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Five Nonfiction Books That Break All the Rules

Insightful, provocative, and fearlessly frank, Dederer seduces readers with her warmth, wit, and wisdom.



A fierce new memoir from the essayist and longtime New York Times contributor.

In her debut, Poser (2011), Dederer trained her keen eye and penchant for dry self-deprecation on yoga and motherhood. Here, the author turns to other topics, primarily sex and aging. It seems she had no choice. Ensconced in her apparently perfect life—comfortable house, kind husband, loving kids, career success and recognition—Dederer found herself intermittently and uncomfortably aware of her “chaotic past,” of the “disastrous pirate slut of a girl” who was “breathing down my neck.” One day when she was 44, for reasons not entirely clear, though maybe as simple as the encroachment of middle age or the scent of nostalgia in the air, the latent hungers and preoccupations of her sexually active youth came rushing back, “as if a switch is flipped,” and refused to disappear. A disruptive, unbidden kiss from a man who was not her husband widened the crevice in the wall between her libidinous past and relatively contained, conventional present. Informed by her own diaries—20 of them recovered from boxes scattered throughout the basement—the author dedicated herself to considering the “horrible girl” she once was, examining her from a variety of angles to face her head-on and bravely mulling disquieting questions of identity and purpose. With candor and humor, Dederer dives deeply into her sexual history, which began with an unwelcome encounter at age 13, continued through her teenage explorations based around Seattle’s University Avenue in the early 1980s, and into her unhappy time at Oberlin and beyond. Along the way, she contemplates power and victimhood and the battle, or balance, between freedom and safety. Dederer is unstintingly honest and unafraid as she excavates her motivations and reservations, her fantasies, and the implications of the choices she has made – and those she has yet to make.

Insightful, provocative, and fearlessly frank, Dederer seduces readers with her warmth, wit, and wisdom.

Pub Date: May 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-94650-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

What Anthony Bourdain did for chefs, Ullman does for computer geeks. A fine rejoinder and update to Doug Coupland’s...



A sharply written, politically charged memoir of life in the data trenches by computer pioneer Ullman (By Blood, 2012, etc.).

“I once had a job where I didn’t talk to anyone for two years,” writes the author, who is known in computing circles for many things, not least her work on one of the graphical forerunners to Windows. As Ullman notes, programmers live in “mind-time” and not the ordinary time-space continuum the rest of us inhabit, and in any event they’re poorly socialized; one early boss had intended to hire her simply to inflict a woman on an underling (“evidently, Peterson was some manager he wished ill, and I was the ill”), then was demoted to the underling’s position and grudgingly had to supervise her himself. Early on, by her account, Ullman brought ethical considerations to bear on her work, reminding teammates on a project that veered into epidemiology that the best solution was not the Nazi one of killing off carriers of a particular disease, which earned her the sneer of a male colleague: “This is how I know you’re not a real techie.” More than a personal account, Ullman’s narrative is a you-are-here chronicle of the evolution of things we take for granted, from the early AI research of the 1970s and the first flickerings of the personal computer to the founding of Google—and now, to a decidedly dystopian present that is the real thrust of a sometimes-rueful confession. As Ullman writes without hyperbole, all the liberatory promise of the personal computer has been swallowed up by corporations. Corporate leaders may promise that they’re changing the world, but that proclamation is “but an advertisement, a branding that obscures the little devil, disruption, that hides within the mantra” and threatens to destroy what little civilization we have left.

What Anthony Bourdain did for chefs, Ullman does for computer geeks. A fine rejoinder and update to Doug Coupland’s Microserfs and of great interest to any computer user.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-53451-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

A powerful call to action and to empathy.

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A heartfelt plea to change the dialogue on Latin American children fleeing violence in their homelands to seek refuge in America.

A Mexican-born novelist, Luiselli (The Story of My Teeth, 2015, etc.) began the inquiry that informs her book-length essay as a Mexican-born writer, living in America, awaiting her green card. Her sense of mission intensified when she began working as a translator for those seeking pro bono legal assistance in their attempts to avoid deportation. She found that their stories could not match neatly with the 40 questions on the immigration questionnaire. Some of the children lacked fluency in Spanish as well as English, and some of their memories were vague or evasive. Yet the dangers they had encountered were real, as was the threat of returning to their countries of origin. Luiselli effectively humanizes the plights of those who have been demonized or who have been reduced to faceless numbers, the ones caught in the web of gang violence fueled by drug wars and the American arms trade. She writes with matter-of-fact horror in response to question No. 7, “did anything happen on your trip to the U.S. that scared you or hurt you?,” that “eighty percent of the women and girls who cross Mexico to get to the U.S. border are raped on the way.” Yet the victims are often criminalized in the American debates over immigration: “In the media and much of the official political discourse, the word ‘illegal’ prevails over ‘undocumented’ and the term ‘immigrant’ over ‘refugee.’ ” The author also explains how the immigrant crisis predated the triumph of Trump and how policies of the Obama and Bush administrations were heartless in treating such refugees as some other country’s problem. Though Luiselli may not convince those adamantly opposed to loosening regulations, she hopes that those who have been willfully blind to the injustices will recognize how they “haunt and shame us…being aware of what is happening in our era and choosing to do nothing about it has become unacceptable.”

A powerful call to action and to empathy.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-56689-495-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2017

A gripping call to action that portends greater liberty and justness for all.

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In this resounding polemic against political, cultural, and personal injustices in America, Traister (All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, 2016, etc.) studies women’s anger as a tool for change.

Citing fury as a driving force of her journalism career, the author, a writer at large for New York magazine and contributing editor at Elle, set out to write this book as a means to convey her own rage in response to innumerable inequities. She explores how feminist outrage has been suppressed, discouraged, and deemed unattractive and crazy. With articulate vitriol backed by in-depth research, Traister validates American women’s anger as the heart of social progress and attributes its widespread denigration to the “correct understanding of those in power that in the fury of women lies the power to change the world.” Some of the major topics of these clear, blistering pages include Donald Trump and the 2016 presidential election, ongoing sexual assault scandals and the #MeToo movement, systemic racism, and the public censure of women. The author weaves together discussions of the long-silenced accounts from women who were molested by powerful men with the deafening calls, by women across the country, for men who’ve abused their authority to be held accountable. She draws from a staggering number of sources, ranging from dozens of newspaper articles to Abigail Adams’ 1776 warning to her own husband to pay attention to women. Traister has meticulously culled smart, timely, surprising quotations from women as well as men. The combined strength of these many individual voices and stories gives the book tremendous gravity. It is neither a witch hunt nor a call for vendettas against men. Rather, the author provides a reflective, even revolutionary reminder that women's collective capacity to catalyze change outweighs individuals' fear of backlash or turning a blind eye to ongoing subjugation. The goal is not anger for its own sake but to access, acknowledge, express, and use it to rebuild structures.

A gripping call to action that portends greater liberty and justness for all.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-8179-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

Successfully avoiding academic-ese, Loomis delivers a jargon-free, clearly written history.


A fresh history of American labor and the strikes that resulted from companies’ mistreatment of workers.

In each chapter, labor historian Loomis (History/Univ. of Rhode Island; Out of Sight: The Long and Disturbing Story of Corporations Outsourcing Catastrophe, 2015, etc.) discusses the specifics of a strike followed by a section of context about the broader issues in American society undergirding the unrest. The author begins with the women laborers in the mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, who fought terrible factory conditions, during strikes in 1834 and 1836. Refreshingly, Loomis includes the resistance of African-American slaves as a labor-management issue, a topic that constitutes the second chapter. “By walking away from the plantations,” writes the author, “withholding their labor from masters who increasingly could not control them, the slaves undermined the southern economy and morales.” Loomis continues chronologically, ending with the rise of service-worker unions starting in the 1980s, groups that consisted mostly of blacks, Latinos, and new immigrants. Many of them labored in restaurants and hotels, but the movement sometimes went by the catchy name of “Justice for Janitors.” Some theories of government state that those elected to exercise power should protect the exploited. The author generally agrees, but he also explains how both federal and state governments almost always side with employers, usually to the detriment of employees. In the modern era of strikes, President Ronald Reagan smashed the union of air-traffic controllers, who actually served as his own employees. The anti-union fervor of Reagan and others has meant a precipitous decline in organized labor unions in numerous industries, leading to deepening wage inequality, job insecurity, and social unrest. Each chapter of this well-told saga could stand on its own, and the author broadens the value of this primer/well-documented advocacy tract with an appendix that briefly describes 150 significant moments in American labor history.

Successfully avoiding academic-ese, Loomis delivers a jargon-free, clearly written history.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-62097-161-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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