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Best Books For February 2024

Hot Type for Savvy Travelers from PASSPORT Magazine

by Jim Gladstone
Best Books For February 2024 Hot Type for Savvy Travelers

The body types, ages and skin tones here have an eclectic heterogeneity all too often missing from the beefcake books so often sold as “art photography,” but delivering little more than predictable wank fodder.

Photographer Sonia Sieff’s ‘Rendez-vous!’ invites readers into a visual feast, capturing the essence of love and connection through vivid images. Rich Rubin’s ‘The Day Before It Rained’ unfolds a heartwarming narrative exploring human resilience and the profound impact of a single day.

Day by Michael Cunninghm

Day by Michael Cunninghm

Time has moved strangely in the decade since Pulitzer-winning author Michael Cunningham last published a novel, with several years feeling simultaneously distended and compressed by the pandemic. His achingly beautiful new book Day (Random House. $28. michaelcunningham.com) reckons with the complementary emotional epiphanies and longueurs, crystallizations and evaporations among the members of a single Brooklyn family during this time. We drop in on Isabel, her husband Dan, and their two children, Nathan, 11 and Violet, 5, on a single date, April 5, in three consecutive years: 2019, 2020, and 2021. The nuclear family is enlarged and complicated by the presence of Isabel’s younger brother, adored gay uncle Robbie, 37. A serially single schoolteacher, he lives in an upstairs apartment, generously underwritten by his sister, who seems as enthralled with him as her children are. That Dan and Robbie also have a mutual enthrallment that goes as far as kisses on the lips adds a strangely enriching air to the atmosphere (Robbie still fantasizes about what life might be like if he’d absconded with Dan before the wedding that made them in-laws). In limpid, shimmering prose Cunningham makes it clear that every one of these characters truly loves all the others, at times to their own detriment. In the central 2020 section, we see the impact of lockdown, both literally and metaphorically: Individuals on the verge of major changes in 2019 find themselves stuck in place, recursively reconsidering their lives’ paths. A year later, the denouement. Longtime Cunningham readers will relish structural and thematic callbacks to three of his earlier books—A Home at the End of the World, The Hours, and By Nightfall— but Day is also rich in rewards for newcomers to the work of this contemporary master.

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An Atlas of Es Devlin

An Atlas of Es Devlin

An Atlas of Es Devlin (Thames & Hudson. $125. esdevlin.com) is simultaneously a book, a sculpture, and a theatrical experience. Devlin, the London-based artistic polymath whose work over the past decade has ranged from immersive walk-through museum installations, to stage designs for productions of Shakespeare and Arthur Miller, to stadium sets for the Pet Shop Boys, Beyonce, and U2, is both subject and co-creator of this dizzying volume. As elegant and multifaceted as the work it chronicles, this stunning 900+ page objet d’art surprises with every turn, fold-out and mirrored reflection of its pages, which vary in shape, size and paper stock. Dive in and stay awhile.

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Airplane Mode By Shahnaz Habib

Airplane Mode By Shahnaz Habib

“I am basically the opposite of Anthony Bourdain,” writes Shahnaz Habib in the introduction to her brain-tickling new non-fiction work, Airplane Mode: An Irreverent History of Travel (Catapult. $27. shahnazhabib.com), going on to elaborate that she is “not cool, not adventurous.” In fact, the professor and U.N. consultant, a native of Kerala, India, is very much both. As a woman of color, her experience of travel is distinctly different from Bourdain’s, and this makes the topical hopscotch of her semi-memoir particularly refreshing. Habib’s sharp, witty takes on the history of guidebooks, the tourism industry, and the impact of travel on climate change are informed by a highly personal consciousness of the ways they’ve been shaped by Western colonialism and capitalism. While unlikely to make fans of politically conservative readers, Habib is by no means a dour and dire tour guide, she’s bracingly funny in her unvarnished honesty, and not at all reluctant to poke fun at herself (she recounts one vacation on which she spends almost an entire week sleeping in her hotel room). Trained as a translator, she’s especially clever when making quick dives into etymology, noting that “loitering” is a sort of a version “littering” in which human beings are viewed as rubbish, and that the words “travel” and “travail” have a common origin.

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Rendez Vous! By Sonia Sieff

Rendez Vous! By Sonia Sieff

Photographer Sonia Sieff’s Rendez-vous! (Rizzoli. $65. soniasieff.com) is the rare book of male nudes shot by a woman. And you can feel the absence of the gay gaze in every shot. Rather than objectifying her subjects, Sieff approaches them with a warm curiosity. The body types, ages and skin tones here have an eclectic heterogeneity all too often missing from the beefcake books so often sold as “art photography,” but delivering little more than predictable wank fodder. Sieff gives us wizened characters whose stories we’d like to hear, oddball lighting and angles that turn feet into penises and penises into Play-doh, and a sense of flesh and bone as construction materials. This is a book that will turn your next look in the mirror into a quirky adventure. That said, skip the introductory essay by French journalist Mathieu Palain—it’s a self-serving straight bro apologia.

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The Day Before It Rained by Rich Rubin

The Day Before It Rained by Rich Rubin

World traveler and longtime PASSPORT contributor Rich Rubin proves an expert in the geography of the human heart with his debut fiction collection, The Day Before It Rained (Gatekeeper Press. $16.95. bit.ly/richrubin30). These tales of heartache, connection, and introspection feature characters whose emotions are sometimes amplified and sometimes distressingly contradicted by their settings, which range from Ibiza to Amsterdam, Tunisia to Yorkshire. Rubin’s clear, unfussy prose carries the reader across delicate psychological terrain, providing a window seat view of complex interpersonal relationships. Each of the more than three dozen stories here delivers the fleeting pleasure of a postcard and the lasting resonance of a poem.

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Harry Clarke Audio Book Narrated by Billy Crudup

Harry Clarke Audio Book Narrated by Billy Crudup

Airplane Read Of The Month

It’s not often that this column specifically recommends an audiobook rather than a print edition, but Harry Clarke is a special case (Audible. $14.99. bit.ly/HarryClarkeAudible). Written for the stage by David Cale, this devilish play is a sort of Rubik’s Cube of sexuality and identity. It features dozens of characters, but they’re all intended to be played by a single actor, underscoring the story’s themes of personal instability. That thespian challenge was taken on by Emmy and Tony winner Billy Crudup in the 2018 Off-Broadway production represented on this recording. It’s a dazzling performance that, at less than 90 minutes, can be greedily eargobbled in a single flight. Crudup begins and ends this tale of devious self-invention as Phillip Bruggelstein, who grew up a timid gay boy in Indiana, tormented by schoolmates and an overbearing father; Harry Clarke is a brash English-accented persona he creates as a coping mechanism, but eventually uses for less savory means. Crudup not only plays Phillip and Harry, but an eclectic range of secondary characters, including a boozy matriarch and a spacey songstress. If you’ve seen him on Apple TV’s The Morning Show, you’re familiar with Crudup’s ability to change demeanor on a dime. His quick changes here are worth a million bucks.”

BUY BOOK When you  purchase a book from our curated Bookshop.org shop we earn an affiliate commission. The books are independently reviewed by our book editor and the potential commission does not influence the review in any way.

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