5 HOT BOOKS: Joy Press on Women in Television, David Mamet, and More


1. Stealing the Show: How Women Are Revolutionizing Television by Joy Press (Atria)

Even after Mary turned the world on with her smile and Dan Quayle attacked Murphy Brown, it has been a long, winding road to watching Hannah Horvath having sex on Lena Dunham’s Girls, and smart cultural critic Press guides us through the thicket faced by pioneering women. Once chief television critic for the Village Voice and an editor at the Los Angeles Times, Press draws on her up-close experience as a witness to the medium’s evolution from Mayberry to Transparent to the first reality star president. Press has interviewed and been on the set with innovative, powerhouse women including Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy), Jenji Kohan (Orange Is the New Black), and Tina Fey (30 Rock) and she provides a fascinating, persuasive account of how forceful, creative, female-centric television has prevailed and transformed American culture -- though it may be at risk in the Trump era.

2. Stranger: The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era by Jorge Ramos, translated by Ezra E. Fitz (Vintage)

Ramos, a Mexican-American Univision journalist who gained international prominence in 2015 when then-presidential candidate Donald Trump told him to “go back to Univision,” has delivered a fierce manifesto about the anti-immigration disposition running through this era. “There are times when I feel like a stranger in this country where I’ve spent more than half my life,” he writes. Ramos urges disobedience and resistance, expresses disappointment with the Latino turnout in the presidential election, and evokes the words of President John F. Kennedy, who once wrote: “Immigration policy should be generous; it should be fair; it should be flexible.” Ramos dedicated his book to his heroes: the Dreamers.

3. Chicago by David Mamet (Custom House)

In his fascinating Prohibition-era novel, Mamet returns to his Chicago origins; tough-talking, working-class guys; and the sharp dialogue that has distinguished his greatest works, like his Pulitzer Prize-winning play Glengarry Glen Ross and the beautiful American Buffalo. The lead in Mamet’s noir mystery is hard-boiled veteran Chicago Tribune reporter Mike Hodge, who is investigating who iced his girlfriend. Mamet’s fondness for incorporating real characters such as Al Capone, Nathan Leopold, and Richard Loeb into the action is reminiscent of E.L. Doctorow’s novels like Ragtime and Billy Bathgate. But Chicago is animated by Mamet’s unique talent for conversational volleying -- and his recent forays into conservative political discourse place him in a vastly different universe. 

4. Silver Girl by Leslie Pietrzyk (Unnamed Press)

Female friendship, as Elena Ferrante has recently shown, is the stuff of dynamite, and Pietrzyk adds a fraught class dynamic to her gripping campus novel set in the 1980s. The unnamed narrator, an abused girl from small-town Iowa, arrives at a stately Evanston, Illinois university (think Northwestern), where she becomes entangled with a socialite roommate and her dysfunctional upper-class family, just as Chicago’s Tylenol killer has set off on a rampage of drug tampering that terrorizes the region. Against this rich backdrop, and the conflicting feelings and mysteries of this constellation of charged relationships, Pietryzk builds a dark, suspenseful, and multidimensional twist on the coming of age story.

5. The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington, foreword by John Grisham (PublicAffairs)

“This is a maddening story of a broken system,” Grisham writes in his foreword to this powerful book, “one in which prosecutors allowed -- even encouraged -- flawed forensic testimony because it was skillfully molded to fit their theories of guilt.” To expose the deceitful medical examiner and dentist who systematically fabricated evidence – concocting bite marks on victims – leading to wrongful convictions in Mississippi, Balko (Washington Post opinion journalist and investigative reporter) and Carrington (director of the University of Mississippi’s Innocence Project) teamed up to focus on two murder cases that led to the exoneration of innocent men. What is profoundly disturbing is that prosecutors, judges, and legislators were knowing conspirators in these cases, which involved racism, presumption of guilt, overzealous prosecution, and a determination to clear a huge volume of cases, even if it meant relying on manufactured evidence.