Our picks for the best books of November include everything from Jeff Tweedy’s new memoir to N.K. Jemisin’s first short story collection. Tackling everything from serial killers to insomnia to religion, these 10 books (listed in alphabetical order) are must-reads.
Why You’ll Love It: Because it’s an authentic memoir from Michelle Obama. Enough said.
Description: As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—Michelle Obama helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier lives and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments.
In her memoir, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms.
Why You’ll Love It: Marketed as a “magical Hurt Locker,” Mirah Bolender’s debut novel will leave you clamoring for her next book.
Description: Five hundred years ago, magi created a weapon they couldn’t control. An infestation that ate magic—and anything else it came into contact with. Enemies and allies were equally filling.
Only an elite team of non-magical humans, known as sweepers, can defuse and dispose of infestations before they spread. Most die before they finish training.
Laura, a new team member, has stayed alive longer than most. Now, she’s the last—and only—sweeper standing between the city and a massive infestation.
Why You’ll Love It: N.K. Jemisin’s has authored numerous Hugo Award-winning novels (her Broken Earth trilogy is exquisite), so her first short story collection is a must-read.
Description: N.K. Jemisin is one of the most powerful and acclaimed speculative fiction authors of our time. In the first collection of her evocative short fiction, Jemisin equally challenges and delights readers with thought-provoking narratives of destruction rebirth, and redemption.
Dragons and hateful spirits haunt the flooded streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow South must save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo Award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.
Why You’ll Love It: Marina Benjamin’s slim book exploring insomnia offers an odd yet captivating journey through the nature of sleep.
Description: Insomnia is on the rise. Villainous and unforgiving, it’s the enemy of energy and focus, the thief of our repose. But can insomnia be an ally, too, a validator of the present moment? Marina Benjamin takes on her personal experience of the condition—her struggles with it, her insomniac highs and her dawning awareness that states of sleeplessness grant us valuable insights into the workings of our unconscious minds. Although insomnia is rarely entirely welcome, Benjamin treats it less as an affliction than as an encounter that she engages with and plumbs. She adds new dimensions to both our understanding of sleep (and going without it) and of night, and how we perceive darkness. Along the way, Insomnia trips through illuminating material from literature, art, philosophy, psychology, pop culture and more.
“This is the song of insomnia, and I shall sing it,” Benjamin declares.
Description: Few bands have inspired as much devotion as the Chicago rock band Wilco, and it’s thanks, in large part, to the band’s singer, songwriter and guiding light: Jeff Tweedy. But while his songs and music have been endlessly discussed and analyzed, Tweedy has rarely talked so directly about himself, his life and his artistic process. Until now.
In his long-awaited memoir, Tweedy tells stories about his childhood in Belleville, Illinois; the St. Louis record store, rock clubs and live-music circuit that sparked his songwriting and performing career; and the Chicago scene that brought it all together. He also talks in-depth about his collaborators in Uncle Tupelo, Wilco and more; and he writes lovingly about his parents, wife Susie and sons. Honest, funny and disarming, Tweedy’s memoir brings readers inside both his life and his musical process, illuminating his singular genius and sharing his story.
Why You’ll Love It: If the title doesn’t grip you, Oyinkan Braithwaite’s amusing and chilling prose will draw you in from page one.
Description: Korede is bitter. How could she not be? Her sister, Ayoola, is many things: the favorite child, the beautiful one, possibly sociopathic. And now Ayoola’s third boyfriend in a row is dead.
Korede’s practicality is the sisters’ saving grace. She knows the best solutions for cleaning blood, the trunk of her car is big enough for a body and she keeps Ayoola from posting pictures of her dinner to Instagram when she should be mourning her “missing” boyfriend. Not that she gets any credit.
Korede has long been in love with a kind, handsome doctor at the hospital where she works. She dreams of the day when he will realize that she’s exactly what he needs. But when he asks Korede for Ayoola’s phone number, she must reckon with what her sister has become and how far she’s willing to go to protect her.
Why You’ll Love It: In attempting to solve “an unexplained death” that occurred in her apartment building, Mikita Brottman delivers a true crime book that intriguingly explores our fascination with mystery. (Read our full review here.)
Description: “The poster is new. I notice it right away, taped to a utility pole. Beneath the word ‘Missing,’ printed in a bold, high-impact font, are two sepia-toned photographs of a man dressed in a bow tie and tux.”
Most people would keep walking; maybe they’d pay a bit closer attention to the local news that evening. But Mikita Brottman spent 10 years sifting through the details of the missing man’s life and disappearance, and his purported suicide by jumping from the roof of her own apartment building, the Belvedere. As Brottman delves into the murky circumstances surrounding Rey Rivera’s death—which begins to look more and more like a murder—she contemplates the nature of and motives behind suicide, and uncovers a haunting pattern of guests at the Belvedere, when it was still a historic hotel, taking their own lives on the premises. Finally, she fearlessly takes us to the edge of her own morbid curiosity and asks us to consider our own darker impulses and obsessions.
Why You’ll Love It: Called the “anti-Harry Potter” by the Washington Post, this Russian fantasy novel offers as enthralling and unsettling read for fans of The Magicians.
Description: Sasha Samokhina has been accepted to the Institute of Special Technologies. Or, more precisely, she’s been chosen.
Situated in a tiny village, she finds the students are bizarre, and the curriculum is even more so. The books are impossible to read, the lessons obscure to the point of maddening and the work refuses memorization. Using terror and coercion to keep the students in line, the school does not punish them for their transgressions and failures; instead, it is their families that pay a terrible price. Yet despite her fear, Sasha undergoes changes that defy the dictates of matter and time; experiences which are nothing she has ever dreamed of…and suddenly all she could ever want.
Why You’ll Love It: In arguing for a progressive interpretation of the Constitution, Erwin Chemerinsky provides the blueprint for change that the United States desperately needs right now. (Read our essay about the book here.)
Description: University of California Berkeley Dean and respected legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky expertly exposes how conservatives are using the Constitution to advance their own agenda that favors business over consumers and employees, and government power over individual rights.
But exposure is not enough. Progressives have spent too much of the last 45 years trying to preserve the legacy of the Warren Court’s most important rulings and reacting to the Republican-dominated Supreme Courts by criticizing their erosion of rights—but have not yet developed a progressive vision for the Constitution itself. Yet, if we just look to the promise of the Preamble—liberty and justice for all—and take seriously its vision, a progressive reading of the Constitution can lead us forward as we continue our fight ensuring democratic rule, effective government, justice, liberty and equality.
Why You’ll Love It: Elaine Pagels’ powerful memoir-cum-meditation on religion reveals the power of religious rhetoric and defines its place in the world today. (Read our full review here.)
Description: Why is religion still around in the 21st century? Why do so many still believe? And how do various traditions still shape the way people experience everything from sexuality to politics, whether they are religious or not?
These questions took on a new urgency for Elaine Pagels when dealing with unimaginable loss—the death of her young son, followed a year later by the shocking loss of her husband. Here she interweaves a personal story with the work that she loves, illuminating how, for better and worse, religious traditions have shaped how we understand ourselves; how we relate to one another; and, most importantly, how to get through the most difficult challenges we face. Drawing upon the perspectives of neurologists, anthropologists, and historians, as well as her own research, Pagels opens unexpected ways of understanding persistent religious aspects of our culture.