Five books people are talking about this week -- or should be:
1. The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (Ecco)
A quartet of middle-aged siblings squabble over their trust fund after one brother squanders it in this slightly satirical debut novel that Amy Poehler – in a front-cover blurb – calls “intoxicating.” The corrosive quality of inherited wealth is one of the novel’s themes, but it is also a deeply affecting look at financial and creative anxiety and how old resentments, particularly of the familial variety, can ultimately give way to tenderness and friendship.
2. The Sellout by Paul Beatty (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
“This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I’ve never stolen anything,” writes Beatty in the first sentence of this acclaimed novel, which last weekt won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. The paragraph ends with the narrator in handcuffs, sitting on “a thickly padded chair that, much like this country, isn’t quite as comfortable as it looks.” This is a subversive, brilliant work that induces rage and laughter in its indictment of contemporary American – while at the same time being a rollicking good read.
3. Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson (Pantheon Books)
Pulitzer Prize winning book and cultural critic, Jefferson, who formerly held sway at The New York Times, tells her own story in this memoir chronicling an upbringing as a member of Chicago’s black elite. A winner of a National Book Critics Circle award for memoir last week, Jefferson charts the rise of the American black upper class, and explores how the standards of perfectionism and conformity took such psychic and emotional tolls on her, and her generation.
4. Upstairs at the Strand: Writers in Conversation at the Legendary Bookstore, ed. by Jessica Strand and Andrea Aguilar (W.W. Norton)
The Strand Book Store, with its red awning boasting “18 Miles of Books,” is a beloved New York institution, which has hosted writers in conversation in its Rare Book Room since 2003. Some pairs of interlocutors are close friends, like Hilton Als and Junot Diaz, while others are merely mutual admirers – like Renata Adler and David Shields. The 12 conversations collected in this paperback edition are in the best tradition of The Paris Review. They are free-wheeling and deeply revelatory, with a strong focus on the writing process.
5. Incarceration Nations: A Journey to Justice in Prisons Around the World by Baz Dreisinger (Other Press)
Dreisinger looks internationally for answers to the problem of mass incarceration, traveling to nine countries – from South Africa and Uganda to Jamaica and Brazil – talking with prisoners in “global hellholes” to gain insight into what works (education) and what does not (solitary confinement). The author is the founder and academic director of the Prison-to-College Pipeline program, in which prisoners are offered college courses and, after their release, admission to the City University of New York to complete their degrees – a model that may actually provide real answers.