Can you spell sesquipedalian? Well, the children featured in anthropologist Shalini Shankar’s Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal About Generation Z’s New Path to Success can. The elite competitors in the Scripps National Spelling Bee are largely of South Asian descent and, though born after 1996, exhibit intensity, skill, and poise rare in people twice their age. On stage, they spell obscure words with ease, backed by supportive parents and thousands of hours of practice. And these feats . . .
I would like to designate December National Quitting Awareness Month. After reading Seth Godin’s The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (And When to Stick), I’m fired up to pare down before the New Year. The slim volume argues that quitting (despite its poor reputation) is a key to success. Quit fast. Quit often. Quit without guilt, Godin urges. Because quitting worthless pursuits gives you the time, energy, and focus to obsess about something that matters. “Just about . . .
In Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal About Generation Z’s New Path to Success, anthropologist Shalini Shankar offers readers a nuanced and scholarly account of a subset of immigrant parents today. Like Amy Chua’s tiger moms, the South Asian Americans Shankar examines—parents of kids who participate in the National Spelling Bee—value education above all. These so-called “bee parents” are just more likely to spend time supporting and advocating for their kids than doling out harsh criticism. . . .
Many picture books aim to spur conversation around the quirks of English spelling, but Beth Anderson’s An Inconvenient Alphabet is a class above. While alphabet books like the popular P Is for Pterodactyl highlight unconventional spellings without illuminating the why’s behind them, An Inconvenient Alphabet goes much deeper. It brings to life some of the history and power dynamics responsible for English spelling—in ways that intrigue adults and children alike. The book explores the true . . .
Emphatic and unsparing, Kiese Laymon’s Heavy explores the weight of wellness in a culture obsessed with lean. His expansive intelligence and fluid prose bear up to haunting family secrets and American deceptions with deep, potent wells of beauty, humor, and empathy. Initially conceived as a weight-loss story chronicling his family’s struggles with food and violence, the writing of Heavy, which was recently named a finalist for the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction, got murkier when relatives . . .
Dark and absorbing, Nafissa Thompson-Spires’ debut story collection, Heads of the Colored People, explores the unstable moorings of black identity and citizenship in blistering stories peopled with indelible characters. The title derives from a series of 19th-century literary sketches of free black laborers penned by Dr. James McCune Smith. That Smith, a black abolitionist, intellectual, and elite, chose washerwomen and gravediggers for literary representation and pondered them as “heads” of . . .
Tayari Jones is unequivocal in her belief that mass incarceration, with its attendant state violence, is the “most pressing civil rights issue of our day.” Yet her latest novel, An American Marriage, makes an unjust incarceration the backdrop for a nuanced interrogation of another issue of social freedom and equality: a wife’s right to pursue her own desires and fulfill her aspirations independently of her husband. Celestial is an artist on the cusp of critical and commercial success at the . . .
National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward has stared down truth and rendered it on the page with poignance and precision before. But for her third novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing, Ward forged a fresh set of writing tools—historical research, multiple first-person points of view, and a touch of the supernatural—to grapple with the legacy wounds of American racism. Urgent and evocative, Sing, Unburied, Sing explores the inescapable force of history bearing down on thepresent. Dense, multigenerational . . .
Margaret Wilkerson Sexton’s grandfather graduated from college and six of his children followed suit. But the next generation struggled to keep pace even as the specter of Jim Crow receded. “I wanted to know why,” she says, and chose fiction as her probe. The Dartmouth and UC Berkeley Law graduate’s research revealed the war on drugs and mass incarceration as modern barriers to opportunity. Her challenge became illuminating the culprits in narrative form. That is, writing a page-turner, not a . . .
Artist Misha Maynerick Blaise’s latest publication traverses the universe from microbes to galaxies with a winning mix of scientific curiosity and joyous sparkle. Her volume, This Phenomenal Life: The Amazing Ways We Are Connected with Our Universe, lauds the majesty of starry skies and dense forests, but directs our attention to the wilderness within—the ever-cycling world of growth, death and rebirth invisible to the naked eye. Through whimsical illustrations and hand lettering, . . .