1- Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
“As we go about our daily lives, caste is the wordless usher in a darkened theater, flashlight cast down in the aisles, guiding us to our assigned seats for a performance. The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power—which groups have it and which do not.”
In this brilliant book, Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.
Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people—including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others—she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.
Beautifully written, original, and revealing, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is an eye-opening story of people and history, and a reexamination of what lies under the surface of ordinary lives and of American life today.
2- Squirrel’s New Year’s Resolution by Pat Miller
Squirrel knows that New Year’s Day is a great day for making resolutions! But what does it mean to make a resolution, anyway? As she makes visits around the forest she learns about New Year’s resolutions and helps her friends get started on theirs. If only she can think of a resolution of her very own.
3- Nothing Personal by James Baldwin
Available for the first time in a stand-alone edition, Nothing Personal is Baldwin’s deep probe into the American condition. Considering the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020—which were met with tear gas and rubber bullets the same year white supremacists entered the US Capitol with little resistance, openly toting flags of the Confederacy—Baldwin’s documentation of his own troubled times cuts to the core of where we find ourselves today.
Baldwin’s thoughts move through an interconnected range of questions, from America’s fixation on eternal youth, to its refusal to recognize the past, its addiction to consumerism, and the lovelessness that fuels it in its cities and popular culture. He recounts his own encounter with police in a scene disturbingly similar to those we see today documented with ever increasing immediacy. This edition also includes a new foreword from interdisciplinary scholar Imani Perry and an afterword from noted Baldwin scholar Eddie S. Glaude Jr. Both explore and situate the essay within the broader context of Baldwin’s work, the Movement for Black Lives, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the presidency of Donald Trump.
Nothing Personal is both a eulogy and a declaration of will. In bringing this work into the twenty-frirst century, readers new and old will take away fundamental and recurring truths about life in the US. It is both a call to action, and an appeal to love and to life.
4- State of Terror by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny
After a tumultuous period in American politics, a new administration has just been sworn in, and to everyone’s surprise the president chooses a political enemy for the vital position of secretary of state.
There is no love lost between the president of the United States and Ellen Adams, his new secretary of state. But it’s a canny move on the part of the president. With this appointment, he silences one of his harshest critics, since taking the job means Adams must step down as head of her multinational media conglomerate.
As the new president addresses Congress for the first time, with Secretary Adams in attendance, Anahita Dahir, a young foreign service officer (FSO) on the Pakistan desk at the State Department, receives a baffling text from an anonymous source.
Too late, she realizes the message was a hastily coded warning.
What begins as a series of apparent terrorist attacks is revealed to be the beginning of an international chess game involving the volatile and Byzantine politics of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran; the race to develop nuclear weapons in the region; the Russian mob; a burgeoning rogue terrorist organization; and an American government set back on its heels in the international arena.
As the horrifying scale of the threat becomes clear, Secretary Adams and her team realize it has been carefully planned to take advantage of four years of an American government out of touch with international affairs, out of practice with diplomacy, and out of power in the places where it counts the most.
To defeat such an intricate, carefully constructed conspiracy, it will take the skills of a unique team: a passionate young FSO; a dedicated journalist; and a smart, determined, but as yet untested new Secretary of State.
5- The Wish by Nicholas Sparks
1996 was the year that changed everything for Maggie Dawes. Sent away at sixteen to live with an aunt she barely knew in Ocracoke, a remote village on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, she could think only of the friends and family she left behind . . . until she met Bryce Trickett, one of the few teenagers on the island. Handsome, genuine, and newly admitted to West Point, Bryce showed her how much there was to love about the wind-swept beach town—and introduced her to photography, a passion that would define the rest of her life.
By 2019, Maggie is a renowned travel photographer. She splits her time between running a successful gallery in New York and photographing remote locations around the world. But this year she is unexpectedly grounded over Christmas, struggling to come to terms with a sobering medical diagnosis. Increasingly dependent on a young assistant, she finds herself becoming close to him.
As they count down the last days of the season together, she begins to tell him the story of another Christmas, decades earlier—and the love that set her on a course she never could have imagined.