Reviews of the Week with Lydia Denworth, Henry Cole, and More!

Every weekday, we feature a different review on Booklist Online. These reviews are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, or in high demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight.

A new month and a new set of Reviews of the Week covering the birds, the bees, friendship, hunger, and family. Read all about these life-affirming titles below.

Monday, December 2

Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond, by Lydia Denworth

This critical and convincing scientific investigation into friendship from Denworth (I Can Hear Your Whisper, 2014) urges readers to understand quality friendship as a biological necessity, not a luxury. Denworth’s research demonstrates that prioritizing friendship through effort and attention protects our health and longevity. In the inverse, friendship’s lack is not benign. Loneliness is a biological killer. In the final chapter, a childless, spouseless woman in her late sixties experiences a panic attack that feels like a heart attack and brings an ambulance to her door. Denworth’s examination of friendship as the antidote offers readable breakdowns of dozens of scientific studies, including those done on a monkey haven on Cayo Santigo Island near Puerto Rico and studies on newborns in London’s Babylab. Evidence of our experiences of friendship and loneliness are in our DNA and can be seen at the cellular level.

Tuesday, December 3

Where Have All the Bees Gone? Pollinators in Crisis, by Rebecca E. Hirsch

“We must save the bees to save ourselves,” biologist Sheila Colla is quoted here as saying, and this sentiment buzzes through the pages of this apiarian study. In the late 1990s, retired entomologist Robbin Thorp noticed a sharp decline in the Franklin bumblebee population in southern Oregon. His alarm rose when, by 2005, he found none. Other entomologists began to study bee populations elsewhere. To their dismay, bee decline is everywhere. What is happening? Hirsch takes readers through the life cycle of bees and their important role in pollination, and then she presents reasons for their decline. In her well-balanced and objective presentation, readers find three main issues facing bees (and all pollinators)—parasite infection, pesticides, and climate change—all of which are related to humans in some respect.

Wednesday, December 4

Red at the Bone, by Jacqueline Woodson and read by Jacqueline Woodson and a full cast

National Book Award-winner Woodson (Another Brooklyn) exquisitely examines the (dis)connections of three generations of a Brooklyn family that is tenuously held together by Melody, whose coming-of-age ceremony is just beginning in her grandparents’ brownstone. Through 21 spare, dazzling chapters, Woodson reveals the past and present and hints at the futures of 16-year-old Melody, her estranged parents, her grandparents both living and passed, and her forever best friend. Already stupendous on the page, the full-cast aural adaption only enhances the text, most notably with the addition of Woodson’s own affecting third-person interjections in between the performances of her stellar cast. Bahni Turpin takes the leading role as Melody, who alchemizes 9/11-loss—“we blend into a single child crying… My father is in that building. My mother. My sister… My father. My father. My father…”—into what must be one of the most wrenching elegies in audiobook history.

Thursday, December 5

Hunger: The Oldest Problem, by Martín Caparrós and translated by Katherine Silver

Spanish columnist and fiction writer Caparrós’ titanic exploration of “the oldest problem” is nothing less than astonishing. The author’s masterful blending of painfully personal interviews, sweeping geopolitical history, social observation, and biting personal commentary (“Hunger,” he writes, “is a deplorable word. Third-rate poets, sixth-rate politicians, and hacks of all sorts have used it so often and so casually, it should be forbidden”) coalesces into a majestic analysis of a problem long relegated to the international list of “impossibles,” ranking right up there with war and religion. Touching on conditions found on the ground in countries from Niger to Argentina to the U.S., Caparrós arms himself with equal parts fury and shame as he absorbs all the ways in which the developed world lets down those it has long dismissed as trapped in cycles of despair (as if they mysteriously got there on their own).

Friday, December 6

Nesting, by Henry Cole

A male robin’s song drifts through the spring air, attracting the attention of a female. As a pair, they find the perfect tree in which to build their nest, where the female lays four eggs, naturally rendered in robin’s egg blue—the book’s only color. For the majority of the illustrations, Cole uses black Micron pen to line and crosshatch scenes of incredible detail and beauty, filling full pages and double-page spreads with the robin parents’ activities and that of their growing babies. Drama blows through in the form of a storm and, later, a hungry snake, but the family makes it safely through both scenarios. Finally, the babies grow big enough to fly and feed themselves, fattening up for the arrival of winter.

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About the Author:

Michael Ruzicka, Office Manager, was raised in suburban Los Angeles, received a BA in Creative Writing/Poetry at UC Santa Cruz, then moved to Birmingham, AL, where he spent five years owning an independent bookstore and earned an MLIS. He has brought his librarian skills to Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive, Battle Ground Academy, The Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Michael is very excited to be a part of Booklist and call Chicago his home.

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