Rollicking, poignant, and unforgettable, the short stories of James McBride’s Five-Carat Soul (Riverhead, $27) treat us to subjects ranging from Lincoln and Civil War soldiers to World War II, antique toy collectors, a boxer fighting for his judgment in the afterlife, and animals able to telecommunicate in a zoo, to a group of boys growing up and playing in a band in a poor neighborhood in Pennsylvania. You’ll want to read this book for the sheer breadth of characters and humanity. The voices are each unique, hilarious, heartwarming, and heartbreaking, and the plots are woven together along themes of racial history and cross-cultural contact. Like the National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird, McBride’s stories are imaginative and unpredictable, bursting with soul and a dark but playful humor. The title piece is a series of vignettes about the members of the Five-Carat Soul Bottom Bone Band. The lives of these musicians, and the lives of the other residents of the Bottom, are tragic, messy, and often hilarious. Five-Carat Soul is a delightful and quick read that you won’t want to end.
The future is almost upon us! In their new book, Soonish (Penguin Press, $30), husband-and- wife team Zach and Kelly Weinersmith focus on ten areas of emerging technology in which we will see the next big developments. From deep space exploration to the 3-D printing of human organs, the Weinersmiths take us on a tour of what is on the horizon. This is pop science at its best. Kelly, an adjunct faculty member in the biosciences department at Rice University, makes the details clear and fascinating, while Zach, the cartoonist behind Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, ensures that the illustrations and comics sparkle and delight. You’ll learn what’s holding us back from asteroid mining, for example, and all the new ways scientists think they can make it happen. Some visions are closer to fruition than others. The giant space elevator that would take people directly into orbit is farther away than augmented reality, for instance. So close is augmented reality that its chapter had to be updated before the book went to press due to recent technological advances in just the last year, including the Pokémon Go phenomenon. This is a fun and informative read, and will make you the smartest futurist of the new year!
On August 21st, 2017, a total solar eclipse will pass over the continental US. Author David Baron chronicles a similar rare eclipse from 1878, whose path crossed the untamed American West. The result is a wonderful blend of history, science, biography and western narrative in this thrilling race to capture the corona and study the sun. Baron follows scientists, astronomers and inventors as they attempt to finally put America on the intellectual map alongside Europe.