5 Books To Read This Month

 In Culture, Guide

Winter in the publishing world is an exciting time with lots of really interesting stories being told as book houses roll out promising new faces and big titles. There is a sort of kinetic energy to the madness that leaves readers overwhelmed by all the savory morsels being served.

As we immerse ourselves in the holiday season, here is an attempt to get you squared away with some interesting reads.

1/ Hank: The Short Life and Long Country Road of Hank Williams
Mark Ribowsky, Liveright

Known for being one of the pillars of country music and the patriarch of a musical dynasty, Hank Williams was an artist who touched all the right chords with his themes of heartache, love, loss and the struggle of everyday life. Yet inside, he was a conflicted mess.

Unlike previous biographers, Ribowsky moves beyond the basics of Williams’ ascent as a picker from an impoverished South into his transformation into a music pioneer. While Ribowsky spends a great deal of time exploring the key elements of Williams’ songwriting, he also delves into the battered and bruised world of Williams’ relationships, including those with his wife and family. Here, Ribowsky argues, is where we get the meat and potatoes of Williams’ rambunctious hell-raising and hard drinking.

At its core, “Hank” is a tragedy of self-destruction, emotional damage, missed opportunities and genius. By delving into his musical catalog and conducting interviews with fresh sources, Ribowsky gives the reader a complete portrait of a complex artist who rose from honky-tonk bars to the stage of the Grand Ole Opry to become a legend before his untimely death at the age of 29 in 1953.

2/ Our Revolution: A Future To Believe In
Bernie Sanders, St. Martin’s Press

Eventually, almost every candidate running for the presidency must decide whether or not they want to write their own book that tells their life story and outlines their aspirations, struggles and path for their country.

This is where Bernie Sanders comes in. Whether or not you backed his future to believe in, the story of his campaign is a compelling one that continues to challenge the humdrum traditions of American politics.

His new book, “Our Revolution,” chronicles his journey into a life of public service, from Mayor of Burlington, Vermont to Senator and eventual ‘fringe’ candidate and party contender. It also recounts how his campaign germinated from conversations held with his wife and family into his entering of the volatile fray for the Democratic nomination.

Sanders also makes it abundantly clear that he is not down for the count. Writing with profound sincerity, he resolves to continue fighting for the ideals he believes in. The book also finds him astutely using the printed word to accentuate a political platform of broad reform and social change that few pundits and politicos foresaw resonating with millions of voters.


3/ Hidden Figures
Margot Lee Shetterly, William Morrow

Written with a narrative that never wavers and a rich attention to detail, Shetterly tells the forgotten story of a group of female African-American mathematicians who overcame the agony of Jim Crow to help NASA get it figures right.

Set in an an age before modern machines and without the resources of their colleagues, these ‘super computers’ used pencils, rulers and adding machines to sort all the math needed for NASA to get astronauts safely into space. As Shetterly also observes, the technical achievements of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Christine Darden and Gloria Champine were equally matched by their place in the struggle for women’s equality and civil rights.

In the beginning the ladies were relegated to dreary teaching posts in the South. The onset of World War II gave them an opportunity to use their wits and defy stereotypes as they helped improve America’s untried aeronautics division. Transferred to a lab at Langley, the ladies, while still segregated from their white coworkers, were instrumental in helping NASA win the space race and fight the Cold War.

Told over a 30-year span, readers discover that these astounding women had to help solve the numerical problems of space travel while at the same time working within a system where the numbers didn’t add up with their racial equality.

Recently announced as being adapted into a feature film, “Hidden Figures” takes everything you think you know about the American space program and tips it sideways.

4/ The Mothers
Brit Bennett, Riverhead

“The Mothers” marks an auspicious debut that easily could find itself as a ‘best-of list’ contender for 2016. At its heart is Nadia Turner, a young teen who masks the sadness over the suicide of her mother with a tough shell. She fights her grief with rebellion, eventually running into the arms of a once-promising football player only to find herself pregnant and in the middle of a ‘no-way-out’ cover-up that is straight out of a CW teledrama. This horrible situation finds her alone, wrestling with herself, making tough choices and hiding her secret from her morally minded best friend.

The pace hastens from a gripping story loaded with churchy, small-town whispers and judgmental jeers into something larger and more emotional. Here, we see Bennett playing the long game by using stylish prose and developing her characters to heighten the emotion and round out her narrative.

As time passes, friendships are tested as Bennett shifts the playing field by turning to the seemingly overused ‘love triangle’ scenario in a refreshing way. She focuses on what didn’t happen, allowing her some room to explore the infinite possibilities of ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ with an elegant deftness that finds readers embroiled in the angst of Nadia’s plight.

The ensuing themes of regret, poor decisions and faded futures take over from here, tugging on heartstrings which allow Bennett a chance to carefully craft a novel filled with secrets that cannot easily be put down.

5/ The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific
David Bianculli, Knopf/Doubleday

If you say that TV is dead and newer forms media are the future, then you will have picked a fight with David Bianculli.

His latest book, “The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific,” is more than a concise encyclopedia of the medium; it’s an argument on its significance in the constant evolution of our popular culture. Television, he argues, serves as the principle visual narrative of our times.

In it Bianculli gives readers an overview of how television grew from the rough infancy and painful adolescence of the 1950s and ‘60s to become the global force it is today. It is a daunting task, but one he handles with surgical precision. He accomplishes this by deconstructing the many formats it comprises (i.e. children’s programs, soaps, cartoons, westerns, sitcoms, crime dramas and talk shows) and then dissecting each one with a list of five important examples per category.

His travels through seven decades of the small screen finds him interviewing the creators and stars of these shows to illustrate his point that the television is a vital way to present new ideas, advance technology and simultaneously reflect and comment on the events and issues that help shape modern society.

Rob Levy is a freelance writer who works at a St. Louis-area library. Each month he recommends five books for ALIVE Magazine readers.




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