This Week's Hot Reads

This week: a reporter visits the whitest towns in America, how dating can make you a career superstar, a novel about transformation in the Montreal underworld, a gripping Scandinavian thriller, and an elegant look at the diplomatic artistry of Rubens.

10.20.09 12:04 AM ET

Search for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America
by Rich Benjamin

A journalist’s provocative account of white America.

“Whitopia” is the term Rich Benjamin uses to describe the exurban areas that house the white people displaced by the increasing number of immigrants and minorities in cities and suburbs. Exploring the identity, inhabitants, and social and political implications of these small towns, which Benjamin claims will be dominated by white people by 2042, is the premise of Benjamin’s provocative new book. The book chronicles Benjamin’s temporary residence in three Whitopias in Georgia, Idaho, and Utah, and his belief that Obama’s election as president has ultimately increased the lines of segregation between two “versions” of America: “one that is broadly comfortable with diversity yet residentially segregated,” a model Benjamin calls “ObamaNation,” and “one that does not mind a little ethnic food or a few mariachi dancers—as long as these trends do not overwhelm a white dominant culture (Whitopia).” Time magazine’s Andrea Sachs writes that the book “sounds like a recipe for a riot: an inquisitive black writer journeying into some of the most segregated neighborhoods in the country. But Benjamin…pulls off his quest with good cheer.”

Girl on Top: Your Guide to Turning Dating Rules into Career Success. By Nicole Williams. 208 pages. Center Street. $19.99.

Girl on Top: Your Guide to Turning Dating Rules into Career Success
by Nicole Williams

A keen and candid guide to using one’s love life for career advancement.

Ever wonder what would happen if the tenets of dating were applied to a job? Career expert Nicole Williams’ unconventional new career book explores the benefits of working like it’s dating: Don’t Bash Your Ex, Have Others Sing Your Praises, Play Hard to Get, Keep the Fire Alive, and Be Willing to Walk Away are among the principles included in Williams’ new survival guide, which considers the significant other in the relationship to be a boss, vendor, client—anyone on the other side of the table. “As record numbers of Americans are kicked to the curb from their cubicles, career counselor Nicole Williams takes a lighthearted approach to showing us how to find (refind?) and keep the professions of our dreams,” writes Elle magazine’s Corrie Pikul. “Even if you think relationship rules are manipulative, outdated, or simply silly, it’s hard not to see the on-the-job sense of adages such as ‘don’t give away the milk for free.’” MSN says Williams is “re-defining the world of work—making it glamorous, entertaining, and relevant to modern women.”

Cockroach. By Rawi Hage. 320 pages. W.W. Norton & Co. $23.95.

by Rawi Hage

An unexpected hero emerges from Montreal’s immigrant underworld.

In his second novel, Lebanese-Canadian author Rawi Hage proves to critics that his talent, though raw, is genuine. Cockroach begins with a failed suicide attempt by the protagonist. Haunted by his sister’s death, which he inadvertently caused, the unnamed antihero thieves his way through Montreal’s underbelly of immigrants and crime, reluctantly finding solidarity among other alienated exiles. The protagonist’s journey is one of redemption, and as the bitter Montreal winter begins to thaw, there’s promise that the cockroach will slowly emerge from poverty and filth to become a symbol of resilience and survival. The Guardian calls Hage a stylist and a plotter who manages both “with great brio and expertise.” And The Daily Telegraph, though characterizing Hage’s work as occasionally “immature,” says his “faults as a writer are more than outweighed by his talents.”

Box 21. By Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström. 400 pages. Sarah Critchton/Farrar Straus Giroux. $26.

Box 21
by Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström

A gripping thriller about sex slavery and crime in Stockholm.

Sex slavery in Stockholm takes center stage in Box 21, a new thriller about Lydia and Alena, two innocent young women from Lithuania who are lured to Sweden in search of a better life. Instead of finding their social standing improved, they are forced to live and work in a seedy brothel to pay off their “debt.” When Lydia is admitted to a hospital for injuries sustained during a brutal whipping, police officers Sven Sundkvist and Ewert Grens take notice. On the trail of a notorious mob boss, Sundkvist and Grens develop an interest in Lydia’s case, giving her an unexpected opportunity to expose her captors and reclaim her freedom. Hellström, an ex-criminal who now helps to rehabilitate young offenders and drug addicts, and Roslund, a television newsman, know their material. Box 21 (the title references a locker in which Lydia stashes her valuables) moves at a feverish pace, and Stockholm City called it the “best crime novel of the year.” Patrick Anderson of The Washington Post notes, “if the nasty realities of the sex trade don’t scare you off, Box 21 is a harsh but vivid reminder of just how brutal men can be.”

Master of Shadows: The Secret Diplomatic Career of the Painter Peter Paul Rubens. By Mark Lamster. 336 pages. Nan A. Talese/Doubleday. $29.95.

Master of Shadows: The Secret Diplomatic Career of the Painter Peter Paul Rubens
by Mark Lamster

An illuminating look at a side of the great painter usually kept in the shadows.

Peter Paul Rubens, the Dutch master, is remembered best for his rosy, plump nudes, the subjects that inspired the phrase “Rubenesque,” but, in this illuminating new book by Mark Lamster, a previously overlooked aspect of the painter emerges: his side career as a well-known and well-traveled diplomat. Rubens’ artistic genius may have brought him to the attention of European nobility, but it was his personality—tactful, discreet, charismatic, and intelligent—that endeared them to him as a diplomat and representative. Traveling from his native Antwerp to London, Madrid, Paris, and Rome, Rubens performed undercover diplomatic operations on behalf of the Spanish empire, negotiating a crucial peace treaty between England and Spain as other politicians plotted against him—all the while producing a stunning roster of masterpieces. “Ruben’s story surprises and dazzles,” writes Kirkus.

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