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Joe Louis Monument in Detroit(large fist punching

Making Sense of a New America: A Reading List

Books help us decipher our accelerated, ever-changing world, in which many aspects of American life are in flux. All of the titles below, whether they offer clarifying facts or imaginative interpretations, are sure to spark avid discussions.

Nonfiction

These thought-provoking works of narrative nonfiction, memoir, and a graphic novel in essays portray places in decline or busy reinventing themselves; ask where we are and where we might be heading in terms of jobs and the economy; and reveal what it’s like to immigrate to twenty-first-century America. —Annie Bostrom

American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land

by Monica Hesse

Hesse investigated a six-month arson spree in 2012 and 2013 in Accomack County, Virginia, uncovering motives both personal and universal as well as how these fires relate to the anxieties triggered by a rapidly changing nation.

StarA Booklist starred review.

2017. Norton/Liveright, $26.95 (9781631490514).

Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis

by Mark Binelli

Binelli presents a primer on Detroit, his native city, as both a symbol of urban decay and a place where he sees renewal and hope.

Read the full Booklist review.

2012. Holt/Metropolitan, $28 (9780805092295).

The End of Loyalty: The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America

by Rick Wartzman

Wartzman explores what could be the defining questions about jobs and the nature of corporate America in the twenty-first century in this well-researched, evenhanded chronicle long on significance and short on partisanship.

Read the full Booklist review.

2017. PublicAffairs, $30 (9781586489144).

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

by Matthew Desmond

In his Carnegie Medal winner, Desmond tells the stories of two landlords and eight tenant families in Milwaukee, revealing how eviction sets people up to fail.

StarA Booklist starred review.

2016. Crown, $28 (9780553447439).

Factory Man

by Beth Macy

Macy profiles a Virginia factory owner who fought to save his company and employees’ livelihoods from foreign competition and shares other personal stories from the front lines of American manufacturing.

Read the full Booklist review.

2014. Little, Brown, $28 (9780316231435).

Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town

by Brian Alexander

Alexander’s in-depth examination of Lancaster, Ohio, contrasts his hometown’s remarkable industrial history with its current status as a poverty-stricken community. An emotionally intense account of social and economic realities found across the U.S.

Read the full Booklist review.

2017. St. Martin’s, $26.99 (9781250085801).

Imagine Wanting Only This

by Kristen Radtke

In this graphic novel in essays, Radtke explores her fascination with ruins, both in the U.S. and abroad. What do ruins mean in America and in countries with a longer history?

StarA Booklist starred review.

2017. Pantheon, $29.95 (9781101870839).

Threading My Prayer Rug: One Woman’s Journey from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim

by Sabeeha Rehman

Rehman recounts how she navigated American society as an immigrant, retaining her identity while modifying some traditions and manufacturing new ones on her way to becoming a business executive.

StarA Booklist starred review.

2016. Arcade, $25.99 (9781628726633).

Fiction

The authors of these provocative, ripe-for-discussion novels use incisive humor as a mode for addressing complex questions about the enormous impact social media and other online phenomena have on every aspect of our lives, offering unprecedented access to and connection with the world while also blurring the distinction between facts and lies, eroding privacy, undermining trust, and impacting livelihoods. —Donna Seaman

The Boat Rocker

by Ha Jin

Ha Jin’s droll and suspenseful tale of Feng Danlin, a newly naturalized American citizen and boldly idealistic journalist in New York, raises urgent questions about the role of the press, fake news, censorship, and corruption in the Internet age.

StarA Booklist starred review.

2016. Vintage, $16 (9780804170376).

The Circle

by Dave Eggers

Mae is thrilled to be working at the Circle, a Bay Area tech company, until she discovers that it’s a short step from social media to relentless surveillance. Eggers’ novel is eerily plausible.

StarA Booklist starred review.

2013. Vintage, $16 (9780345807298).

Goodbye for Now

by Laurie Frankel

In Frankel’s emotionally rich tale of love and loss in the digital realm, software engineer Sam develops an algorithm to find not just a date but a soul mate, then moves on to enable electronic communication with DLOs (dead loves ones).

StarA Booklist starred review.

2012. Anchor, $15 (9780307951274).

John Henry Days

by Colson Whitehead

Whitehead contrasts the African American folk hero John Henry, the “steel-driving man,” with a struggling African American journalist in this funny, inventive, and bittersweet novel contrasting the industrial and information ages.

StarA Booklist starred review.

2001. Anchor, $15.95 (9780385498203).

Luminarium

by Alex Shakar

Twin brothers created a virtual-world venture now owned by a rapacious corporation within the “Military-Entertainment Complex.” With George in a coma, Fred embarks on a strange, techno-spiritual quest that juxtaposes prayers and algorithms, e-mails and metaphysics.

StarA Booklist starred review.

2011. Soho, $15 (9781616951832).

Super Sad True Love Story

by Gary Shteyngart

In this devilishly hilarious satire, Shteyngart sets the love story of Lenny Abramov and Eunice Park within a digital dystopia where books are taboo and diabolical devices broadcast everyone’s finances, biochemistry, and sex appeal as America collapses into ineptness, chaos, and tyranny.

StarA Booklist starred review.

2010. Random, $17 (9780812977868).

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

by Joshua Ferris

Ferris introduces Paul, a Manhattan dentist who dislikes religion, other people, and modern technology as he discovers that impostors have stolen his professional identity and set up a fake website, Facebook page, and Twitter account.

Read the full Booklist review.

2014. Back Bay, $16 (9780316033992).

Touch

by Courtney Maum

In Maum’s charming and funny mix of romantic comedy and acid social critique, trend-forecaster Sloane accepts a job at a showy tech firm, but instead of initiating luxury electronics, she finds herself advocating for less screen time and more human-to-human contact.

StarA Booklist starred review.

2017. Putnam, $26 (9780735212121).

 

This piece will be published in the July 2017 issue of Booklist.

Image of Joe Louis Monument in Detroit by Moon Man Mike, used under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

 

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