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Deacon King Kong

James McBride

From Oprah’s book club. Oprah calls her new book club pick “inspiring, with a Shakespearean cast of characters—and funny too.” James McBride’s first novel since 2013’s The Good Lord Bird isn’t a whodunit—it’s a whydunit. Set in a sprawling housing project in ’60s Brooklyn, the book starts with a bang when “Sportcoat,” a moonshine-loving church deacon, shoots a young drug dealer in broad daylight. Sportcoat doesn’t remember exactly what he’s done or why, but what unfolds is less a criminal investigation than a fast-moving and loopy story that seamlessly veers from murder mystery to bawdy slapstick comedy to heartfelt meditation on grief, love, and community. As everyone in the neighborhood reacts to the crime in their own unique fashion, we get to know a rich array of charming, complex characters with great nicknames like Hot Sausage, Sister Bum-Bum, and the Elephant. Deacon King Kong is a big, vibrant novel with a wonderful sense of its place and time. It’s an absolute joy to read.

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The Stand

Stephen King

More than 40 years after its 1978 publication, this postapocalyptic horror epic remains an essential read. Stephen King imagines a 20th-century America where a man-made pandemic has killed 99 percent of the population, leaving survivors to reestablish society. The savage morality tale that ensues is consummate King: characters so alive they blink, grisly but funny vignettes about death, and sharp observations of humanity’s darkest impulses. If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because pop-dystopian hits like The Walking Deadowe The Stand a major debt.

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The Water Dancer (Oprah’s Book Club)

Ta-Nehisi Coates

When Oprah announced The Water Dancer as her Book Club pick, she explained that “through the world of magical realism, the book allows us to experience what it felt like to be enslaved.” We couldn’t agree more: Every era has its essential truth tellers and we’re lucky to live in the time of Ta-Nehisi Coates, who has an unparalleled gift for illuminating the shame of racism in America. With his stunning first novel, Coates displays the same gift of storytelling he has brought to nonfiction. (The impactful Between the World and Me won the 2015 National Book Award.) The Water Dancer follows Hiram Walker, an enslaved man in Virginia who is both scrutinized and celebrated for his intellect. When Hiram is captured during an escape attempt, he discovers an unexpected kind of freedom. As always, Coates is fluent in the devastating poetry of unspeakable loss, but he invests Walker’s journey with moments of wonder and possibility. This sweeping epic is a story of nearly unfathomable brutality that’s seeded with hope—and even joy.

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