Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Caste: The Origins of our Discontents

Hierarchy. Sometimes all it takes is a small shift in perspective for the lightbulbs to shine on a complicated subject. In her finely written book titled, Caste: The Origins of our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson describes the ways in which the United States has established a hierarchy that explains many of our historic and contemporary divisions and challenges. Having studied global caste systems thoroughly, Wilkerson examines how life in America reflects the eight pillars typical of caste alignments. Under caste, it is necessary to have a bottom rung of society, creating a comparison of superiority and inferiority. The system is meant to maintain status and caste so that those defined as inferior remain on the bottom rung. Her stories are vivid and gripping, and by moving away from the loaded language of racism, she may help many readers alter perspective and think about issues differently and accept responsibility to move society forward.


Rating: Five-star (I love it)

Click here to purchase Caste from amazon.com.






Clever. It’s fun to watch a talented writer take a prominent real person and veer their life path just a bit off the known trajectory. In her novel titled, Rodham, Curtis Sittenfeld imagines what Hillary Rodham’s life would have been like had she not married Bill. I read this during this summer’s unique political conventions, and it provided an entertaining diversion. I especially enjoyed Sittenfeld’s take on how Bill’s life might have played out. Whether you love or hate the real Hillary, it’s very likely that you’ll enjoy the character in Sittenfeld’s novel.


Rating: Five-star (I love it)

Click here to purchase Rodham from amazon.com.




Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man

Deprivation. I finished reading Mary Trump’s book titled, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, with tremendous gratitude that Fred Trump, Sr. was not my father. I almost began to feel a little bit sorry for Donald Trump who has felt deprivation for his entire life, influenced so strongly as it was by his tyrannical father. While the prominent figure to attract readers to this book is Donald, the family story’s central character is Fred, Sr. and this is a sad story indeed. I’m glad I read it, but now I really need to disinfect.


Rating: Four-star (I like it)

Click here to purchase Too Much and Never Enough from amazon.com.




Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey

Pluck. I didn’t expect that I would have the patience to allow much time for a pigeon narrator to keep my attention while reading Kathleen Rooney’s novel titled, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey. Thanks to Rooney’s fine writing, I easily warmed to the voice of a homing pigeon and anticipated the return to that voice after Major Whittlesey provided his point of view as the alternating narrator. The pair were joined together in World War I when the pigeon Cher Ami flew through enemy lines to deliver a message that the major and his battalion were cut off from the rest of the army and were the objects of friendly fire. Rooney took this historical event and brought it to life through imagining those times from two very different perspectives. She explores the wounds to both narrators and the deep cost of war.


Rating: Four-star (I like it)

Click here to purchase Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey from amazon.com.



Nothing Is Wrong and Here Is Why

Poignant. The voice of Alexandra Petri as a political satirist finds that sweet spot for me: crisp, funny and poignant. In her collection of essays titled, Nothing Is Wrong and Here is Why, the range of her skills can be observed in their fullness. Some of the essays are new, and many are adapted from her column in The Washington Post. Whenever something comes out of the White House that can send me into a rage, I know I can count on Petri’s next column to express a reaction far better than my feeble responses. Our finest writers, like Petri, find ways to help thoughtful people make sense out of the garbled nonsense what we often see and hear. This essay collection provides an abundance of that good sense.


Rating: Four-star (I like it)

Click here to purchase Nothing Is Wrong and Here is Why from amazon.com.



Vesper Flights

Outside. I spent a half hour sitting on the screened back porch yesterday morning watching a hummingbird rest at our feeder, sheltered from the rain, and slurping our sugar water. I had just finished reading Helen Macdonald’s essay collection titled, Vesper Flights, so I was primed to observe birds or other aspects of nature and not pay attention to the passing of time. Each of her essays in this collection contains fine writing and close observations about our world and ourselves. As I write this quick review, I’m back on the porch looking up often from the laptop to watch a bird in flight, a squirrel leaping from one branch to another, a Monarch landing on the milkweed and a rabbit scooting to a hiding place under a shrub. Grand!


Rating: Four-star (I like it)

Click here to purchase Vesper Flights from amazon.com.



Squeeze Me

Pythons. Just when I needed a good laugh, I picked up Carl Hiaasen’s comic novel titled, Squeeze Me. Set as always in Florida, this time we get the combination of a great protagonist, Angie Armstrong, and political satire about President Trump, Mar-a-Lago and its wealthy members. When a python does what a big snake is prone to do, Angie is the wildlife expert called in to take care of the problem. A great cast of characters, include the return of Skink, will delight Hiaasen fans. Florida at its oddest comes to life for those readers who aren’t overly sensitive to political satire.


Rating: Four-star (I like it)

Click here to purchase Squeeze Me from amazon.com.


The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad

Vulnerability. Every expectant parent has been told that having children will change their lives forever. The na├»ve among us may minimize this fact or warning. My bride still reminds me that over four decades ago when she was pregnant with our firstborn, I assured her that we would still be spontaneous after we become parents. Stop laughing. Comedian Mike Birbiglia will bring some laughter to readers of his book titled, The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad. Other parents will admire his vulnerability about the darker sides of his experience and feel some relief that their own experience isn’t singular. So often there are expectations of what we “should” feel about our newborn children, and when we may not experience those feelings, we may feel alienated. Birbiglia’s candor and willingness to talk about the dark side may help other parents appreciate that not everyone feels the same things in the same way at the same time.


Rating: Four-star (I like it)

Click here to purchase The New One from amazon.com.




Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything

Lectures. You may have had the same experience I did many years ago: reading Viktor Frankl’s book titled, Man’s Search for Meaning, and feeling optimism that human spirit can overcome the worst circumstances. Thanks to a new book titled, Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything, readers can experience the spirit of the lectures that Frankl delivered in Vienna in 1946, less than a year after he was released from a Nazi concentration camp. Three renamed presentations constitute this small book, and each lecture overflows with insight, intensity and the optimism, packed with the positive spirit that kept Frankl alive and vital.


Rating: Four-star (I like it)

Click here to purchase Yes to Life from amazon.com.




The Lying Life of Adults

Bracelet. Children learn to navigate the world by observing closely the adults in their lives. Giovanna, the protagonist of Elena Ferrante’s novel titled, The Lying Life of Adults, changes over the course of three hundred pages from a child to an adolescent to who she might observe as an adult. Ferrante draws readers into Giovanna’s life through dissection of close family and romantic relationships. We feel the intensity of Giovanna’s struggle to grow into herself. A bracelet worn at different times by multiple characters pulls the narrative together and provides key symbolism relating to the realities and the complications of adult life. Ferrante proves again that all of life can be revealed in a domestic story told well. The full cast of interesting and complex characters, their realistic dialogue and range of behavior kept me captivated from beginning to end. 


Rating: Five-star (I love it)

Click here to purchase The Lying Life of Adults from amazon.com.