'The Wangs vs. the World’ by Jade Chang
"The Wangs vs. the World" is a refreshingly funny twist on the immigrant story of rags to riches…to rags again. Charles Wang builds a lucrative cosmetics empire only to see it all fall apart in the 2008 financial crisis. His response is to gather his scattered family – his image-conscious second wife, precocious fashion-blogging daughter and aspiring stand-up comedian son – into his 80s station wagon and road-trip cross-country to his eldest daughter’s farmhouse in upstate New York. What follows is a blistering adventure from Los Angeles, California to Helios, New York. Along the way, the Wangs realize that it is love – not money – that makes the world go round. This compassionate, high-energy novel brilliantly conveys the mish-mash of identity, culture and societal expectations that make up our modern-day American reality.
‘Outline’ by Rachel Cusk
Like the blue Mediterranean where "Outline" takes place, Rachel Cusk’s semi-memoir retains a depth of perspective that transcends space and time. The unnamed narrator believes in the "virtues of passivity and of living a life as unmarked by self-will as possible," a view that contrasts sharply with the desperate attempts of other characters to defend their own existences. The narrator becomes a medium through which her students, fellow writers and a man she meets on a plane disclose their deepest insecurities and admit to their most regrettable human failings. The series of conversations speaks to the fleeting moments of permeability between ourselves and strangers that occur when we stop to listen. Loved this one? Look out for Rachel’s next book, "Transit: A Novel," released January 2017.
‘The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo’ by Amy Schumer
Amy Schumer will tell you herself that "The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo" is not a self-help book. It is a confessional non-memoir of Amy’s greatest regrets and sweetest accomplishments. With a title inspired by a tribal-like "tramp stamp" Amy received when she was twenty, this collection of essays is an ode to imperfection. Amy wears her mistakes like a badge of honor, recognizing that they make her human, and she calls on the rest of us to do the same. She shares excerpts from her 13-year-old self’s diary, speaks to not having money and having lots of it, and tells the tale of her only one-night stand. These unabashedly frank confessions ultimately show that relationships with family, lovers and oneself are everything.
‘I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This’ by Nadja Spiegelman
"I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This" is author Nadja Spiegelman’s journey to understand herself through life lessons, hardships and secrets passed down from mother to daughter. Nadja interviews her mother – the glamorous art editor of The New Yorker – and then travels to France to speak with her grandmother – ex-wife to one of the most renowned plastic surgeons in Paris. Over the course of the interviews, Nadja notices discrepancies in some of their shared recollections that cause her to question the truth of her own memories. From her mother’s youth in protest-wrought Paris during the 1960s to her own childhood in New York City following 9/11, Nadja shows how our most important moments can be morphed to project the versions of ourselves we wish to remember. Nadja concludes her memoir with an ethereal vision of her mother strolling toward the ocean across a white sand beach. The image resonates with the otherworldly connection felt between mothers and daughters.
‘Swing Time’ by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith’s fifth novel, "Swing Time," zigzags between the unnamed narrator’s crisis-steeped adult present with her idealized past. The nine years the narrator spends working for a Madonna-like pop star wash away in a sudden monsoon of a scandal that causes her to reflect back on her youth spent playing with her best friend – the only other "brown girl" in dance class. From watching VHS tapes of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to catching a glimpse of her estranged friend years later – dancing on a balcony surrounded by her own children – the chronicle of one woman’s unique path unearths deeper truths about humanity. In the end, the narrator’s past and present coalesce in a quest for self-realization that captures how childhood experiences define us for a lifetime.
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