Hello viewers and book lovers — you know who you are — and welcome to our holiday book picks. We asked members of our staff to recommend books that moved them this past year, newly published works but also oldies they’ve gone back to or just discovered. I’m grateful to all my colleagues who participated and hope the list and brief descriptions will suggest readings for our book-hungry audience, stimulate a bit of discussion, and help with holiday gifts.
Consider this a small taste of what is to come. It’s our intention to greatly expand our online book coverage. We have many ideas brewing, including regular reading recommendations from authors and, I hope, a NewsHour Book Club. Stay tuned, we’ll have more on all this soon.
One personal note to kick things off: I like to think of the author conversations I present on the PBS NewsHour as a kind of recommendation to you, our audience. I don’t mean it’s necessarily the “best” new book out there on a given subject or in a given genre (though sometimes it is.) Rather, something about the book or author interested me and made me think others might be interested as well. In that sense, my “recommendations” are on the record and available. But I read a lot for my personal enjoyment (and psychological well-being), including new books that for one reason or another don’t result in NewsHour segments. Let me share five in that category — two novels, one memoir, and two books of poetry, that stood out for me this year:
Like many, I fell into the rabbit hole of the four Elena Ferrante “Neapolitan Novels” this year and spent many weeks living in her world. While I preferred the first three books to the more sober and painful finale, I devoured them all. There are so many interesting things to point to in these novels: The clear, unsentimental writing style, the vivid painting of the poverty and crime of inner-city Naples and the rich history of postwar Italy. But mostly it’s the complex friendship of two young girls, who over a 60-year period grow into young women and then mothers, and how that friendship (and sometimes rivalry) defines each of them, how everything they do is reflected and refracted in the other. The first novel is called “My Brilliant Friend,” and one of my favorite confounders of the book is which of the two is meant to be the “brilliant friend.”
Recommended by Jenny Marder, Managing editor, Digital