Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Curated. Whenever I read David Sedaris, I find that I laugh and then I think. In his book titled, The Best of Me, readers get a curated collection of what Sedaris considers his best work from the past three decades. Whether you’ve read some of these stories and essays before, or if they are new, you’re likely to find yourself laughing. While a unique voice, Sedaris also presents reflections that reveal our common humanity and the ways in which we live together, warts and all. Many readers will finish this collection with eyes open a little wider to the world around us, and to the members of our families. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Best of Me from amazon.com.
Foley. A few decades ago, in a ploy to get my sons to sit tight as a movie ended to let the crowd clear, I would encourage them to look at the credits and find the names of the Foley artists. We began to recognize some of these artists, and we all came to know what the role of the Foley artist entails. While it was a delight, then, to see Foley artists in the book by Chuck Palaniuk titled, The Invention of Sound, the context involved screams, horror and the usual nausea inducing sensibility that Palaniuk brings to his art. If you are a fan of Palaniuk’s work, and have a strong stomach, you will find in this book a thoughtful exploration of suffering and the power of art. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Invention of Sound from amazon.com.
Formidable. Stacy Abrams drew national interest when she ran for governor of Georgia and was beaten in a close race in 2018 by Brian Kemp, whom she claimed suppressed Democratic votes. In her book titled, Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America, she describes her life and the progress she’s made in Georgia to register new voters and build a Democratic force for change. Readers of this book will find the story of a formidable woman whose work over the past decade in Georgia led to the state voting for Biden in 2020, and as I write this, awaiting the results of a runoff election on January 5, 2021 to select two U.S. senators. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Our Time Is Now from amazon.com.
Zimbwabe. Sometimes a novel lets readers go to a place we’ve never been, spend time with people who seem very different from us, and come away with a fresh perspective about our shared human experience. In her novel titled, This Mournable Body, Tsitsi Dangaremgba writes about the aftermath of the transition in Zimbwabe from colonialism to capitalism through the experiences of protagonist Tambudzai Sigauke. In finely written prose and deep insight into human nature we feel the grief and struggle that Tambu faces as her world changes. Having left her village for a better life, her return home reveals how much has changed and how much has remained the same. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase This Mournable Body from amazon.com.
Fury. Now that I’ve read the crime novel by John Banville titled, Snow, I remain unsure about exactly what the writer is up to. Banville had been writing crime fiction under a pseudonym, Benjamin Black, often imitating the style of Raymond Chandler. He presented a terrific protagonist, pathologist Garrett Quirke, and loyal readers enjoyed a series of novels featuring the increasingly complex Quirke. Banville has dropped the pseudonym and pulled a minor character, St. John Strafford, from one of the Quirke novels and gives him a book of his own. Detective Inspector Strafford has been sent from Dublin to County Wexford to investigate the murder of a priest. What follows is the fury that is a consequence of sexual abuse, both religious and class divisions, and the influence of the Catholic Church in 1957 when the novel is set. Instead of being a well-structured crime novel with a strong protagonist, or a finely written literary novel, we have something of a hybrid which may not satisfy fans of either genre. I was entertained enough but remain a bit bewildered by exactly what Banville was trying to do here. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Snow from amazon.com.
Trauma. Threat looms over protagonist Isabel Dryland in the novel by Julie Cameron titled, Only Truth. Scarred by an event earlier in her life that she cannot remember, Isabel and her husband, Tom, are making a fresh start in the country. Something about their new home doesn’t seem quite right. Cameron structures the novel in two time periods, allowing readers to understand the past trauma to Isabel and the current real threat. Isabel’s nemesis could be any number of men, and Cameron lets each reader consider who in the cast of characters represents the lurking threat. Fans of crime thrillers are those readers most likely to enjoy this entertaining and creepy novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Only Truth from amazon.com.
Rejuvenation. There’s something fishy about the gentrification in progress in a Brooklyn neighborhood, and Alyssa Cole pulls us into a complicated scheme in her novel titled, When No One Is Watching. Protagonists Sydney and Theo represent the contrasts in the neighborhood as they alternate as narrators: the longtime resident and the newcomer. Both narrators face major challenges that become complicated as they uncover the unsavory and illegal ways in which neighborhood rejuvenation has accelerated. There’s crime and exploitation afoot, and Cole keeps thickening the muck in which the characters find themselves as we watch the scheme unfold. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase When No One Is Watching from amazon.com.
Authenticity. Readers who enjoy finely written short stories are those most likely to enjoy the collection by Randall Kenan titled, If I Had Two Wings. Set mostly in a fictional North Carolina town, the ten stories present interesting and complex characters, full of life, and behaving in ways that are totally true to themselves. Over the course of just a few pages, Kenan enlivens his prose with finely chosen words, and pulls readers into authentic lives with great efficiency and skill. There’s humor, invention, and overall empathy for how we make our way in the world. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase If I Had Two Wings from amazon.com.
Inspirational. The memoir by the late Congressman Elijah Cummings titled, We're Better Than This: My Fight for the Future of Our Democracy, provides an inspirational call to action for those readers who want to make our country better. After we read of his life of serving others, most of us will want to be of some form of service to others. This is the story of an honorable man, rooted in faith, who did his best in building a stronger society. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase We’re Better Than This from amazon.com.
Resolute. Whatever you think you know about President-elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr., you’re likely to learn something new if you read Evan Osnos’ brief book titled, Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now. I always look for Evan Osnos’ writing in The New Yorker, and in this book, he draws on extensive interviews with Biden and many others. While I found ample examples of Biden’s leadership, strategy, empathy and morality throughout this book, I finished reading it with a deeper understanding of how resolute this man is, and in what good hands the United States Presidency will be in during his tenure. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Joe Biden from amazon.com.
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
Range. The title of Colin Jost’s memoir, A Very Punchable Face, leads a reader to anticipate self-deprecating humor, and the narrative delivers that and more. From Staten Island to Harvard to Saturday Night Live, Jost delivers readers a range of vignettes and life lessons that will appeal to many readers, whether fans of Jost and SNL or not. It takes vulnerability to succeed in comedy, and Jost finds lots of ways to express that in this entertaining book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Very Punchable Face from amazon.com.
Tokyo. Nick Bradley’s versatility shines in his book titled, The Cat and the City. Set in Tokyo, we follow a cat in a changing landscape through tattoos, manga, footnotes and other unusual locations. We find ourselves connected at one section and estranged in another. We long to belong and then we desire an escape. There’s always more to city life than a casual observer can ever see, and Bradley takes us to places in Tokyo that we might have never imagined, let alone visited. Along this journey, the vignettes explore many aspects of living at its best and worst. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Cat and the City from amazon.com.
Humor. I laughed a lot as I read Adam Smyer’s book titled, You Can Keep That to Yourself: A Comprehensive List of What Not to Say to Black People, for Well-Intentioned People of Pallor. I quickly thought of the gift possibilities for this book to a lot of different people. I can imagine a large number of corporate training sessions in which this book could be used to facilitate conversations about race relations. I am one of the well-intentioned people of pallor for whom this book should find a receptive audience. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase You Can Keep That to Yourself from amazon.com.
Compromise. With a nod to Roland Barthes, Xiaolu Guo writes about modern marriage and compromise in her novel titled, A Lover’s Discourse. Through dialogue, we see differences in culture and how to live together in places that require each individual to give up something for the sake of the other. Guo explores what it means to belong in the context of the area in which we live, our domicile, and our family unit. Guo lays out a host of questions for readers to ponder as we listen to the fragments of dialogue between a husband and wife. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Lover’s Discourse from amazon.com.
Snoop. Any reader who has attended a corporate offsite retreat will find delight while reading the murder mystery by Ruth Ware titled, One by One. Alcohol, entitlement, and secret agendas provide the ingredients for mischief, and the rustic chalet in the French Alps may take your breath away, literally. By the time an avalanche strikes, most readers will be hooked on this exciting novel, even if it seems like a very familiar plot. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase One by One from amazon.com.
Body. I selected Eduardo Corral’s poetry collection titled, Guillotine, from the longlist of the 2020 National Book Award for Poetry. His descriptions of the Sonoran Desert, tragedy, and grief are breathtaking. He selects words that form the body and presents the human condition with poignant insight. I realized after spending time with this collection that I just don’t read enough poetry and will continue to add more poems to my reading queue. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Guillotine from amazon.com.
Preparation. End of life care in the United States takes many different forms based on where one lives. In her book titled, When My Time Comes: Conversations About Whether Those Who Are Dying Should Have the Right to Determine When Life Should End, Diane Rehm interviews lots of people about the issue and presents support for her position, medical help in dying, while allowing space for those who have other views. We do all kinds of preparation in our lives, and end of life planning is just one more consideration for each of us to make. Any reader interested in gathering information on this topic can find a strong case for the author’s viewpoint as well as a wide enough range of alternatives to assist in making personal decisions or advocate changes in laws. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase When My Time Comes from amazon.com.
Sugary. If you haven’t packed on extra covid weight in 2020, consider baking from the recipes as you read the 26th installment in Joanne Fluke’s mystery series featuring baker Hannah Swensen, a novel titled, Christmas Cupcake Murder. While I find almost every recipe far too sugary for my taste (as are the recurring characters), you might find something here that matches your taste. In a departure from the formula in earlier novels in this series, Hannah doesn’t find herself in peril, there’s no murder, and the setting moves to a much earlier time period than most of the recent novels in the series. Longtime fans will have a hard time figuring out just what time period this is, since there are continuity problems that may distract close readers. If you like to spend time with nice small town people who eat a lot of sweets, this book and this series will be a delight for you to read. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Christmas Cupcake Murder from amazon.com.
Balm. Readers looking for a balm to sooth one’s soul during troubled times should consider reading Bishop Michael Curry’s book titled, Love Is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times. The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church reached a wide global audience when he preached about love at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. In this book, he tells his personal story, and preaches to all of us that the path of love is the one that will lead us toward solving our personal and communal problems and challenges. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Love Is the Way from amazon.com.
Hope. In his novel titled, Three Flames, Alan Lightman develops a half-dozen characters in three generations of rural Cambodians over the past fifty years. Their lives are a struggle, and each individual is strengthened by hope. Cruelty requires a response. Children are assets that can be used to repay debts. The modern world challenges the culture of the past. Redemption is possible. We must endure what we face in the present to be here for a better future. If any of that sounds interesting to you, you’re likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Three Flames from amazon.com.
Monday, November 9, 2020
Legacy. Where have we come from and where are we going? In his novel titled, Greenwood, Michael Christie displays four generations of the Greenwood family and the island and forest legacy that connects the family members. We find love, loss, success, failure, and climate change. We find wealth and poverty, exploitation and stewardship. Christie plumbs the many different ways that we care for each other and our environment, and the ways we hurt each other and squander our inheritances. The prose is finely written, and the novel will appeal to those readers who are patient with frequent shifts in time periods, and a meandering way of getting to know the people and places. I was enchanted by this novel, the complexity of the characters, and the vivid life of the forest. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Greenwood from amazon.com.
Origin. The twelfth installment of the Sam and Remi Fargo series by Clive Cussler is a novel titled, Wrath of Poseidon. Fans of the series finally get to hear the story of how Sam and Remi met and fell in love and adventure. To deliver this backstory, the usual Cussler structure wraps around the Fargos telling the story to another recurring character in the Cussler family of action novels. Readers who enjoy the structure of these escapist novels are likely to enjoy this installment, boosted by the sweet origin story of these charming protagonists. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Wrath of Poseidon from amazon.com.
Revived. Olen Steinhauer introduced readers to protagonist Milo Weaver and a CIA assassination squad called The Department of Tourism in a trilogy that ended in 2012. In a novel titled, The Last Tourist, Steinhauer has more to say about the tourists. Information is the lifeblood of spy craft. Milo Weaver has been running an enterprise called The Library which his father started within the United Nations. The Library provides client countries with sensitive information. Corporations are the real repositories of power in contemporary life, and Weaver finds himself challenged by a worthy corporate adversary. The action moves quickly in the novel, and by the time we arrive in Davos, all the pieces are coming together. Readers who enjoy thrillers are likely to enjoy this novel, whether familiar with the earlier ones or not. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Last Tourist from amazon.com.
Alive. For many readers, 2020 has been a challenging year that has narrowed our travels and offered such repetition that days and weeks can seem indistinct. We can become attuned to things in our environment that in a “normal” year we might easily overlook. In the 59 poems in his collection titled, Whale Day and Other Poems, Billy Collins draws our attention to what seems ordinary and familiar. Thanks to him, we can laugh or wince as we look more closely at our surroundings. Fans will know that some of the poems will lead to laughter, while others celebrate the sheer joy of being alive in the places where we find ourselves at any given moment. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Whale Day from amazon.com.
Survival. There are nine well-crafted short stories in the collection by Daniel Mason titled, A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth. Each story involves characters who find ways to survive in response to struggles. Mason excels at revealing a character’s state of mind that provides the roadmap to satisfying our curiosity about the lives of others. Mason takes readers to time periods and places that provide a vivid backdrop for his exploration of the core of what it takes for each of us to survive and thrive. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Registry of My Passage from amazon.com.
Endless. For an immersive mediation on war, read Salar Abdoh’s novel titled, Out of Mesopotamia. From the perspective of protagonist Saleh, a journalist, we struggle to make sense of those who are engaged in what seems like endless war. With great skill, Abdoh can be poetic and authentic in the same sentence. We’re led into the darkness of war where we find some form of enlightenment about why we do what we do. Most readers will finish this novel somewhat weakened by proximity to the fragility of life. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Out of Mesopotamia from amazon.com.
Satire. Readers who enjoy both political satire and literature are those most likely to enjoy Ian McEwan’s skewering of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Brexit in a novel titled, The Cockroach. With a nod to Kafka, McEwan spews invective with precision on Johnson and on the gullible people who believe what he says. If you need a good laugh, reading about reverse-flow economics will do the trick. To whatever extent McEwan wrote this novel to help us laugh at these crazy upside-down times, he succeeded with me, especially when his prose was so finely structured that the satire extended beyond politics to overwrought literary facades. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Cockroach from amazon.com.
Continuation. In a novel titled, A Thousand Moons, Sebastian Barry continues exploring lives he introduced in his novel titled, Days Without End. The protagonist is Winona Cole, a Lakota Sioux orphan, raised by Thomas McNulty and Thomas Cole, former Union soldiers. The setting is Tennessee after the Civil War. With finely written spare prose, Barry leads readers to fall in love with Winona, who is at the receiving end of terror, cruelty and prejudice. Barry helps readers come to terms with aspects of our past and exposes the reality behind comfortable myths. Winona is a terrific character that this reader and many others will remember for a long time. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Thousand Moons from amazon.com.
Awakening. If very few, if any, citizens consider themselves racist, why are so many individuals treated as less than fully human because of their race? In his book titled, How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi helps all citizens examine our social constructs, the power dynamics in society, and our individual and collective mindsets. Close readers will experience an awakening of some sort, leading perhaps to a different way forward for all of us. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase How to Be an Antiracist from amazon.com.
Imperfect. I enjoyed the charming celebration of life in all its messiness as I read Tommy Butler’s debut novel titled, Before You Go. Protagonist Eliot Chance becomes everyman as we see him on his journey through a life which could easily be ours. What seemed to be a design flaw in the creation of the human species turns out to be the secret of our survival and the path to a good life. Butler captures our existential longing and the ways in which we try to fill in the holes in our lives. The prose is finely written, and the insight into human behavior is wise. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Before You Go from amazon.com.