1. Random Family – Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
This book is amazing. It spans 10 years in the life of two urban women growing up in the Bronx, surviving drugs, love, sex, children, and prison. It took LeBlanc a decade of following this family to complete this book, which was her first. The dedication to the story really shows in how detailed and loving the book is. LeBlanc really got to know these people and she paints a beautiful, harsh, complex picture with her words that feels like fiction. It’s really one of the most impressive works I’ve ever read.
2. All Souls – Michael Patrick MacDonald
This is a memoir of MacDonald’s childhood growing up in Southie (South Boston) under the influence of the Irish mafia. In the predominately white Irish catholic neighborhood of the Old Colony housing projects, Michael grows up with his mother, Ma and his nine brothers and sisters who fall victim to drugs, crime rings, and suicide. The book also covers notorious and fascinating crime boss Whitey Bulger and his death grip on the community. Despite the bad, MacDonald has a self-aware version of Stockholm Syndrome for his old stomping grounds and writes lovingly about his days there, the residents and the loyalty and pride of the people, which is being stamped out now by gentrification. It’s an incredibly interesting culture to peek into and MacDonald’s inside scoop is a real page-turner.
Fun fact: I Myspace messaged MacDonald once to talk about this book and he wrote me back. That’s how long ago that was!
3. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
Incredible. You will be glued to your seat reading this. You will not be able to put it down. This masterpiece follows the 1959 murders of the Clutter family (mom, dad, and two of the children) in their presumably safe, quaint Kansas home. Capote, and his friend Harper Lee, traveled to the town where the murders took place and interviewed residents to try and paint a picture of the disruption of this seemingly idyllic suburb. Capote then becomes kind of obsessed with the two men arrested for the murders, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. The random brutality of the crimes, the ambiguous relationship between Capote and Smith, the thrilling mesh and fiction and non-fiction make this one of the most fascinating books ever.
4. Team of Rivals – Doris Kearns Goodwin
You like Abraham Lincoln? Want to read a HUGE book about Abraham Lincoln? You’re in luck. Goodwin’s scholarly tome, which the film “Lincoln” was based on, follows the magnificent way Lincoln made friends of his biggest political enemies by including them in his Cabinet and working together for the American people. It’s very inspiring and full of tons of great insights about Lincoln as well as giving credit to his peers: Chase, Stanton, and Bates. And it tracks the path to emancipation, abolition and the US Civil War. Maybe this minutia is only interesting to me? (Although the book is a best-seller, so probably not.) Did anyone else go to Gettysburg for their birthday though? Yeah! I thought not!
5. The Right Stuff – Tom Wolfe
The best! This is Tom Wolfe’s new journalism delight about the astronaut program and the legends in it: Chuck Yeager, John Glenn, Alan Shepard et al. It’s the incredible story of the Mercury Seven, the test pilots and the training everyone has to go through. These men put themselves through so much for the honor and for their own glory and the glory of the country. It’s a great look at the psyche of the astronaut and Tom Wolfe does an amazing job painting each guy as a distinct character. So they leap from the pages of the book and of history and into your eyeballs and brain. Instant favorite.