Squeezed – Alissa Quart

Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America (9780062412256) by Alissa Quart. Ecco. $27.99 hardcover. 

  • ARC: February 2018
  • On Sale: June 26, 2018

This is social issues nonfiction that reads like a long magazine article—and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s filled with well-drawn, compelling stories that pull the reader along as Quart builds a case about American middle class families struggling to keep their heads above water.

Chapter by chapter she lays out the increasing pressures that drive families to the edge of poverty: college debt, daycare, housing, wage stagnation, underemployment, automation. And behind it all is American breadwinners’ collective feeling that they themselves are to blame for “bad choices.”

Long on compelling stories, this absorbing read felt sketchy when it came to solutions. In that way it reminded me of the uber text of this sort of social issues narrative: Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickeled and Dimed (and indeed Ehrenreich blurbs this book). That book was similarly frustrating on a policy and action level. But at the end of the day, the picture Ehrenreich drew of the systemic plight of the working class woke up America. Quart’s stories of everyday Americans struggling and looking for solutions is likewise bracingly vivid—and hopefully as eye-opening as Ehrenreich almost two decades ago.

Book of the Week: The Nest – Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

This debut has been a pleasure to work on from the moment a sales department colleague suggested I take a look because it really had something special, through seeing that for myself, to watching bookseller after bookseller read it and agree, to seeing it land up on every list of “most anticipated spring books,” to landing the #1 Indie Next pick for April. Now we’re three weeks from on sale and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the book reading world thinks.

So what’s the big deal? Is this some weighty Franzen-like tome? Are we talking Eggers or DeLillo? The next suspense blockbuster with an alcoholic crime solver on a train? None of the above.

In fact The Nest could fool you. It’s funny, stylish, dishy—occasionally hilarious—and goes down very, very easy. But don’t mistake that for froth. This social satire traces its lineage straight back to Jane Austen.

The Plumbs are four entitled, upper middle class siblings in middle age. How they come to terms with each other and their own lives when their long-awaited trust fund is used to bail their oldest brother makes up the heart of the story. (Bonus points: It takes place in publishing. The “bad” brother is a coke-snorting, slippery, charismatic magazine publisher; his sister a one-time literary wunderkind still working on her next book decades later.)

While you’ll enjoy every minute with the charming, dysfunctional Plumbs, in the end this sharp-eyed social satire will leave you pondering what families mean to one another; how class, money and entitlement define and distort our sense of self; and how we do (or don’t) cope with what the world throws at us.

As I mentioned this is a #1 Indie Next pick; it’s also a LibraryReads pick and arrives with great media coverage: the author will discuss her book on NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers the night before on sale and will also be interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered. There will be a New York Magazine feature the week of on sale and reviews are already scheduled for the NYTBR, People, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times and San Francisco Chronicle–with many more to come, I’m sure.

In an arresting prologue to this generous, absorbing novel, Leo Plumb leaves his cousin’s wedding early, drunk and high, with one of the waitresses and has a car accident whose exact consequences are withheld for quite some time. To make his troubles go away, Leo pillages a $2 million account known as ‘The Nest,’ left by his father for the four children to…. [Leo] promises to make good, and despite his history of unreliability, the others remain enough under the spell of their charismatic brother to fall for it. The rest of the book is a wise, affectionate study of how expectations play out in our lives–not just financial ones, but those that control our closest relationships.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“As four middle-aged Plumb siblings—Leo, Beatrice, Jack, and Melody—await the distribution of the trust fund their father had established for them as just an extra dividend in what he assumed would be their financially comfortable lives, they find themselves in dire economic straits. Unfortunately, the Nest (as they call the trust fund) had been used to settle the medical bills for a young woman who was badly injured when an inebriated Leo crashed his Porsche while they were inside it and getting intimate….Sweeney spins a fast-moving, often-humorous narrative, and her portrait of each sibling is compassionate even as she reveals their foibles with emotional clarity. She sets scenes among iconic Manhattan watering places, capturing the tempo of various neighborhoods. Her writing is assured, energetic, and adroitly plotted, sweeping the reader along through an engrossing narrative that endears readers to the Plumb family for their essential humanity.
Publishers Weekly

“[B]rings to mind John Cheever, or maybe even the TV series Bloodlines, in which one of the siblings is a particular mess and the others have to deal with him. But The Nest has been described as “warm,” “funny,” and “tender,” so perhaps the novel is more an antidote to the darkness in family dysfunction we’ve known and loved — f*’d-up families with hearts of gold?”
–The Millions

The Nest is a juicy plum(b) of a book, ripe to bursting with characters who in turn surprise, excite, and enthrall.  Four siblings find themselves scrambling when their coveted inheritance is decimated after the eldest brother’s foolish accident drains the funds they’ve already committed elsewhere.  Who will be crushed by the uncertainties, who will rise above them, and who will run away? …While you won’t wish to join the dysfunctional Plumb clan, you’ll be grateful to admire and judge them from afar.
— Kelly Morton, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH

The Nest is an engrossing debut about the Plumb family; four dysfunctional adult siblings living in New York City. After one of them blows their shared inheritance to clean up his own mess, everyone is forced to reroute their plans and face their realities head on. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney writes a smart perspective on how expectations can control our lives, relationships, and the power of family.”
— Stephanie Coleman, Tattered Cover, Denver, CO

The Nest is a perfect modern domestic fable with a deliciously dysfunctional cast of characters. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s writing is so good that you’ll never believe this is a debut novel. As she seemingly effortlessly shifts from one character’s voice to another, I marveled at her ability to simultaneously skewer her characters while also portraying them with real heart and compassion. The Nest is a brilliant look at entitlement, sibling rivalry, and human frailty. Loved it!”
— Mary Wolf, Collected Works, Santa Fe, NM

“Delicious! Delicious!  You are immediately drawn into the drama of the Plumb family….Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney has a perfect ear for the drama, disappointment and self-inflicted pain that the confluence of money, family and greed can create. From page one you want to hear their story—willing to fasten your seat belt and see where these complex creatures take us!  It is a hell of a ride and worth the trip.”
— Roxanne J. Coady – R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, CT

The Nest (9780062414212) by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. $26.99 hardcover. 3/22/16 on sale.

Short Take – Nonfiction: Raising Ryland – Hillary Whittington

Readers—parents especially–who were drawn to the bestseller Becoming Nicole, will also find a model for supporting trans kids in the Whittington’s story. The family’s original homemade video about Ryland has garnered over 7.7 million views on YouTube.

 

And here’s a shorter piece specifically about making the book:

“Whittington, a mother of two, poignantly chronicles the transformative journey of Ryland, her young son who was born female…Both the author and her husband struggled with…his gender identity, and childhood development, while their greatest ‘fears came from how the world would view our child.’ The road was arduous, yet it began with a simple haircut and proper pronoun use…[T]he Whittingtons proactively educated themselves, posted videos online, and emerged as a consistently supportive and nurturing unit. Sensitively handled and written in breezy prose that doesn’t linger too long on the expository details of their ordeal, the author sets a fine example for other parents either imagining or personally experiencing a similar situation….An uplifting testimonial to the power of unconditional familial love and acceptance.”

Kirkus Reviews

Raising Ryland: Our Story of Parenting a Transgender Child with No Strings Attached (9780062388889) by Hillary Whittington. $15.99 trade paper original. 2/23/16 on sale.

 

New Nonfiction: All Joy and No Fun – Jennifer Senior

Don’t confuse this with a “parenting” book. It’s really cultural analysis — a “big think” book about the affect children have on their parents rather than vice versa. And when I say cultural analysis, don’t think stodgy—the read is smart and funny; the prose warm-hearted, bright and incisive.

Here’s what editor Lee Boudreaux wrote back at sales conference: “I bought this book in a heated auction after Jennifer wrote a cover article in New York magazine which kicked off a firestorm of controversy for showing that countless scientific experiments have proven that parents are significantly more UNhappy than their childless peers.” It’s a witty, erudite look at the unspoken and conflicted emotions modern parents often feel.

Forgive the long blurb, but Tom Reiss, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Black Count, gets this book just right:

All Joy and No Fun is the perfect intellectual Rx for today’s overstressed parents: a calm, clear-eyed synthesis of all the reasons their lives seem to be falling apart. While scrupulously considering the ‘big data’ recent studies—as well as findings by pioneers like Margaret Mead—Senior reports from the collapsing front lines of our striving middle class. Yet this book’s triumph is the way the author’s own observations, presented with winning modesty and offhanded style, so brilliantly take down myths and assumptions to reveal why today’s parents find their experience of raising children so different from what their own childhoods had led them to expect. Amidst the bummers of modern parenthood, Senior finds jolts of transcendent meaning and satisfaction that liberate us from the “mazes of self-interest” that can otherwise dominate our days—it’s why we persist in bringing into the world creatures destined to wreck our lives. This is a profound book about the meaning of love and how we raise not just our children but ourselves.”

You’re going to hear people talking about this book everywhere for a while: a NYTBR cover review, a New York magazine cover article excerpting the book, WSJ, ET, Elle, Newsweek, Chicago Tribune, LA Review of Books, The Colbert Report, Anderson Cooper , NPR’s Fresh Air and All Things Considered to start.

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood (9780062072221) by Jennifer Senior. $26.99 hardcover. 1/28/14 on sale.

New Nonfiction: The Big Disconnect – Catherine Steiner-Adair

We’re now at least a couple decades into a global experiment in living digitally and the data on how it’s affecting us is starting to come in. For instance, studies are starting to show that people who read hang on to cognitive abilities longer than people who spend time more passively in front of screens. Along with the clear-cut advantages that accompany digital life, preliminary studies are showing that a life in front of screens is not only changing the way children learn, it’s changing the way they think—and not necessarily for the better. So how do we make smart choices about our lives in front of screens—and how to make wise choices for our children?

Catherine Steiner-Adair’s is a clinical psychologist in practice with small children. Her findings cut to the core of contemporary family life. The Big Disconnect outlines issues and offers solutions for parents who want to raise well rounded, empathetic children—children capable of fully enjoying life and its challenges.

William Powers, himself the author of a remarkable meditation on technology, Hamlet’s Blackberry, writes of this book: “Finally, a book that comprehensively answers the question parents everywhere have been struggling with: How to raise happy, creative, caring kids in the age of screens? Drawing on her deep professional experience, Catherine Steiner-Adair lays out exactly how technology is changing childhood and family life, and what we parents can do to make our kids’ journey to adulthood healthy and human. The Big Disconnect is not just a smart book, it’s a very, very wise one.”

Advance reviews are good and I can’t imagine anything other than strong, ongoing publicity starting with The Diane Rehm Show at on sale.

In a book that should be required reading for all parents, Steiner-Adair examines the extraordinarily negative impact of the digital revolution on parents and children. . . . Her deepest concern lies with parents who, because of their use of technology (smart phones, iPads and the Internet), are distracted from their children at moments when they would otherwise have been engaged, From birth, babies sense this distraction, so she suggests that parents ‘follow the consensus of expert medical, scientific, psychological, and other child development opinion to leave tech out of your baby’s life for the first twenty-four months.’  She sounds the alarm consistently throughout this book. Preschool-age children have told her ‘how disheartening it is to have to vie for their parent’s attention and often come in second’ to technology. She ties the ‘dramatic rise’ in ADD/ADHD diagnoses to the ‘negative effects of media and screen play on children’s self-regulation, attention, aggressive behaviors, sleep and play patterns.’ …Throughout this highly readable study, Steiner-Adair offers sound and sympathetic advice regarding this unprecedented ‘revolution in the living room.’”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age (9780062082428) by Catherine Steiner-Adair. $26.99 hardcover. 8/13/13 on sale.