Thursday, March 26, 2020

Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse

Community. In his book titled, Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse, Timothy P. Carney, makes a strong case that discomfort and alienation by some Americans may be less about income equality and more about social isolation. He describes what he found across the United States as he reported on this story: more Americans are or feel alone. The building blocks of community like churches, sports teams and volunteer organizations provide a foundation for a strong and engaged community life. In places without those support networks, individuals feel alienated because they lack the bonds that tie them to others. I write this review on the fourteenth day of sheltering in place to slow the spread of Covid-19. I live in a community where I do not feel isolated. I’m now six feet or more away from neighbors and friends, but I can feel the solidarity of all of us acting for the common good. Reading Carney’s book helped me appreciate what I have in the community where I live, and I now better understand the plight of those who feel no social support from their own communities. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Alienated America from amazon.com.

The Innocents

Isolation. I finished reading Michael Crummey’s novel titled, The Innocents, on the day that the mayor of my town declared a shelter-in-place order to slow the spread of Covid-19. That context is helpful, considering that as a result of reading this novel, I had a positive view of the richness of life that can come even from isolation. In the novel, a brother and sister eke out ways of surviving in coastal Newfoundland where they live in primitive habitation far from other people. From the title, readers can expect that the isolation represents innocence on the part of these characters. I found the story riveting and well-told. Whether you are in isolation or not, you may be gripped by this story and how living for another day is rich in and of itself, whether your supplies are sufficient or running low. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Innocents from amazon.com.

Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving

Eclectic. Personally, I can’t get enough of Mo Rocca’s eclectic and humorous stories. In a collection titled, Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving, he tells readers about the lives of people, some of whom we know well, and others we’re glad to know thanks to his storytelling. This is a fun book to read and is often at its best when you feel the quirky nature of Rocca’s observations and insights. Read one or two of these, and I expect you’ll want to read them all. I was well-entertained. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Mobituaries from amazon.com.

The Ideas That Made America: A Brief History

Survey. In her book titled, The Ideas That Made America: A Brief History, Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagan offers a brisk survey of key thinkers and ideas from the Enlightenment to today, and how those ideas have helped shape the United States of America. After I finished reading the book, I was mildly satisfied. I didn’t necessarily learn anything new. I felt I was exposed to one person’s assessment of some influential ideas and placed them in context with evolving life in America and with each other idea. If a reader knows a lot about any of the ideas she surveys in this book, that section may seem too light. I think the purpose of the book was to give an overview, and let readers decide where they would to do more reading. I realized it’s time for me to revisit some of the transcendentalists. Read a sample and decide where your thinking about thinking needs to go next. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Ideas That Made America from amazon.com.

The Mirror and the Light

Finale. Spoiler alert: in the third installment of Hilary Mantel’s novels featuring Thomas Cromwell, he dies. Readers who loved the first two novels may be pleased that it takes almost eight hundred pages to wrap up his story in the finale titled, The Mirror and the Light. Even for those readers who already know the details of the historical period covered, Mantel finds ways to maintain our interest in whether King Henry will die before Cromwell. Mantel also finds ways to help readers understand both the consistency of the main characters and how they change over time. Cromwell’s machinations in service of the king have made him weary. The same ways in which he vanquished adversaries are now used by his enemies to bring Cromwell down. Fans of historical fiction can admire the ways in which Mantel brings the people and time to life as we read all three books. Historians may quibble about her hits and misses, but for readers looking to escape and be entertained, this book will be a pleasure. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Mirror and the Light from amazon.com.

A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith

Companion. I read Timothy Egan’s book titled, A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith, while I was under the Illinois shelter-in-place mandate to slow the spread of Covid-19. The mortality rate for this pandemic disease may lead many to think about the meaning of life and mortality. So, my mind was receptive to joining Egan as he explored matters of faith while he walked a medieval route called the Via Francigena from England to Rome. Egan blends his own discernment process with the history of the places where he and other pilgrims stop along the path. If life is pilgrimage, Egan reminds us through his journey that we can easily lose our way and suffer from blisters or whatever else causes pain. He also reminds us that we can find wonderful things in unexpected places. There are especially poignant scenes as he describes the segments of the journey when in succession he’s joined by his son, his daughter and his wife. Whether you are confined to your home, or able to walk or hike your own pilgrimage paths outdoors, Egan can be a welcome companion with this finely written book. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase A Pilgrimage to Eternity from amazon.com.

The Friend

Terrorism. Readers who enjoy thrillers with interesting and complex characters are those most likely to appreciate the novel titled, The Friend, by Joakim Zander. What would you be willing to do for a friend? How well do you know a friend? Can someone surprise us when they unexpectedly help us out of jam? Zander gives us two plot lines that develop slowly and then merge as tension rises. Jacob Seger is a young Swede who arrives at his country’s embassy in Beirut to start an internship. On his first night in Lebanon, he meets a man named Yassim at a party and falls head over heels in love. Is Yassim the photographer he claims to be or is he a terrorist? Friends Klara and Gabriella notice that they are being watched, and after Gabi is arrested under suspicion of terrorism, Klara enlists George, an acquaintance from her past, to help her clear Gabi’s name. There are Russian spies in the mix, and lots of close calls as the full cast of characters face life or death decisions. I was thoroughly entertained by this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Friend from amazon.com.