Word’s picks: “America Is Not the Heart,” by Elaine Castillo
Elaine Castillo’s novel follows a cast of characters, some of them members of one large extended family, from the Philippines to America. It subverts what we’ve come to expect from the “immigrant novel” — it is not about coming to America, surviving in America as an immigrant, or making a way for the next generation through self-sacrifice and hard work — though there are elements of these in the novel. This book is about the Philippines, and it explores the country’s cultural hybridity and history. In “America Is Not the Heart,” we get to know pieces of Filipino history through the characters that streak across its pages. Amid this fascinating mosaic of Filipino history is a love story and an equally fascinating portrait of a woman building a new life in California. It is an interesting balancing act and the marvel of this book is how well Castillo pulls it off.
— Nneoma Amadi-obi, Word [126 Franklin St. at Milton Street in Greenpoint, (718) 383–0096, www.wordbookstores.com].
Community Bookstore’s pick: “Against The Grain,” by James C. Scott
This book is a deep dive into the history of civilization and the lessons, sometimes counter-intuitive, to be learned from the earliest societies. Scott argues that the domestication and taxation of cereal crops, which enabled the emergence of the first true states, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The development of sedentary city-states interrupted a many-thousand year stretch of hunter-gatherer existence that, while grueling, was also highly egalitarian and, compared to the millennia of slavery, warfare and tyrannical rule that followed, seems downright utopian. As we reckon with increasing automation and the prospect of a post-labor economy, we may develop a newfound appreciation of the pre-agricultural world.
— Samuel Partal, Community Bookstore [43 Seventh Ave. between Carroll Street and Garfield Place in Park Slope, (718) 783–3075, www.communitybookstore.net].
Greenlight Bookstore’s pick: “The River of Consciousness,” by Oliver Sacks
This book, the last that renowned scientist Oliver Sacks completed before his death in 2015, is a crowning achievement for an endlessly curious generalist. Sacks’s mind was never inhibited by the boundaries of discipline, and here he explores matters of evolution, psychology, neurology, memory, creativity, and consciousness. With the fluid style and insight of a novelist, he incorporates the case studies he accumulated over his storied career, as well as the writings of other great thinkers and personal anecdotes gathered throughout his closely examined life. The result is a rigorous, compassionate humanism open to change: an antidote to irrational times.
— Ben Hoffman, Greenlight Bookstore [686 Fulton St. between S. Elliott Place and S. Portland Avenue in Fort Greene, (718) 246–0200, www.greenlightbookstore.com].