Saturday, January 16, 2021

One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger

Provocative. Go big or go home. In his book titled, One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger, Matthew Yglesias offers a provocative proposal. He believes the best future for the United States will be to increase our population to a billion people. If you think we’re “full” now, Yglesias has other ideas for you to consider. He tackles a variety of objections and provides an array of policy proposals that would lead to a thriving society in which a billion Americans would live. Whether you’re skeptical or curious, I recommend giving his ideas some thought. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase One Billion Americans from amazon.com.

Tokyo Ueno Station

Unreachable. I wouldn’t have noticed Yu Miri’s novel titled, Tokyo Ueno Station, had it not won a National Book Award. Protagonist Kazu has led a sad and unlucky life, much of connected to Tokyo’s Ueno Station. At so many times during his life, better times were so close, just outside his reach. Instead, he faced loss, grief, homelessness and scraping along on the margins of the busy city life around him. The descriptive language soars with beauty on these pages and builds melancholy in a reader with each passing page. Readers who enjoy finely written literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy this haunting character and his story through life and after death. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Tokyo Ueno Station from amazon.com.

Bag Man: The Wild Crimes, Audacious Cover-up, and Spectacular Downfall of a Brazen Crook in the White House

Prosecutors. If what you remember most about the Nixon administration is Watergate, may I mention the name of the Vice President of most of those years to jog your memory? Spiro Agnew was a larger-than-life character, relatively unknown outside the State of Maryland when Nixon chose him for Vice President to shore up support from conservative Republicans (who weren’t the only variety in the 1960s and 1970s). In a book titled, Bag Man: The Wild Crimes, Audacious Cover-up, and Spectacular Downfall of a Brazen Crook in the White House, Rachel Maddow and Michael Yarvitz lay out Agnew’s crimes and what led to his resignation from office in 1973. The heroes in this story are the young prosecutors in this story who built a solid case that had nothing to do with Watergate. Attorney Elliot Richardson listened to the prosecutors, gave them room to operate and ended up negotiating terms of resignation for Agnew that put the interests of the United States first. Fans of recent history and public affairs are those most likely to enjoy this account of crime in high places. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Bag Man from amazon.com.

Troubled Blood

Bloat. It can feel perfect to settle into a thousand-page novel knowing that the story to follow is likely to be interesting and engaging. I anticipated that feeling as I opened the fifth installment of the Cormoran Strike series that J.K. Rowling writes as Robert Galbraith, a novel titled, Troubled Blood. For a while it was satisfying to be back with Strike and Robin Ellacott as the detective partners took on a cold case. The middle five hundred or so pages of this novel felt like bloat to me as the exposition became a tad tedious and the various plot lines, investigations, and personal relationships moved at a glacial pace. Instead of setting the book aside, I slogged on to the end, and enjoyed the resolution of the main case. Readers who enjoy mysteries and this series are those most likely to enjoy this novel, especially if one can remain patient for just under a thousand pages. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Troubled Blood from amazon.com.

Processed Cheese

Excess. Stephen Wright excoriates the self-absorbed vulgarity of modern life in his satiric novel titled, Processed Cheese. An odd and narcissistic cast of characters with zany names looks for satisfaction in consumerism, violence, sex and an excess of personal degradations. Parody and satire can be entertaining or overbearing, and readers can find both in this novel. The pace of the plot can be exhausting, especially following the rapid opening sequence that sets up the premise of the novel: when a bag of money falls out of the sky when what you need is cash, what would you do? The excesses of this novel tired me out, but I appreciated how perfectly Wright captures our cultural obsessions. These characters do not provide the models for human behavior, but they are exactly who we are more often that we would care to admit. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Processed Cheese from amazon.com.

The Silence

Bearings. What happens when we lose our bearings? In his short novel titled, The Silence, Don DeLillo presents another take on the dread of contemporary life and the immediacy of our mortality. Because of his finely written prose, we feel the struggle of the characters like us in this novel who struggle to find language and engage in conversation after technology has suddenly shut down. Following such a shock, how do we know where we are, where we are going, and what the hell is going on? Welcome to our world as presented by a talented writer who finds a way to condense so much into this short book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Silence from amazon.com.

Leave the World Behind

Safety. One of the reminders we all received as we opened the gift of the pandemic is that life can change in an instant. Rumaan Alam offers readers a finely written novel titled, Leave the World Behind, that places characters into a setting of uncertainty in which they face a world that has changed. A couple and their two children rented a rural house for a week’s vacation away from New York City. The owners show up at the house late at night and ask if they can stay there because something caused a massive blackout in the city. Alam explores the ways in which we respond to shock and change, and what creates a sense of safety or threat for us. Readers find themselves in the middle of issues of race, class, privilege and ambiguity. Perhaps all we desire is to survive whatever comes at us so we can live for another day. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Leave the World Behind from amazon.com.