Sitting, eating, walking, loving, relaxing—human enough behaviors with varying degrees of difficulty. Now, in this serenely packaged How to Live Boxed Set (Parallax Press, $49.75), mindfulness teacher Thich Nhat Hanh’s straight-forward advice for living in the present is even easier to access. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us to be still and to focus our attention on whatever act we are performing. Whether you are walking from your home to the metro, showing loving kindness for a friend, or simply listening to the sounds around you, stillness and openness will help you act with grace.
Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul (Spiegel & Grau, $28; paper, $17) intertwines two of author James McBride’s greatest passions and talents – writing and music – in this biography of legendary soul singer James Brown. To those of us who grew up listening to his music in the 1960s, James Brown was the Godfather of Soul and the musical father of Black Pride. He did his own version of the moonwalk in high-heeled boots! He did the splits in a suit! He had faux fainting spells! And his cape! Brown had, the author contends, as profound an influence on American social history as Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglass. But much of his reputation and legacy became tangled up in unflattering impressions and tragic incidents from his life, too often leaving him marked and misinterpreted as more of a simple caricature than the complicated cultural icon and enormously talented artist he truly was. McBride, the 2013 National Book Award winner for fiction (The Good Lord Bird) tells Brown’s story, in one reviewer’s words, as “a furious ode.”
Let’s be honest: when a celebrity puts out a memoir it often seems nothing more than an easy way to cash in on their moment. I confess I wasn’t expecting that much from Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime (Spiegel & Grau, $28) outside of a few laughs. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Born a Crime is a revelation, and easily one of my favorite books of 2016. Noah tells his extraordinary story of growing up bi-racial in apartheid South Africa, and while there are gut-busting set pieces involving bad dates and cultural misunderstandings, the true heartbeat of this memoir is Noah’s complex and fiercely devoted mother who guides him through a childhood of painful—and sometimes violent—situations. Superstar editor Chris Jackson (Just Mercy, Between the World and Me) has worked his magic again—the prose here is raw and wrenchingly smart and it flows beautifully from one section to the next. Born a Crime is the book to take on a family vacation this year: pass it all around the cabin—everyone, from the pre-teen son to the family matriarch, will find something to connect to in this heartbreaking, hysterical, warm, and unforgettable book.