Here are five books people are talking about this week -- or should be:
1. Moonglow by Michael Chabon (Harper)
“My grandfather” and “my grandmother” remain nameless in this gorgeous, moving novel which takes the form of a fictional memoir. The narrator listens to his grandfather’s deathbed stories – of his technological prowess and ingenuity, prison stint, and his wife, the narrator’s grandmother -- a French refugee he met at a synagogue dance in Baltimore. Memory weaves through history, from the slums of Philadelphia to retirement villages in Florida, and back through World War II Europe, gaining momentum along the way. Some parts are painful, including his grandmother’s experiences in the Holocaust and her subsequent delusions, but charm and warmth are also in abundant supply. While the grandparents’ stories are tangled and full of contradictions, Chabon’s artful telling sends this novel soaring to the heights of his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and his brilliant debut, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.
2. Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied Hospital by David Oshinsky (Doubleday)
Today, Bellevue is a highly respected public hospital, but it began as an 18th Century almshouse where the poor came to die. Oshinsky, a history professor at New York University, traces Bellevue’s story from its humble origins through to its current place on the frontiers of medicine, including its fights against such major epidemics as cholera, tuberculosis, influenza, and eventually AIDS. With advances like ambulances, maternity wards, and psychiatric care, Bellevue led the way in creating the modern hospital. As he did in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Polio: An American Story, Oshinsky brilliantly weaves stories of the sick and dying with the larger social questions they raise.
3. Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh (Simon & Schuster)
In her bracing memoir and manifesto, Al-Khatahtbeh recounts coming of age in New Jersey after Sept. 11, 2001. She was just 11 when the planes crashed into the Towers, and remembers the chilly hostility and outright harassment that followed. Her personal coming-of-age story is a powerful one, as she shares her evolution as a Muslim woman and founder of the media site MuslimGirl.com. More than an accumulation of anecdotes about Islamopobia, Al-Khatahtbeh’s book conveys her personal story of how she came to feel pride in her religion and culture, and how she became determined to subvert the myth of the submissive, obedient Muslim woman.
4. Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In by Bernie Sanders (Thomas Dunne Books)
Written in the aftermath of this year’s dramatic election, and in his trademark unvarnished style, Vermont Senator and Presidential aspirant Sanders’s book is a somewhat unusual commodity: the post-campaign book. Many candidates publish autobiographies when they are starting a run for office. But Sanders has released this account of his childhood in New York, his college years in Chicago, his time in Vermont and Washington, D.C., and his time on the campaign trail after the votes have been counted. That is likely because of the second part of the book, in which Sanders lays out his policy ideas, which could chart — particularly now that he has joined the Senate Democratic leadership — a progressive path forward.
5. Island People: The Caribbean and the World by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro (Random House)
After turning the final page of Island People, it would be impossible to believe, as author Jelly-Schapiro writes, that the Caribbean islands are “marginal to the making of our modern world.” He shows, in this fascinatingbook, how this sun-dappled collection of island nations has inspired imaginations for centuries, launched the idea of “globalization,” and sparked the global conversation about human rights. Jelly-Schapiro’s deepconnection to the islands of the Greater Antilles (like Jamaica and Cuba) and the Lesser Antilles (like Barbados and Trinidad) and the people who live there allow him to infuse this engaging amalgam of history, cultural analysis, and intellectual history with something appropriate to the region: warmth.