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 Weekly Words about New Books in
Independent Bookstores

February 16, 2020

Nonfiction in Paperback: Big Genealogical Surprise and Important Chronicle of Working Poverty
 
Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro. Novelist and journalist Shapiro becomes a memoirist with a story of origin that fits perfectly with the increasing popularity of ancestry searches. As many have done in recent years, Shapiro - on little more than a whim - sends her DNA in for analysis. What she discovers, at age 54, is a real shocker. Her beloved father, who raised her in the Orthodox Jewish culture, is not actually her biological dad. That honor, she later learns, belongs to a sperm sample from the 1960s that was artificially inseminated in her mother. After recovering from the jaw-dropping news and unable to confront her now-dead parents, Shapiro the writer realizes what a great story this could be. So she sets out to track down her birth father while dealing with the prospect of a whole new identity. In doing so, she redefines - at least for herself - the true meaning of family.  
 
Among the praiseworthy reviews was this from Newsday last year: "[A] swift moving narrative of profound personal disorientation. Just as you think you've crested the big reveal, Shapiro builds more tension, chapter by short chapter; she keeps you close as she feels her way through unfamiliar terrain."  
 
 
Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive by Stephanie Land. 
This memoir about working as a maid doubles as a gritty exploration of poverty in America. While describing her experience as a single mother making ends meet as a housekeeper, Land expands her book to shine a spotlight on the "servant" worker and those pursuing the American Dream from below the poverty line. It's an exhausting, terrifying, and lonely life for workers who are often one missed paycheck away from destitution while being ignored or just plain unseen by their employers. Land the reporter also chronicles government services - or the lack of same - for the working poor in this country. 
 
One of the book's biggest fans added Maid to his 2019 Summer Reading List with this endorsement: "A single mother's personal, unflinching look at America's class divide, a description of the tightrope many families walk just to get by, and a reminder of the dignity of all work."   - President Barack Obama   
Saving the World Is Harder Than You Think
 
Weather by Jenny Offill. This smart, comic novel from Offill (Dept. of Speculation) tells a story, written in stylistic fragments, about a woman intent on saving the world, her family, and herself. The protagonist is Lizzie, who works in a university library. For years she has been an unofficial shrink to her divorced mother and recovering-addict brother. They're both in pretty good shape for the moment, but Lizzie has little chance to spend her new free time with husband and son before a job offer sucks her back into caregiving of another sort. A mentor who has become famous for her doom-laden podcast, Hell and High Water, hires Lizzie to answer the mail she receives, which runs the gamut from left-wingers worried about climate change to right-wingers worried about the decline of western civilization. Seems like an easy gig, even with results of the 2016 presidential election looming. But everyone who writes in to the show is either crazy or depressed, and soon Lizzie finds herself struggling to strike the obligatory note of hope in her responses. The reassuring rhythms of her life as a wife and mother begin to falter as her growing obsession with disaster psychology, and people readying for the end of the world increasingly takes over. 
 
In her submission to the February Indie Next list, independent bookseller Ann Woodbeck from Excelsior Bay Books in Excelsior, MN, wrote: "Brief and brilliant, Jenny Offill's Weather doesn't need page after page to trap us inside. Tearing through precision-crafted paragraphs, we willingly follow a Brooklyn librarian down a doomsday rabbit hole as she tries to limit the world's damage to those she loves. On the express bus to the demise of civilization, find a seat next to Lizzie for a wild and witty ride through the storm raging across America. An astute and satisfying read."  
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WHY THE COLUMN?
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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