New Releases

June 25, 2024

June 25, 2024


Discovering your next great read just got easier with our weekly selection of four new releases.

Finding the right book at the right time can transform your life or your organization. We help you discover your next great read by showcasing four recently released titles each week.

The books are chosen by Porchlight's Managing Director, Sally Haldorson, and the marketing team: Dylan Schleicher, Gabbi Cisneros, and Jasmine Gonzalez. (Book descriptions are provided by the publisher unless otherwise noted.)

This week, our choices are:

Gabbi's pick: Cue the Sun!: The Invention of Reality TV by Emily Nussbaum, Random House

Who invented reality television, the world’s most dangerous pop-culture genre? And why can’t we look away? In this revelatory, deeply reported account of the rise of “dirty documentary”—from its contentious roots in radio to the ascent of Donald Trump—Emily Nussbaum unearths the origin story of the genre that ate the world, as told through the lively voices of the people who built it. At once gimlet-eyed and empathetic, Cue the Sun! explores the morally charged, funny, and sometimes tragic consequences of the hunt for something real inside something fake.

In sharp, absorbing prose, Nussbaum traces the jagged fuses of experimentation that exploded with Survivor at the turn of the millennium.

She introduces the genre’s trickster pioneers, from the icy Allen Funt to the shambolic Chuck Barris; Cops auteur John Langley; cynical Bachelor ringmaster Mike Fleiss; and Jon Murray and Mary-Ellis Bunim, the visionaries behind The Real World—along with dozens of stars from An American Family, The Real World, Big Brother, Survivor, and The Bachelor. We learn about the tools of the trade—like the Frankenbite, a deceptive editor’s best friend—and ugly tales of exploitation. But Cue the Sun! also celebrates reality’s peculiar power: a jolt of emotion that could never have come from a script.

What happened to the first reality stars, the Louds—and why won’t they speak to the couple who filmed them? Which serial killer won on The Dating Game? Nussbaum explores reality TV as a strike-breaker, the queer roots of Bravo, the dark truth behind The Apprentice, and more. A shrewd observer who adores television, Nussbaum is the ideal voice for the first substantive history of the genre that, for better or worse, made America what it is today.


Dylan’s pick: Free the Land: How We Can Fight Poverty and Climate Chaos by Audrea Lim, St. Martin’s Press

Climate change, gentrification, racial discrimination, and corporate greed are some of the most urgent problems facing our society. They are traditionally treated as unrelated issues, but they all share a common root: the ownership of land. Environmental journalist Audrea Lim began to notice these connections when she reported on the Native communities leading the fight against oil drilling on their lands in the Canadian tar sands near her hometown of Calgary, but before long, she saw the essential role of land commodification and private ownership everywhere she looked: in foreclosure-racked suburbs and gentrifying cities like New York City; among poor, small farmers struggling to keep their businesses afloat; and in low-income communities attempting to resist mines and industrial development on their lands, only to find that their voices counted less than those of shareholders living thousands of miles away.

Free The Land is a captivating and beautifully rendered look at the ways that our relationship to the land is the core cause of the most pressing justice issues in North America. Lim expertly weaves together seemingly disparate themes into a unified theory of social justice, describes how the land ownership system developed over the centuries, and presents original reporting from a wide range of activists and policy makers to illustrate the profound impact it continues to have on our society today.

Ultimately, this book offers a message of hope: by approaching these socioeconomic issues holistically, we can begin to imagine just alternatives to fossil-fueled capitalism, new ways to build community, and a more sustainable, equitable world.


Jasmine’s pick: Frostbite: How Refrigeration Changed Our Food, Our Planet, and Ourselves by Nicola Twilley, Penguin Press

How often do we open the fridge or peer into the freezer with the expectation that we’ll find something fresh and ready to eat? It’s an everyday act—but just a century ago, eating food that had been refrigerated was cause for both fear and excitement. The introduction of artificial refrigeration overturned millennia of dietary history, launching a new chapter in human nutrition. We could now overcome not just rot, but seasonality and geography. Tomatoes in January? Avocados in Shanghai? All possible.

In Frostbite, New Yorker contributor and cohost of the award-winning podcast Gastropod Nicola Twilley takes readers on a tour of the cold chain from farm to fridge, visiting off-the-beaten-path landmarks such as Missouri’s subterranean cheese caves, the banana-ripening rooms of New York City, and the vast refrigerated tanks that store the nation’s orange juice reserves. Today, nearly three-quarters of everything on the average American plate is processed, shipped, stored, and sold under refrigeration. It’s impossible to make sense of our food system without understanding the all-but-invisible network of thermal control that underpins it. Twilley’s eye-opening book is the first to reveal the transformative impact refrigeration has had on our health and our guts; our farms, tables, kitchens, and cities; global economics and politics; and even our environment.

In the developed world, we’ve reaped the benefits of refrigeration for more than a century, but the costs are catching up with us. We’ve eroded our connection to our food and redefined what “fresh” means. More important, refrigeration is one of the leading contributors to climate change. As the developing world races to build a US-style cold chain, Twilley asks: Can we reduce our dependence on refrigeration? Should we? A deeply researched and reported, original, and entertaining dive into the most important invention in the history of food and drink, Frostbite makes the case for a recalibration of our relationship with the fridge—and how our future might depend on it.


Sally’s pick: Swimming Pretty: The Untold Story of Women in Water by Vicki Valosik, Liveright 

If you’re not strong enough to swim fast, you’re probably not strong enough to swim ‘pretty,’” said a young Esther Williams to theater impresario Billy Rose. Since the nineteenth century, tensions between beauty and strength, aesthetics and athleticism have both impeded and propelled the careers of female swimmers—none more so than synchronized swimmers, for whom Williams is often considered godmother.

In this riveting history—the first of its kind— Vicki Valosik traces a century of aquatic performance, from vaudeville to the Olympic arena. Williams, who became a Holly-wood sensation for her splashy “aquamusicals,” was just one in a long, bedazzled line of swimmers who began their careers as athletes but found greater opportunity, and often social acceptance, in the world of show business. Together, they not only laid the groundwork for synchronized swimming, but forever changed women’s relationships with water. Early starlets like Agnes Beckwith, Lurline the Water Queen, and Annette Kellerman performed “scientific” or “ornamental” swimming, a set of moves previously only practiced by men— including Benjamin Franklin—that focused on form and demonstrated physical mastery in the water. Performing in aquariums and water tanks rolled onto music hall stages, they stunned Victorian audiences with their grace and dexterity. In the process, they defied society’s rigid expectations of what was proper and possible for women—and even ushered in new, sensible swimwear.

Far more than just bathing beauties, these women and others who followed influenced lifesaving and physical education programs, helping to drop national drowning rates and paving the way for new generations of female athletes. When Katherine Curtis, a University of Chicago physical educator, decided to match their aquatic movements to music in the 1920s, young girls flocked to pools to take part in “synchronized swimming.” But despite overwhelming love from audiences, and the Olympic ambitions of its practitioners, synchronized swimming was long perceived as little more than entertaining pageantry. It would prove to be a battle against the current as athletes fought for a spot at the highest echelons of sport.

Now, on the fortieth anniversary of synchronized swimming’s elevation to Olympic status, Swimming Pretty finally honors the history of grit, glamor, and sheer athleticism of an utterly unique sport. 


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