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In her fascinating and frank debut, Butts: A Backstory, journalist Heather Radke ponders why this body part is so polarizing, the collective cultural obsession so enduring. 

As the author notes in her introduction, “Butts are a bellwether. The feelings we have about butts are almost always indicative of other feelings—feelings about race, gender, and sex.” Radke explores the societal forces that underlie such feelings as she guides readers on an impressively well-researched tour of butts throughout history, beginning with a functional analysis (hominids and horses take center stage) and ultimately alighting in the present (twerking, social media and celebrity butts).

Heather Radke shares why now was the perfect time for a thoughtful exploration of this cheeky topic.

In between, Radke considers the persistent, pernicious attitude toward women’s bodies as things to critique. She shares the story of Sarah Baartman, a South African woman of the Khoe tribe who was effectively enslaved and exhibited in England and France in the early 1800s under the guise of scientific inquiry. From there, Radke segues into eugenics and its emphasis on big butts as supposed markers of sexual deviance.

These so-called scientific endeavors have had a ripple effect, Radke explains, influencing media and pop culture, creeping into beauty standards and body image. She offers examples of butt-obsessed media with positive posterior impacts, too; a deep dive into the 1992 hip-hop sensation “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot is entertaining and edifying, and Beyoncé’s 2001 hit “Bootylicious” gets a shoutout as well.

Radke also touches on fitness sensations (“Buns of Steel”) and fashion trends (Victorian bustles), as well as her complicated feelings about her own “generous” butt. While she, like so many others, has felt shame about her body shape, Radke also believes that “a close examination of the parts of ourselves that can feel unbearable . . . can be transformative.” Certainly, Butts can usher readers onto this more positive path, thanks to its top-notch reportage, assured and respectful voice and invitation to butt-centric contemplation.

In Butts: A Backstory, journalist Heather Radke ponders why this body part is so polarizing, the collective cultural obsession so enduring.

What is it about butts, exactly, that has made them such a source of fascination throughout history? In her debut book, Butts: A Backstory, reporter Heather Radke seeks to answer that question with wit, empathy and verve. The author spoke with BookPage about what she learned when she looked at butts head-on.

Congratulations on your first book! Did you always want to be an author? What’s been the most exciting aspect so far?
Yes! I have wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl wearing bifocals, thumbing through the pages of Anne of Green Gables at Schuler Bookstore in Okemos, Michigan. It is incredibly difficult to write a book, and a true honor and thrill to have it published. For me, one of the most exciting parts was doing oral histories with different women about their bodies for the initial background research. I spoke with people who had very different bodies from mine and came from very different backgrounds, and it was always fascinating to hear how people feel about their bodies and what helped shape those feelings.

What made you decide that butts merited more than an interview or essay, but instead an entire book? Why were you moved to write about butts now?
I started this book as an essay about the connection between the bustle and the life of Sarah Baartman—a Khoe woman from rural South Africa who was taken to London in 1810 and put on exhibit so people could pay to view her butt—but I quickly realized that the questions I was asking had answers that were much larger than a single essay could contain. In order to understand the symbolic significance of womens’ butts, I would need to explore many historical moments, as well as the science of the butt and the recent explosion of interest in mainstream pop culture. It was this recent interest in the butt that made me think it might be a potent topic to write about now. One of the questions I had was about why and how mainstream beauty standards change, and the butt is such a powerful example of what that looks like.

Read our starred review of ‘Butts’ by Heather Radke.

It’s clear that you put a great deal of time, effort and care into learning about a dizzying variety of people, places, eras, fashions, cultures and more for Butts. Will you share a bit about what it was like to manage such a massive amount of information?
It was a lot of information! It felt like I was trying (and failing) to become an expert on everything, from Jane Fonda’s career to the gender politics of drag to the history of South Africa in the 18th century. I tried to read as widely and deeply as I could on each subject, talk to scholars in the various fields I was covering, and report on the people whose lives were touched by the topics in each chapter. In a lot of ways, it felt like what I used to do when I curated exhibits at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, and I used some of the organizational and research tools I learned when I did that work. But there is always a bit of a feeling of drinking from a firehose when taking on such an enormous topic. I’ll never be able to learn as much as I want!

Was there anything you had to leave out of Butts that you wish you could’ve included?
The butt is a HUGE topic, because it’s as old as the human species and as varied. I wish I’d been able to research and include more about other parts of the world besides the United States and Europe, but I decided that it made sense to narrow the scope because of my own personal experience and the enormous influence the U.S. has had on beauty standards worldwide. I also did some research on art history, pornography and the midcentury pinup girl, each of which could have been its own chapter!

“The work is to try and interrogate our assumptions about bodies and ask where they came from, if they are true and why we cling to them.”

Book jacket image for Butts by Heather Radke

In your Introduction to Butts, you reflect on your childhood view that your mother’s butt was “a body part like any other, something to love because I loved the human it was part of. It was not a problem or a blessing. It was only a fact.” Of course, as your book amply illustrates, “butts are not so simple.” Do you think we will ever be able to back off of butts enough to view them as fact, to see them as a body part rather than a symbol?
Honestly, no. We use bodies and body parts as symbols constantly—whether breasts, skin, hair or butts—and that feels very unlikely to change. I think the real problem isn’t actually using bodies symbolically but doing so unconsciously, or confusing the symbolism for reality. The work is to try and interrogate our assumptions about bodies and ask where they came from, if they are true and why we cling to them. Maybe then we can find new kinds of symbolism, or new ways to make meaning that aren’t so hurtful to so many people. 

Considering race is vitally important when examining attitudes toward butts and the women they belong to. From Sarah Baartman and the racist so-called “scientific inquiry” that was used to exploit her, to the more modern-day obsession with Jennifer Lopez’s posterior—there is a seemingly endless mix of fascination, envy, desire and anger projected onto the butts of women of color. When you think about that aspect of your work in Butts, what has stayed with you the most? 
As a white woman, I was very interested in when and why white women become interested in the butts of women of color. Of course, there isn’t a single answer to that question, but something that twerk instructor Kelechi Okafor said really stuck with me. She talked about how many white women she encountered as a dance instructor were uncomfortable with their own sexuality and turned to twerk as a way to express themselves sexually. Obsession with butts is almost always adjacent to angst about sex and race. The more we can talk about that openly, the more likely it is that fewer people will be objectified and harmed by that obsession.

“Because they are funny, and easy not to take seriously, there is a lot of subtext that goes unexamined in butt-related cultural products.”

“Baby Got Back” is a song that everyone knows, and your deep dive into its origins offers lots of interesting context in terms of how the song and its creator, Sir Mix-A-Lot, were received in 1992—and the ways in which its lyrics and video still affect our perceptions of butts today. But while the song and video are in many ways a celebration, you also note that one professor called it “empowered misogyny.” Can you share a bit more about that dichotomy?
I think that “Baby Got Back” is a very complicated text, largely because it is so popular. I believe that Sir Mix-A-Lot meant for it to be a celebration of a beauty standard that, at the time, was not mainstream. But when I watch it now, my conversation with Kyra Gaunt, the scholar who called the song “empowered misogyny,” is the one I think about the most. She talked about how it was part of a larger trend in hip-hop of objectifying women, but that because it’s about butts and therefore seems like a joke, it’s easier to give it a pass. It is one of the things that is truly fascinating about butts: Because they are funny, and easy not to take seriously, there is a lot of subtext that goes unexamined in butt-related cultural products. 

You note that when you were around 10 or 11, suddenly exercise was “no longer a game. It was a necessity.” Aerobics were a rite of passage for women in the 1980s, especially “Buns of Steel” and Jane Fonda videos. Is there any form of exercise today that occupies the same sort of butt-obsessed space in our culture?
There were lots of classes in the mid-2010s that promised to help create butts that looked like Kim Karashian or Beyonce. Those classes, which likely used very similar exercises as “Buns of Steel,” promised to create a big butt, whereas “Buns of Steel” was much more invested in a small, tight butt. It’s in these promises that you can really see the ways that trends around body shape ebb and flow. 

“The things that we don’t take seriously, the things we laugh about or feel are too small to notice, are often things that hold tremendous meaning.”

What were you most hoping to convey or accomplish with Butts? What’s been the most surprising reaction to the book so far?
I’ve definitely gotten the sense that some people are surprised that a book like this exists. When I posted the cover on social media, there were a few retweets where people said, essentially, “Is this some kind of joke?” But in a way, I suppose that is part of the bigger point I’m trying to make with this book: The things that we don’t take seriously, the things we laugh about or feel are too small to notice, are often things that hold tremendous meaning. Butts contain multitudes, and it can be both meaningful and fun to discover just what those multitudes are. 

What’s next for you?
Great question! I just had a baby, so my hope is that a little more sleep lies in my immediate future. Beyond that, I’m working on a couple of projects that take up some of the themes of Butts—gender, identity, the importance of the small—and explore them from very different angles.

Author headshot of Heather Radke © by Andrew Semans

Butts examines our most infamous body part through the lenses of racism and sexism, science and pop culture, fitness and fashion.
Review by

From childhood, death neither repulsed nor frightened Hayley Campbell but instead spurred her curiosity. So it was only natural that Campbell, a freelance journalist based in London, would interview people who make a living from death: not just a funeral director and an embalmer but also a crematorium operator, a crime scene cleaner, an executioner and more.

In All the Living and the Dead: From Embalmers to Executioners, an Exploration of the People Who Have Made Death Their Life’s Work (9 hours), author and narrator Campbell is a probing investigator who elicits honest answers from her subjects. She is also an active observer of their work, even dressing a dead man for his funeral. With each interview, it’s clear she is affected by the presence of death, particularly after witnessing the preparation of a baby’s body for a forensic autopsy. 

Campbell’s voice becomes more introspective as she considers how the actions of death workers enable the living to meet death on their own terms. Though ironic at times, she is never ghoulish. Instead, her tone is always even, quietly emphasizing that death is the most natural thing in the world.

Read our starred review of the print edition of All the Living and the Dead.

As author and narrator, Hayley Campbell’s tone is always even, quietly emphasizing that death is the most natural thing in the world.

The wellness industry offers a seductive promise: If you work hard, are dedicated and buy this shiny new thing, then you, too, can have the healthy, beautiful life you’ve always dreamed of. But for journalist Rina Raphael, that dream sounds too good to be true. In her new book, The Gospel of Wellness: Gyms, Gurus, Goop, and the False Promise of Self-Care, Raphael delves into the history of the wellness industry and explores why it’s booming—and what that means for society.

With wit and a keen eye for research, Raphael explains that “the wellness industry isn’t well.” An industry that began with fad diets and exercise has morphed into a trillion-dollar behemoth that’s trying to sell health with a side of spirituality. In a world that feels totally off its axis, the wellness industry offers women (it’s almost always women) a feeling of meaning and control over their lives. Its products fill the vacuum left by a sexist medical industry that discounts and misdiagnoses women, forcing them to look elsewhere for answers. Stressed and overworked, women can’t individually fight the systemic issues facing them, but they can perhaps buy a Peloton or a jade roller. In doing so, as Raphael explains, the wellness industry convinces women that it’s possible to buy their way to a happy, stress-free life while allowing them to ignore the systemic issues that make them stressed to begin with.

But there’s more. Raphael insightfully argues that wellness and health are industry code words that cloak their real meanings: thin. The purposeful conflation of being thin with being healthy is what drives the obsession with yoga, detox teas, expensive fitness classes, “clean” eating, $135 coffee enemas and vaginal steaming kits. But as Raphael reveals, an obsession with being thin often means ignoring what’s actually healthy.

Throughout the book, Raphael attends many wellness events and speaks to industry leaders. Her descriptions of these interactions are where her writing shines most and comes alive. It’s also where the focus of the book comes into sharp view—where she shows the real human beings perpetuating the hype. All together, The Gospel of Wellness exposes the spectacle, the splendor and the emptiness behind the curtain.

Rina Raphael exposes the emptiness behind the spectacle and splendor of the trillion-dollar wellness industry.
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Founder of the Nap Ministry Tricia Hersey has created a startling, generous new work in Rest Is Resistance. Grounding her debut book in Black liberation theology, abolitionist traditions and Afrofuturism, Hersey provides a blueprint for rejecting the demands of modern capitalism in favor of our collective health and social progress.

Hersey delineates American society as one in crisis. Through research and personal anecdotes, she demonstrates how our culture has systematically prioritized the generation of wealth above our health, happiness and stability—and subsequently romanticized this dysfunction as “grind culture” or “hustle culture.” For Hersey, embracing rest is an inherent rebuke of a violent system built on coerced labor and white supremacy. It is an intentional opt-out of an ideology that demands the labor of Black women while deriding us as lazy. She is also quick to denounce the modern wellness industry that has commodified and individualized self-care as something that can be packaged and sold (candles, shakes, crystals, etc.).

As part of this rejection of “shallow wellness work,” Hersey does more than just explain the problems of modern capitalism; she also provides practical methods of resistance through a variety of resting practices. Hersey argues that prayer, daydreams, sleep and intense laughter are not just enjoyable but sacred balms. But at the forefront of this work is the understanding that these spiritual practices go beyond the individual. According to Hersey, cultivating rest honors the labor of our ancestors and promises a better world for our descendants.

Hersey’s prose is exquisitely beautiful, dripping with lyrical grace and wisdom that make her background as a poet and scholar obvious. Audre Lorde, Octavia Butler and bell hooks are named inspirations for her craft, and their work echoes throughout Hersey’s thinking. “I don’t want a seat at the table of the oppressor,” Hersey writes as she dreams of a better future for us all. “I want a blanket and pillow down by the ocean.” Rest Is Resistance is a book to read and reread with a pen in hand and pad beside you; one that you will find yourself wanting to give to friends, co-workers and strangers.

Founder of the Nap Ministry Tricia Hersey provides an exquisite blueprint for rejecting the demands of modern capitalism in favor of our collective health.

Nancy Marie Brown’s Looking for the Hidden Folk: How Iceland’s Elves Can Save the Earth is a fascinating inquiry into the Icelandic belief in elves. Brown has a deep attachment to and knowledge of Iceland, its otherworldly landscape, its people and their beliefs. (She is the author of multiple Nordic cultural histories, and she has Icelandic horses and an Icelandic sheepdog on her farm in Vermont.) However, rather than defending elves’ existence, this compelling and highly readable book offers a thought-provoking examination of the nature of belief itself, drawing compelling connections among humans, storytelling and the environment.

Looking for the Hidden Folk begins and ends with a visit from Ragnhildur Jonsdottir, a famous Icelandic elf-seer and advisor to construction projects. While not everyone can see the Icelandic elves like Jonsdottir can, many people have witnessed the damage the elves have supposedly caused (putting boulders in the paths of cars, flooding roads, damaging bulldozers) when the elves’ homes in the rocky lava fields are destroyed in order to create highways for Iceland’s booming tourist economy. Brown chronicles the many ways elves protect their environment, guarding the land from unwise or hasty modernization. (Although it is apparently possible to negotiate with them.)

How do we come to believe in the reality of unseen things? Quantum physics and dark matter are now principles of reality, previously unknown until they were discovered by scientists. Could it be, Brown wonders, that we can learn to see elves through a similar shift in perspective? By valuing elves as guardians of the land, might we learn to live more respectfully and sustainably in nature?

If all this sounds a little high-concept, do not fear; much of the book is grounded in captivating stories from Icelandic sagas, particularly those that detail the relationships among the people, flora, fauna and geology of Iceland. In the end, Brown may believe more in elf stories than in elves, but that is precisely the point. Storytelling is the real, otherworldly magic of Iceland, a place where elves, humans, volcanoes and rocks are intertwined.

Spun from Nancy Marie Brown’s deep knowledge of Iceland, Looking for the Hidden Folk is a fascinating inquiry into the Icelandic belief in elves.
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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.

A Hat for Mrs. Goldman

Sophia’s next-door neighbor, Mrs. Goldman, knits hats for just about everybody she knows, and Sophia helps by making the pompoms that go on top. “Keeping keppies warm is our mitzvah,” Mrs. Goldman tells Sophia, explaining that “a mitzvah is a good deed.” When Mrs. Goldman gives her own hat away, Sophia wants to knit her something special, but knitting turns out to be harder than she realized. I love this sweet introduction to the Jewish concept of mitzvot. Author Michelle Edwards’ text has lots of delightful little details, like when Sophia notices that a hat she and Mrs. Goldman began knitting together many years ago still smells like chicken soup. But what gets me every time is Edwards’ description of Sophia’s emotions when she realizes the perfect solution to her knitting woes: “Sophia feels her heart grow bigger and lighter, like a balloon.” If ever a book were a mitzvah, it would be A Hat for Mrs. Goldman.

—Stephanie, Associate Editor

America

Jean Baudrillard was a French philosopher whose obsessive analysis of the effects of unchecked consumerism becomes more prescient with each passing day. In his 1988 essay collection, America, Baudrillard follows Route 66 across the United States toward Death Valley, California, as he seeks to answer a seemingly simple question: What makes an American? The thing that synthesizes American identity, he finds, is faith: from the evangelical fervor of Salt Lake City, to Las Vegas’ ascendant belief in the dollar, to the ever-elusive future of San Franciscan tech lords. Everywhere he looks, Baudrillard finds sprawling cities not built on trade or natural resources but suspended on dust clouds, spinning rivers of capital and an unshakable belief in American mastery over nature, by whatever means. Even if you disagree with Baudrillard’s funny, sometimes biting analysis of the United States, his surprisingly nuanced poetry, complex worldview and foreign perspective still make for a unique and engaging read during these dynamic times.

—Anthony, Editorial Intern

Open Book

Growing up in the 1990s and 2000s, I knew that Jessica Simpson had started out singing in church. What surprised me when I read her memoir, Open Book, however, was how much Simpson’s Christian faith still matters to her all these years later. The book opens with the day she decided to stop drinking, after years of using alcohol to quell her anxiety through tough relationships and even tougher career breaks. As she gets honest with friends about her dependency on alcohol, the group decides to pray together to validate Simpson’s decision. This moment of honesty and faith is a good entry point, since these values are Simpson’s guiding lights throughout her memoir. She’s honest with readers about childhood sexual abuse, the demands of record labels, her marriage to Nick Lachey, her relationships with family and the wild ups and downs that have shaped her life’s terrain. At every point, Simpson’s Baptist roots ground her and keep her from straying too far from her authentic self.

—Christy, Associate Editor

The Sparrow

First published in 1996, Mary Doria Russell’s science fiction classic The Sparrow examines organized religion and faith on a cosmic scale. Spanning the years 2014 to 2060, the novel follows an interstellar mission led by skilled linguist and Jesuit priest Emilio Sandoz to discover the source of hauntingly beautiful music that was detected on a planet four light-years away. Accompanied by a motley yet qualified group of friends, Emilio feels called by God to explore the planet and make contact with its alien inhabitants, the music makers. But as the trip unfolds, the group’s well-meaning intentions have catastrophic consequences that cause Emilio to have a crisis of faith. Raised Catholic, Russell left the church at an early age, identified as an atheist for several years and later converted to Judaism. This background, combined with her skills as a multilinguist and her career in paleoanthropology, provide a unique perspective from which to tell such a rich, multifaceted story.

—Katherine, Subscriptions

Hana Khan Carries On

Uzma Jalaluddin’s enemies-to-lovers romance Hana Khan Carries On is a joyful homage to the classic 1990s rom-com You’ve Got Mail, with an Indian Canadian family’s halal restaurant subbing in for the Shop Around the Corner. Hana is our leopard-print hijab-wearing heroine, and she dreams of someday telling true stories that honor her Muslim culture and community. The local radio station where Hana interns is hyperfocused on Muslim stereotypes, so she creates an anonymous podcast to express her true thoughts. Meanwhile, her family’s business has run up against a competing restaurant, with an attractive man named Aydin leading the charge. But as romance grows and the restaurants duke it out, the heart of the novel remains with Hana. Despite microaggressions at the radio station and outright racism on the streets of Toronto, she remains strong in her culture and religion, never abandoning these parts of herself. She finds happiness by being her whole wonderful self—a lover, a fighter, a devout Muslim woman, an open-hearted storyteller and a heroine to believe in.

—Cat, Deputy Editor

Whether your own approach to religion is devout, irreverent or somewhere in between, you’ll find characters to relate to within these narratives.
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Alice Wong’s memoir is a moving addition to her celebrated body of work as an activist, community organizer, media maker and editor of the 2020 anthology Disability Visibility. In Year of the Tiger, Wong creates a collage of blog posts, artworks, interviews and other ephemera with disability at its center, seasoned generously with her quick wit and fierce calls to action. 

Wong emphasizes connection with others as a generative, necessary force in her life, and she incorporates a chorus of voices in these fragments to illuminate the experiences of people who are constantly confronted with a world built without disabled people in mind. In seven thematically distinct sections, Wong collects conversations with artists, activists and thinkers, each offering new perspectives and delights. She chats with W. Kamau Bell about disability representation in the 1999 film The Bone Collector and riffs on reframing ideas of beauty and attraction with the artist and author Riva Lehrer. Though they are often brief, these dialogues and excerpts come together into a kaleidoscopic image of Wong’s life, illuminated by her revolutionary ideas of interdependence and care. Access is love, she says, and love for the disabled community resounds throughout.

Wong’s thoughtful use of multimedia elements—cheeky cat-themed graphics, photographs from her Indiana childhood and a clever crossword puzzle, to name a few—adds playfulness and dimension to Year of the Tiger. She maintains the compelling conviction that pleasure and joy are crucial to activism and liberation, and these offerings demonstrate that belief. They also imbue the book with the scrappy spirit of zine-making, and others looking for creative encouragement will certainly find it here. 

In “No to Normal,” Wong writes, “Every day I experience the very real distance between myself and the nondisabled world, which, by the way, is the default we all exist in,” and this notion is the undercurrent that moves through the entire book. As this stylish memoir demonstrates, each person, disabled or not, can demand more from a world that is largely built without access in mind. Wong wants better for us all, and she will stop at nothing to get there.

In Year of the Tiger, Alice Wong creates a collage of blog posts, artworks and interviews about disability, seasoned generously with her quick wit and fierce calls to action.
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“I can’t imagine another disease on the planet where if somebody didn’t get better, everybody in their life would abandon them,” said Chris Schaffner, director of a harm-reduction program in Peoria, Illinois. And yet, that’s the attitude many of us have toward people with addictions, thanks to America’s long-standing war on drugs mentality. After tackling the origins of the opioid crisis in Dopesick, along with its devastating effects on families near her adopted hometown of Roanoke, Virginia, Beth Macy continues this essential conversation in Raising Lazarus: Hope, Justice, and the Future of America’s Overdose Crisis. Her fourth book zeroes in on why this crisis continues and how things can change, and the facts she presents will enlighten you and likely change your opinions on many important overdose-related issues.

Beth Macy shares some of her reasons for feeling hopeful about the future of the opioid crisis.

Once again, Macy’s up close and personal reporting is riveting as she weaves together multiple storylines. She profiles numerous front-line heroes like Tim Nolan, who, after his full-time job is done, works as a traveling nurse practitioner in North Carolina, delivering harm-reduction supplies out of his Prius. Nolan works alongside the Reverend Michelle Mathis, co-founder of Olive Branch Ministries, which offers addiction triage, counseling, food and hygiene supplies in 10 western North Carolina counties. “I’m like the grandma that does syringe exchange and delivers biscuits,” Mathis said. In West Virginia, there’s 30-year-old Lill Prosperino, who puts their 4’10”, 125-pound frame to work helping about 800 people who use drugs. These activists share many admirable qualities, including the ability to greet substance users with “unconditional positive regard,” as one mental health counselor advises.

Macy also follows the diverse, dedicated group that brought the OxyContin-pushing Sackler family to court, including the renowned photographer Nan Goldin, who staged a series of “die-ins” and other protests at museums around the world to pressure them into removing the Sackler name from their halls and galleries. Commenting on Goldin’s success, Macy writes, “That it had taken a famous artist, of all people, to finally get under the Sacklers’ skin said as much about what captures Americans’ attention as it does about corporate influence-peddling.”

The genius of Macy’s writing is that she makes readers care, on every page, as she bears witness. This is heartfelt, informed writing at its best, and always personal. With Dopesick and now Raising Lazarus, Macy is a social historian and change-maker at the top of her game.

Raising Lazarus, Beth Macy’s follow-up to Dopesick, will radically change your opinions on the opioid crisis.

There are any number of events that could trigger a global apocalypse: climate change, a virus, nuclear war, an asteroid, the rise of artificial intelligence. Would anyone be able to survive? A group of elitist technology billionaires have seriously pondered this very question, spending a great deal of time and money to plan how they alone might outlive this inevitable catastrophic event, leaving the rest of us in the dust.

In Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires, professor of media theory and digital economics Douglas Rushkoff (Team Human) explains how this evacuation plan came to be and what it means for the future. When Rushkoff was invited to an exclusive desert resort for what he thought was a speech on the future of technology, he was shocked to find that his audience was just five super wealthy men “from the upper echelon of the tech investing and hedge fund world.” As it turned out, they had summoned him to pick his brain about how best to insulate themselves from “the very real and present danger” of a mass extinction, even asking him whether New Zealand or Alaska would be rendered less uninhabitable by the coming climate crisis.

Each chapter of Survival of the Richest focuses on a different aspect of how these tech billionaires have gotten to this place in our society and the origins of their entitled way of thinking. Rushkoff calls this Silicon Valley escapism “The Mindset,” a frame of mind that “encourages its adherents to believe that the winners can somehow leave the rest of us behind.” He skillfully uses his extensive background in media theory to explain The Mindset in such clear terms, it’s scary. For example, he proposes that The Mindset allows for the easy externalization of harm to others: Its very structure requires an endgame, with a clear winner and loser, in which the winners are the ones who have found “a means of escape from the apocalypse of their own making.”

Of course the irony in all of this is that “these people once showered the world with madly optimistic business plans for how technology might benefit human society,” Rushkoff writes. “Now they’ve reduced technological progress to a video game that one of them wins by finding the escape hatch.” Numbing and mind-blowing in equal measure, Survival of the Richest is a true story that seems straight out of a science fiction tale.

Numbing and mind-blowing in equal measure, Survival of the Richest reveals how tech billionaires are planning to survive a global apocalypse.

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Carter Sickels’ The Prettiest Star imagines a difficult prodigal son homecoming. It’s 1986, and Brian Jackson has returned to his small southern Ohio hometown. Six years before, Brian left home for New York City, where he found friends, a measure of acceptance and love with his partner, Shawn. Now Brian is 24 and ill with late-stage AIDS. He’s also alone; Shawn has already died, isolated in a hospital ward. 

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