markham’s “The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life” makes intimate and immediate the difficulties of undocumented minors in the Unites States by telling the story of twin brothers who left El Salvador to escape deadly gang violence. The novel “The House of Broken Angels” by Luis Alberto Urrea reflects the immigrant experience with a vibrant family drama. The extended family of patriarch Big Angel de la Cruz gathers in San Diego to mourn the passing of his mother and celebrate one last birthday before Big Angel succumbs to cancer. Sprawling and bittersweet, the story portrays the difficulties of living between cultures and explores a wide range of issues confronted by many American families, including PTSD, opioid addiction, mortality and the glorious mess love can leave in its wake.
Like Urrea’s novel, Jesmyn Ward’s “Sing, Unburied, Sing” beautifully and tragically illustrates how the past haunts the present, and how entrenched racism continues to echo through generations. Jojo is a biracial boy living with his sister, grandparents and his addicted, grieving mother, who drags the children on a road trip to pick up their white father, just out of prison. This is a tender and powerfully sad story of a Southern family struggling to hold itself together as its members are visited by ghosts of all sorts.
Janet Mock boldly addresses issues of race, gender and social justice in her memoir, “Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More.” Mock recounts the realities of being young, multi-racial, economically challenged and transgender in today’s America, and challenges readers to “recognize, discuss, and dismantle this hierarchy that policies bodies and values certain ones over others.”
Also of note in the news today is the possibility of America waging (or escalating) wars, both trade wars and military conflicts. In “Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World,” Tim Marshall systematically and convincingly illustrates how mountains, waterways, weather and other geographical facts shape the successes and failures of nation states. If current geopolitics is a little too real for you, revisit World War II through the eyes of a young man coming of age in 1940s London. The atmospheric and gorgeous novel “Warlight” by Michael Ondaatje opens in 1945 as Nicholas and his sister are left in the care of a man called “The Moth” and a cast of mysterious and intriguing characters who may be criminals or spies — or both. The adult Nicholas tries to piece together the truth about his parents, their roles in the war and the ways his unconventional upbringing shaped him.
From war comes death, and our final two books touch on our uneasy relationship with mortality. Some people collect and preserve objects, as if building a wall of rare things can protect us from death, or at least the rapidly increasing pace of change. “Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records” by Amanda Petrusich is a well-researched celebration of an obsessive subculture and its quirky devotees, dedicated to preserving the music of blues artists largely unknown to the modern world. “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, and Other Lessons From the Crematory” by Caitlin Doughty embraces our temporary nature and seeks to change how American society views death. Honest, funny and in-your-face, Doughty describes her experiences working at a crematory and encourages readers to see death not as something to be feared and avoided, but understood and embraced.
Join the library and the One Read Task Force in September as we explore the topics and themes in “Nomadland” through art, discussions, films, presentations and more. Visit www.oneread.org for details.