My Year of Rest and Relaxation, by Ottessa Moshfegh
I can understand why this book would be off-putting to some people, but I loved this strange and morose tale of one woman’s fucked up life. The narrator, who seemingly has it all, decides to take a year off and self-medicates herself (with the help of one seriously awful psychiatrist) into hibernation. Of course life still happens anyway, and although she gives you absolutely no reason to root for her, I still did. Because I still very much judge books by their cover, I was glad to find that I loved this book as much as I loved its arresting cover, which I think is one of the best that I’ve seen recently (and in my brief time working at Penguin Random House, I was lucky enough to grab this off of a take shelf).
Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich, by Norman Ohler
There is definitely no shortage of information out there about Hitler and the Third Reich, but Blitzed narrowly focuses on the various drugs that made their way into the German’s bloodstreams during the war, including the supposedly-sober führer himself. Ohler details Hitler’s rapidly declining health—due in no small part to opioid withdrawal—mirrored by the decline of the German army as a whole. Hitler’s personal physician, Theodor Morell, is almost as fascinating as his famous patient, although Ohler constantly referring to him as the “fat doctor” feels unnecessarily cruel, even if he was a Nazi and a close confidant to one of the most evil men in history.
After loving George’s most recent book, Nine Pints, I knew I wanted to read everything else that she had written. George now ranks alongside Mary Roach and Jennifer Wright as one of my favorite science writers, women who manage to be both hilarious and informative about seemingly ordinary topics. The Big Necessity is, to put it bluntly, about shit—and urine—products everyone makes daily but dares not speak or think about what happens after the flush. George explores sanitation (or lack thereof) around the world and I will definitely be thinking about this eye-opening book the next time I’m searching for a clean bathroom or considering flushing a pair of underwear (but seriously, what is up with people flushing anything but toilet paper??).
Travels with a Mexican Circus, by Katie Hickman
I’ll admit that choosing this book based on cover alone was a bit of misstep this time (it’s usually a cliche that never fails me) as the most interesting thing about this book turned out to be the cover art. This part-memoir, part-travelogue by a 30-something British writer and her husband about their time spent living with (and performing in) a Mexican Circus wasn’t terrible, it was just a bit of a slog. Maybe it’s because I read it in tiny pieces over two months (I usually have a “weekend” book that is smaller/lighter to take with me when I’m out all day) but I was never fully invested in the author or the other members of the circus she meets and describes in great detail. Maybe I’m just tired of the “circus” genre but if you’re interested, I’d skip this one and read The Electric Woman instead.
Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials, by Malcom Harris
I discovered this book after reading this mind-blowing article about burnout. There are countless stories floating around about the selfish millennial and how we’re systematically killing industries while expecting participation trophies and I’ll admit that even I (born in 1985, solidly a millennial myself) bought into this negative narrative. But Harris does a great job of presenting some of the major factors that got us here—productivity, technology, stagnant wages, the erasure of the middle class, education standards, student loan debt and policing policies—and I think this book should be required reading for anyone ragging on the most productive and least-compensated generation.