Book of the Week: Love Wins – Debbie Cenziper and Jim Obergefell

No surprise that a major feature film is in the works for this. Reading this book, I couldn’t help but think of the groundbreaking AIDS film, Philadelphia. Love Wins put a similarly human face of the fight for marriage equality.

Washington Post reporter Cenziper manages a large cast of characters and nicely weaves together a number of complex plotlines. But at the heart of the story is Jim Obergefell’s struggle to have his marriage recognized by the State of Ohio after his husband’s death from ALS so that John Arthur’s death certificate would not forever identify him as single, invalidating their decades-long relationship.

Equally moving to me was the story of their attorney, Al Gerhardstein, a Cincinnati attorney who had spent decades advocating for civil rights. He saw in this case of a grief-stricken man whose pain was compounded by the state’s refusal to recognize the most important relationship in his life the legal opening that would lead the to one of the most important civil rights achievements of our time.


“This gripping portrayal of the pivotal moment in the fight for marriage equality in Ohio includes childhood memories and romance as well as tense moments in court. The tale is told through the life stories of the lead plaintiff, Jim Obergefell; his terminally ill husband, John Arthur; and lawyer Al Gerhardstein. Written in the third person, though Obergefell is listed as author alongside Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Cenziper, the book is so full of dialogue and personal anecdotes that it feels as much like a biography as a legal history….As Obergefell and Gerhardstein literally walk out of the courtroom into the sunlight together, readers will feel they’ve been completely guided into seeing the people behind the cases”
Publishers Weekly

Told with a novel’s narrative drive, this recounting of the landmark Supreme Court case, Obergefell v. Hodges, which guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marriage, is taut, tense, and highly readable. . . . This book would make a great movie, and in the meantime, it is an excellent choice for book groups looking for exciting nonfiction.”
Booklist (starred review)

“[An] affecting, eloquent account… The authors ably create the suspense of anticipation and winnow the legal issues for lay readers. Uplifting, well-written story of personal courage and political empowerment.”
Kirkus Reviews

“If you’ve ever thought to yourself ‘how can I possibly win against these huge odds?’, this is a story for you. Because you will never forget Jim Obergefell and his lawyer Al Gerhardstein, two men who fought with every ounce of will they could muster. This book will become a classic.”
— Erin Brockovich

Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality (9780062456083) by Debbie Cenziper and Jim Obergefell. $27.99 hardcover. 6/14/2016 on sale.

New Fiction: Brighton – Michael Harvey

Harvey writes the kind of suspense I find particularly rewarding: Steeped in a sense of place, rich in character and motivation, the plots seem to develop organically toward a tragic denouement. The NYT has called him “One of the best…in the game.”

His last six books have been a Chicago-based series. With Brighton, Harvey returns to his native Boston for a story about two working class kids—the one who got out, the one who stayed behind, and the childhood crime that comes back to haunt them. This will likely appeal to readers who loved Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River. It’s already been optioned by the Oscar-winning producer of The Departed and The Town–a guy with a knack for identifying a good Boston-based suspense story.

Sharp as the blades used to gut the guilty and innocent alike, Harvey’s fierce stand-alone is a blood-soaked tribute to finding your past and living with the consequences.”
Kirkus (starred review)

“This gritty standalone…focuses on two childhood friends who have gone in dramatically different directions as adults. Kevin Pearce starts life as an intelligent young man born into poverty and a brutal home life in 1970s Brighton, a hard-bitten section of Boston. Kevin’s best friend, Bobby Scales, is a violent urban Huck Finn who’s also capable and loyal. After Kevin’s grandmother is murdered in a grisly home invasion, Kevin and Bobby ambush and slay the killer…. Harvey crisply evokes the dark side of the Boston urban underclass inhabiting a fractured neighborhood in a constant state of casual violence and brutality. An intense, twist-filled climax caps the unremittingly gloomy but moving story.”
— Publishers Weekly

“Masterful. . . . With a gritty atmosphere, extraordinary characters, and several stunning twists. . . . Strongly recommended for fans of Dennis Lehane.”
Booklist (starred review)

Brighton is the f***king bomb! I loved it.”
— Stephen King

Brighton (9780062442970) by Michael Harvey. $27.99 hardcover. 6/14/16 on sale.

New Memoir: I’m Just a Person – Tig Notaro

Louis C.K. has described Notaro’s groundbreaking stand up work about her breast cancer as “an amazing example of what comedy can be. A way to visit your worst fears and laugh at them.” This memoir builds on her deadpan comedic style to offer an insightful and honest expansion on the personal themes in her comedy.

Great publicity lined up so far: a People magazine first serial, Ellen, NPR’s All Things Considered, CBS Sunday Morning, NYTBR, Marie Claire, O, GQ, Elle, Vanity Fair, and more.

For four months in 2012, stand-up comedian Notaro descended into a decidedly unfunny period of her life: she survived a bout with the life-threatening bacterial infection, Clostridium difficile, only to find out that her mother had died; not long after she buried her mother, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent a double mastectomy. In this deeply captivating memoir, Notaro opens her raw wounds… After her illnesses, Notaro slowly returns to the stage, gaining a large following when she introduces her new routine with the words: “Hello. Good evening. Hello. I have cancer, how are you?”…. Notaro’s searingly honest and sometimes humorous memoir will wrench readers’ hearts and inspire them in equal measure.”
  Publishers Weekly

 “Notaro intermingles laugh-out-loud moments from her childhood with her crazy mother and stepfather and sweet romantic times as an adult. Throughout her brief work, the author is frank, at times humorous, and anything but melodramatic.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Notaro’s thrilling, candid, and hilarious memoir is a provocative and convincing rallying cry to seize the day.”

 “[W]hat makes this book so masterful, and what I have found in the most memorable comedy, is the ability and willingness to embrace ambivalence, upset expectation, and explore tension. Notaro’s writing shines whenever she refuses to set right the moments when everything feels off, or rather, funny. In this way, I’m Just a Person might be one of the best jokes ever told.”
— Lillian Li, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

I’m Just a Person (9780062266637) by Tig Notaro. $26.99 hardcover. 6/14/16 on sale.

Fiction Short Take: Rich and Pretty – Rumaan Alam

This story moves the classic coming of age story to the next phase. It captures the friendship of two women as their adult lives take off, shifting from school to work, from crushes to weddings, from BFF to the tricky negotiation of mature friendship.

Books like this are always in the telling–and it looks like this one works. It’s been included in a number of summer beach read round ups and Emma Straub (no beach read slouch herself) calls it “smart, sharp and beautifully made.”

A sweet yet cutting exploration of the bonds of friendship in competitive New York City. Alam moves the story forward with seamless transitions from Sarah to Lauren’s voice, punctuated by scenes of biting dialogue… With astute descriptions of how values, tastes, desires, and ambitions change over two decades, Alam’s tale of a divergent friendship smartly reflects the trial and error nature of finding a mate and deciding how to grow up.”
Publishers Weekly

“Perfectly capturing a changing yet resilient friendship, this debut novel full of warmth and humor will appeal to anyone who has experienced a similar bond.”
   — Library Journal

Rich and Pretty (9780062429933) by Rumaan Alam. $25.99 hardcover. 6/7/16 on sale.

Nonfiction Short Take: The World According to Star Wars – Cass Sunstein

Yes, that Cass Sunstein…advisor to presidents, Harvard professor and bestselling author of books on behavioral economics and political science. Why? Walter Isaacson explains:

Star Wars is the ultimate mythological tale of our age, a hero’s journey that is a tribute to the beauty of human freedom as well as an exploration of its dark complexities. In this gem of a book, the brilliant Cass Sunstein uses the series to explore profound questions about being a parent, a child, and a human. It will change the way you think about your own journey, and it might even make you pick up the phone and call your dad.”

Take that tip from Mr. Isaacson and put this on Father’s Day and Graduation tables. Good coverage is starting now: The New Republic, NYT, Washington Post, Morning Joe, Charlie Rose,,,,,, and

“Sunstein’s analytical prowess combines with what is clearly a deep love of Star Wars…He takes battles long fought in college dorms and Reddit threads and elevates them to a higher level…The ultimate primer for guiding a Star Wars padawan to the level of Jedi Knight.”
— Time

The World According to Star Wars (9780062484222) Cass R. Sunstein. $21.99 hardcover. 5/31/16 on sale.

New in Paperback: The Wolf Border – Sarah Hall

In my estimation, Hall is one of the best literary novelists Harper publishes–a writer of expansive imagination and literary scope. This story about parenting, identity, family, and our relationship to the wilderness might be my favorite of Hall’s books. While this chilly cover might seem an unusual choice for the balmy dog days of summer, it perfectly captures the tone of the book. Library Journal gave the hardcover a starred review calling it “[an] earthy novel, successfully exploring ideas of family, maternity, personal demons, social class, and wilderness vs. urban development. Interesting and original, it should have wide appeal.” Original coverage here.

“The plotting and characterization are crisp and effective, but perhaps the greatest pleasure is her prose.”
Chicago Tribune

“Stylish, intelligent and a cracking read — will mark the point at which [Hall] stops being promising, and becomes something of a star.”
Sunday Times (London)

The Wolf Border (9780062208484) by Sarah Hall. $15.99 trade paper. 6/14/16 on sale.

New Picture Book: Otter Goes to School – Sam Garton

To read Gorton’s sly, whimsical stories about a loveable, didactic otter and her best friend Teddy is to be charmed. This is for fans of Wallace and Grommit.

Every new Otter book offers me the opportunity to rerun this hilarious early video from Garton:


“After learning that her adult Otter Keeper did all his best learning at school, Otter knows exactly what to do: start a school of her own. She’ll be the teacher, naturally….Otter writes down all the numbers she knows (‘No one could work out what to do after that. So everyone just took turns holding the calculator’), and students Giraffe and Pig earn gold stars for excellence…. As in Otter’s previous books, Garton’s wry sense of humor and richly detailed artwork generate a steady stream of laughs.”
Publishers Weekly

Otter Goes to School (9780062352255) by Sam Gorton. $17.99 hardcover. 6/14/16 on sale.