'Now Read This' a creation of New York Times, NewsHour; the first book is 'Sing, Unburied, Sing' by Jesmyn Ward, who appears in Portland on Jan. 18

Restless readers always looking for the next book have a trusted new source.

The PBS NewsHour and The New York Times have teamed up to create a new, interactive book club called "Now Read This." People can join the book club by engaging with a public Facebook group, "Now Read This," or

at or

The club, announced Jan. 3, will feature books and subjects that run the gamut — fiction, history and memoir. Each book will be chosen with the hope of helping us better understand today's world. Picks are announced on the first of each month.

COURTESY PHOTO - JESMYN WARD"With the launch of 'Now Read This,' we're excited to expand the NewsHour's decades long commitment to coverage of books and the arts," says Jeffrey Brown, NewsHour chief correspondent for arts and culture. "We'll seek out books that offer insight into the world we and The Times report on daily. And we'll provide our viewers and readers a unique engagement with leading authors." Brown could barely hide his excitement over the first pick.

On the Facebook page, readers can ask questions, get advice, and discuss themes. Your questions may be posed to the author during a subsequent PBS interview hosted by Brown at the end of each month. Aspiring writers can access writing advice from the authors themselves.

Discussion questions will be posted throughout the month on the Facebook page, giving book clubs plenty of fodder to keep their actual meetings lively. Commenters use "Spoiler Alert" to avoid giving away the story to people who haven't finished the book.

COURTESY IMAGE - 'Sing, Unburied, Sing'Which brings us to the news outlets' first selection: "Sing, Unburied, Sing" (Scribner, $26) by Jesmyn Ward. Ward is the first woman to win the National Book Award twice. She won it the first time for "Salvage the Bones." Her 2013 memoir, "Men We Reaped," is about the deaths of five men over five years, including her brother.

Her new book is a novel and it's a ghost story. It's about race, history, our times, and a past that refuses to stay there. Her books are mostly set in the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, where Ward was raised and lives with her


Ward will be in Portland on Thursday, Jan. 18, for a sold-out Portland Arts & Lectures appearance.

"Sing, Unburied, Sing" is a lyrical book, mostly narrated by 13-year-old Jojo. He's being raised by his grandparents in rural Mississippi. Jojo has a little sister, Kayla, for whom he is the main caretaker. His grandmother is dying from cancer in another room, but holds a mythical power over the family. Jojo's absent father is white, incarcerated in Parchman Prison for cooking meth, a hobby he took up after losing his job on an oil tanker. Jojo's mother, Leonie, likes to get high and won't win the Mother of the Year award. When she's on drugs, she can see the ghost of her brother, Given. She gets high a lot.

When Jojo's dad is let out of prison, the family embarks on an archetypal road trip to pick him up. Kayla, the baby, is sick. She and Jojo are near starved throughout this car ride from hell. Misty, a white friend tagging along, makes a pit stop to pick up drugs to be delivered into prison. When a police officer pulls them over, the tension and dread mounts.

Jojo is the tender and vulnerable heart of Ward's story. He is blessed with a preternatural understanding of animals, and of people. He knows what they are really saying, even when they are silent. On the terrible journey up to Parchman, Jojo picks up a restless ghost named Richie. On his way to becoming a man, Jojo's quest is to learn the end of that story, and to hear what happened to Richie from his beloved grandpa.

I encourage you to read on.

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