Hut's Place
 Weekly Words about New Books in
Independent Bookstores

November 15, 2020

Two New Memoirs Feature Fan Favorites in Politics and Arts & Letters

A Promised Land by Barack Obama. I know most of us are still recovering from arguably the most anxiety-producing election in this country's history. If you can still stomach politics and want to relive a kinder, more civil presidential reign, consider one of the holiday's season's biggest books. Arriving Tuesday is the first volume of Obama's presidential memoirs, in which the former president details both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency. He offers a thoughtful exploration of both the awesome reach and the limits of presidential power, as well as insights into the dynamics of U.S. partisan politics and international diplomacy.

The book's release has been carefully orchestrated, so there aren't lots of early reviews or leaks from the book. But if the publisher's description of the book is any indication, the former president is open and candid in sharing his experiences. Obama brings readers inside the Oval Office and the White House Situation Room, and to Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, and points beyond. We are privy to his thoughts as he assembles his cabinet, wrestles with a global financial crisis, takes the measure of Vladimir Putin, overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds to secure passage of the Affordable Care Act, clashes with generals about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, tackles Wall Street reform, and authorizes Operation Neptune's Spear, which leads to the death of Osama bin Laden. For political junkies, history buffs, and fans of Obama, this is a great holiday gift.

How Did I Get Here? A Memoir by Bruce McCall. He's not as widely well known as a past president, but the celebrated New Yorker cartoonist and former Saturday Night Live writer has plenty of fans of his own. He's also lived quite a life, from snowbound, post-World War II Ontario winters to Mad Men-era New York City to the hallowed halls of SNL and The New Yorker. His admirers include the likes of David Letterman, Steve Martin, and Roz Chast, all of whom praise his creativity and humor.

McCall's early love for automobiles led to a career in advertising in the 1950s and 1960s. He then landed a writing job at National Lampoon, which led to the writer's room in the early days of Saturday Night Live. He has been a contributor to The New Yorker since 1980, showcasing his dual talents for illustrating and writing by producing frequent covers and many witty Shouts and Murmurs pieces. In this memoir, he takes readers behind the scenes of it all, offering a window into places and experiences not often seen. Here's how Kirkus Reviews put it in its recent review of the book: "An affable memoir from The New Yorker cover artist and humorist...With potent affection and deadpan candor, McCall chronicles the struggles of his younger self, and his bemusement at ideas he'd once thought were ingenious is charming... [he] unfurls his memories with a raconteur's colorful flourishes... A leisurely diversion packed with insight and knowing panache."

Electrifying Slave Narrative Now in Paperback 
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates. He's made his reputation as a writer of nonfiction, but Coates' first novel showcases additional creative skills. As a national correspondent for The Atlantic, Coates was known for articles dealing with cultural and social issues impacting African Americans. His brilliant memoir, Between the World and Me, a personal literary exploration of America's racial history written as a letter to his son, won a National Book Award in 2015 and remains a staple on independent bookstore shelves. With The Water Dancer, Coates brings his acute sensibilities to fiction in this story of a young slave with a photographic memory and a magical power (that saves him from drowning early on) who becomes involved with a secret underground network working to help escaped slaves make it out of the South to freedom in the North.  
In her review for The New York Times Book Review, author Esi Edugyan (Washington Black) wrote, "Coates balances the horrors of slavery against the fantastical. He extends the idea of the gifts of the disenfranchised to include a kind of superpower. But The Water Dancer is very much its own book, and its gestures toward otherworldliness remain grounded. In the end, it is a novel interested in the psychological effects of slavery, a grief that Coates is especially adept at parsing." 

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Hi, I'm Hut Landon, and I work as a bookseller in an independent bookstore in BerkeIey, California.

My goal with this newsletter is to keep readers up to date about new books hitting the shelves, share what indie booksellers are recommending in their stores, and pass on occasional news about the book world.

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