November’s shorter days make reading all the sweeter

Bloomsbury Publishing/Crown

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Americans gather this week to mark Thanksgiving in diverse ways – sharing a meal with family and friends, volunteering to serve holiday dinners to those in need, participating in 5K races, taking a quiet walk, and curling up with a good book. While we can’t cook your turkey for you, we can offer a delightful mix of books to explore and share. 

These verses from the poem “Thanksgiving Turkey,” by George Parsons Lathrop (1851-98), capture the spirit of the season:

Fetch a log, then; coax the ember;
   Fill your hearts with old-time cheer;
   Heaven be thanked for one more year,
          And our Thanksgiving turkey!

Why We Wrote This

The 10 picks for this month celebrate individuals charting their own paths, from a Muslim and a Christian who fall in love in sectarian-torn Cyprus, to a U.S. secretary of state battling terrorists and a memoir by renowned Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei.

Our reviewers’ selections include a collection of essays by beloved novelist Ann Patchett, a ground-breaking biography on Picasso, and the history of the American Transcendentalist movement in the 19th century.

1. The Island of Missing Trees

by Elif Shafak

Why We Wrote This

The 10 picks for this month celebrate individuals charting their own paths, from a Muslim and a Christian who fall in love in sectarian-torn Cyprus, to a U.S. secretary of state battling terrorists and a memoir by renowned Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei.

Cyprus, 1974. Tensions between the island’s Greek and Turkish communities are at a boil, as Kostas, a Christian, and Defne, a Muslim, fall in love. Their poignant story, told in part from a watchful fig tree’s perspective, blends facts about Cyprus with moving reflections on the toll of civil war, the challenges of being uprooted, and the interconnectedness of all life.

2. State of Terror

by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny

Well-crafted and engrossing, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny’s jointly written political thriller delivers wise commentary on power, partnership, and trust. (Full review here.)

Scribner

3. Look for Me and I’ll Be Gone

by John Edgar Wideman

How does one capture the vastness of Black life in America? In his sixth collection, author and essayist John Edgar Wideman continues to use the short-story form to paint a powerful, faceted reflection of Black history and culture. Both joyous and haunting, Wideman’s book deftly weaves together the past, present, and future.

4. The Bad Immigrant

by Sefi Atta

A modern-day Nigerian family wins the visa lottery to pursue their American dreams. Sefi Atta’s layered novel examines the culture clash faced by migrants trying to assimilate while still preserving their identities. Atta’s intelligent, unfiltered, satirical storytelling is compelling and compassionate.

5. White on White

by Ayşegül Savaş

The author, a Turkish writer living in Paris, has produced an elegantly stark character study of Agnes, a painter. As Agnes shares stories of her life – as well as her artistic ideas – with an unnamed postgraduate student who narrates the book, her path becomes a haunting cautionary tale.

6. 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows

by Ai Weiwei

Art world superstar Ai Weiwei mines decades of history in a memoir that is equal parts political statement and personal narrative. The son of celebrated poet Ai Qing, who was banished by Mao Zedong during China’s Cultural Revolution, the author finds that his life hauntingly echoes his father’s when he is detained without charges and then forced into exile. The book illumines the vital importance of freedom of expression and stands as a declaration of the triumph of creativity in the midst of political oppression.

Harper Collins

7. These Precious Days

by Ann Patchett

The heart of this generous collection of essays is a moving tribute to a woman named Sooki, whom Ann Patchett befriended during Sooki’s cancer treatment and helped in what turned out to be the last years of her life. Mixing the personal and professional, Patchett also writes about her three beloved fathers (biological plus two stepfathers), about book jackets good and bad, and about the sense of community that grew from opening Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee. 

8. A Life of Picasso 

by John Richardson

The fourth volume of John Richardson’s “Life of Picasso” biography tracks the great artist through Paris in the 1930s and early ’40s. Clear and compelling, it carefully and fairly examines his life and art. 

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

9. The Transcendentalists and Their World

by Robert A. Gross

Robert A. Gross explores the wider community in Concord, Massachusetts, that challenged and sustained Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Gross spent decades on this exhaustively researched chronicle, and it’s worth the wait. In it, he explores the tension between individual contentment and social responsibility, which is as topical as the morning headlines.

10. The Correspondents

by Judith Mackrell

Judith Mackrell’s thrilling account tells the stories of six dauntless female journalists who covered the most dangerous World War II combat zones in Europe, reporting on the action while also fighting for the same access as their male counterparts.

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