Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb ’10 (Knopf)
Bobby Bell is gone but she’s still talking. That’s the premise of Kalb’s intriguing debut, a memoir told through a scrim of fiction. Barbara “Bobby” Bell, Kalb’s grandmother, lived to be 90—and Kalb, a writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live!, conjures her brassy, advice-laden voice to tell story after story. From Bobby’s mother’s arrival in New York at 12, as she escaped the prosecution of Jews in Belarus, to her marriage to her housebuilding husband Hank and her turbulent relationship with Kalb’s mother, this entertaining love story charms with well-told family tales.
Likes by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum ’95 (FSG)
In the title story of this exquisite collection, a father tries to decode his taciturn 12-year-old daughter’s life by scrolling through her Instagram posts. It’s a quiet, moving drama as he worries the mystery, afraid his daughter’s silence might be his fault. For many of Bynum’s characters, from a guilt-ridden mother roaming a private school’s Elves’ Faire to a couple watching the marriage of close friends collapse, there’s a deep sense of longing as they look back to small failures that still feel large. Bynum’s prose is always precise and gently sparkling, which makes the fairytale shifts in some of these stories all the more pleasurable.
Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy by Larry Tye ’77 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Tye’s eighth book brings Joe McCarthy back in ways that make the self-aggrandizing senator seem both more sinister and surprisingly human. This illuminating look at McCarthy’s rise, beginning with growing up on a Wisconsin farm, and final fall is powered by the recent opening of McCarthy’s archives at Marquette University, including correspondence, diaries, and love letters. The fresh material allows Tye to fill in gaps and flatten preconceptions about a figure whose story remains crucial because, Tye writes, he was “the bully who set the guideposts” for the rise of Donald Trump.