Anna Spydell

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Summer vacation has arrived, and with it the euphoric urge to pack a bag and hit the road (or skies. Or sea). But what is a well-traveled LGBTQIA+ person (or ally!) to do when the same old vacation spots have gotten a bit too-well trodden? Let Out in the World: An LGBTQIA+ (and Friends!) Travel Guide to More Than 120 Destinations Around the World guide the way!

Card-carrying, globe-trotting gays Amy B. Scher and Mark Jason Williams have assembled an impressive guide on where to go when and what to do when you get there, whether you’re a rugged hiker, a small town sightseer or are simply looking to relax at as many vineyards as possible before returning to real life. Even better, they’ve done it with an eye especially for the queer traveler, compiling lists of LGBTQIA+ owned eateries, tour companies, shops and bed and breakfasts. (They even note which hotels are dog-friendly, in the event of a furry plus one). Divided into chapters with headings such as “Where No One Gets Hangry,” “Nature and Nurture” and “Our Favorite Small Towns With Big Pride,” Out in the World is packed with unexpected and delightful new places to explore while unabashedly being exactly who you are.

Out in the World is an LGBTQ+ travel guide packed with unexpected and delightful new places to explore while unabashedly being exactly who you are.
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Kathleen Hanna’s memoir, Rebel Girl: My Life As A Feminist Punk, is a timely refresher in resilience, the power of protest art and the tender humanity that we must not lose. Hanna, influential frontwoman of bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, reluctant leader of the Riot Grrrl movement of the 1990s and one of the most notable feminist artists of the past 30 years, recounts her heady and social protest-fueled life in the Seattle and Washington, D.C., music scenes. Like a comic book hero, Hanna has seemed to gather superhuman strength with every blow she receives, surviving a difficult childhood and dodging death threats during Bikini Kill’s rise to indie stardom, all while churning out ever more powerful and furious music. 

Rebel Girl unapologetically reveals the vulnerability behind that image, discussing the trauma and illness Hanna endured while being hailed as a feminist savior, assaulted by infuriated misogynists and torn down by fellow Riot Grrrls for being human. 

It’s now common to find books that document the angsty cultural soup of the ’90s, slickly packaged to inspire nostalgia for the sense of apathetic cool that’s attached to the decade. Where Rebel Girl diverges from these, and succeeds, is in Hanna’s refusal to unhook the headiness of the time from its more difficult and complicated aspects. She does not shy away from unappealing truths about the era, particularly the violence directed toward her and other women from within the overwhelmingly white and male punk scene, and the problematic aspects of the Riot Grrrl movement, with its lack of intersectionality and eventual dissolution into backbiting and purity politics. 

Hanna is equally straight-shooting when she reflects on her own failures and culpability, acknowledging them in a way that is refreshing and constructive. By illustrating how you grew, you can show others how to do the same. With Rebel Girl, Hanna intentionally busts open her feminist idol identity, liberating herself from our perceptions and serving some hard-won wisdom.

In Rebel Girl, Kathleen Hanna intentionally busts open her feminist idol identity, liberating herself from our perceptions and serving some hard-won wisdom.
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Early in the shattering true crime memoir Rabbit Heart: A Mother’s Murder, A Daughter’s Story, Kristine S. Ervin pauses mid-sentence to tackle a question of grammar. Which tense does one use when discussing a relationship in which one person has died? It is a question that seems to form the crux of this stunning debut: that such a relationship does continue, though on very altered lines.

When Ervin was 8, her mother was abducted from a parking lot, her body later found in an Oklahoma oil field. Both the mechanics of the police investigation and emotional reverberations continued for the next 25 years, the brutal act lapsing into cold case territory. Lost in the background was Ervin, a confused child growing into a motherless teenager, the years bringing with them both new, terrible information about her mother’s killing and an evolving relationship with the mother Ervin might have had. Ervin achingly portrays not just the unmoored girlhood she experienced, but the lifelong processing of trauma that comes from personal and early knowledge of the violence against women lurking around every corner.

In the opening pages, Ervin dedicates the book to her 8-year-old self, and indeed, parts read as her efforts to reach backwards and mother her younger self in the absence of her murdered parent. While the facts of the crime and the unfolding of the investigation are clearly and baldly delineated, this is an emotional journey intimately revealed. Ervin is a poet, and her language here is lyrical. Her depictions of unimaginable cruelty cut so close to the bone that they feel almost tangibly interior. Rhapsodic and startling, Rabbit Heart moves inside of you and explores the places of rage and grief that are often left unmonitored, revealing both the power and danger of womanhood in a violent world.

Kristine S. Ervin’s Rabbit Heart is a shattering, rhapsodic true crime memoir that will get inside you.
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When I was 18, I found myself living on my own and quickly discovered that I didn’t know how to do it. It was hunger that finally motivated me to seek help in the form of an adult figure I trusted: Martha Stewart. I gamely subscribed to her magazine, and in the intervening decades, what began as an attempt to receive simple instruction on how to cook myself a hamburger has metastasized into a person who is completely inflexible about leaving dishes in the sink, the laundry schedule and cleaning the upholstery.

This self is very stressed. She is also, in a suspicion I hold at the very edges of my consciousness, scary and unpleasant.

Upon first cracking the cover of Alison Throckmorton’s The Good Enough Guide to Better Living: Leave Your Dishes in the Sink, Serve Your Guests Leftovers, and Make the Most Out of Doing the Least at Home, it felt clear that I would simply have to take this funny little book as tongue in cheek, have a laugh and be done with it. It was best not to overexamine why the section on leaving the dishes to soak ad infinitum gave me a small muscle spasm.

Throckmorton’s great success with this book, through all the quippy humor and highly designed pages, is to hilariously reorient the home as the place where living happens. The dishes are dirty because you used them, and have remained dirty because your life is full—whether it is full of children, of friends or of Netflix is beside the point. The bedside table is cluttered with items because the bed is cozy, and having everything you need at arm’s length will allow you to stay there for as long as possible. When entertaining friends, who cares if the canapes are made with saltines if you’re having fun? Macaroni and cheese is an infinitely flexible dish; we wouldn’t eat fistfuls of carbs and shredded cheese if it wasn’t delicious.

I would not say that Throckmorton has made me a convert. But I will say that I let the dishes “soak” for two hours while I watched “The Buccaneers” under a blanket. That’s saying something.

The Good Enough Guide to Better Living cheerfully encourages us to let our houses look like people are living in them—dirty dishes and all.
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A roadside discovery of the body of a beautiful, would-be starlet; an investigation into a city’s underbelly to find her killer; a cat-and-mouse game between detectives and criminals reminiscent of an early 20th-century detective noir. For many, this may call to mind the 1947 case of the Black Dahlia, a gruesome Los Angeles murder that lives on in the popular imagination. The crime at the center of Michael Wolraich’s The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age occurred 16 years earlier, across the country amid the freewheeling glamour of 1931 New York City, and held the public just as in thrall. 

Prohibition helped to nurture corruption throughout the government of New York, with the political machine of the Democratic Party, Tammany Hall, holding crucial positions in its fist. As America was pivoting from the glitter and excess of the Jazz Age to the scarcity of the Great Depression, the organization increasingly demanded loyalty, including from one Franklin D. Roosevelt, a young, charismatic politician with aspirations to the governorship of New York. 

With a concise voice schooled by years of reporting, Wolraich describes how the Tammany Hall empire of power began to teeter when Vivian Gordon was found strangled by the side of the road in Van Cortlandt Park. As police sought to learn more about the victim, details emerged: She was a small-time starlet, she had gangster ties, she made a living by blackmailing the wealthy men who hired her for sex work—and she had been days away from delivering damning information about the police, the courts and politicians to Samuel Seabury, a former judge charged with investigating corruption in the city. So straight-laced and impervious to corruption himself that he was nicknamed “The Bishop,” Seabury posed the first legitimate threat to Tammany Hall. Gordon’s murder became the catalyst for a series of events that would change the face of New York City forever.

In this meticulously drawn account of the crusade against unscrupulous characters deeply embedded in the halls of power, The Bishop and the Butterfly shares a glimpse into a fight for decency and fairness that continues to this day.

Michael Wolraich’s true crime saga, The Bishop and the Butterfly, chronicles a judge and a sex worker who rooted out corruption in Jazz Age New York City.
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In 1964, the young Douglas Preston buried a tin time capsule in a field with his best friend. Decades later, in a moment of nostalgic curiosity, Preston set out to unearth the box of buried treasure, but the remembered childhood landscape of its location was too altered to find it again. Later, Preston looked up the friend only to discover that the man had died years earlier, bludgeoned to death for unclear reasons in the boarding house where he lived. Preferring to remember his friend as the quiet, shy boy he had known, Preston made the conscious choice to step away, never finding out the exact circumstances of his friend’s murder.

That tension of the knowable and the unknowable permeates the bestselling novelist’s new collection of essays, The Lost Tomb: And Other Real-Life Stories of Bones, Burials, and Murder, all of which concern that which lies buried. Written over a span of decades for publications such as The New Yorker and Smithsonian Magazine, these essays tackle shadowy things that resist being brought to light in archaeology, in anthropology and in ourselves. Preston, who co-authors the popular Pendergast series with Lincoln Child, presents mysteries—a lost tomb in Egypt, a series of grisly murders in the Italian countryside, an elaborately booby-trapped pit rumored to contain treasure—in which the secrets seem to multiply as increasing efforts are made to expose them. He has compiled a book that haunts.

It is human nature to become preoccupied with revealing that which has been concealed. Indeed, Preston’s essays are peppered with journalists, archaeologists, detectives and ordinary people who become so consumed with the desire to expose truth that it crowds out friends, family and the regular stuff of daily life. These figures endure ridicule and persecution, yet they cheerfully surrender their entire lives to the chase. It is hard work to convince yourself that you would make a different choice, so skillfully sketched is the lure of the unknown in Preston’s collection of essays. From the safe distance of the pages of The Lost Tomb, we are allowed a delicious taste of what it is to be consumed with the desire to know, even when all evidence points to the fact that, maybe, we are better off leaving a mystery alone.

A haunting compendium of Douglas Preston’s true crime tales, The Lost Tomb delves into the shadowy uncertainty cloaking things that resist being brought to light.
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“Second hand books are wild books, homeless books,” wrote Virginia Woolf. “They have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.” Perhaps this is why Sotheran’s, one of the oldest rare and antique bookstores in the world (“One year away from closing since 1761,” as the store’s running joke goes), seems like a dark forest full of adventure.

In Once Upon a Tome: The Misadventures of a Rare Bookseller, satisfyingly named book dealer Oliver Darkshire extends an invitation into the shadowy and ever so slightly dangerous realm of this London bookshop. Health and safety hazards lurk around every turn. Towers of forgotten boxes rustle without prompting. Crumbling esoteric publications must be delivered to nameless agents on train platforms. As Darkshire portrays it in his humorous and hyperbolic memoir, bookselling is as far from a tame profession as you can get, more akin to joining MI6 or the CIA, or perhaps taking up professional snake handling.

Oliver Darkshire tells the surprisingly modern story of how his book about a 262-year-old bookstore came to be.

Darkshire insists he simply stumbled into a career at Sotheran’s by responding to an advertisement after a series of failed attempts to land or hold down other jobs. His quirkiness, his adoration of history and his wide-eyed sense of wonder at the magic of books marked him as uniquely suited to the position (which largely entailed sitting behind a postage stamp-size desk by the door, as a first line of defense against customers). As Darkshire leads readers through the stacks, opening and closing various mysterious cupboards, we experience the thrill of being invited into his secret world. Peopled with taxidermied birds, a resident ghost and a band of frazzled booksellers, Sotheran’s constitutes its own small, puckish kingdom. Darkshire’s prose is so confiding in tone that the reader feels firmly included in this insular, bookish underworld.

For the devoted book hoarder and hunter, reading Once Upon a Tome is similar to the deliciously bewildering experience of wandering through a rare bookstore, not knowing what treasure might be just around the corner. Darkshire’s chapters are helpfully labeled with headings such as “Natural History” and “Modern First Editions”—but upon closer scrutiny, they are stuffed with stories that sometimes connect to the subject they are filed under only by the thinnest thread. In some books this would tangle the narrative into a volume of pure chaos, but through some kind of cheerful alchemy, it only adds to the magic of our journey through Sotheran’s. One is never in control in a bookstore; this is an indisputable fact long known by all book lovers. The sooner you surrender to the curious internal logic of this world of books, the sooner the magic begins.

In his memoir, Oliver Darkshire invites readers into one of the oldest antique bookstores in the world and acts as their hilarious, bookish guide.
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Mothers—for better, worse or somewhere in between—shape the people we become. Whatever lessons we learn from their example, whatever traits we inherit, go on to become shaping forces for our identities and lives. Author and historian Tracy Borman (Henry VIII, The King’s Witch) illustrates this in Anne Boleyn & Elizabeth I: The Mother and Daughter Who Forever Changed British History. Despite living in a strict patriarchal society, the love and influence of her infamous mother guided Queen Elizabeth I through her tumultuous life and much-glorified reign.

As one of England’s Chief Curators of Historic Palaces and the author of Elizabeth’s Women, Borman is well placed to explore the intertwined lives of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife and reformer of the English faith, and their daughter, the celebrated “Virgin Queen” Elizabeth I. This required some detective work, as both time and circumstance make the relationship seem practically nonexistent: Anne was executed when Elizabeth was only 3, and for many years after, Anne either went unmentioned in court to avoid provoking Henry VIII’s vicious temper or was slandered as a “strumpet” and seductress who had an affair with her own brother and enchanted the king with witchcraft. Even before Anne’s death, royal custom stipulated that princes and princesses were raised by nursemaids in separate households from their parents. It would be unsurprising if Anne had been an invisible figure to Elizabeth, holding little to no influence over the woman and ruler she became.

Yet Borman insists this was not so. Citing evidence from correspondence, material objects and the observations of witnesses during Anne’s brief reign as queen and Elizabeth’s long one, Borman re-creates the relationship between the two women as loving and full of significance, even after Anne’s death. Letters and receipts for purchased items reveal a mother who adored her small daughter and took their separation hard, consoling herself by ensuring Elizabeth was impeccably cared for, primarily by Boleyn relatives. Many of these caretakers would go on to become lifelong advisors and friends to Elizabeth, helping to sustain her through her uncertain adolescence and her imprisonment during her sister Mary’s years on England’s throne. From her coronation to her deathbed, Elizabeth’s time as queen was peppered with mementos of Anne: She incorporated her mother’s badge into her own insignia, packed her court with her Boleyn relations and honored those who had been allies during Anne’s lifetime and could share stories with Elizabeth about her charismatic, brilliant mother.

Anne Boleyn & Elizabeth I offers a fresh perspective on Tudor history. Set against the many volumes about Henry VIII’s rule and Elizabeth I’s influence, Borman’s book triumphantly pulls the fiery, educated Anne from the shadows and restores her to her rightful place as a reformer, patron and queenmaker.

Historian Tracy Borman triumphantly shows that Anne Boleyn’s love and influence guided her daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, through her tumultuous life and much-glorified reign.
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“Marriage is so unlike anything else,” writes George Eliot in Middlemarch. “There is something even awful in the nearness it brings.” By the time that novel was published in 1871, Eliot, born Mary Ann Evans, was 17 years into her partnership with George Lewes, himself an author and member of the mid-19th-century intelligentsia. Lewes was already married when he met Eliot but had long been estranged from his wife, who by that time had given birth to multiple children with another man. Eliot and Lewes determined to form their own sort of marriage despite being unable to marry legally; they even set off on a honeymoon to Germany. That excursion led to a lifelong union that became the complicated scandal of Eliot’s life, making her “unfit” for drawing room visits and causing her family to shun her, even as she penned wildly successful novels.

It’s impressive how King’s College London professor Clare Carlisle (Philosopher of the Heart) finds her way inside this deeply intimate partnership in The Marriage Question: George Eliot’s Double Life. Though Lewes was more exuberant and extroverted, Eliot guarded her private life closely. She had a deep desire for acceptance and love, which possibly led her to gloss over uncomfortable problems in her partnership with Lewes. On the one hand, Lewes was Eliot’s first cheerleader, encouraging her through her professional endeavors and proudly promoting her work in the literary sphere. On the other hand, Lewes could be difficult in ways that were typical for a Victorian husband. For example, the immense earnings from Eliot’s work were deposited into Lewes’ bank account, and he availed himself of them freely. He could also sometimes be controlling, according to Carlisle’s narrative, basking a little too much in Eliot’s reflected glory.

Wielding a combination of biography and thoughtful analysis of Eliot’s novels and verse, Carlisle examines what marriage has been historically and what it is today, noting that it is as sticky and complex as ever. In many ways, Eliot’s relationship was thoroughly modern: an unsanctified union with a female breadwinner who struggled to balance the demands of parenting with the time and space she needed to work. Carlisle demonstrates that Eliot’s thoughts on marriage were reflected in her work as she picked through romantic joys and frustrations, ruminating over the what-could-have-beens that haunt every long partnership.

There are no neat answers to Eliot’s marriage questions—“whether to marry, whom to marry, how to live in a marriage, whether to remain married,” as Carlisle summarizes it. Instead, The Marriage Question is a deep examination of long partnership—how it affects us, how it is negotiated—through Eliot’s deliciously thoughtful prose and reflective journal entries. Carlisle has written a book that seems to tell us a story about others but instead deeply informs us about ourselves.

Wielding a combination of biography and thoughtful analysis of George Eliot’s novels and verse, Clare Carlisle examines the sticky, complex concept of marriage.
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The onset of cold weather can only mean one thing: It’s time to head to the kitchen and cook, bake and sauté up a variety of delicious, warming meals and treats to be eaten as the early dark creeps in.

Bliss on Toast

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if a person wishes to enter into the cozy state of mind, an episode or two of “The Great British Baking Show” will get you there. In Bliss on Toast, Prue Leith, a beloved judge on the show, tackles variations on that masterpiece of culinary perfection: toast. Inspired by the desire to fix something simple but elevated for a Sunday evening curled up by the television, Leith delivers on the promise of toast as an art form. If you’re looking for something creamy and warm, you might decide on a duck egg, rainbow chard and Dijon butter on multigrain toast. Vegetarians and vegans will delight in roasted red pepper hummus, avocado and zhoug (a simple-to-make Yemeni sauce) on rye. Apricots, almonds and Devonshire clotted cream on an English muffin will take you through dessert. With each recipe, there is just enough cooking to make you feel you are making something special, but never enough to complicate the simplicity of warm, crusty toast, eaten with one hand over a salad plate as you sink into a corner of the couch. What could be more comforting than that?

Discover more cookbooks by “Great British Baking Show” judges and contestants.

Modern Jewish Comfort Food

Soup, schnitzel, latkes and shakshuka: No matter your heritage, Jewish fare is always warming, filling and as nourishing to the heart as to the body. This is, after all, the culture that considers chicken soup to be one of its most revered dishes. In Shannon Sarna’s Modern Jewish Comfort Food, she breaks down the notion of Jewish cuisine as a monolith, noting that aspects of traditional dishes vary from region to region, and even from family to family. Sarna’s updates to well-known and well-loved dishes are deeply rooted in history and fully embody the wide variety of cultural influences on Jewish cuisine. As with her previous offering, Modern Jewish Baker, Sarna’s clear instructions and helpful tips for each recipe give you the ability to whip up previously intimidating but oh, so mouthwatering dishes such as sweet potato and sage butter knishes or lamb meatballs. The historical and cultural information she provides along with each recipe gives the food its soul. These dishes satisfy on their own, but the fact that you’re eating something enjoyed all across the world, across time even, lends them an extra-comforting quality.

Baking by Feel

How many times have we been guilty of eating our feelings? Becca Rea-Tucker (better known on social media as The Sweet Feminist for her social justice-themed cakes) would shrug and say, “So?” Feelings, as Rea-Tucker would like you to know, are not bad. And neither is food. A therapy session masquerading as a cookbook, Baking by Feel includes sections of serious mental health advice alongside conversion charts and lists of helpful baking tools to have on hand. Inspired by the now-infamous way the COVID-19 pandemic drove us all to our kitchens, Rea-Tucker has written an “emotionally agnostic” (read: no judgment) cookbook that acknowledges the comfort we get from creating something delicious. The recipes themselves are organized by which feeling might be driving you to bake or eat: A sunny lemon cake with poppyseed cream cheese frosting suggests itself to the cheerful; peach bourbon cake supports the heartbroken; black pepper snowballs conspire with the vengeful. Next to each recipe is a paragraph or two about the specific emotion associated with that food, and Rea-Tucker encourages her bakers to name and sit with their feelings. I have tried the buttermilk pie for stress and can confirm that the sugar and cream comfort and the advice helps parse out what exactly is going on with you.

Snackable Bakes

But sometimes, nothing is going on except that the familiar urge has hit: It’s 3:00 in the afternoon, you need something chocolatey, gooey and sweet, and you need it right now. Sure, you could pop down to the corner store and grab a Snickers, but that just doesn’t comfort you the way something home-baked would. Enter Jessie Sheehan’s Snackable Bakes. Short on time or needing that snack with some urgency? No problem: Sheehan promises that none of the 100 recipes in the book takes more than 20 minutes to assemble. Moreover, there is no creaming of butter or cream cheese and minimal need of tools (oven included), and use of the microwave is absolutely allowed. The baking might be effortless, but the end result is anything but halfhearted. Goodies such as blackberry lemon yogurt loaf cake and strawberry basil crumb bars taste like they were made during a lackadaisical Sunday afternoon, not whipped up in a spare 15 minutes. We all need to take a little time for ourselves, after all.

These recipes are perfect to eat while you’re snug as a dormouse, watching the leaves turn.
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 All the Living and the Dead

We are not born with the innate knowledge that we, and all those around us, will die. At some point, someone has to tell us. A beloved pet or grandparent might pass into the great beyond, prompting a bedside conversation with a parent about the finitude of life. Alternatively, if you are journalist and writer Hayley Campbell, you might absorb the concept of death while sitting in your father’s drawing studio as he studies the decomposition of a kidney. In the background, perhaps crime scene photos of the long-ago victims of Jack the Ripper stare down from a bulletin board.

As the daughter of the artist who created the classic graphic novel From Hell, which fictionalizes the brutal Whitehall Chapel murders, Campbell grew up fascinated by death. In All the Living and the Dead, she takes readers on a tour of the professionals of the death industry, interviewing embalmers, executioners, midwives who work exclusively with stillbirths and more.

In one chapter, Campbell assists two employees in a funeral home as they care for a body and prepare it for burial, and she is moved by their admission that they got into this line of work because of their desire for a meaningful occupation. Most of her subjects are driven by this kind of loving kindness for the deceased and their bereaved, but not all of them. In another chapter, she interviews the boss of a death cleanup crew that scrubs blood from carpets and removes other physical signs of death from a home. This business posts exploitative photos of gruesome and sad scenes to Instagram for shock value and advertising.

But for the most part, All the Living and the Dead shines a light on those with a tenderness for death, and Campbell is an equally entertaining and sensitive guide to these interesting people and their grisly but indispensable jobs.

Over My Dead Body

It is this same appreciation for the dead, as well as for history, that drives journalist Greg Melville as he explores America’s cemeteries in Over My Dead Body. Melville escorts us through 17 of America’s most notable burial grounds, from the mossy colonial graveyards of New England to sparkling Hollywood memorial parks, all with a perfect balance of geeky joy, deep reverence and a meticulous knack for research.

Melville’s prose is pure pleasure mixed with wry asides. A running theme throughout is the difficulty Melville has in convincing any of his friends or family to accompany him on his explorations (Melville, if you are reading this, I am available), but even among his most amusing anecdotes, he never loses sight of the gravity that still vibrates through the stories of the dead. Upon visiting segregated cemeteries across the American South, underfunded and unmapped, Melville’s writing grows hot and indignant. The same tone arises again when Melville visits Arlington National Cemetery: A veteran himself, he flatly rejects the notion of war providing a glorious death, and he is not afraid to challenge this very American idea.

Though one covers the bodies of the dead and the other covers the ground they are laid to rest in, Campbell and Melville meet in their shared belief in the continuing importance of lives that have ended, and in their willingness to examine the complexities of the death industry. For them, the dead continue to speak to us from beyond the grave. Are you listening?

Dying leaves, dying crops, the dying light of a crackling fire. If October fills you with macabre joy, you will find kindred spirits in the authors of these books.
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“Finis Austriae” was the only entry in Sigmund Freud’s journal on the day the Nazi army flooded over the Austrian border. In Saving Freud: The Rescuers Who Brought Him to Freedom, former Newsweek foreign correspondent Andrew Nagorski maps the Nazi takeover of Austria and the urgent operation to rescue Freud, one of Austria’s most famous and most devoted Jewish sons, along with fifteen other people, including his personal doctor, in-laws and other family members.

Nagorski is masterful at juxtaposing the evolution of the global emergency that became World War II with the deep interiority of a man whose passionate life work concerned people’s half-hidden thoughts. The father of psychoanalysis downplayed the threat the Nazis posed, clinging to his optimism that humans would turn back to the light and all would be made right, until it was almost calamitously too late. Saving Freud is the sort of book that, though you know the outcome of the events, still makes you hope with Freud that something might take a turn for the better. Nagorski has a gift for revealing that everything—worldwide emergencies, far-away news, political decisions—is, in the end, about people. This is wonderfully appropriate for a book about Freud, who laid the groundwork for interrogating and understanding the inner self.

It is dizzying to think of everything that had to be achieved to move a large, wealthy and well-known Jewish family out of Nazi territory and into the relative safety of the broader world, which was still often unwelcoming to both Jews and immigrants. Yet Saving Freud tells the story of a group of people—including Freud’s daughter Anna and her lover, Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham (heiress to the Tiffany & Co. fortune); the U.S. ambassador to France, William Bullitt; and Marie Bonaparte, princess of Greece and great-grandniece to Napoleon—who did just that. Motivated by love and towering respect for a man and his work, the unlikely team cooperated seamlessly to achieve the near impossible. It is a tale of good-heartedness, of human devotion and of people who unhesitatingly rushed in to do the right thing. In this way, it feels like a relief to read. Far from being a dry historical account, the book’s emphasis on the personal creates a compelling, page-turning narrative that is wholly engrossing and difficult to put down. Nagorski has written a book for our time, reminding us of the potential for good and adherence to higher ideals in moments of global emergency.

Far from being a dry historical account, Saving Freud is a compelling, page-turning narrative of the urgent operation to rescue Sigmund Freud from the Nazis.
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The final separation of death is so frightening, so thorny and so difficult for humans to grasp that we tend to distill it into something simpler, with easy-to-follow directives and guidelines. Perhaps the most well-known guideline is that we do not speak ill of the dead. Instead, we rewrite history. Fights and foibles are mysteriously erased. Troubling moments dissolve into nothingness. We loved them, we say. We miss them every day. We do not know how to go on without their goodness. We would give anything to have them back again.

But in Rebecca Woolf’s case, her relationship with her late husband wasn’t just imperfect but toxic. Her memoir, All of This, eschews any such flattering postmortem revisions in favor of the messy, freeing truth.

Woolf had been planning to leave her husband, Hal, when he was diagnosed with an advanced form of pancreatic cancer and given only months to live. With four children, they had hacked it as far as they could through a relationship riddled with acrimony, casual cruelty and Hal’s control issues, which left Woolf feeling desperate and stifled. Their impending divorce felt like a rapidly approaching springboard to freedom for Woolf, until Hal’s diagnosis threw up a confusing and painful wall. Suddenly she found herself fulfilling the wedding vow she had been determined to escape: that she would stay until the end.

Woolf does not mince words or deal in niceties in this memoir. Hal was frequently difficult to like even as he was dying: He was demanding and childish about the fast-moving course of his illness. He was distant from his children, and the stress he caused his wife seemed deliberate. Shortly after his death, Woolf began looking for new partners, mostly brief hookups, as her joy and relief became braided with her grief. Along the way, Woolf reveals more of Hal’s humanity, showing that within the strife and heartbreak of their marriage, there were bright moments as well. Aptly titled, All of This is an all-encompassing portrait of a marriage that didn’t work, and Woolf is as unflinchingly honest about that marriage as she is about the experience of loss that terminated it.

“I loved this man once and then I hated him and then I loved him and then I hated him and then I loved him and then I hated him and then I loved him again, and then he died,” Woolf writes. “This was our love story.”

In All of This, Rebecca Woolf is as unflinchingly honest about her marriage as she is about the messy, freeing experience of her husband’s death.

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