Gabino Iglesias | WYPR

Gabino Iglesias

Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World was one of the most memorable books I read in my early teens. The brilliance of that book came from Gaarder's ability to make complicated concepts easier for young minds to digest. Adam Gopnik's A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism does the same thing with liberalism — but for politically engaged adults.

C.M. Kushins' Nothing's Bad Luck: The Lives of Warren Zevon opens with Zevon waking up in the middle of the night, confused and scared. The narrative quickly spirals into madness from there. Soon Warren is holding a Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum, aiming it at an approaching vehicle. When Zevon finally makes out the driver's face, he realizes it's himself. Then he wakes up again.

Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was an American icon.

But he was also a complicated man who saw children's literature as a step down in a writer's career and whose work was stained with misogyny and racism, as highlighted in Brian Jay Jones' Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodore Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination. This and other dichotomies are at the core of Jones' book: Geisel was loved by millions of children but couldn't have children of his own; he wanted his work to be published but panicked when he had to talk about it publicly.

Juliet Escoria's Juliet The Maniac is a powerful mix of biography, exploration of mental illness, and fragments of a nightmare journal of the space between girlhood and womanhood. And while the current buzzword is autofiction, I grew up admiring Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and prefer to call this a nonfiction novel. Some parts could be confused with fiction, when Escoria is writing about hallucinations, but the narrative is full of letters, notes, and even patient logs that make it more of a detailed memoir, spanning two tumultuous years in Escoria's life.

For Damon Young — writer, critic, humorist, and the co-founder and editor-in -chief of VerySmartBrothas — being black in America is to "exist in a ceaseless state of absurdity; a perpetual surreality that twists and contorts and transmutates equilibrium and homeostasis the way an extended stay in space alters human DNA."