9 Great Books by COM Alums
An environmental thriller, a biography of an influential hip-hop producer, a children’s book about America’s national parks and more
Looking for your next read? Need a gift for a booklover in your life? Just in time for the holidays, we’ve compiled a list of nine great books by COM alums that were published this year. From one alum’s accounts of his celebrity encounters, to a poignant novel about a Bengali family in New Jersey, to a true crime tale about a Cape Cod serial killer, there’s something for everyone.
Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, the Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm (MCD Books, 2022)
By Dan Charnas (CAS’89, COM’89)
This New York Times bestseller tells the life story of the little-known, but hugely influential hip-hop producer and drummer James DeWitt Yancey, or J Dilla, who died in 2006 at the age of 32 from a rare blood disease. Charnas, who conducted more than 150 interviews to write the book, takes readers from Yancey’s days growing up in Detroit through his rise in the music industry, where he collaborated with artists including A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, Common and Erykah Badu. Charnas shows how Yancey’s innovative beats and rhythms—created with a drum machine—have had a lasting impact on hip hop and pop music.
Keya Das’s Second Act (Simon & Schuster, 2022)
By Sopan Deb (’10)
In Deb’s poignant debut novel, set in the Bengali community in New Jersey, Shantanu Das finds an unfinished manuscript written by his deceased daughter Keya and her girlfriend in his attic. Regretful that he never accepted Keya after she came out, he teams up with his other estranged daughter, Mitali, to stage the play in an effort to repair his broken family and to honor Keya. Deb, a New York Times reporter who is also the author of the memoir Missed Translations (HarperCollins, 2020), has crafted an endearing cast of characters in his first foray into fiction.
Red Carpet: Hollywood, China, and the Global Battle for Cultural Supremacy (Penguin Press, 2022)
By Erich Schwartzel (’09)
Film industry reporter Schwartzel delves deep into how the United States and China have jockeyed for power and global influence through the movie business. He examines the tensions that have grown as China has become an important source of revenue for American films while it also builds its own robust film industry. Schwartzel’s entertaining book is peppered with fascinating anecdotes, like one about a rewrite of World War Z which eliminated a scene that implied the film’s zombie outbreak originated in China. Each detail sheds light on this international battle for cultural supremacy. (Read more in Bostonia’s feature about the book)
Helltown: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer on Cape Cod (Sourcebooks, 2022)
By Casey Sherman (’93)
Best-selling true crime author Sherman grew up on Cape Cod, where his latest page turner is set. Helltown tells the story of serial killer Antone Costa, an enigmatic figure who led a counterculture movement in the late 1960s in Provincetown, Mass., and killed four women in 1968 and 1969. Sherman also tells the compelling related story of how Cape Cod residents—and literary rivals—Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer were fascinated with the Costa case and raced to use it as inspiration for their next work. Sherman told Bostonia that he wanted to write the book to “examine the culture of toxic masculinity and systemic misogyny that dominated the time, and continues to shape our attitudes toward violence, especially against women, today.”
Escape into Meaning: Essays on Superman, Public Benches, and Other Obsessions (Atria Books, 2022)
By Evan Puschak (’10)
Puschak is the creator of the popular YouTube channel NerdWriter, where he posts “video essays” analyzing a wide range of topics, like whether the film Reservoir Dogs has aged well, how Fleetwood Mac created the song “Dreams” or how Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders answer questions. Now, he’s written a book of essays in which he muses on an equally diverse set of matters—all bound by a common thread of exploring what meaning is and how we make it. There’s even a piece about discovering a book of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays at the BU bookstore, a formative moment that inspired his own work today.
National Parks A to Z (Mountaineers Books, 2022)
By Gus D’Angelo (’85)
“A coyote contemplates the cosmos at the Grand Canyon.” “A jackrabbit jams at Joshua Tree.” This fun, alliterative picture book takes young readers on a tour of America’s national parks. Illustrator D’Angelo, who told Bostonia he created the book to inspire children “to become more active and engaged with nature and then to be inspired to preserve those environments,” has captured the unique wonders of various national parks in the book’s alphabetical entries. D’Angelo’s whimsical illustrations capture the diverse beauty and fun that can be found at each park.
How to Tell a Story: The Essential Guide to Memorable Storytelling from The Moth (Crown, 2022)
Featuring Catherine Burns (’91) and Sarah Austin Jenness (’00)
Burns, artistic director, and Jenness, executive producer, have drawn from their experiences working on The Moth, the radio and podcast storytelling series, to coauthor this book. Along with their colleagues, they share tips on how to find, craft and present a unique story for any occasion, including impressing a first date, giving a wedding toast and delivering a eulogy. Anyone interested in honing not only their storytelling skills, but also their public speaking abilities, will find a treasure trove of advice on story structure, presenting with confidence and more.
Flirting with Fame: A Hollywood Publicist Recalls 50 Years of Celebrity Close Encounters (BearManor Media, 2022)
By Dan Harary (’78)
A longtime entertainment publicist, Harary was bound to collect some interesting star-filled anecdotes throughout his career. He’s now compiled these quirky stories into a fun book that begins with his upbringing in New Jersey and traces his rise in the entertainment industry. As the title suggests, Harary’s book really hits its stride with his memories of the famous people he’s rubbed elbows with along the way, like Jerry Seinfeld, Billy Crystal, Alice Cooper, Kirsten Dunst and Meryl Streep—whose name he awkwardly forgot while in the middle of a conversation with the award-winning actress.
The 86th Village (Agora Books, 2022)
By Sena Desai Gopal (’03)
Journalist Gopal draws from tragic personal inspiration for her first novel, a thriller centered around climate change that follows a village in India at risk of imminent, catastrophic flooding from a mismanaged dam. “I know the heartbreak and poignancy of that very well,” Gopal says. She and 18 generations of her family grew up in the village of Yadahalli in Southern India, which is doomed to be underwater because of a large-scale dam project. Her parents recently moved from their 300-year-old house in light of the impending flooding.