It's depressing American history and beautiful, human relationships this week, Lennys: We're recommending Sam Quinones's Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic and Barbara Browning's The Gift .
What editor in chief Jess Grose is reading:
The opioid epidemic is a frequent political talking point, but if you really want to understand its roots, you should read Sam Quinones's Dreamland. It's a braided narrative: Quinones goes back and forth between several different aspects of the crisis: the pharmaceutical industry's selling of OxyContin and the Appalachian pill mills that pushed it out; the Mexican importers of black-tar heroin from one small town in the Nayarit region; and the Americans who got addicted, and the families they left behind. It's a complicated, multi-pronged problem that's not going to have an easy solution, though I promise you that this group of health-care-denying, regulation-hating jerkstores does not have the answer.
What deputy editor Laia Garcia is reading:
Barbara Browning is one of my favorite writers and so I had been carrying this book around for months not wanting to start it because I knew as soon as I did then it would be over and I would have no more new Barbara to read. The Gift revolves around an internet friendship borne out of a mutual interest in music and ukulele covers. It's not an epistolary novel, but the Barbara in the book — which is different from the Barbara who wrote the book, probably — fills us in about the relationship the way a friend you haven't seen in a long time might fill you in on her life over dinner with a bottle of wine.
In the process we also learn about other people in Barbara's life: her friends, her lovers, and the ways in which every relationship contributes to the things that make us who we are. Barbara (both Barbaras? The Barbaras?) are especially interested in inappropriate intimacies, but of course inappropriateness is in the eye of the beholder, and I'd be just as likely as refer to these revelations as surprising or unexpected intimacies.
The Gift is about the connections we make with other human beings, whether in passing, in person, or via email (or even in our imagination). It feels rare to read an uplifting book, especially because I always assume "uplifting" to be some sort of Chicken Soup for the Soul-type thing, but (the) Barbara's zest for life is extremely contagious. Anyway, read this book, I promise it is worth it.