(Photo: Ben Falik)

Explain or escape from the world around you with these good reads.

After decades of declining sales, as newspapers and printed documents lost out in the digital age, many manufacturers converted to making tissue products, like toilet paper and wipes.”

Reading that in the New York Times on my phone in an undisclosed location made me flush. With confusion. Another moment of disorientation and disruption courtesy of an invisible contagion that has magnified the usual unusual aspects of contemporary life.

The only consistent antidote I have found to this virus vertigo has been books. Not scrolling, not skimming; not Spritz, the speed-reading app that streams one word at a time at 250-1000 “wpm.” 

Book books, preferably paperback with matte finish covers, but I’m not one to judge.

Look, I’m not here to tell you that you should read or how you should read. You clearly have excellent taste. Yet it seems to be worth noting that ever-higher-definition media technology algorithmically engineered to flood the pleasure centers of our brains can’t really compete with the immersive experience of squinting at the sweet serifs (Go, Garamond!) on some pulped-up pine.

To that end, I have three books to recommend and a few dozen more to offer.

I got my advance copy of Healing Politics by Abdul El-Sayed on March 8. Reading it over the weeks that followed helped me grasp the tapestry of public health drivers and deficits, just as our institutions were unraveling.

Before he was a pundit and podcaster — before his run for governor and homecoming at the helm of Detroit’s health department — Abdul was an epidemiologist. In Healing Politics, he blends a useful primer on the history and methods of epidemiology with a study of his own opportunities, in contrast to his cousins in Egypt and in spite of the Islamophobia pervasive throughout his adult life.

Abdul hypothesizes — and contextualizes and quantifies — an epidemic of insecurity: structural barriers to equity and unsustainable policies that affect everyone, but disproportionately devastate vulnerable communities of color.

Readers who already “feel the Bern” will find Healing Politics plenty validating, but there’s even more to gain for moderates like me (and maybe you) and even center-right (still a thing?) readers open to a cogent, evidence-based case for “the politics of empathy.”

You’ve spent quality time with Barry Sonnenfeld, whether you realize it or not. Tracking Nic and Holly with a wide-angle lens in Raising Arizona. Out a sunroof on a limo ride with Tom in Big. Across the couch from elderly couples, then Billy and Meg, at the beginning of When Harry Met Sally.

We have seen so many things through the lens of Barry Sonnenfeld, but — unless you were an avid reader of his Esquire column, “The Digital Man,” or caught his interviews Letterman — you haven’t had a voice to accompany his eye.

And the voice of Barry Sonnenfeld, Call Your Mother: Memoirs of a Neurotic Filmmaker is one for this moment, starting with the mantra “Regret that Past, Fear the Present, Dread the Future.”

Note: Chapter 19 — which he wrote first and then placed smack dab in the middle of 38 vignettes that travel with turbulence from his slapdash bar mitzvah at an Upper Manhattan Catholic church to shooting Blood Simple in Austin to Will Smith’s bathroom — is not for the faint of heart. In fact, maybe just skip Chapter 19. And just so that admonition doesn’t make you more tempted to read it, when there are 37 other chapters chalk full of humor and pathos, just know that it chronicles the filming of nine feature-length pornographic films in nine days.

I don’t want to spoil any of Barry’s other marginally more family-friendly anecdotes. Instead, I’ll share (JN online exclusive!) his many Michigan connections, which we discussed on the phone while one of us was overlooking the mountains in Telluride and the other was corralling Rushmore the Newfoundland.

We received Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles through Literati, a subscription box for children’s books, unrelated to the primus inter pares Ann Arbor bookstore. I suppose Ronan Boyle is a children’s book, but I appreciated it on a whole ’nother level than my dumb kids.

Ronan Boyle is an awkward 15-year-old who stumbles into a secret police unit tasked with managing Ireland’s very real faerie folk and quickly learns they’re “not a friendly pack of elves who will fill your shoes with candy while you sleep. They are small, hard-drinking swindlers who would steal your nose and replace it with a turnip if they thought they could make one single euro from doing it.”

We read it out loud, replete with a whole range of regrettable accents, and did the same with Ronan Boyle and the Swamp of Certain Death as soon as it came out. No spoilers from me about whether Log MacDougal, the pugilistic garda cadet, gets reunited in Tir Na Nog with the leprechaun parents who kidnapped her as a baby and raised her as a log.

But you don’t have to take my word for it! Judah, Phoebe and I launched the Burton Book Brigade to share some favorites with you and yours to support our friends in Detroit.

Specifically, Summer in the City has a stockpile of more than 1,400 new books: 40+ copies each of 30+ titles. Rather than letting them collect dust until summer — whatever summer will ultimately look like — we are making the books available to anyone in the area for a donation of any size.

Browse the books below and bless your binding bibliophilia.


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