*** My Life as a Rat by Joyce Carol Oates

In the typical dark Oates way, My Life as a Rat stars a panicked tween who blurts out to a police officer that her brothers killed an Africa-American schoolmate, and is shunned by her family into a lonely, unloved life that leaves her vulnerable to all sorts of exploitative men. There is a very small glimmer of hope at the end, but it’s a grim tale, and to me was most evocative of the havoc that one psychopathic brother can wreak.

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** Leaving the Witness by Amber Scorah

Together with her unloved husband, the author of Leaving the Witness: Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life goes to China, undercover, to proselyte for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, an organization that is banned by the Chinese government. There, she finds herself with a job as an unlikely podcast host, new friends, and an illicit correspondence with a Californian man that make her question her faith, and drag her away from it, and her family and old friends, who must shun her. I found her descriptions of living in Shanghai as a foreigner are delightful and her earnest description of losing her faith is arresting, although she could have excised the long exchanges with her Californian penpal.

 

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** Doing Justice by Preet Bharara

In the introduction to Doing Justice: A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law, the author notes that the initial inspiration for the book was a textbook for young prosecutors, and its origins show, with some chapters reading like a somber and rather hectoring list of do’s and dont’s–but fortunately others are full of stories that illustrate and inspire. I thought that he could have use a good copy editor, but he is a good guide to all kinds of controversial topics, from how best to obtain confessions to why prejudice taints the entire police and justice system.

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*** Coders by Clive Thompson

I live and work amongst programmers, so I was a little apprehensive about reading Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World. Would the author get it right? Would I learn anything new? Yes, and yes! The author captures the minutiae of coding, the pleasure of well-designed code, the obsession with scaling. He acknowledges the frat house atmosphere of the male-dominated field, while reminding us that coding was once women’s work. My wish would have been that he spent more time talking about rank-and-file programmers rather than the stars, but the book is informative and even lively. Here’s to all the computer science departments in the land making a real effort to recruiting women and minorities.

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*** Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed is a delightful mix of what it’s like to be a therapist, how therapists behave when they go see a therapist for their own struggles (and not just to get a second opinion on a client), and the author’s personal, twisted journey into becoming a therapist (it’s LA, so show business in involved, but also med school!)

The three strands come together perfectly and you will close the book wanting more.

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** Biased by Jennifer Eberhardt

The best parts of Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, for me, are when the author describes experiments that show how deeply rooted prejudice can be, for instance that we don’t process “out-group” faces as deeply as more familiar faces, or that we do not notice nonverbal slights against minority characters in TV shows (and the actors in the shows may not notice either!). Other chapters present a more standard recitation of past and present racism horrors of various types. Sadly, there’s not a whole lot that can be done to change implicit bias, although training can, blessedly, avoid applying the biases blindly.

 

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** Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe by Evan James

Want a light but not completely silly book for summer? Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe fits the bill. It stars a carefully composed set of characters, from the pater familias settling uncomfortably into retirement, his wife who is on a house decorating frenzy, their heartbroken and bored son, and assorted house visitors. Minor drams ensue. 

I kep wondering why the wealthy couple employs a personal assistant (so fancy!) and a gardener (reasonable) but no housekeeper. It may be better to not think too much about such details.

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