9 Books You Should Be Reading This December
From Steve Martin to Soviet skyscrapers, it's not a bad way to end a good year for books
With the month of December on us, we’ve reached the end of the year — and the allure of “Best of 2020” book lists is hard to deny. But not every memorable book released in a given year hits bookshelves before the final weeks of that year, and this month still brings with it a lot of great reads. The books we’re most excited about this month range from incisive works of fiction to groundbreaking cultural studies. As you start to bundle up for the cold weather, one of these could be your new favorite read — or a perfect gift for someone in your life.
Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West by Laura Redniss (Dec. 1)
You might know Laura Redniss from her book Radioactive, a biography of Marie and Peter Curie that was recently adapted for film. Her approach blends a host of methods, including reporting, oral histories and visual storytelling. (You can get a sense of some of them in this excerpt.) In Oak Flat, Redniss documents an Apache family’s attempts to prevent sacred land from being mined — an issue that’s only become more resonant with time.
Transcendent Waves: How Listening Shapes Our Creative Lives by Lavender Suarez (Dec. 15)
Lavender Suarez’s work takes many forms. She’s lectured and performed at a host of museums, has released a number of albums and has a career as a sound healer. It’s this last aspect of Suarez’s work that comes to the forefront in the new book Transcendent Waves, offering readers a meditative (literally, in some cases) take on sound and how it can affect creativity and one’s sense of self.
Black Futures by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham (Dec. 1)
In an essay that ran in The New York Times Magazine earlier this year, Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham wrote about the impetus behind this massive archival work. “The ephemerality of social media terrified us, and as such, inspired us,” they wrote. “We also wanted to acknowledge and assemble the multifaceted tiers of dialogues happening among activists, artists, academics, performers and athletes about Black life today.” The result is a work that gathers together everything ranging from art to memes — and everything in between.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (Dec. 1)
In this newly-translated novel, Toshikazu Kawaguchi offers a unique spin on time travel narratives. Before the Coffee Gets Cold centers around a Tokyo cafe which offers its customers something else notable. No, not delicious pastries; instead, visitors there can travel through time. How a quartet of customers explore that facet of the business is at the heart of this particular book.
A Wealth of Pigeons by Steve Martin and Harry Bliss (Dec. 1)
Steve Martin: actor! Writer! Bluegrass musician! And, as it turns out, pigeon enthusiast. Working in collaboration with Harry Bliss, whose work you may know from The New Yorker, Martin explored the secret lives of a certain variety of bird. Apparently psilocybin also makes an appearance, for anyone who doubts that pigeons can be interesting.
Moscow Monumental: Soviet Skyscrapers and Urban Life in Stalin’s Capital by Katherine Zubovich (Dec. 8)
There’s been plenty written about mid-century architecture in the United States over the years — but what about its counterpart on the other side of the world? In Katherine Zubovich’s Moscow Monumental, the author explores how Stalin-era plans for skyscrapers forever altered the streets and skyline of Moscow. For readers fascinated by urban planning and architecture, this one offers plenty to think about.
The New Rules of Cheese: A Freewheeling and Informative Guide by Anne Saxelby (Dec. 1)
Across the world, cheesemakers are reviving old traditions and breaking new ground. Whether you’re in the traditionalist camp or appreciate experimentation, there’s a lot to like. (There’s also the fact that cheese is delicious.) Anne Saxelby’s The New Rules of Cheese features a great overview of the world of cheese in 2020, along with tips on everything from tasting technique to repurposing leftover cheeses.
Nights When Nothing Happened by Simon Han (Dec. 1)
Over the years, the suburbs have been the setting of plenty of great fiction. Simon Han’s debut novel explores an immigrant family living near Dallas, and the way that a bout of sleepwalking ends up putting their lives askew. Ambitious and emotionally complex, this takes the suburban novel in an intriguing new direction.
Can’t Slow Down: How 1984 Became Pop’s Blockbuster Year by Michaelangelo Matos (Dec. 8)
If you had to choose to listen to the pop hits of one year and one year only, 1984 might well be your best bet. The year included groundbreaking work by Madonna, Prince and Bruce Springsteen — and that’s just scratching the surface. In Can’t Slow Down, Michaelangelo Matos explores the history that led to this particular music — and reveals the unexpected connections below it all.
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