Reading Round-Up: February

We asked everyone in the office to talk about their favorite books from the last month. Take a look at our favorite reads from February, and let us know in the comments which books you’ll be adding to your to-read list. From nonfiction to comedy to graphic novel, there’s something for everyone here!

9

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey

Page count: 290
Genre: Nonfiction; Politics
Publish date: 2018

I was surprised at how much I loved A Higher Loyalty. In it, James Comey talks about how he worked his way up the ladder in the Department of Justice, becoming FBI Director after Robert Mueller and ultimately getting fired by President Donald J. Trump. As of this blog post, that firing is part of an active obstruction-of-justice investigation.

In a time in which ethical leadership seems to be going extinct, this is a must-read. Whether Comey was standing up to Dick Cheney, Donald Trump, mafia bosses, or even Martha Stewart fans against her 2002 arrest, he was always guided by his moral compass. He emphasizes his respect for the rule of law, truth, and justice, and he discusses how he injected those values into every aspect of his career and personal life. If you’re a manager, team captain, or just someone in search of another person who believes in honest-to-goodness justice, humanity, and leadership, give this a read—I think you’ll be surprised.

— Samantha, Head of Marketing

10

Chasing the Scream: the First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari

Page count: 400
Genre: Nonfiction; History
Publish date: 2015

Chasing the Scream takes a journalistic look into the history of the “war on drugs,” beginning long before Richard Nixon coined the phrase or the Reagans told us to “just say no.” Exploring American drug policy and its selective (read: racially-biased) enforcement, Hari traces this story back to Henry Anslinger, the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics ; Arnold Rothstein, New York mobster and kingpin; and the tragic biography of Billie Holiday, her upbringing, and her lifelong struggle with addiction. Hari traces those origins to ongoing issues in drug policy, enforcement, and punishment in the United States, comparing it to international addiction rehabilitation support services.

To those who consider non-fiction too dense or dry: this is a perfect blend of journalism, history, and politics with dramatic narrative style. I recommend Chasing the Scream to anyone who wants a glimpse into a historically and currently contentious topic as well as an all-around captivating read.

— Sophie, Editorial Intern

11

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Page count: 562
Genre: Fiction
Publish date: 2010

This February, I read Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. The novel follows several members of the Berglund family: Walter, Patty, and their two children, Joey and Jessica. It also follows some of the family members’ friends and significant others, such as Richard (Walter’s best friend from college) and Connie (Joey’s on-again, off-again girlfriend).

Franzen’s writing style in this novel is gorgeous, and the structure of the book jumps from character to character, allowing the reader to develop a deep sense of who each family member is. Franzen explores the dysfunction of the family and their various fallings-out with one another. His exploration of each character is unflinchingly honest about their flaws and sincerely empathetic to them—a rare combination. I loved this story because it was never overwhelmingly optimistic or pessimistic; rather, it was an authentic portrayal of familial life, in which the characters both loved and hurt each other.

— Anna, Editorial Intern

12

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

Page count: 288
Genre: Nonfiction
Publish date: 1974

This February, I read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a Pulitzer-prize winning work of creative nonfiction that is required reading for any nature enthusiast. Dillard’s narrative is told in first person and follows her explorations and observations during a year at Tinker Creek, outside of Roanoke, Virginia. It’s similar to Thoreau’s Walden in structure and purpose, although Dillard’s work is more thought-provoking and genuine. At times challenging, at times enrapturing, Tinker Creek provides fascinating details on the flora and fauna of the area and explores what it means to be self-aware in a chaotic, wonderful world.

— Wes, Managing Editor

13

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Page count: 277
Genre: Fiction
Publish date: 1951

This month, I read J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. I’d heard the title tossed around enough that I knew it was a book I should probably read sometime in my life. I didn’t enjoy the writing, and it was not a pleasant read, which I attribute to Holden’s repetitive style of narrating and his general untrustworthiness. That being said, I loved the puzzle. It’s thanks to our eNotes book club that I felt I had the ability to read between the lines and discern exactly what was going on with Holden Caulfield. On the surface, the story seemed to follow a troublesome kid who was too hypocritical to ever be able to create meaningful relationships. But beneath that, The Catcher in the Rye is a heartbreaking tale about an undiagnosed, depressed teen who didn’t have the resources to heal from his own trauma.

— Kate, Marketing Coordinator

14

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Page count: 240
Genre: Graphic Novel; YA
Publish date: 2006

This month, I read American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. As a daughter of immigrants, I connected to American Born Chinese on a personal level. It starts with three separate tales and tackles the different kinds of racism, insecurity, and shame people of color (specifically Asians) deal with in the United States. These three stories show that no matter how subtle racism is, it can affect and stick with the person. Yang reveals these lessons through wonderfully colored and illustrated comic strips, inviting anyone and everyone to read it.

— June, Designer

15

The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar by Helen Vendler

Page count: 464
Genre: Poetry; Essays
Publish date: 2015

Recently, I’ve been reading Helen Vendler’s The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar, a collection of critical essays about poetry. In each essay, Vendler adeptly guides us into the depths of a single poem or reveals the rich, surprising connections among several poems. Though she attends to authors’ biographies and historical contexts, she is chiefly interested in poetic form. Matters of syntax, rhythm, address, and allusion fascinate Vendler, and she succeeds in conveying her fascinations and insights through elegant prose. I recommend this collection to anyone who wants to roll up their sleeves and read some poetry alongside a master critic.

— Zack, Editor

16

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

Page count: 144
Genre: Plays
Publish date: 1949

Working in theater really cuts down on time for anything that isn’t working in theater. It also leads to deep, intimate familiarity with a single text. Over the last month, I’ve read Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman at least twenty times, for detail and for prop tracking and for cue placement and for theme. There’s something reassuring in Willy Loman’s scattered bluster and self-deception; in Biff’s forced self-discovery, necessitated by a young adulthood spent as a combination of Brock Turner and Brett Kavanaugh; in Hap’s tragically empty womanizing. Sure, the destructive powers of toxic masculinity might have made it only recently to the forefront of the cultural conversation, but they’ve been known and recorded for a long time. Hopefully, it means we’re closer than we think to some change.

— Caitlin, Associate Editor

17

Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith

Page count: 320
Genre: Nonfiction; Essays
Publish date: 2009

This February, I read Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind, a book of essays full of wit, humor, and insight. From writing about her travels in Liberia to the Oscars, from Kafka to Zora Neale Hurston, from her father’s terminal illness to their shared love of British comedy, her essays range in personal, cultural, cinematic, and theoretical focuses. One of my favorite essays, “Speaking In Tongues,” adapted from one of her lectures, delves into race and dialect and investigates how much we reveal about ourselves—from just the very words that leave our mouths. The first seven essays are crucial for aspiring writers. In fact, the entire book is crucial for any avid reader looking to read great prose from a sharp and thoughtful novelist.

— Marianne, Editorial Intern

18

There Should Be Flowers by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza

Page count: 100
Genre: Poetry; LGBTQ+
Publish date: 2016

This New Year’s, I resolved to incorporate poetry back into my reading life, and I’m so glad I did—otherwise I might have missed Joshua Jennifer Espinoza’s gut-wrenchingly beautiful collection There Should Be Flowers. These poems seared into my skin like the Inland Empire heat that pervades the book’s atmosphere and made me think of a line by Emily Dickinson: “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” There Should Be Flowers took the top of my head off, blessedly let some of the pressure out, and let in a sense of gratitude for sheer survival. I can’t wait for the re-release of her relatably titled debut collection, i’m alive / it hurts / i love it.

— Jules, Editor

19

You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian

Page count: 240
Genre: Fiction; Short Story Collection
Publish date: 2019

After reading Kristen Roupenian’s viral sensation, “Cat Person,” I had high expectations for her debut short-story collection. There are only a few stories from this collection that I’d recommend reading: “The Good Guy” and “Matchbox Sign.” I think Roupenian’s voice is refreshingly bold and has the ability to convey relatable, often disturbing, truths of a shared female experience. However, I felt that the voice that I was captivated by in “Cat Person” did not shine through the majority of works in this collection. I’m trying to acknowledge that producing a debut collection surrounded by so much hype may be destined to disappoint, but the beauty of these short stories is that they’re quick to read and don’t necessarily have to be read as part of the collection. I think that You Know You Want This has some gems, but you’ll have sift through several pages to find them. Alternatively, you could wait and see what HBO does with this collection, since they’re currently adapting the short story collection into a new series.  

— Savannah, Social Media Manager