Alden's Picks

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Hell of a Book: A Novel By Jason Mott Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780593330982
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Dutton - June 28th, 2022

Okay I read this after it won the National Book Award, but I was still blown away — it’s both hilarious and   insightful, and it’s probably the best novel out there that grabbles with blackness in 21st century America. Mott writes with the sharp, quick humor of Kurt Vonnegut and the powerful eloquence of James Baldwin. 

The book follows an author as he tours the country   promoting his book...and it’s the one you’re reading… crazy, right? The protagonist remains unnamed, which adds to the ambiguity and universality of his character and experience. It results in a warping and blending of realities, and one hell of a book about race, identity, and the possibilities that life can bring— and how quickly those possibilities can be taken away. This one will sit with me for a long time


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Dune By Frank Herbert Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780441013593
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Ace - August 2nd, 2005

I’m obsessed with this book (and the 5 others in the series). The world-building, the character development, the plot— it’s all fantastic. And underneath it all you’ll find profound commentaries on politics, ecology, and religion.

When Paul Atreides and his noble family arrive on Arrakis (aka Dune), they are expected to rule over the desert planet where the only valuable commodity is melange, the spice that prolongs life and enhances consciousness. The family is immediately met with a traitorous plot against them and Paul goes into exile. This marks the beginning of an unimaginably epic space saga...Oh, did I mention the giant sandworms?

If you didn’t already know, this is classic science fiction and a great book to start exploring the genre with. Herbert is a master of his craft.


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The Water Dancer: A Novel By Ta-Nehisi Coates Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780399590610
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: One World - November 17th, 2020

This is a powerful and timeless alternate history of the underground railroad with a splash of magical realism— it’s like nothing I’ve read before and I devoured it!

The hero of the book is Hiram, a boy born into slavery with no memory of his mother; surprisingly, he also  happens to have an incredible photographic memory. A carriage accident reveals that he has an incredible     ability, which leads him on an incredible journey of  freedom, courage, and hope for a reunion with his family in the North. His superhuman ability brings him deep into the network of the Underground Railroad, encountering key figures of the movement and playing an important role in the salvation of his people.


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Greenland: A Novel By David Santos Donaldson Cover Image
$26.99
ISBN: 9780063159556
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Amistad - June 7th, 2022

I adored this wildly inventive debut from Donaldson. His compulsively readable novel-within-a-novel dances between moments of laugh-out-loud humor and solemn observations of race and sexuality with a seamless grace. Plus, who doesn't love a good literary ghost story?

Kip Starling has locked himself in his basement with nothing but a jug of water and a handgun while he rewrites his entire book in time for his publisher’s deadline. He’s telling the   story of the affair between E.M. Forster, a white British  author, and Mohammed el Adl, his black Egyptian lover. As the book progresses, the line between Kip and Mohammed’s realities begin to blur as he realizes their similarities— both queer black men in interracial relationships, fighting the forces of white assimilation. Through this journey, Mohammed’s haunting becomes the ultimate self-reflection for Kip.


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Bliss (Vintage International) By Peter Carey Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9780679767190
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - January 30th, 1996

This quintessential Australian black comedy is a true diamond in the rough. It’s one of Carey’s earliest novels, and a great introduction to a hidden literary talent.

Harry Joy is living what he thinks is a great life, until he suddenly drops dead. For 9 minutes, he stays dead, and suddenly comes back to life— but it’s not the life he was living before. His perfect wife and kids are unfaithful, selling drugs, and advocating communism. Is this hell, or is he seeing his true reality for the first time?

While outrageously funny at times, the novel simultaneously touches on profundities of life, death, love, second chances, and redemption.


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Klara and the Sun: A novel (Vintage International) By Kazuo Ishiguro Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9780593311295
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - March 1st, 2022

Ishiguro does it again, and this one really tugs at the heart strings. The narrator of this novel is Klara, an intelligent and realistic “Artificial Friend,” or AF, who begins the story in a retail store waiting to be chosen by a child. Klara is very observant and her artificial intelligence seems to be more aware of certain nuances of human behavior than other AFs. Once she is finally chosen by a little girl, she is taken to a home the with some weird energy— there is some history to uncover and the future is uncertain.

This dystopian novel, though narrated by a robot, does an amazing job of exploring themes of friendship, love, and hope in the face of tragedy. But, at its core, the story is about the limits of technology, and what it really means to be human. I know it sounds super cheesy, but it’s so good!


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The Swimmers: A novel By Julie Otsuka Cover Image
$23.00
ISBN: 9780593321331
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Knopf - February 22nd, 2022

Before you rush out the door to give this book as a gift to your avid-swimmer-friend, you should know it turns a sharp corner about 1/3 of the way in.

The first part of the book is the rhythmic, lyrical writing that we know and love from Otsuka. She offers delightful portraits of the swimmers who frequent an underground pool— their routines, their personalities, and their quirks. Then a crack appears at the bottom of the pool. And it disrupts everything. The second part of the book focuses on the consequences of the crack for a particular swimmer. We get an intimate look at her relationship with her daughter, her deteriorating memory, and her life without the sacred ritual offered by the pool.

It’s experimental fiction that feels semi-autobiographical, and it absolutely wrecked me. If you have experience with a loved one with dementia, I can’t recommend this one enough.


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Open: An Autobiography By Andre Agassi Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780307388407
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - August 10th, 2010

This is one of the greatest sports memoirs. Ever.

Andre Agassi is one of the all-time greats in tennis, and he hated the sport. He was a rebel in every sense of the word, especially known for his flamboyant appearance— sporting jean shorts and a bleach-blonde wig, complete with mullet, in professional matches.

He lays out his entire story here in this brutally honest autobiography— from his beginning when his father was forcing him into the sport to his battles with drugs later in life. It’s an emotional ride and worth the read for anyone, tennis fan or not.


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When We Cease to Understand the World By Benjamin Labatut, Adrian Nathan West (Translated by) Cover Image
By Benjamin Labatut, Adrian Nathan West (Translated by)
$17.95
ISBN: 9781681375663
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: New York Review Books - September 28th, 2021

One of the most innovative works I can recommend, this is an absorbing and genre-bending book that brings new life to some of the most important academic pioneers in history. By putting his twist on the stories of real scientists and mathematicians and their groundbreaking discoveries, Labatut explores genius, madness, and the consequences of changing the world as we know it.

A super interesting read!

 


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The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History By Elizabeth Kolbert Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9781250062185
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Picador - January 6th, 2015

Not gonna lie, this book is pretty depressing. But it’s also so well written, researched, and organized that I really enjoyed reading it!

There have been 5 mass extinctions on Earth, all caused by various natural events—climate changes, asteroids, etc. Each one caused a massive shift in the ecosystems and species on the planet. Now we’re in the middle of a 6th mass extinction, and humans are to blame.

Kolbert does an awesome job of giving us historical and scientific context for this event— humans have had a greater impact on the planet than any single species in history, and this book will make you think deeply about our impact on the planet.


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This Is Your Mind on Plants By Michael Pollan Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780593296929
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Penguin Books - July 19th, 2022

In How to Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan gave us fantastic perspectives on the history, usage, therapeutic potential of psychedelics (LSD, psilocybin, DMT, ayahuasca). In this highly anticipated follow-up, he focuses on opium, caffeine, and    mescaline and the appeals and taboos associated with each.

Why are some psychoactive plants so widely used and         accepted, while others are reserved strictly for medical use? Does a gardener's intention matter when growing certain plants? What classifies a plant as a "drug" anyway?

Through his unique mixture of investigative journalism,     historical research, and personal experimentation and          reflection, Pollan explores these questions and more. 

If you enjoyed The Botany of Desire or How to Change Your Mind, you'll love this book!


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First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers By Loung Ung Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9780060856267
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Harper Perennial - April 4th, 2006

This is my #1 recommendation for anyone that wants to read something about Cambodia— especially if you’re travelling there. It also provides great context for the enduring unrest in Southeast Asia as a whole.

The book is a deeply moving and heartbreaking memoir about growing up during the rise and reign of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. His army committed one of the worst genocides in history, and this is the best book out there to understand what it was like to survive one of the most         tumultuous times in the country’s history. The author’s life was turned upside down when, at 5 years old, she was separated from her family and sent to work and    labor camps. Her story is filled with courage, hope, and love— it’s a devastating but wonderful read.


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Harlem Shuffle: A Novel By Colson Whitehead Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780525567271
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Anchor - August 9th, 2022

Ray Carney is a furniture salesman in 1960s Harlem who wants to provide a good life for his family. He owns his own store, but he feels like it’s not enough. He doesn’t feel “successful.” When an opportunity arises to give him a much needed financial boost, he begins to orchestrate a delicate balancing act between his loved ones, his local reputation, and the criminal activity that he has stumbled into. It’s a slippery slope.

This novel is new genre territory for Whitehead, and it’s a good look on him. It’s a fun heist story, but it’s also a powerful commentary on race and socioeconomic status in 1960s America.


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Stories from the Tenants Downstairs By Sidik Fofana Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9781982145811
Availability: Available for Pre-Order Now
Published: Scribner - August 16th, 2022

You know how gentrification is taking over historic neighborhoods around the country?

(*cough* exeterandportsmouth *cough cough*)

Well, this immersive novel-in-stories brings a vivid   humanity to the plight of gentrification through a subtly woven cast of unforgettable characters. Each story    focuses on a different tenant of an apartment complex in Harlem and their individual battles against rent hikes and evictions.

Full of life and sprinkled with humor, Fofana’s portraits of Banneker Homes residents reveal the deeply personal and cultural consequences capitalism can have on a    diverse and struggling community.


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If I Survive You By Jonathan Escoffery Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9780374605988
Availability: Available for Pre-Order Now
Published: MCD - September 6th, 2022

The Overstory: A Novel By Richard Powers Cover Image
$18.95
ISBN: 9780393356687
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - April 2nd, 2019