Over the course of my lifetime, several noteworthy relationship guides have emerged from a generally uninspiring landscape. In the early ’90s, it was MEN ARE FROM MARS, WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS. If you came of age in the early aughts, you had HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU. Until now, that was my personal bible on matters of the heart (it’s EMPOWERING, okay?). But then, on a sunny day in June 2015, came the relationship book to end all relationship books: Aziz Ansari’s MODERN ROMANCE.
Alexander Hamilton’s life is perhaps best known for its end: he was mortally wounded in a duel with political rival Aaron Burr. But his personal life and political achievements are fascinating, impressive, and—until recently—underappreciated. Here is a man who, though featured on our ten-dollar bill, many Americans know little about. I was certainly one of them for many years.
I’ve spent much of my twenties trying to come to terms with my awkwardness, cringing months—years, even—after any given social misstep. Enter Issa Rae, the queen of graceless girls like me. Her web series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” and hilarious resulting memoir provide an uncannily accurate and helpful guide for navigating the world as an awkward black girl.
Cleopatra: A Life, like all good nonfiction, sticks to the facts and avoids exaggeration. Yet it still reads as part drama, part farce, part tragedy, part thriller, and part romance, bringing new meaning to the old adage, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”
In the mid-1980s my new assistant came to Simon & Schuster from a law firm in Atlanta that specialized in entertainment law. Together, we went over the firm’s list of clients and agreed that one we most wanted to sign up for Simon & Schuster was Miles Davis. I had long been a fan of Miles’s music. As it turned out, Miles was ready to tell his story. Before long we had his autobiography under contract, pending a meeting in person.
After a long illness, my mother died when I was twenty. When your mother dies when you are young, every day is Mother’s Day. When someone hurts your feelings, you think of how she’d comfort you, if she were here. You fall in love, you fall out of love, you marry, you have children, you get a promotion, you are laid off, and you think of her. Unless you can’t forgive her for leaving too soon, you will idealize her love and kindness for all time to come.
In my bookstore, when I pull The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman off the shelf for a prospective reader, I usually say that it’s my wife’s favorite book ever, which it is, or at least was the last time I badgered her to choose (she doesn’t like declaring favorites as much as I do). But really it’s one of mine, too.
In the fall of 1991, I was working on the side of freeways in and around Salt Lake City planting trees. Planting trees sounds a bit glamourous to the uninitiated, or it did to me. I pictured forests, a small shovel, and little saplings to tuck in the ground.
When it was time for our book club to pick our next book, an email went around with some suggestions and images of the book jackets. When I saw the cover for H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, I immediately voted for “the book with the hawk on it.” I admit I didn’t read the summary of the book—I was drawn to the cover. It is a beautiful illustration, and, well, I simply like it.
If any writer has mastered the art of finding humor in the grotesque, it’s Augusten Burroughs. Really, he had no choice. If he had taken to heart every trauma of his childhood, he would never have made it to adulthood—much less to his status as a New York Times bestselling author. As my grandmother always tells me, ‘If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry’—and Burroughs’s memoir, Running with Scissors, exemplifies this philosophy.