Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Lunar Bases, Forbidden Love, Lyrical Essays: Mitch Kaplan’s New Book Picks

Mitch Kaplan’s recommendations this month include a science-fiction bombshell, a trenchant analysis of race in the youth of America, and an eloquent defense of bookstores. Order them in the links below.


Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Plagues continue to be a focus for this eerily prophetic author of Station Eleven, whose brand—she would surely hate that word—has ballooned in popularity following last year’s HBO Max miniseries of the latter book. Part of Sea of Tranquility wrestles with this success in the manner of autofiction, as one character, a novelist who has penned a prescient, best-selling pandemic novel, has to cut short her book tour because of another actual pandemic. As is often the case with Mandel’s literary labyrinths, this is just one thread of a centuries-spanning saga whose central characters also include a young British man, exiled from polite society in the early 20th century who arrives in the Canadian wilderness via steamship; and a detective on a darkened moon colony some 500 years later. With its elements of time travel, synchronicities and speculative lunar bases, Sea of Tranquility appears to be another primo example of what Mandel does best: science fiction with a literary subtext that reflects on where we are now.

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

This follow-up to Booker Prize-winning writer and fashion designer Stuart’s instant-classic debut Shuggie Bain treads similar geographic ground and is likewise imbued with its predecessor’s lyrical heft. The teenage title character comes of age in a cramped Glasgow tenement, circa 1993, which he shares with his Protestant family: an older sister, a brutish older brother and an alcoholic single mother. The signal event in Mungo’s formative life is the clandestine relationship he forms with James, a slightly older Catholic boy who races birds from a dovecote near his housing development. Their love is star-crossed for more reasons than one, but both hope to escape their unenlightened world for a better one. Dual timelines converge in Stuart’s sweeping storytelling, which seems almost destined to be adapted for film. Stuart will speak about the book at 7 p.m. April 25 at the Coral Gables flagship location; RSVP here.


The Trayvon Generation by Elizabeth Alexander

The tenor of Elizabeth Alexander’s work has come a long way since her optimistic poetry vaulted over the National Mall during the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama. Dreams of a post-racial America thwarted, Alexander, a scholar of Black history, has watched the ceaseless procession of unarmed Black men and woman killed by police and other authority figures. Along the way, she coined a term for the youth of America—the Trayvon Generation—who have been collectively shaped by phrases endemic to some 10 years of racialized violence: “Two seconds, I can’t breathe, traffic stop, dashboard cam, 16 times.” Her new book is an extension of the prizewinning, 2020 New Yorker essay that inspired its title, expanding its themes to touch on Confederate monuments, the rise in white supremacy, the racism still baked into Ivy League institutions, and more. The Trayvon Generation is also, in the best way possible, a picture book: It’s filled with profound visual art from creative people reflecting on these moments, and perhaps healing from them.

In Praise of Good Bookstores by Jeff Deutsch

Chicago bookseller Jeff Deutsch’s new tome is targeted to readers who, despite the ease and temptation of one-click ordering, still prefer the experience of bricks and mortar—of wandering the shelves of a great bookshop and thrilling upon the joy of discovery. As the director of his city’s Seminary Co-op Bookstores, Deutsch helped incorporate the first not-for-profit bookstore in the country, and his new book, indeed, argues for bookshops’ vitality beyond the purview of capitalism. They are civic institutions that create community, endorse abundance and enrich our concepts of space and time. He even sees a future that, despite the diminishing returns of many booksellers still in operation, a model that not only survives but thrives. Locally, there is no one better than Mitch Kaplan, the region’s longest-serving independent bookseller, to engage Deutsch in a discussion; on April 14 at 7 p.m., he’ll do just that, in a conversation in the Coral Gables flagship store. RSVP here.

For more of Boca magazine’s arts and entertainment coverage, click here.

John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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