Are you looking for a book to read during the holidays? Here are our tips | CUR 89.3

Winter is the perfect time to relax with a good book.

KCUR’s Up To Date brought together author Steve Paul, BLK+BRWN bookstore owner Cori Smith, and University of Kansas English professor Mark Luce to share their old favorites and must-read new reads.

Steve Paul’s advice

“The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams” (Little, Brown) by Stacy Schiff. Biography.

One of our best biographers takes us to the American Revolution through the complicated life of a Boston agitator. A political activist, opinion leader, instigator of the colonial Congress and astute architect of the march towards independence from the British “motherland”, Adams was fearless, driven and controversial. Schiff brings a slick, expert sense of history to the proceedings, making for crisp reading. His book illustrates how the founding turmoil and lessons of distant American history still resonate today.

Path Illuminated by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe“(Simon & Schuster) by David Maraniss. Biography.

He was the greatest athlete in the world: football player, track star, Olympic gold medalist (with an asterisk). Also a professional baseball player, albeit with erratic skill. But all of that was complicated — disturbingly and tragically — by Jim Thorpe’s identity as an “Indian,” a Native American with roots in the Sac and Fox tribe of Oklahoma. Thorpe’s story, as Maraniss’ clear and extremely detailed biography reveals, is a story of toughness, survival, love, loss and the sporting giant, but also a story of how myths are made and how white America he manipulated people and denied dignity and honor to the “first Americans”.

The philosophy of modern song“(Simon & Schuster) by Bob Dylan. nonfiction.

Bob Dylan, songwriter and Nobel laureate, is still recording new music and touring in his 80s. Now he has collected a series of essays on music and culture in a strange but revealing book, sometimes controversial and ultimately funny. Reflecting the kind of passionate, driving riffing that led to his “Theme Time Radio Hour” series, Dylan writes some 66 distinct songs that represent American pop culture from his youth and middle age – from stars like Little Richard, Ricky Nelson and Frank Sinatra to unknown relatives such as John Trudell, Native American singer-songwriter and activist. As it becomes clear, these aren’t necessarily a playlist of his favorite songs from him, but entry points into the flow of the story. Dylan ponders justice, fame, race, and other topics, and presents the kind of intellectual pinball we’ve come to expect from this pop culture survivor who fully deserves his status as sage, poet, and court jester.

The development(Viking) by AM Homes. Fiction.

This serious-comic novel rather elegantly and cleverly encapsulates our final years of political anxiety and division. The setting extends from Election Day 2008 to the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama two and a half months later. Her main characters include 18-year-old Meghan Hitchens, her politically connected and conservative father, known as the Big Guy, and her mother Charlotte. Even as the family faces their own secrets and disintegration, the weight of the story and conflicting notions of the “American Dream” push the reader through a carefully observed scenario that mixes a young woman’s personal awakenings and the shaping of political truths and candies. AM Homes has a sharp eye, an evil wit, and a highly tuned ear, resulting in a fast-paced novel packed with cultural, emotional, and political insights.

Cori Smith’s advice

“All About Love” (HarperCollins) by bell hooks. Self-help.

The book that changed my view and continues to impact many readers, old and new, of the work of Bell Hooks, intersectional feminism, and the radical practice of love. This book touches on all the different domains of what love is and how it should be present in all the different lanes of our lives including spirituality, childhood/parenting, romantic love, self love, grief, etc.

“The City We Have Become” (Orbit Books) by NK Jemisin. Science fiction.

Set in a modern day New York City, this book follows a handful of characters who seem to have much more in common than they know when they are forced to band together to protect their city from an attack.

“Kindred” (Doubleday) by Octavia Butler. Science fiction.

Dana, a 26-year-old black woman living in California, is suddenly snatched from her time (1976) and returned to the 1815 Antebellum South, where she is tasked with saving the life of Rufus Weylin, the slaver’s son. Each time she returns, Dana is there longer and events begin to unravel significantly. The show recently premiered as a television adaptation on Hulu.

“The Come Up: An Oral History of the Rise of Hip-Hop” (Penguin Random House) by Jonathan Abrams. nonfiction.

The most comprehensive account yet of hip-hop’s rise, told in the voices of the people who made it possible. Abrams traces how the genre was born from the resourcefulness of a neglected population amid the decay of the South Bronx, and how it spilled over into other boroughs and across the nation – from parks to vinyl, below the Mason-Dixon line, to the West Coast through gangster rap and G-funk, and then across the generations.

“Black Power Kitchen” (Workman Publishing) by Ghetto Gastro. Cookbook.

Part cookbook, part manifesto. Created with the big energy of the Bronx, Black Power Kitchen combines 75 flavor-packed, mostly plant-based recipes with engaging storytelling, diverse voices, and striking imagery and photography. The book celebrates black food and black culture and inspires larger conversations about race, history, dietary inequality, and how eating well can be a path to personal freedom and self-empowerment.

Mark Luce’s advice

“The Passenger” and “Stella Maris” (Knopf) by Cormac McCarthy. Fiction.

Cormac McCarthy’s first novels since 2006’s ‘The Road’, this pair of works explore the lives, delusions and undersea adventures of Bobby Western, a scuba diver, and his troubled sister Alicia. McCarthy moves from the fantastical to the mundane, from thriller to comic as The Passenger revolves around a body that has disappeared in a plane crash. The tail of the novel, the short film “Stella Maris”, explores Alicia’s demons and dreams. It’s not all great, but the 89-year-old McCarthy provided a dazzling read.

Thin blue smoke“(Bower House) by Doug Worgul. Fiction.

Former Kansas City Star writer and barbecue guru Doug Worgul penned this gem of a novel in 2009. Set at a local barbecue grill called Smoke Meats, the novel follows Laverne Williams, a former baseball player, and Fergusun Glen, a priest bishop with heavy spiritual doubts. The novel explores race, religion, baseball, barbecuing, loss, and love in ways that are as entertaining as they are touching. An absolute joy to read.

Sweat” (Theatre Communications Group) by Lynn Nottage. Play.

Nottage, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a crisp work that highlights blue-collar workers in a factory in rundown Reading, Pennsylvania. The entire storyline takes place in a café and documents the hardships of the Great Recession and its effect on the people of the Rust Belt. By turns gripping, hysterical, and often unapologetically raw, “Sweat” showcases Nottage’s characters in all their fragmented union.

Secular cycle” (Theatrical Communication Group) by August Wilson. Plays.

In this series of 10 comedies set in each decade of the 20th century, primarily in Pittsburgh, August Wilson has forged a different kind of story. From emancipation to gentrification, from difficult lives to the joyful blues, the comedies trace the arc of life for black people in America. A powerful, searing work that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.

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