1. Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard (Liveright)
“When it comes to silencing women, Western culture has had thousands of years of practice,” Cambridge classics professor Beard wryly notes in her fiery book, drawn from two lectures given in 2014 and 2017. She locates the first recorded example of a man telling a woman to “shut up”: in the Odyssey, with Telemachus reproaching his mother, Penelope, that “speech will be the business of men, all men, and of me most of all; for mine is the power in this household.” Beard brilliantly untangles the roots of misogyny over centuries, draws from her own experience as a target of online abuse, and calls for a redefinition of power.
2. Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality by Jaron Lanier (Henry Holt)
Computer pioneer, musician, and writer Lanier is hailed as the father of virtual reality, and in this fascinating coming-of-age chronicle and manifesto, he details his beginnings and the philosophical and technical origins of VR. Lanier, author of best-selling You Are Not a Gadget, grew up in a geodesic dome he designed with his father in the UFO territory of New Mexico, was drawn into the world of coding and algorithms, and eventually produced the first VR products. Enthusiastic, but also skeptical, about the future, he asks: “Can we see through our seductive information systems in order to see ourselves and our world honestly?”
3. Garden of the Lost and Abandoned: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Woman and the Children She Saves by Jessica Yu (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
In her weekly column, Lost and Abandoned, in Uganda’s largest newspaper, Gladys Kalibbala spotlights the missing and abandoned street children in Kampala, the nation’s capital. In this book, Academy Award–winning documentary filmmaker Yu details how Kalibbala works as a detective-journalist and has devoted herself to rescuing young people from life on the streets. Yu followed Kalibbala for three years and chronicles her stories of success, as well as those complex cases that require her ongoing attention. Her portrait of Kalibbala and her work vividly depicts an extraordinary woman with a big personality and a heart to match.
4. Elmet by Fiona Mozley (Algonquin)
Mozley’s dark and troubling debut novel, written while working on her Ph.D. in medieval studies at York University, vaulted to the 2017 Man Booker Prize shortlist. Admirers likened the novel, named for the Celtic kingdom that once covered Yorkshire, to the violent lyricism that characterizes Cormac McCarthy’s fiction, particularly The Road. The story is narrated by a watchful 14-year-old boy living in a hardscrabble but tranquil, isolated sylvan with his indomitable sister and father. Their peace is interrupted by disputes over the land that expose deep societal chasms and inevitably lead to violence in a gripping conclusion.
5. The Ice House by Laura Lee Smith (Grove Press)
When Johnny MacKinnon of Jacksonville, Florida, learns he has a brain tumor, he leaves his wife, Pauline, in charge of their struggling ice plant and sets off for Scotland to reconnect with his estranged son and meet his new granddaughter. Meanwhile, Pauline tries to keep the business afloat and deal with anxious employees. Smith infuses this family drama with Southern charm as discord gives way to reconciliation, done with a tender wit that evokes the novels of Ann Patchett.