1. A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life by Ayelet Waldman (Knopf)
Waldman has tried a dizzying array of prescription pharmaceuticals, and is a veteran of yoga and mindfulness training, yet she is still plagued by dramatic mood swings, chronic pain, anxiety, and insomnia. She decides to try “microdoses,” -- tiny amounts of the psychedelic drug LSD, at just the right dose, an amount calculated so that she won’t hallucinate but will feel better. But this memoir is no The Bell Jar or Girl, Interrupted – Waldman is too funny, and resistant to making herself the hero of her own stories, for that sort of account. Waldman draws on her past experience as a federal public defender who is a critic of harsh drug sentencing guidelines, and she weaves into her personal story larger policy questions about national drug policy. Ultimately, though, this is a winsome account of Waldman’s unusual way of dealing with her neuroses.
2. The Book that Changed America: How Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation by Randall Fuller (Viking)
In this fascinating history, Fuller tells the story of how Darwin’s Origin of Species found a national audience in the United States, through a series of conversations that began at a New England dinner party. Fuller focuses on the Transcendentalists in Concord, like Thoreau and Bronson Alcott, and describes how Darwin’s ideas took hold at a time when the Civil War approached and knowledge of science had been piqued. Fuller, author of From Battlefields Rising: How the Civil War Transformed American Literature, draws on his keen understanding of the period and artfully explains how Darwin’s ideas transcended science and advanced the cause of abolition — and continue to resonate today.
3. American HookUp: The New Culture of Sex on Campus by Lisa Wade (W. W. Norton)
Sociology professor Wade brings a new perspective to the discussion of life and sex on college campuses. She musters data to show that despite public perceptions, “today’s students boast no more sexual partners than their parents did at their age.” After surveying a wide range of students across the country, Wade concludes that they substantially overestimate the sexual activity of their peers. Delving into historical trends, she also considers the evolution of sexuality, and contends that casual sexual encounters on campus have led students to feelings of depression and anxiety.
4. Always Happy Hour by Mary Miller (Liveright Publishing)
In this stunning (and well-titled) collection of short fiction involving complicated, unprivileged women on the precipice of adulthood, Mississippi author Miller brilliantly explores lives that feel simultaneously destined and precarious. Miller’s first-person narrators are keenly aware – if not fully conscious – of class distinctions. In one example, from the story “Instructions,” the narrator is taking care of her absent boyfriend’s cats. She had never owned a pet, and not told him that her family was poor, and that in her childhood, she collected back yard frogs, snakes and turtles, and then let them die in shoe boxes and jars. “When you grow up poor, even if you do everything thereafter to be not-poor,” she thinks, “there’s no way to shake it completely.”
5. Collected Stories by E. L Doctorow (Random House)
When Doctorow died in 2015, the world lost one of its greatest writers. In a career spanning a half century, he was best known for his novels – like Ragtime, Billy Bathgate, World’s Fair and The March -- that electrified history and reimagined the present. It is less well known that Doctorow was also a gifted short story writer. Fortunately, not long before his death, Doctorow selected, revised, and ordered these stories as a collection, and they remind us of his singular talent. Versions of these 15 stories have been published before, and some – like “Liner Notes: The Songs of Billy Bathgate” – grew into novels. They come together here and underscore a genius at work.