5 HOT BOOKS: Al Franken's Hilarious Memoir, Disposable Workers, and More

These are five books people are talking about this week -- or should be:

1. Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken (Twelve Books)

“It’s the story of a midwestern Jewish boy of humble roots (the first in his family to own a pasta maker) who, after a thirty-five year career in comedy, moved back home to challenge an incumbent senator,” explains Franken, in the introduction to the highly entertaining Al Franken: Giant of the Senate. Changing tone, Franken says that his new book is “the story of how, after spending a lifetime learning how to be funny, I learned how not to be funny.” This is a refreshing, cliché-free, and highly entertaining memoir from the junior Senator from Minnesota, a graduate of Harvard College who went on, he writes, to receive a “doctorate in right-wing megalomania studies from Trump University.”

2. The End of Loyalty: The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America by Rick Wartzman (Public Affairs)

By delving into four companies – General Electric, General Motors, Kodak, and Coca-Cola -- Wartzman explains the transformation of America, and the undoing of the social compact. Wartzman, a long-time Wall Street Journal journalist, noticed that despite vows of “corporate responsibility,” in the “one-sided chess match” employers were not accepting responsibility for their workers.  Wartzman, who is now director of the KH Moon Center for a Functioning Society at the Drucker Institute, a part of the Claremont Graduate University, recognizes that a confluence of many factors is at work: globalization, fading union influence, labor-saving technology, outsourcing, companies’ growing willingness to lay off workers, the decline of manufacturing jobs, and the proliferation of third-rate service jobs. Wartzman goes beyond the merely descriptive in this eloquent, impassioned book: he calls for overhauling a corporate culture that elevates shareholders so far above employees. 

3. Once, in Lourdes by Sharon Solwitz (Spiegel & Grau)

It’s 1968, with protests over the Vietnam War and civil rights, the Chicago Democratic Convention – and four friends on the cusp of adulthood.  The world is on the precipice of change, even in small town Lourdes, Michigan, and a quartet of high school seniors has formed a suicide pact. Solwitz has brilliantly keyed into both a tumultuous era and the teen mind in this masterful novel. Solwitz’s short stories have won the Carl Sandburg Literary Award and the Nelson Algren Literary Award, and they have been anthologized in Pushcart and The Best American Short Stories. Here, she brings her special gift for precision to create a suspenseful, emotionally rewarding novel.

4. The Reminders by Val Emmich (Little, Brown)

Fans of “30 Rock” may recall Emmich as Liz Lemon’s coffee-boy fling. Now, the actor-songwriter-singer has a new claim to fame: he has written a charming debut novel with an unlikely duo at its heart.  Grief-stricken after his partner’s death, Gavin connects with an old friend, who turns out to have a 10-year-old girl, Joan, with “Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory,” a gift for near-total recall. Joan, who knew Gavin’s late partner, can provide him with memories of his lost love – and Gavin agrees, in exchange, to help her win a big songwriting contest.  Like Nick Hornby, Emmich has a knack for avoiding the treacly and saccharine while finding magic in unlikely relationships.

5. Touch by Courtney Maum (Putnam)

After Sloane Jacobsen is dubbed “soothsayer of the swipe” for predicting the ubiquitous finger motion, the preeminent trend forecaster faces more than she bargains for when she opines that the solution to world overpopulation is voluntary childlessness. At the heart of Maum’s smart, playful, satirical novel is the clash between technology and human interaction – something Jacobsen sees in her own life, with a partner who is a little too focused on the pleasures of the electronic world.  As she demonstrated so well in her previous novel, I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You, Maum – who currently works as a product-namer for cosmetics manufacturer M·A·C – brings astute social observations to relationships, whether workplace or romantic.