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Due to review deadlines, library deadlines and general pre-holiday craziness, my brain feels scrambled lately. Here’s what I have been reading – much of it several months ahead:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling
Harry’s second adventure at Hogwarts is as much fun as the first. I love seeing the characters grow, and the narrative of the series begin to build. Fast, fun and highly enjoyable.

Politics is for Power: How to Move Beyond Political Hobbyism, Take Action, and Make Real Change, Eitan Hersh
Most people who are engaged in political hobbyism – following, and wringing their hands about, the news – aren’t doing work to make real, appreciable change. Hersh investigates the history of political engagement in the U.S., interviews grassroots activists (the strongest part of the book) and asks how to truly get involved in local politics. Interesting, though a bit tedious at times. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 14).

The Golden Hour, Beatriz Williams
Widowed journalist Lulu Randolph is sent to Nassau in 1941 to write a society column focusing mainly on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. While there, she falls in love – but when her new husband becomes a POW, she goes to London to try to rescue him. The narrative shifts between Lulu’s story and that of her husband’s German mother, Elfriede, in the early 1900s. Lush, compelling, slightly scandalous.

Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land, Noé Álvarez
The son of Mexican immigrants, Álvarez grew up poor in eastern Washington. Feeling aimless as a college student, he joined the Peace and Dignity Journeys to run a punishing 6,000-mile ultramarathon through North America, in a quest to honor indigenous peoples and their stories. This memoir is beautifully written and contains some compelling ideas, but I couldn’t always find the through line of his insights. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 3).

Siri, Who Am I?, Sam Tschida
A young woman wakes up in the hospital wearing a yellow Prada gown, with nothing in her possession but a tube of Chanel lipstick and an iPhone. She can’t even remember her own name (Mia), but gamely tries to reconstruct her life via Instagram. A snarky, fast-paced take on the selfie culture – fun, though I wanted more depth. I really liked Mia’s sidekick/love interest, Max the “Black Einstein” neuroscientist. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 5).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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We’re halfway through November and suddenly, it feels like winter out there. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Secrets We Kept, Lara Prescott
Everyone’s been talking about this new novel – inspired by the CIA’s real-life campaign to distribute Doctor Zhivago in the USSR. I liked the multiple points of view, especially the typists who spoke in second person plural, and the plot was intriguing. But the ending(s) fell flat for me.

The Carrying, Ada Limón
My friend Roxani recommended Limón’s poetry (I’d discovered one of her poems last spring). These poems are often sad and difficult, but shot through with flashes of light. I keep coming back to the one about goldfinches.

Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life, Emily Nagoski
This book was all over the Internet when it came out a few years ago – but this fall was the right time for me to read it. I’ve absorbed a lot of myths about sexuality (my own and other people’s), and this is a frank, informative, fascinating guide to so many facets of women’s sexuality. Nagoski is straightforward, smart and often funny, and her research is illuminating and validating. I especially loved the stories about real women.

The Mistletoe Matchmaker, Felicity Hayes-McCoy
Christmas is coming in Finfarran, in western Ireland, and the townspeople are gearing up for family dinners and a holiday festival. Cassie Fitzgerald, visiting from Canada, makes new friends and connects with her grandparents, and the characters from Hayes-McCoy’s previous Finfarran novels have their own struggles. Light, witty and sweet.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, Eva Rice
I fell in love with this charming novel back in my Oxford days, and it was time for a reread. I’ve been savoring it slowly and was utterly beguiled, as always, by the story of Penelope, her friends Charlotte and Harry, pop music and family and love in 1950s England. So wonderful.

Lovely War, Julie Berry
This book starts in a Manhattan hotel room, where Aphrodite – on trial for infidelity – spins a tale of two pairs of young lovers during World War I, to her skeptical audience (Hephaestus and Ares). Vivid, heartbreaking, often witty, and full of wonderful characters. I loved it. Recommended by Anne.

The Education of an Idealist, Samantha Power
Power, a former UN ambassador, cabinet official and war correspondent, is a fascinating figure. (She’s also a faculty member at my former workplace, HKS – we don’t know each other, but our worlds overlap.) This memoir is a compelling, thoughtful, honest account of her life and career, and the challenges she faced in government. I loved her voice and couldn’t stop reading (which was handy in almost meeting the library deadline).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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You don’t need me to say it: by any measure, the last two years in American politics have been turbulent, if not downright disorienting. As politicians engage in shouting matches on social media (and elsewhere), I’ve been turning to an unlikely source of comfort: memoirs by staffers from the Obama White House. (This is a little easier to do now that I no longer work inside the maelstrom of politics every day.)

It isn’t just nostalgia, or denial. Whether they’re youthful idealists like David Litt (Thanks, Obama), who jumped on the former senator’s campaign and ended up spending years working for him, or veteran public servants like Wendy R. Sherman (Not for the Faint of Heart), whose career spans multiple administrations, these voices have helped me in two key ways. They remind me of what it was like to live in slightly saner–if no less complicated–political times. And they help explain, with their insider views of the Obama administration’s triumphs and failures, how the U.S. reached its current moment.

Ben Rhodes, who spent nearly a decade working on foreign policy and communications for Obama, chronicles the complex issues, impossible decisions and flat-out unbelievable moments of his political career in The World As It Is – one of my favorite books of 2018. His thoughtful accounts of the Arab Spring and the reopening of U.S.-Cuba relations make a great pairing with Sherman’s blow-by-blow of negotiating the Iran nuclear deal and Litt’s breezy but sharply observed rendering of life as a speechwriter for Obama. These memoirs, plus Alyssa Mastromonaco’s Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?, which I read last summer, offer insights on leadership and show their authors’ staunch commitment to hard work and public service.

Mastromonaco wins for best title (and most wry humor), but all four books provide fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpses into the daily lives unfolding alongside massive world events. Even more importantly, they remind me that even in fraught and divisive times, the American experiment of democracy is still–à la Mastromonaco–an excellent idea.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness for Readers, where it appeared a couple of weeks ago.

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