Your Must-Read List for Cozying Up With a Good Book This Winter


I don’t really believe in the concept of “can’t miss” books. We all “miss” books all of the time, to the extent that not reading every single book as it’s released is missing it. Without such misses, how would anyone have the particular and unreproducible joy of discovery? That’s half the fun of reading.

Consider the books below to be a “Miss It, But Don’t Forget It” list. Clip this one out of the paper, stick it on the fridge and, in a month, or six months, or a year, when you’re looking for something to read, you’ll make the long-delayed catch.

“Please Don’t Step on My JNCO Jeans”
Noah Van Sciver (Nov. 2, 2020)
The newest collection of Van Sciver’s cartoons is as funny and poignant as his previous work. Produced between 2017 and 2019, Van Sciver’s art-as-“survival mechanism,” as he calls it, might just help you do the same, too. Check out his previous work, “The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln,” for a real treat.

“The Defender: The Battle to Protect the Rights of the Accused in Philadelphia”
Edward W. Madeira Jr. and Michael D. Schaffer (Dec. 15, 2020)
Though Madeira died earlier this year, there’s nothing in this new book to suggest that he was anything less than sharp as a tack when it came to a subject that was dear to him: advocating on behalf of public defenders and the people they represented in Philadelphia. The retired chair emeritus of Pepper Hamilton teamed up with longtime Philadelphia Inquirer journalist Michael D. Schaffer to detail the genesis of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, “the best lawyers money can’t buy.”


“A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life”
George Saunders (Jan. 12, 2021)

Saunders’ first book since “Lincoln in the Bardo” gives readers a chance to more or less take a class with one of the most beloved writers in the country. From Chekhov to Turgenev, and Tolstoy to Gogol, Saunders writes with love and grace about the Russian short stories that he’s been teaching in his creative writing seminars for decades.


“The World Turned Upside Down: A History of the Chinese Cultural Revolution”
Yang Jisheng. Translated by Stacy Mosher and Guo Jian (Jan. 19, 2021)

For many reasons that Jisheng will easily convince you of, the Chinese Cultural Revolution is one of the most important
developments in the second half of the 20th century. Sound smart in front of your friends and learn something about why the world is the way it is, too.


“Let Me Tell You What I Mean”
Joan Didion (Jan. 26, 2021)
Hey look, a new book of never-before-collected essays and reported pieces by one of our most famous living writers! Didion’s writings about the likes of Robert Mapplethorpe and Martha Stewart are another way to get a sense of how we ended up with the America that we did.


“Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone”
Sarah Jaffe (Jan. 26, 2021)

The title is true of everyone except for me. I am completely fulfilled by my work. So if you’re one of those people wondering about why works feels like that, check out the newest reported book from Jaffe, a Philadelphia native and Temple grad, to boot.


“Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-reader”
Vivian Gornick (Feb. 4, 2021)

Interest in Gornick was rekindled last year when Verso released a new edition of her 1977 “The Romance of American Communism,” an ethnographic study of American Communists (mostly Jews). Now, the longtime “Village Voice” writer and author of “Fierce Attachments” is back with a collection of what are more or less odes to the writers that have made her who she is.

“Vera Rubin: A Life”

Jacqueline Mitton and Sam Mitton
(Feb. 11, 2021)

I don’t really know what dark matter is, and had always assumed it was a cool-sounding concept fabricated for science fiction. Apparently, this Vera Rubin, a pioneering Jewish scientist of the 20th century, taught everyone quite a bit about this very real phenomenon. This is the first biography to be written about Rubin, who died in 2016.


“No One Is Talking About This”
Patricia Lockwood (Feb. 16, 2021)

Lockwood is one of the funniest, most inventive writers we’ve got going for us in this country, and you’d be missing out if you didn’t give her new novel a shot. For a Lockwood intro, check out her memoir, “Priestdaddy,” or one of her many manic essays for the London Review of Books.



“Taking the Fight South: Chronicle of a Jew’s Battle for Civil Rights in Mississippi”
Howard Ball
(Feb. 21, 2021)

In 1976, historian and civil rights activist Howard Ball moved his family from the Bronx to Starkville, Mississippi, where they’d stay until 1982. Ball describes the experience of his Jewish New York brood as they fend off KKK phone calls and fight for a more just future.


“The Slaughterman’s Daughter”

Yaniv Iczkovits
(Feb. 23, 2021)
“With her reputation as a vilde chaya (wild animal), Fanny Keismann isn’t like the other women in her shtetl in Russia’s Pale of Settlement — certainly not her obedient and anxiety-ridden sister, Mende, whose ‘philosopher’ of a husband, Zvi-Meir, has run off to Minsk, abandoning her and their two children.” What more do you need than that? ❆

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