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Books to Watch | March 17, 2020

March 17, 2020

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Each and every week, our marketing team—Marketing Director Blyth Meier (BRM), Digital Marketing Specialist Gabbi Cisneros (GMC), and Editorial Director Dylan Schleicher (DJJS)—highlights the five books being released that we are most excited about.

This week, our choices are:

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American Poison: How Racial Hostility Destroyed Our Promise by Eduardo Porter, Knopf

Eduardo Porter’s first book, The Price of Everything, was about the choices we make, and how prices motivate our behavior in ways that fundamentally shape our lives—for better and worse. His new book seems like a very wide departure from that, but it is also about the prices we pay. It is about the price we have already paid for short-sighted economic agendas that play on racism and xenophobia to convince people to support policies, like welfare reform and blocking the expansion of Medicaid, that are detrimental to their own lives. 

[E]fforts to exclude the brown and the black from the benefits of citizenship are causing untold damage to white America too.

What he ultimately proposes is that “racial hostility is, indeed, what blocked the construction of an American social welfare state.” And while many may view that as a victory by whatever means necessary for the private sector, it seems a Pyrrhic victory at best in times like these. With the social safety net in tatters and millions of people with nowhere to turn, Helaine Olen, author of Pound Foolish, recently wrote that “Coronavirus is an indictment of our way of life.” Yet, Porter himself discussed in a piece this past weekend how, even with such an indictment hanging over us, “Why America Will Never Get Medicare for All.” 

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Times like these are ripe for reevaluation, and there are many issues on the table that are bound to lead to better questions. Questions about the social contract and social safety net, questions about social divisions and solidarity. With those questions, we can have a better conversation. What we can’t leave out of that conversation is the role that racial animosity has played in how we’ve come to construct our public policy, and what we can do to remove it from its long embedded place there. Porter has given us a book that should be a part of that debate. (DJJS)

 

Beatrix Bakes by Natalie Paull, Hardie Grant

“Be present: life in the kitchen is made up of small moments.” These wonderful words of meditative wisdom come from Natalie Paull, owner of Melbourne bakery Beatrix Bakes, in her new cookbook of the same name. With frosting pink-edges, this book is cheering me up in this funky week. Alongside recipes from her shop’s popular treats, Paull provides a very thorough pantry section with pages full of amazing tips, a section dedicated to giving you the fundamentals of the doughs, pastries and crusts you will use throughout the book, and “adaptrix” charts throughout that help you discover endless variations on the recipes. But what I find most enjoyable—and unusual—about this book is the gentle way she holds your hand through what we have all experienced: baking gone awry. An introductory note titled “Making lemonade from lemons'' nudges you to a forgiving mindset for the inevitable failures that occur with a first pass at a new recipe: “Just don’t despair...next time your bake will be better.” And to walk the talk, she provides asterisked tips with each recipe to help fix the most common catastrophes. “It’s a relief to have a little info in your apron pocket.” I don’t think I’ve seen a dedication to emergency planning quite like this before in a cookbook. Recipes that are filling me with anticipatory joy include: Passionfruit cloud chiffon cake, The notorious BFC (Black Forest cake), Almondjaws with salty dulce de leche, and Buttery date caramel (or the prune adaptation!). Whether it inspires you to new kitchen adventures as we are all staying closer to home, or encourages you to keep supporting your own local bakeries, Beatrix Bakes is a joyful treat for this week. (BRM)

 

Competition Overdose: How Free Market Mythology Transformed Us from Citizen Kings to Market Servants by Maurice E. Stucke & Ariel Ezrachi, Harper Business

We have covered a number of books over the past few years that have documented the rise of consolidation and monopoly in our economy, and its deleterious effects on competition and innovation. But there is another side to that story, one in which the supposed cure-all of competition—even as it is being gutted in big ways in big business—is being applied to sectors of our society in which it is doing real damage. When it comes to competition, Stucke and Ezrachi write: 

Problem is, it sometimes fails to deliver. When it does, it often leaves individuals and society worse off. The invisible hand then becomes nothing more than a sleight of hand.

Stucke and Ezrachi show how, when it comes to issues (that should be) as diametrically opposed as education and incarceration, the effects of unbridled competition have had consequences that make the human beings these institutions are meant to serve worse off. It is an overdose that is harmful even to the industry we’ve come to view as the epicenter of capitalist competition, Wall Street, undermining not only their own customers, but the overall economy. It is another systemic issue that is ripe for change, and Stucke and Ezrachi help us see it with a broader lens and clearer perspective. (DJJS)

 

The Genius Life: Heal Your Mind, Strengthen Your Body, and Become Extraordinary by Max Lugavere, HarperWave 

Just a few months ago, Planet Fitness parking lots were packed as people jumped on treadmills with New Year's Resolutions on their minds. Reprioritizing our mind and body health is a yearly routine, and occasionally it's one that becomes a lifetime routine. However, in light of the recent pandemic, our health has once again become a priority, just in a very very different way than on New Year's Day. I picked up The Genius Life: Heal Your Mind, Strengthen Your Body, and Become Extraordinary with a more eager mindset than I would have even two weeks ago. I've read plenty of articles and books about the science behind healthy eating and living, so at first glance, I didn't expect to be astounded by anything in this book. What kept me hooked was the organized manner in which Lugavere unpacked the keys to health, building one on top of the other. And though the Introduction does a great job of summarizing each chapter, the text is so straightforward and fascinating that, if time were not a constraint, I would just have kept reading straight through the book. Some notable pieces of health advice that may benefit you during the pandemic:

"Did you know that vitamin D receptors exist in every organ in your body, influencing everything from how your brain works to immune function to your risk for heart disease? That means the sun has medicinal value–but most of us don't get enough of it."

"Moving our bodies is simply one of the best things we can do for our brain, including its ability to stay resilient against degeneration as we age."

"Try meditating for ten to fifteen minutes a day, and man an eight-week commitment to your practice."

"Sleep well and rest regularly." (GMC)

 

Thinking Inside the Box: Adventures with Crosswords and the Puzzling People Who Can't Live Without Them by Adrienne Raphel, Penguin Press

Childhood memories of weekend mornings with my mother and sister are comprised of four things: church service, jelly donuts, newspaper comics, and crossword puzzles. Until I picked up Thinking Inside the Box, I didn't consider the ubiquity of crosswords, their versatility as memory-enhancer, boredom-banisher, news-broadcaster, and more.

Some use the crossword to give a sense of accomplishment–if I've done nothing else all day, they reason, at least I've done this.

I realized that when I'm feeling lonely or out of place, I find comfort in taking a crack at a crossword puzzle. "The crossword is a reflection of everything happening around it,” writes Adrienne Raphel, “but it's also an anchor." I couldn’t agree more. Downloading three different crossword apps filled spaces between classes in college, and picking up a traveler magazine on an airplane or in a different country reminds me that, no matter how foreign the world around me feels, channeling focus into building a 2D world out of three to thirty-three letter words (hypothetically) can be done anywhere. I was happy to re-channel this focus on Adrienne Raphel's book, which will delight anyone who also looked up to Roald Dahl's Matilda, is interested in the crossword puzzle's origins and how it's created, or wants to know what a "crossword-themed ocean crossing aboard the Queen Mary 2" is like. All of the above? (GMC)

 

What we're reading away from work:

Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon “I just finished reading The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, his shortest novel but no less immersive than some of his longer works. He has this ability to make you think you know absolutely nothing about the world. " —Michael Jantz, Custom Projects Director

 

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