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12 Books You Should Drop Everything and Read This November

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As the temperature drops, the thought of staying inside with a good book becomes more and more appealing. With that in mind, we’re happy to suggest a few titles, including a holiday-themed book of essays, a classic adventure novel, and an in-depth look at processed food.

1. BLUE HIGHWAYS, BY WILLIAM LEAST-HEAT MOON

After his marriage crumbled and he lost his job, William Least-Heat Moon embarked on an ambling 10,000-mile journey around the U.S. using only the lesser-traveled highways and byways that appeared in blue on his old Rand McNally map. His account of the journey is filled with colorful characters—including a couple building a houseboat together, and a former Brooklyn police officer turned rural monk—who altogether paint an odd and wondrous picture that is unmistakably American. A deeply personal work, Blue Highways is also about Least-Heat Moon’s search for all things good and essential. "A man who couldn’t make things go right could at least go," the author writes. Anyone feeling a sense of wanderlust can take refuge in this book.

2. HOLIDAYS ON ICE, BY DAVID SEDARIS

Amidst all the schmaltz and consumerism of the holidays, it’s refreshing to read about a disgruntled department store elf. That saga, one of several in this collection of personal essays that gleefully hacks away at the magic of the season, tells of Sedaris’ brief stint at Macy’s. It’s a classic for the author’s fans, and full of the dry, cutting humor that’s made him so popular. Also included in the collection: A pointed critique of an elementary school pageant, and a story about rescuing a prostitute on Christmas Day. Happy holidays, everybody!

3. THE LATHE OF HEAVEN, BY URSULA K. LEGUIN

George Orr is a very ordinary man with a very powerful ability: His dreams can alter reality. Rather than embrace his gift, though, Orr self-medicates to keep the dreams at bay. A sleep researcher named William Haber offers to help, but ends up harnessing George’s ability to dramatically change the world while enriching himself at the same time. LeGuin’s depiction of shifting realities, including unsettling visions of world peace and a world without racism, are thought-provoking, while the tȇte-à-tȇte between Orr and Haber keeps the plot tight, the pages turning.

4. THE TRIAL, BY FRANZ KAFKA

Two agents arrest a man on his birthday and take him to a makeshift courtroom to stand trial. Who are the agents? What are the charges? Don’t expect a resolution from Kafka, who’s more interested in the tension that comes from trying to make sense of the senseless. David Lynch fans will revel in the book’s many unsettling, dreamlike sequences, like when the protagonist, K., stumbles upon a side room where the two agents are being punished for soliciting bribes. It’s all very strange, which is entirely the point. Like any vivid dream, you just need to go with it.

5. RAGTIME, BY E.L. DOCTOROW

Doctorow reimagines 20th-century iconoclasts Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, and Henry Ford in this raucous and moving page-turner. The author, who passed away last year, took a lot of criticism from history buffs, who objected to Houdini having an Oedipus complex and J.P. Morgan’s twisted obsession with immortality, among other revisions. But while he may have fudged the details, Doctorow captured the spirit of a diverse, rapidly industrializing nation speeding towards the future. The lengthy set piece that ends the book, inspired by the early 19th-century work Michael Kohlhaas, feels especially timely in light of police protests and the Black Lives Matter movement.

6. SALT, SUGAR, FAT, BY MICHAEL MOSS

Don’t let the upbeat name and cheerful mascot fool you: Behind that box of breakfast cereal, a political and marketing war rages. Moss, an investigative reporter with The New York Times, examines the inner workings of the processed food industry, focusing on three key ingredients that make these wonders of technology so appealing—and in many cases, so unhealthy. Highlights in this impressively researched book include a history of Lunchables, the wildly popular kids’ meal developed as a way to sell more Oscar Mayer bologna, and a behind-the-scenes look at the world’s largest salt provider.

7. A PROBLEM FROM HELL: AMERICA AND THE AGE OF GENOCIDE, BY SAMANTHA POWER

Power, who serves as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, believes that the U.S. could have—and should have—done more to condemn and prevent genocide in countries around the world. After reading her detailed accounting of mass killings in Cambodia, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia, among other places, it’s hard to disagree. Military intervention isn’t always the answer, as Power points out. Even deeming these atrocities "genocide"—something the U.S. has failed to do in the past—has a significant impact. Whether you agree with her or not, A Problem From Hell is worth reading as a history lesson on how countries can slip into chaos.

8. WHITE TEETH, BY ZADIE SMITH

Insanely ambitious is one way to describe the debut novel from British author Smith, who zips through time and an array of different character perspectives in her examination of immigration and identity. The book centers on two aging war buddies living in London, Archie Jones and Samal Iqbal, whose lives have turned out to be less than they’d hoped. Smith examines these men, their wives and children, and throws in a third family, the Chalfens, for good measure. The diversity of voices is wildly entertaining but also very focused. And the way Smith draws together the seemingly disparate plot strands speaks to her immense talent.

9. THE DOOR, BY MAGDA SZABO

First published in Hungary in 1987, this novel endured a long road to its eventual translation and publication for American audiences. The wait was definitely worthwhile. The story centers on a writer, also named Magda, who recounts her relationship with her enigmatic housekeeper, Emerence, many years in the past. Separated by class, age, and education, the women develop a complicated relationship that brings them—and the reader—closer to Emerence’s secrets. Szabo, who died in 2007 and wrote this book at the height of her literary powers, crafted something subtle and haunting that plot summary alone can’t convey. It’s a book that explores hidden lives and a country’s troubling past.

10. GHOST IN THE WIRES, BY KEVIN MITNICK

These days, Mitnick lives a comfortable existence as a digital security consultant. But before that, he was one of the world’s most wanted hackers. Mitnick revisits his heyday in the '80s and early '90s, when he regularly infiltrated corporations like Novell and Sun Microsystems, and the ensuing cat-and-mouse game he played with authorities leading up to his arrest in 1995. That his adventures unfolded in the days of dial-up internet and even before make Mitnick’s story all the more suspenseful, since securing sensitive information often required social savvy and a flair for the theatrical in addition to all those deft key strokes.

11. SALVAGE THE BONES, BY JESMYN WARD

In the wake of a tragedy like Hurricane Katrina, it’s easy to reduce the lives of those affected to symbols of love, faith, endurance, and so on. Ward’s luminous novel reminds us of the full, beating hearts that existed before and during the storm. The book follows 14-year-old Esch, a budding lover of literature, and her family in the days leading up to the hurricane. Confounding stereotypes at every turn, and fully rooted in Esch’s earnest voice, Salvage the Bones unfolds as a series of vignettes that are raw and surprising, and that carry the weight of contemporary myth. When the storm finally hits, it hits with a fury that could only come from one who was there, as Ward was.

12. THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, BY JULES VERNE

After escaping a Confederate prison via makeshift hot-air balloon, five men and a dog named Top end up stranded on an island in the South Pacific (don’t think too hard about the logistics). Verne, who published his book in 1874, weaves a compelling story of survival as the characters learn to scrape by and eventually thrive in their new habitat. There’s a mystery afoot, too, as the title indicates, and a battle with bloodthirsty pirates—all the hallmarks of a great adventure yarn, in other words.

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15 Powerful Quotes From Margaret Atwood
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It turns out the woman behind such eerily prescient novels as The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake is just as wise as her tales are haunting. Here are 15 of the most profound quips from author, activist, and Twitter enthusiast Margaret Atwood, who was born on this day in 1939.

1. On her personal philosophy

 “Optimism means better than reality; pessimism means worse than reality. I’m a realist.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

2. On the reality of being female

“Men often ask me, Why are your female characters so paranoid? It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

3. On limiting how her politics influence her characters

“You know the myth: Everybody had to fit into Procrustes’ bed and if they didn’t, he either stretched them or cut off their feet. I’m not interested in cutting the feet off my characters or stretching them to make them fit my certain point of view.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

4. On so-called “pretty” works of literature

“I don’t know whether there are any really pretty novels … All of the motives a human being may have, which are mixed, that’s the novelists’ material. … We like to think of ourselves as really, really good people. But look in the mirror. Really look. Look at your own mixed motives. And then multiply that.”

— From a 2010 interview with The Progressive

5. On the artist’s relationship with her fans

“The artist doesn’t necessarily communicate. The artist evokes … [It] actually doesn’t matter what I feel. What matters is how the art makes you feel.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

6. On the challenges of writing non-fiction

“When I was young I believed that ‘nonfiction’ meant ‘true.’ But you read a history written in, say, 1920 and a history of the same events written in 1995 and they’re very different. There may not be one Truth—there may be several truths—but saying that is not to say that reality doesn’t exist.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

7. On poetry

“The genesis of a poem for me is usually a cluster of words. The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

8. On being labeled an icon

“All these things set a standard of behavior that you don’t necessarily wish to live up to. If you’re put on a pedestal you’re supposed to behave like a pedestal type of person. Pedestals actually have a limited circumference. Not much room to move around.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

9. On how we’re all born writers

“[Everyone] ‘writes’ in a way; that is, each person has a ‘story’—a personal narrative—which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at 20 is seen as comedy or nostalgia at 40.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

10. On the oppression at the center of The Handmaid's Tale

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here. Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.” 

— From a 2015 lecture to West Point cadets

11. On the discord between men and women

“‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine. … ‘They’re afraid women will laugh at them,’ he said. ‘Undercut their world view.’ … Then I asked some women students in a poetry seminar I was giving, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They’re afraid of being killed,’ they said.”

— From Atwood’s Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1960-1982

12. On the challenges of expressing oneself

“All writers feel struck by the limitations of language. All serious writers.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

13. On selfies

“I say they should enjoy it while they can. You’ll be happy later to have taken pictures of yourself when you looked good. It’s human nature. And it does no good to puritanically say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that,’ because people do.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

14. On the value of popular kids' series (à la Harry Potter and Percy Jackson)

"It put a lot of kids onto reading; it made reading cool. I’m sure a lot of later adult book clubs came out of that experience. Let people begin where they are rather than pretending that they’re something else, or feeling that they should be something else."

— From a 2014 interview with The Huffington Post

15. On why even the bleakest post-apocalyptic novels are, deep down, full of hope

“Any novel is hopeful in that it presupposes a reader. It is, actually, a hopeful act just to write anything, really, because you’re assuming that someone will be around to [read] it.”

— From a 2011 interview with The Atlantic 

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China's New Tianjin Binhai Library is Breathtaking—and Full of Fake Books
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A massive new library in Tianjin, China, is gaining international fame among bibliophiles and design buffs alike. As Arch Daily reports, the five-story Tianjin Binhai Library has capacity for more than 1 million books, which visitors can read in a spiraling, modernist auditorium with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Several years ago, municipal officials in Tianjin commissioned a team of Dutch and Japanese architects to design five new buildings, including the library, for a cultural center in the city’s Binhai district. A glass-covered public corridor connects these structures, but the Tianjin Binhai Library is still striking enough to stand out on its own.

The library’s main atrium could be compared to that of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City. But there's a catch: Its swirling bookshelves don’t actually hold thousands of books. Look closer, and you’ll notice that the shelves are printed with digital book images. About 200,000 real books are available in other rooms of the library, but the jaw-dropping main room is primarily intended for socialization and reading, according to Mashable.

The “shelves”—some of which can also serve as steps or seating—ascend upward, curving around a giant mirrored sphere. Together, these elements resemble a giant eye, prompting visitors to nickname the attraction “The Eye of Binhai,” reports Newsweek. In addition to its dramatic main auditorium, the 36,000-square-foot library also contains reading rooms, lounge areas, offices, and meeting spaces, and has two rooftop patios.

Following a three-year construction period, the Tianjin Binhai Library opened on October 1, 2017. Want to visit, but can’t afford a trip to China? Take a virtual tour by checking out the photos below.

A general view of the Tianjin Binhai Library
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman taking pictures at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A man visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman looking at books at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

[h/t Newsweek]

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