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Books to Get You Thinking 2020 Holiday Edition

Outside the November air is cool and crisp, and the drifting leaves form a lush carpet on the ground. As the evenings start to lengthen, thoughts turn to the approaching holiday season just a few short weeks away. While this year has been exceptional in the challenges it has brought to us all, there are moments of happiness to be found in the closeness and warmth of reconnecting with family and friends during the holiday season. To help you with the traditional holiday gift exchange, here is a list of books covering a wide range of fiction and nonfiction titles that would make perfect gifts for just about everyone on your list! From all of us at the Mercer County Library System, wishing you a safe and happy holiday season!


Humans by Brandon Stanton
Brandon Stanton wrote Humans of New York in 2010, where he blended photography with storytelling to unleash a deeply revealing artistic experience. Brandon's work mesmerized millions of readers all over the world.  In his latest book, Humans, Brandon Stanton expands his narratives by including personal stories from over 40 countries. There might be wide variants in landscapes, languages, and social context, but what remains invariant is the  universal desire for love, friendship, hope and resilience to invent a better future.  The book vividly demonstrates the colorful tapestry of human experiences, revealing the harmony that lies hidden beneath the diversity in human heritage and social affiliations. Reading this book is an uplifting experience - each story has something special to communicate; each photograph opens a new window as we come to marvel at the extraordinary richness of human experiences and social dynamics which are shaping our journey.  

2030: How Today's Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything by Mauro Guillen
Mauro Guillen, a sociologist and professor at the Wharton Business School, makes an in-depth analysis of a range of economic, technological, demographic  and sociological forces that are making continuous incremental changes, but which eventually will lead to a cumulative shift and a new global paradigm. While nobody knows with certainty what the future will bring, the author has conducted research that allows him to project what the world will look like in ten years’ time, and the effect of economic changes through shifts in climate, technology and demographics on workers and day to day living in different parts of the world. To meet the challenges and realities of this new world, the author suggests a change towards lateral thinking, a concept that involves “not playing with the existing pieces but seeking to change those very pieces.” Lateral thinking can be achieved by companies and organizations through seeking to sense, interpret and act on weak signals coming from the periphery of their immediate area of focus.

A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future by David Attenborough
In this critically acclaimed book, eminent broadcaster and natural historian David Attenborough addresses a critical issue threatening our planet: loss of biodiversity. In the first part "My Witness Statement," the author documents patterns of human activity that have changed our environment and destabilized intricate ecosystems. The second part deals with specific solutions to address climate change and restore biodiversity. David Attenborough’s narrative helps us to appreciate the extent of the damage we have inflicted since the rise of industrialization, while at the same time presents a clear roadmap of how we can save our exquisite planet for future generations. The book, a personal statement of a great writer and researcher who has seen our planet from numerous vantage points, documents the transition of our habitat stretching over several decades. 

The Sediments of Time: My Lifelong Search for the Past by Meave Leakey and Samira Leakey

Eminent paleoanthropologist Meave Leakey, in collaboration with her daughter, recreates the story of human evolution - in particular the diversity of our early pre-human ancestors and how past climate change has reshaped the evolution trajectory. The work is based on research conducted by Meave Leakey over several decades in some of the most challenging environments in Africa and her narrative is enriched with the many dramatic events she encountered there. Her experiences reflects the interplay of ambition, struggle, and hope that  she endured in her quest to discover the moment in history when we emerged from our pre-human identity and stepped onto an evolutionary path that transformed us into the dominant species.  This book is informative and riveting and sure to leave a deep impression on the reader’s mind.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson
In this exquisitely written work, Pulitzer award winner and bestselling author Isabel Wilkerson provides fascinating insight into the architecture of the caste system that has shaped America    and still influences many facets of our social and political experience. Based on research of the social stratification systems practiced in India, Nazi Germany and the Americas, Wilkerson identifies factors that have been consistently applied to create a classification system that preserves specific economic and social priorities. This includes attributes like divine will, heritability, purity, endogamy, occupational hierarchy, dehumanization, and stigma. The author builds this narrative on the caste system integrating stories, historical events and political discourse spanning many decades. Race and caste are not synonymous; they can coexist and, in many situations, they interact and reinforce creating complex social hierarchies. This deeply researched book presents a compelling perspective to reexamine the American experience and trace the origins of discontent.

Fiction, Entertainment and Cooking 

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Britt Bennett’s bestselling novel is a thought-provoking exploration of the American history of racial passing, as well as an exploration of how one’s past can have a far-reaching influence on a person’s desires, expectations and life choices. It is also an intense family drama that follows the lives of two sisters, Stella and Desiree, who grew up in the small town of Mallard, a place reserved for light skinned Blacks. Inseparable as children, they become lost to each other when Stella decides to pass herself as a White and makes a new life for herself in California. The novel spans three generations from the 1950s to the 1990s, as Desiree’s daughter, Jude, moves to California and encounters her cousin, Kennedy. The novel raises important questions of identity, our past, and whether that determines who we are over who we want to be. 

A Long Petal of the Sea: A Novel by Isabel Allende
Isabel Allende’s new novel spans more than sixty years of Spanish and Chilean history after the Spanish Civil War, following the fortunes of two Spanish refugees who flee to France from where they board the ship Winnipeg. The escape was made possible by the poet Pablo Neruda, who chartered the ship to carry more than 2,000 refugees to Chile.  Roser, a pianist, and Victor, a medic and brother of her baby’s dead father, enter into a reluctant marriage as a precondition to getting a berth on the ship. The novel is a love story exploring the thoughts and emotions of its characters and the choices they must make as they seek a home in a new country, again in the face of another era of repression under the dictator, Augusta Pinochet.

The Guest Book by Sarah Blake
Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Award of Excellence, this poignant novel is a powerful family saga spanning three generations of the wealthy Milton family, set against the backdrop of war and social upheaval. The author’s explores the simmering issues of privilege, ambition, and prejudice through the lives of Kitty Milton and her husband, Ogden. Living the typical life of a rich, privileged family in New York, with summers spent on a private island off the coast of Maine, the hosting of elegant social events took precedence over inner thoughts, feelings, and grief over a personal tragedy.   With time comes two more generations of the family, and the carefully hidden secrets come spilling out. Guarded prejudices against Jews and Blacks gradually come to light, providing a microcosm and vignette of American life.

Modern Comfort Food by Ina Garten
“Food has an almost magical ability to comfort us, soothe us and bring us together in so many ways”- in her new book, the Barefoot Contessa turns her culinary talents to providing readers with a rich collection of recipes and  foods that are not just nourishing but also delicious and soul satisfying . The recipes are inspired by comfort foods from all over the world, ranging from Mexican enchiladas to Italian linguine and English roasted potatoes. Ina Garten puts her own unique twist to update many classic recipe, making them fresh and unique by lightening them, making them easier to cook, or adding modern flavors like sriracha and pomegranate. The recipes in the book are arranged in separate sections on cocktails, lunch, dinner, vegetables and sides, dessert, and breakfast. A separate recipe index is also included.

Skinnytaste Meal Prep: Healthy Make-Ahead Meals and Freezer Recipes to Simplify Your Life by Gina Homolka
A dazzling array of more than a hundred delicious quick-to-make dishes along with time-saving strategies to help take the stress out of your busy work days.  Gina Homolka provides a winning combination of sumptuous recipes with detailed food prep instructions, along with storage and freezing tips, so parts of the meal can be prepared when you have downtime, then whipped out for a quick meal during the week.  She also gives creative ways to substitute ingredients when needed to accommodate special diets. My favorite is the section on meal plans with detailed options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as snacks, laid out for the entire week. From roasted vegetable lasagna, turkey taquitos and Ramen salad bowls with grilled chicken, to lemon blueberry buttermilk sheet pan pancakes, the book abounds in flavorful foods certain to delight your family and friends.

- by Nita Mathur, West Windsor Branch

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