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Poetry as Touchstone

Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, told the New York Times, "Poetry is typically the touchstone that we go back to when we have to remind ourselves of the history that we stand on, and the future that we stand for." Her poem "The Hill We Climb" (coming in March from Viking, $15.99) evoked the pain and loss leading up to this milestone Black History month, along with hope for the future. "Quiet isn't always peace," she wrote.

The Paris Library

"I can't think of a more perfect novel to recommend to book lovers than The Paris Library! Not only does it bring to life the true story of the heroic librarians of the American Library in Nazi-occupied Paris, its interwoven narrative of a bereft teenager in 1980s Montana who finds a kindred spirit in her mysterious, reclusive, and book-loving French neighbor is a feat of extraordinary storytelling. The Paris Library is a testament to the everlasting power of literature and literary places to bring people together and be a home for everyone, even during our darkest, most hopeless, and divided times." --Alyssa Raymond, Copper Dog Books, Beverly, MA

Art to Enjoy at Home

One thing I didn't realize how much I'd miss in this year of staying home and staying alone as much as possible is art. I used to visit museums frequently, but circumstances have made that difficult. Sure, there's a lot of art on the Internet, but the screen creates a distance that tends to diminish scope and color and overall effect. So, I have grown to appreciate the visually arresting power of art books, and tend to pore over them, engrossed by color and image, as well as the context provided by expert editorial contributors. These don't have to be massive, expensive monographs to be enjoyable, either.

Beyond Hidden Figures: Women in STEM

The female mathematicians of NASA, many of them Black, made vital contributions to the U.S. space program. Margot Lee Shetterly gave their stories a huge boost in her blockbuster book, Hidden Figures (Morrow, $17.99), which inspired a hit film. But women have been making standout contributions in STEM fields for decades, and their stories take both fictional and nonfictional forms.

Developing a Mind for Winter

As a Texan transplant to the Northeast, I struggle with the cold and dark of winter. This year, with the ongoing pandemic, I'm dreading the icy isolation more than ever, and turning to books for comfort and distraction.

Swimming, Scones and (Reliably) Sweet Endings

During this turbulent year, I've been tempted to revive a reading habit I dropped long ago: flipping to the end of a book before I start it, to make sure everything will turn out all right. (My mother used to scold me about this practice, but I've caught her doing it, too.) Fortunately, some of my favorite feel-good authors provide stories where I know the characters will get their happy ending, without me having to sneak-read the last page.

Food, Race and American History

The best cookbooks are windows into other kitchens, other cultures, other countries--an invitation to step into someone else's food traditions and, in so doing, better understand the world around us and ourselves. That's why cookbooks will forever beat any Internet recipe collection in my world; I am as hungry for the stories and the photos cookbook authors prepare as I am for the dishes they promise I can make at home.

Disasters: Imaginary & Otherwise

Some of the books I've been thinking about lately seem unsettlingly well-matched to our strange times. Consider Yun Ko-Eun's The Disaster Tourist (Counterpoint, translated by Lizzie Buehler). Yona Kim is a program manager for a Korean travel company that specializes in "surveying disaster zones and molding them into travel destinations‚Ķ. Learning about misfortune was what Yona did." Even as I read this novel last summer, I was past wondering who might book such a trip (see Chernobyl tours). Ironically, thousands of people had just been rescued from Covid-laced cruise ships worldwide.

Live from New York, It's Saturday Night!

Early in the first Saturday Night Live episode to air after the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks, speaking to an audience and nation still shaken, SNL creator Lorne Michaels asked then-mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani, "Can we be funny?" Giuliani's comeback: "Why start now?"

All Animals A-Board

Animal books, like counting books and abecedaries, are part of the bedrock of children's literature. The following board books excellently showcase animals to teach about opposites, family and, well, the animals themselves.

'Hell of a Year, Isn't It?'

"Hell of a year, isn't it--Mr. Frost, Ted [Roethke], & now Louis [MacNiece], whom I loved. Keep well, be good, the devil roams." This sentence, also appropriate for 2020, opens a letter in 1963 to Robert Lowell that is included in The Selected Letters of John Berryman, edited by Philip Coleman & Calista McRae (Belknap Press). Sylvia Plath and William Carlos Williams also died in '63. Hell of a year indeed.

Gift Books for Kids, Tweens & Teens--Plus, Vampires Are Back!

I love this gift book issue because it gives me a chance to design a list for readers of all ages that includes fiction, nonfiction, classics and books that invite engagement through puzzles, journaling and crafting. Even more, I love using this space to tell you about a few more titles that would be great for gift-giving. The theme? Vampires!

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