Every month, we’re profiling new-ish releases that are getting critical and commercial buzz. For November, we’re looking at a debut highly autobiographical novel about the Iraq War, heroin addiction, and bank robbery; a searing piece of investigative journalism about the opioid crisis in Appalachia; and a much-anticipated history on American presidents.
Nico Walker’s Cherry (2018)
Nico Walker generated a fair amount of buzz this year when his debut novel Cherry hit the shelves. A big part of the story was how hard it was to access the former Army medic and Iraq War veteran for interviews because he’s currently serving time in a penitentiary for bank robbery, crimes he committed while addicted to heroin after his military discharge. It’s hard to know exactly how much of Nico Walker is in the unnamed narrator of this novel, though the surface details of their lives are undeniably similar. I read the book several weeks ago and found Walker a compelling writer, with a darkly ironic style, though I also found the book uneven. It’s at its best when the protagonist is flailing his way through college before his enlistment, during his military service, and during his oddball criminal career. The parts that focus on the character’s descent into drug addiction didn’t strike me as anything particularly unique, though at its best, Cherry is a weirdly funny but heartbreaking read.
Recommended for those who enjoy the work of Denis Johnson and Flannery O’Connor.
Beth Macy’s Dopesick (2018)
Though Cherry is billed as the first “opioid epidemic novel,” Beth Macy’s Dopesick is a better examination of the topic. I read Macy’s Truevine last year. She’s a talented nonfiction writer, but I thought this new book was far and away superior to Truevine. Dopesick is the result of her years of work as a journalist in Virginia. She probes how the opioid epidemic seemingly cropped up overnight in her own backyard, delving into the corporate history behind it, the sociological and political factors that fed it, and the personal stories of those affected by it. Macy’s book is not light reading, but it an excellent example of book-length, long-form journalism (one of my favorite genres.) It’s a haunted and haunting look at a serious issue in contemporary American life and also delves far more effectively into the concept of community rot than J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy.
Recommended for those who enjoy the work of Sam Quinones and J.D. Vance.
Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times (2018)
Regardless of your politics, you’re sure to find at least one inspirational president in historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s latest book. In this discussion of leadership under adversity, Goodwin uses her background as a presidential historian to focus on pivotal moments in American history and the presidents tasked with dealing with these difficult issues. The book includes Abraham Lincoln contending with the Civil War, Theodore Roosevelt dealing with labor disputes, Franklin Delano Roosevelt battling the Great Depression, and Lyndon Baines Johnson guiding the country through the Civil Rights Movement.
Recommended for those who enjoy the work of David G. McCullough.
What’s your favorite new-ish books? What books are you buzzing about these days? Have you read any of these books? Tell us in the comments! As always, please follow this link to our online library catalog for more information about any of these items.