Like it or not, 2023 is beginning to wind down, with only two months left before 2024 enters the picture and brings both the Summer Olympics and a presidential election. This month’s book recommendations don’t have much to do with either of those events, but they might help bolster your knowledge of how certain parts of the world work, be it social networks or the stand-up comedy scene. Here’s a look at 10 books with a lot to say about a host of topics — just the thing to have on hand for a cozy autumn read.
Jesse David Fox, Comedy Book: How Comedy Conquered Culture — And the Magic That Makes It Work (Nov. 7)
Few people writing about comedy nowadays do so with the diligence or verve that Jesse David Fox brings to the table. You might recognize him from his work as host of the podcast Good One, or his incisive writing on the subject at Vulture and elsewhere. At a time when comedians are getting massive deals from streaming services and comedians occupy a substantial share of the pop culture space, a comprehensive look at how we got here feels like essential reading — and that’s exactly what Fox has assembled.
Tim Schwab, The Bill Gates Problem: Reckoning with the Myth of the Good Billionaire (Nov. 14)
When writing about the very wealthy and influential, it can be a challenge to filter out both overwhelming hype and overwhelming disdain. With his new book, journalist Tim Schwab offers a candid and detailed look at Bill Gates and his nonprofit work — and what exactly the consequences of the Gates Foundation’s influence on public policy have been. It’s a subject he’s been chronicling for many years, and one that might well change the way you think about one of the highest-profile corporate figures of our time.
Carmen Maria Machado and J. Robert Lennon, editors, Critical Hits: Writers Playing Video Games (Nov. 21)
Multiple generations of acclaimed writers have come of age playing video games. In this book, the likes of Alexander Chee, Charlie Jane Anders and Hanif Abdurraqib ponder the role gaming has had in their lives. It’s an intriguing premise for an anthology, with the added bonus of the two editors involved with the project. Both Machado and Lennon have impressive bibliographies full of heady, compelling work; seeing what they come up with on the editorial side of things is an enticing prospect.
David Thomson, The Fatal Alliance: A Century of War on Film (Nov. 14)
Few writers discussing the cinematic world have reached the level of acclaim that David Thomson has attained. Thomson’s bibliography includes biographies of the likes of Orson Welles and Nicole Kidman, but his latest takes on a more sobering subject: the ways that wars are depicted on screen and the effects that these portrayals can have in the real world.
Jeff Tweedy, World Within a Song: Music That Changed My Life and Life That Changed My Music (Nov. 7)
When did Jeff Tweedy’s areas of expertise expand from simply being an acclaimed musician to being the kind of musician who can explain songcraft to the uninitiated? (I’d place it somewhere around Mermaid Avenue or the release of the documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, for my part.) With World Within a Song, Tweedy zeroes in on 50 songs that have a special place in his heart and explains just what it is about them that works so well.
Lauren Elkin, Art Monsters: Unruly Bodies in Feminist Art (Nov. 14)
Lauren Elkin’s nonfiction has the impressive ability to transform familiar experiences, from walking in a city to riding mass transit. Elkin is also an incisive observer of all things artistic, and with her new book Art Monsters, she turns her gaze to consider the art world and the role that bodies can play in that space. With thoughtful explorations of the work of artists like Eva Hesse and Kara Walker, Elkin’s new book might transform your next museum or gallery visit.
Nate Patrin, The Needle and the Lens: Pop Goes to the Movies from Rock ‘n’ Roll to Synthwave (Nov. 28)
A memorable soundtrack can make an already compelling movie that much better — and might forever transform a song in terms of how viewers see it. (It’s also something that applies to everything from Saturday Night Live-adjacent films to Quentin Tarantino’s filmography.) With his new book The Needle and the Lens, Nate Patrin offers readers a deep dive into the place where pop music and cinema converge and the ways in which that convergence transforms both mediums.
“The Black Angels” Unlocks a Historic Medical MysteryMaria Smilios’s new book describes the path towards curing tuberculosis
Shibani Mahtani and Tim McLaughlin, Among the Braves: Hope, Struggle, and Exile in the Battle for Hong Kong and the Future of Global Democracy (Nov. 7)
In 2019, the streets of Hong Kong were the site of widespread protests against the city’s government, a situation that led to both innovative methods of organizing and ominous repression from an authoritarian regime. In their book Among the Braves, Shibani Mahtani and Tim McLaughlin offer a comprehensive look at the situation on the ground during a time of protest, as well as a bigger-picture exploration of the protests’ implications on the wider world.
Casey Plett, On Community (Nov. 7)
There are plenty of reasons to savor belonging to a community, from the simple joy of being around other people to the documented benefit it can have on your physical and mental health. With her new book, Casey Plett explores the different meanings and implications of community and chronicles the different forms that it can take. As an added bonus, it’s probably the only book you’re going to read this year where the subject encompasses both Mennonite communities and hacker houses.
Jeff Horwitz, Broken Code: Inside Facebook and the Fight to Expose Its Harmful Secrets (Nov. 14)
In the 21st century, social media has gone from being a relatively niche subject to a place where we spend a substantial portion of our lives. What happens when the networks on which we do so head into ethically murky territory? Jeff Horwitz’s Broken Code expands on work its author did for the Wall Street Journal and chronicles the troubling omissions and paradoxes of an ubiquitous social network.
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