Suggested reading from critics and editors at The New York Times.
Michael Cunningham’s new novel, “Day,” is a tender family story that uses an ingenious approach to scrutinize the free-floating anxiety and trauma of the Covid era: It opens on the morning of April 5, 2019, with the family in question (mom, dad, uncle, two kids) going about their business, then jumps a year later to the afternoon of April 5, 2020, with lockdown inflicting its weird mix of panic and boredom, then jumps again to the evening of April 5, 2021, when the costs of the pandemic are clear and the psychological toll is still unfolding. It’s a sad, quiet book, and one full of affection for its flawed characters; whether your own experience of Covid-19 tracks theirs or not, they make a companionable bunch to spend some time with.
Also recommended this week: an archaeologist’s look back at her discipline’s undisciplined origins, a journalist’s investigation of Facebook’s messy secrets, a cultural history of eyeliner and a study of America’s parole system. The Times’s own David Leonhardt offers a history of American economic policies and their effects, a deaf and blind essayist writes about touch and communication, a historian traces the impact of populist sentiment on the French Revolution, and, finally, another family story, in which the reporter Nathan Thrall recounts a Palestinian father’s frantic search for news about his son after his school bus crashed near Jerusalem.
Happy reading. — Gregory Cowles
Cunningham’s latest novel visits a family on one specific April date before, during and after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. As their world is turned upside down because of the virus and other challenges, we see how they try to make peace with the twists life throws at them.
“It occurred to me that the book may also be haunted by the early years of the AIDS crisis, some of the worst elements of which were reprised during the Covid pandemic.”
From Caleb Crain’s review
Random House | $28
Morgan, an archaeologist, illuminates the discipline’s rough-and-ready early days in America, when few laws restricted plundering and thousands of Indigenous relics were looted with impunity — and, often, the connivance of venerable institutions.
“A colorful cast of archaeologists, anthropologists, crackpot scientists and hustlers. … Morgan tells the story with passion, indignation and a dash of suspense.”
From Joshua Hammer’s review
University of Chicago Press | $30
A Cultural History
For Hankir, eyeliner is so much more than cosmetic: In a whirlwind tour, the beauty and culture writer takes us from Petra, Jordan, to Southern California to the London home of the singer Amy Winehouse, exploring the history and cultural iconography of this dramatic signifier.
“Engrossing and appealingly monomaniacal. … Hankir doesn’t take her subject too seriously; her history lessons are peppered with cultural references and good humor.”
From Cat Marnell’s review
Penguin Books | $26
Tracking two prisoners’ decades-long efforts to win parole, Austen trenchantly examines how a process intended to reward good behavior and evidence of rehabilitation became a casualty of the victims’ rights movement and mass incarceration.
“Austen sees plenty wrong with our system of corrections, but he doesn’t whine with advocacy. His style is informative with little sap, and he manages to make sympathetic characters out of violent men.”
From John J. Lennon’s review
Flatiron | $29.99
After his son’s school bus crashes outside of Jerusalem, a Palestinian father is frantic for news — only to face bureaucratic hurdles and a scattered emergency response. Thrall, who has covered the region for years, avoids grandstanding while combining vivid storytelling and in-depth analysis.
“One starts to question whether the tragic accident is a failure of bureaucracy or, instead, whether it is the bureaucracy. … How much do individual choices matter under a system that determines the daily routines, the course of one’s life and even one’s death?”
From Rozina Ali’s review
Metropolitan | $29.99
OURS WAS THE SHINING FUTURE:
The Story of the American Dream
In this authoritative and nimble tour through American economic history, Leonhardt, a senior writer at The New York Times, argues that progressive policies have the best track record for promoting prosperity and combating inequality.
“Leonhardt maintains that over the past 50 years the United States has gone off the rails by moving from a more regulated capitalism to a rough-and-tumble version. … An interesting book, with many provocative points.”
From Roger Lowenstein’s review
“Illuminating. … Darnton examines this development with not only erudition but writerly flair.”
From Caroline Weber’s review
Norton | $45
Horwitz, expanding on his reporting in The Wall Street Journal, uses internal Facebook documents to fillet, with admirable journalistic detail, the company’s part in the spread of disinformation, political fracturing and even genocide.
“Draws on reams of evidence to prove that, as a matter of consistent policy, Facebook would rather clean up after even the gravest of disasters than prevent them.”
From Alexandria Symonds’s review
“Traditional interpreters of audio and visual language try to act as neutral mediums. Clark encourages something different: a roughshod form of subjectivity. … Some of the most affecting moments in the book are those that provide a window into Clark’s family life.”
From Anna Heyward’s review
Norton | $25