Of All The Books I’ve Reviewed This Year, Here Are the Ones You Should Read First

In reverse chronological order, roughly; not necessarily the order in which I endorse them.

1. BYE, MZUNGU! by Janice Ellen Lever.  Lever’s memoir of her eighteen years running a kindergarten in Uganda is funny, adventurous, sweet, and absorbing all at once.  If you’ve been to East Africa, you’ll know what she’s talking about at once; if you haven’t, this book is a great way to go without risking malaria.

2. FOUNDATION: THE HISTORY OF ENGLAND FROM ITS EARLIEST BEGINNINGS TO THE TUDORS, by Peter Ackroyd. The first of six planned volumes covering the entire history of England, Foundations contains not only dates and battles but also construction manuals and poo jokes.  (TRUE FACT: one of the oldest continually-used words in the English language is “turd.”)

3.  THE GOOD GIRLS REVOLT: HOW THE WOMEN OF NEWSWEEK SUED THEIR BOSSES AND CHANGED THE WORKPLACE, by Lynn Povich.  Povich digs into the little-known history of Newsweek’s EEOC lawsuit in the 1970s and how, the more things changed at the storied publication, the more they stayed the same.

4.  OPIUM FIEND: A 21st CENTURY SLAVE TO A 20th CENTURY ADDICTION, by Steven Martin.  At first pulled into collecting opium paraphernalia by the drug’s extraordinary art and history, Martin soon discovers its uses – and its traps.

5.  FULL BODY BURDEN: GROWING UP IN THE NUCLEAR SHADOW OF ROCKY FLATS, by Kirsten Iverson. Rocky Flats manufactured the plutonium “pits” of nuclear bombs for several decades; Iverson and those who lived near the plant and its contaminated air, soil, and water supply paid the price.

6.  RED NAILS, BLACK SKATES: GENDER, CASH, AND PLEASURE ON AND OFF THE ICE, by Erica Rand.  Rand explores gender and sexuality issues as they relate to figure skating, hockey, and roller derby, as both an observer and a participant.

7.  PARIS, I LOVE YOU BUT YOU’RE BRINGING ME DOWN, by Rosecrans Baldwin.  Baldwin and his wife pick up and move to France, where he takes a job at an ad agency and she struggles to learn French in this funny and touching memoir.

8.  DREAMING IN FRENCH: THE PARIS YEARS OF JACQUELINE BOUVIER KENNEDY, SUSAN SONTAG, AND ANGELA DAVIS, by Alice Kaplan.  The time in Paris spent, but not shared, by three of the twentieth century’s most prominent women are detailed and discussed in this slim, readable volume.

9.  ARCADIA, by Lauren Groff.  Life in a hippie commune and after, through the eyes of one of the group’s youngest (and smallest) members.

10. A GOOD AND USEFUL HURT, by Aric Davis.  Featuring serial killers, tattoo parlors, and ghost revenge, this is probably one of those “so, so addled” books – but it’s a delightful read.

About Dani Alexis

Dani Alexis is a freelance writer, book critic, and full-time radical intersectionalist who works under the disapproving but adorable supervision of a deaf, epileptic Turkish Angora. She got a law degree once, but it didn't take.
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7 Responses to Of All The Books I’ve Reviewed This Year, Here Are the Ones You Should Read First

  1. Leah says:

    I really liked Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down and Arcadia as well. Good choices!

    The History of England looks really interesting. How does it read? I don’t read much history because I’m scarred by all the years of dry textbook writing; does this have more color/is it more fun to read than the typical textbook?

    • Dani Alexis says:

      It’s definitely an easier read than your average textbook. It’s not quite a novel, but the author goes out of his way to include interesting trivia, odd moments in history, etc. I’ve read histories of England that were much, much drier.

  2. Oh! I want to read them all! From this list I’ve only read Arcadia and I really enjoyed it. I love all the nonfic on you list, that’s my fave to read :)

  3. jmdustwalker says:

    So I see your partial re-read with liveblogging of “Atlas Shrugged” didn’t make the cut. Given up?

    • Dani Alexis says:

      If by “given up” you mean “have vague intentions of starting again, but I’ve just started to feel so sorry for this poor book that it’s tough to look it in the face,” then yes, exactly. :)

      Also, getting married and moving house and grad school applications got in the way, but I no longer have those excuses – so I definitely need to get back to the liveblogging.

      • jmdustwalker says:

        I can understand that. Congrats on the marriage. Congrats on the new house. Sympathy on the grad school apps. I’ve done my three and now is the hardest part – hoping my recommendation writers don’t spaz on me. If they do their bit, waiting for acceptance/rejection is comparatively easy. Good luck with yours.

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