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American Diva: Extraordinary, Unruly, Fabulous

Deborah Paredez (Norton)

Mixing memoir and cultural criticism, poet Paradez unravels why such megawatt stars as Tina Turner and Serena and Venus Williams have been maligned for the same larger-than-life personas and talent that bring them fame and adoration. Written with panache that befits its subject, this is an impassioned look at what it means to be a powerful woman on the public stage.


Another Word for Love: A Memoir

Carvel Wallace (MCD)

Journalist Wallace roots around for new meanings and forms of love while cataloging his childhood, relationships, alcoholism, and queerness. He comes away with dazzling sentences full of humor and heft, and an infectious worldview so full of compassion it’s breathtaking.


Bird Milk & Mosquito Bones: A Memoir

Priyanka Mattoo (Knopf)

“Funny” may not be the first word that comes to mind when describing a memoir about displacement, but former film producer Mattoo’s impressive debut recounts her family’s flight from war-torn 1980s Kashmir with a fleet wit. In nimble essays that trace her moves to more than 30 different addresses in search of a permanent home, Mattoo blends laughs with pathos and paints indelible portraits of the family that bolstered her.


Cue the Sun! The Invention of Reality TV

Emily Nussbaum (Random House)

Few are better poised to chronicle unscripted programming’s ascent to television dominance than New Yorker staff writer Nussbaum, who is one of only a handful of TV critics to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. Tracing the genre’s beginnings back to the 1940s, she offers an incisive look at the making of such shows as The Real World, Survivor, and The Bachelor, indulging in the medium’s over-the-top drama without glossing over its darker, exploitative side.


Dancing on My Own: Essays on Art, Collectivity, and Joy

Simon Wu (Harper)

Art curator Wu covers a lot of ground in these essays, interweaving reflections on feeling indebted to his immigrant parents and the satisfaction of fictional lifestyles in the Sims video games with exegesis on the lyrics of pop star Robyn, all while maintaining a coherent narrative that miraculously ties the pieces together into a satisfying whole. Readers will want to queue this up.


Night Flyer: Harriet Tubman and the Faith Dreams of a Free People

Tiya Miles (Penguin Press)

With characteristic lyricism, Miles unspools a biography of Harriet Tubman that focuses on the inner life of the revolutionary figure and the outer forces that forged it: the wilderness, other women, and a life of transgression. The riveting and dramatic events of Tubman’s abolitionist career are related as a transporting and mystical hero’s journey. A unique admixture of excitement and serenity, this is a beach read for dreamers.


A Place of Our Own: Six Spaces That Shaped Queer Women’s Culture

June Thomas (Seal)

Thomas surveys the spaces essential to queer women’s socializing since the 1970s, from the rural commune to the sex-toy boutique, the lesbian softball league to the women-owned bookshop. A breezy chapter on queer vacation spots is especially sure to do the trick this summer.


The Playbook: The Story of Theater, Democracy, and the Making of a Culture War

James Shapiro (Penguin Press)

In a captivating chronicle from theater historian Shapiro, things heat up between the unabashedly leftist Federal Theatre Project, a barely remembered New Deal program that staged radically progressive plays in every major American city, and the House Un-American Activities Committee, which chose the Federal Theatre as its very first target. Featuring drama, political posturing, and a lot of Orson Welles, this is not to be missed.


Sing Like Fish: How Sound Rules Life Under Water

Amorina Kingdon (Crown)

Contrary to French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau’s famous description of the seas as “the silent world,” Kingdon suggests the ocean actually teems with noise that serves a variety of purposes. For instance, coral larvae (which can swim) instinctively move toward sound to find nearby reefs and dolphins develop unique whistles to identify themselves to others. It’s a marvelous tour of an overlooked aspect of underwater life.


Trippy: The Peril and Promise of Medicinal Psychedelics

Ernesto Londoño (Celadon)

Is the field of medicinal psychedelics a hotbed of “C-list celebrities, bro-ey podcasters, and #blessed Instagram influencers,” a wild west of unregulated substances, or a promising frontier of mental health treatment? All three, according to New York Times reporter Londoño, who intertwines research with vulnerable disclosures of how he sought relief in psychedelics for his own mental health issues. The result is a kaleidoscopic survey of an ever-shifting field.


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