What we're reading: Staff picks from Bartleby's

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"American Dirt" by Jeanine Cummins

A great read filled with drama, poignancy and humanity. Lydia Perez is living a comfortable life in Acapulco with her husband and 8-year-old son. She owns a bookstore and her husband is a journalist. It is apparent that the drug cartel has a large presence in the city and her husband is about to expose the ring leader. Unknowingly, Lydia has befriended this man in her store, which adds another layer to the story. After the expose, her entire extended family is killed in their home. Just she and her son are spared the carnage as they hide in the bathroom. The two are forced into hiding. Lydia sees her only hope for survival is to seek refuge across the border. This starts their harrowing journey north. They are instantly transformed into migrants as they join countless people trying to to reach "el norte". They are all running from something but not fully aware of what they are running to. An intense story, wonderful prose, and a book that you won't want to put down. Put this one on your "must read" list!!

— Betty Hillman

"Small Days and Nights" by Tishani Doshi

Grace escapes from her failing marriage in the United States to return to India to cremate her mother. While there, she discovers a sister she never knew she had who has been living in a residential facility run by nuns. Together they move to a house on an isolated beach south of Madras where they get to know one another. This corner of the world is about as far away from her life as Grace can get, but the remoteness make her forget all that she is trying to leave behind? This book does a great job of examining the secrets in families and how they affect the relationships of all involved. The book's setting creates a fascinating backdrop. Beautifully written.

— Lisa Sullivan

"In the Dream House: A Memoir" by Carmen Maria Machado

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This is not just a memoir. This is also a social commentary, examining cultural representations of abuse, specifically violence against women and even more specifically queer women with memories from Machado's own past abusive relationship. The writing style may challenge you in the beginning, as Machado is a pro at using a fragmented narrative, but keep going. This is an important story to tell, as memoirs about queer relationships and abusive queer relationships are few and far between. Machado even sites the lack of representation of these kinds of relationships in our popular culture (and the lack of justice for victims) as one of the reasons she believes she stayed with her abuser for so long. Ultimately, I think Machado is an incredibly brave author for sharing her heartbreaking testimony, for her inventive narrative style, and for challenging cultural representations of what an abusive relationship looks like.

— Maria Cunningham

"Topeka School" by Ben Lerner

In his third novel, Ben Lerner explores the contemporary American emotional landscape, with a particular emphasis on white male aggression and its impact on our social fabric. Through the backdrop of middle America and a fictional psychoanalytic "institute," Lerner's novel is a survey of masculinity, intellectualism, and alienation which tackles both our current state of national crisis, and the once vague influences which brought us to the crosshairs that the United States now finds itself in.

Lerner, who is also a poet, uses language with a heavy hand as he charts the paths of two disparate young men from 1990s Topeka, Kansas. Once members of the same childhood milieu, Adam and Derek find themselves on opposite ends of their social spectrum come adolescence. And it is in the blending of their two experiences that Lerner uses language as the focal point of his story. His writing may initially come off as ponderous and didactic, but Lerner uses his meaty tone to create a heavy atmosphere which lends itself to the weight of experience each boy is living as as they, and their families and friends, head toward a last confrontation. The novel provides a window into the push and pull forces at play in out current political and also social environments, and it does so in a relatively unbiased manor, which is no small feat.

— Ana McDaniel

Bartleby's Books celebrated 30 years in business in 2019. The store is at 17 West Main St. in historic downtown Wilmington and is open daily 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. year-round. Call 802-464-5425 or visit myvermontbookstore.com.


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