The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone – Book

The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone – Book

The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone follows Kate Moore and her husband Dexter from a stay in Luxembourg in his first novel The Expats, where things started out calmly and went pretty badly off the rails. Kate worked for the US government in intelligence but, of course, it’s a secret. Dexter got lured into a scheme to hack a fortune in dirty money and his law-abiding wife finds out. She finds a way to keep Dexter out of prison but at the end of Chris Pavone’s first book, The Expats, the Moore’s marriage is a bit stormy – a very quiet storm because they are barely speaking.

After Luxembourg they travel around Europe for a while with their two children and then they settle in Paris minus the other expat couple they befriended in Luxembourg, a couple Kate hopes is out of their lives forever. Kate’s two children are now school age and she wishes she could enjoy being a full time mom, but life with the agency is just too exciting. What else would she do all day while her children are in school? And now she has been given her own little agency office to run in Paris.

Dexter works at home. He has decided to become a day trader. But it turns out that everyone, except Kate who is busy with her motherhood guilt, has revenge on their minds, and it all leads to one spectacularly messy day in Paris. If this day didn’t involve the deaths of two single fathers, a terrorist attack that immerses Paris in chaos, and threatens to nuke the Louvre it would most resemble one of those French hotel comedy/murder mysteries where everyone is sneaking in and out of everyone else’s room, sometimes with hanky-panky on their minds, and luggage is getting mixed up while people wander around in extravagant outfits and identities get confused. Perhaps to update the genre a bit this is a sort of thriller version of that Barbara Streisand movie “What’s Up Doc?”. Sadly the actual events in Paris seem a bit inappropriate to what is basically a romp, but such are the paradoxes here in the 21 st century and it is after all a thriller/romp.

The author’s chapters focus in turn on the characters, each telling his/her part of the story in small glimpses. You know that the facts will eventually give you the whole picture. You start to see or think you see through this plot – the author has left too many clues, the affair is too easy to unravel, but don’t become overconfident. There are plenty of surprises.

The Paris Diversion is not at all like a true thriller, but it is a true diversion that uses realities that have become far too normal to us. Throughout this whole crazy day the adults are having, the Moore children are safe in a good French school behind a high wall and at the end of the day will suspect nothing. How bad can things get in the space of someone’s slightly elongated school day? You won’t believe it.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Parnassus Musings

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris – Book

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Sometimes fiction based on a true story is a difficult beast for an author to tangle with. It can be a struggle to make the elements of fiction (plot, setting, characters) hold the spark that turns a story into literature. The Tattooist of Auschwitz basically retells a true story told to the author Heather Morris by the man who we know as Lale Sokolov. The author, as a beginner tells the story well, but, for me the story lacks the depth and poignancy that might have come from the pen of someone more experienced in ways to use prose to embellish and flesh out the facts. However, perhaps the unadorned story is more useful for historical purposes.

This novel deals with the prisoners in the concentration camps who did jobs that put them in closer touch with German officers, tasks that carried perks like more food, better quarters, access to favors as long as the prisoner groveled properly when required. Although these prisoners often had no choice about taking on these “lighter” duties, they were seen by other prisoners as collaborators and their few rewards understandably were resented.

Lale, our tattooist was a young man on his way up. He worked in a department store until all the Jews were fired. He was and is a great admirer of women, although he doesn’t seem overbearing about it. He seems to possess some personal charm. When told to report to the train for transport he puts on a suit and tie. His mother makes him pack some books, which won’t matter because he will never see any of his personal items ever again. Not long after he arrives in the concentration camp he becomes assistant to the current tattooist and soon takes the lead tattooist’s place. In the camps people often just disappear, never for a good reason. Lale, as the tattooist, gets extra food and a room of his own. He does not have to labor with a shovel from sun up to sun down. He makes sure to pass some of his extra food along to his old bunkmates.

Once he sees Gita in the nearby women’s camp he falls in love and she returns his affection. Gita works in an office keeping records and lives in a barracks with girls who have named the building where they work Canada because that sounds like a safe place. They sort through and categorize the possessions the Germans take from prisoners. Lale eventually finds a way to take some of the jewelry slipped to him by Gita’s friends and exchange it for food, mainly sausages and chocolate, which he shares to supplement the starvation fare in the camp. The love that grows between Lale and Gita fuels their will to survive.

Every day he steadily tattooes numbers on the arms of more prisoners at Auschwitz and Birkenau, a flood of dispossessed people doomed by one man’s madness. Lale describes the building of the furnaces and the human ashes that drift down over all and have to be ignored for reasons of sanity and survival. But emotional content is missing and it just seems a bit superficial given the horrific circumstances and the daily dread – more news report than work of fiction. Maybe the way Lale survives is exactly is how some people survive by convincing themselves that they are able to use those who have imprisoned them. When so many were shot on the spot for the slightest infraction Lale’s good fortunes seem unlikely. The story could be true but it could be what one man told himself to get by.

The Tattoist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris does bring up the often examined issue of whether people like Lale were collaborators or just survivors. If it is true, this represents a rare alternative view inside the concentration camps. I don’t recall reading another book about collaborators within the camps, although there are many books about collaborators in occupied territories and much speculation about what makes someone a collaborator and even about degrees of collaboration. Although I am not enamored of the art of the book it raises interesting issues and takes us back to that question of what we would have been capable of in similar circumstances. So many brave survivors came out of the camps that I’m not sure Lale’s story seems similarly heroic, but perhaps it should.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – American Jewish University

June 2019 Book List

June 2019 Book List

Summer months often see publishers offering readers plenty of treasures, perhaps to attract readers who have more time to read in the summer. Lots of good books on this June Book List. I tend to try to be reasonable about the number of books I add asterisks to, because I cannot possibly read everything. Books with asterisks are not my recommendations for everyone. They are my picks for me. Sometimes I wish I could be cloned and one version of me could happily spend all her time reading while the other version of me could do laundry, clean bathrooms, mop floors, cook meals, do dishes, and socialize. Alas another part of me hopes we never learn how to clone ourselves and accepts that I have to read when I can. I share my reviews on goodreads.com. (as Nancy Brisson) I also have a book blog https://nbrissonsbookblog.com

Please stop by.

Amazon

Literature and Fiction

The Stationery Shop: A Novel by Marjan Kamali

The Travelers: A Novel by Regina Porter

Patsy: A Novel by Nicole Dennis-Benn

Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory by Raphael Bob-Waksberg

Ask Again, Yes: A Novel by Mary Beth Kane

The History of Living Forever: A Novel by Jake Wolff

On Earth We Were Briefly Gorgeous: A Novel by Ocean Vuong

Mrs. Everything: A Novel by Jennifer Weiner *

The Porpoise: A Novel by Mark Haddon

City of Girls: A Novel by Elizabeth Gilbert *

Mystery and Thriller

Joe Country (Slough House) by Mick Herron

The Sentence is Death: A Novel by Anthony Horowitz

Recursion: A Novel by Blake Crouch

Keep You Close: A Novel by Karen Cleveland

Murder in Bel-Air (An Aimeé Leduc Investigation) by Cara Black

One Night at the Lake: A Novel by Sarah Galley

The Darwin Affair: A Novel by Tim Mason

This Storm: A Novel by James Ellroy

Rogue Strike (A Jake Keller Thriller) by David Ricciardi

The Summer We Lost Her by Tish Cohen

Biographies and Memoirs

Smokin’ Joe: The Life of Joe Frazier by Mark Kram Jr.

We Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson by Bruce Conforth, Gayle Dean Wardlow

The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un by Anna Fifield

And Then It Fell Apart by Moby

Naturally Tan: A Memoir by Tan France

The Beautiful No: Tales of Trials, Transcendence and Transformation by Sheri Salata

Grinnell: America’s Environmental Pioneer and His Restless Drive to Save the West by John Faliaferro

My Parents: A Introduction/This Does Not Belong to You by Aleksandar Hermon

On Being Human: A Memoir of Waking Up, Living Real and Listening Hard by Jennifer Pastiloff, Lydia Yuknavitch

Formation: A Woman’s Memoir of Stepping Out of Line by Ryan Leigh Dostie

Nonfiction

Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalization of Love by Naomi Wolf

The Ice at the End of the World: A Epic Journey into Greenland’s Buried Past and Our Perilous Future by Jon Gertner

William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock ‘n’ Roll by Casey Rae

Eyes in the Eye: The Secret Rise of Gorgon Stare and Now it Will Watch Us All by Arthur Holland Michel

Underland: A Deep Journey by Robert Macfarlane

The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell’s 1984 by Dorian Lynskey

Norco ’80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History by Peter Houlahan

More Fun in the New World, The Unmaking and Legacy of La Punk by John Doe, Tom DeSavia

VC: An American History by Tom Nicholes (Venture Capital)

The Last Pirate of New York: A Ghose Ship, a Killer and the Birth of a Gangster Nation by Rich Cohen

Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg

Fall, or Dodge in Hell: A Novel by Neal Stephenson *

War (House War) by Michelle West

The Girl in Red by Christina Henry *

Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone *

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

The Lesson: A Novel by Cadwell Turnbull *

Magic for Liars: A Novel by Sarah Galley

The Outside by Ada Hoffmann

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind by Jackson Ford

The New York Times Book Review

May 3

Fiction

The Flight Portfolio: A Novel by Julie Orringer

Henry, Himself by Stewart O’Nan

Oksena Behave by Maria Zuznetsova

Lights All Night Long by Lydia Fitzpatrick

The Spectators by Jennifer duBois

The Other Americans by Laila Lalami

Homeland by Fernando Aramburu

Nonfiction

Firefighting by Ben S. Bernanki, Timothy F. Geithner and Henry M. Paulson Jr.

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell

The Unwanted by Michael Dobbs

So Much Longing in So Little Space: The Art of Edvard Munch by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Martin Buber: A Life of Faith and Dissent by Paul Mendes-Flohr (Bio)

The Lost Gutenberg by Margaret Davis

Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe by Sheri Berman *

Crime

The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone *

Black Mountain by Laird Barron

The Unquiet Heart by Kaite Welsh

The Woman in the Blue Cloak by Deon Meyer

May 10

Nonfiction

Our Man (Bio of Richard Holbrooke) by George Packer *

Maybe You Should Talk To Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb *

Leap of Faith by Michael J. Mazarr (Why Iraq War)

Fall and Rise by Mitchell Zuckoff (9/11) *

Beeline by Shalini Shankar

The Death and Life of Aida Hernandez by Aaron Bobrow-Strain

The Second Mountain by David Brooks *

The Shortlist

Blueprint by Nicholas Christakis

Humanimal by Adam Rutherford

Genesis by E.O. Wilson

Fiction

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

Revolutionaries by Joshua Furst (60’s)

The Dragonfly Sea by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

The Binding by Bridget Collins

May 17

Nonfiction

Furious Hours by Casey Cep

Who Brooklyn was Queer by Hugh Ryan

The Body Papers by Grace Taluson

Mother is a Verb by Sarah Knott

Sea People by Christina Thompson (Polynesia)

Endeavor by Peter Moore (Polynesia)

The Golden Age by Ian Kershaw

The Heartland by Kristine L. Hoganson

Nanaville by Anna Quindlen (True Short Stories)

Fiction

Not by Bryan Washington (Short stories)

The Parisian by Isabella Hammad *

Rabbits for Food by Binnie Kirshenbaum

The Ash Family by Molly Dektar

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Optic Nerve by Maria Gainza (from Argentina)

May 24

Nonfiction

The British are Coming by Rick Atkinson *

Sissy by Jacob Tobia

Real Queer America by Samantha Allen

The Player’s Ball by David Kushner

A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell

The Impeachers by Brenda Wineapple

Upheaval by Jared Diamond

The Last Job by Dan Bilefsky

Ghosts of Gold Mountain by Gordon H. Chang

Fiction

Red Birds by Mohammed Hanif *

Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg

The Farm by Joanne Ramos *

Shortlist (new French fiction)

The Cook by Maylis de Kerangal

Waiting for Bojangles by Olivier Bourdeaut

Hold Fast Your Crown by Yannick Haenel

May 31

Fiction

The Poison Bed by Elizabeth Fremantle

Dream Sequence by Adam Fould

Prince of Monkeys by Nnamdi Ehirim

The Fox and Dr. Shimamura by Christine Wunnicke

Westside by W. M. Akers

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Throw Me to the Wolves by Patrick McGuinness

Dawson’s Fall by Roxana Robinson

How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper

Thomas and Beal in the Midi by Christopher Tilghman

The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin

Nonfiction

Mr. Know-it-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder by John Waters

How to Become a Federal Criminal by Mike Chase (reviewer says ‘very funny’)

How to Build a Boat by Jonathan Gornall

Boom by Michael Shnayerson

Becoming Dr. Seuss by Brian Jay Jones

K by Tyler Kepner

Best. Movie. Year. Ever: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen by Brian Raftery

The Regency Years by Robert Morrison *

Bitcoin Billionaires by Ben Mezrich (‘the Winklevii)

Hotbox by Matt and Ted Lee

Cult of Dead Cow by Joseph Menn (hacking)

Funny Man by Patrick McGilligan (Mel Brooks)

Land of the Ozarks by Bill Geist

The Lady from the Black Lagoon by Mallory O’Meara

Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light by Peter Schjodahl

The Drama of Celebrity by Sharon Marcus

The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books by Edward Wilson-Lee

Ladysitting: My Year with Nana at the End of Her Century by Lorene Cary *

How to Forget by Kate Mulgrew *

Broadway, Balanchine and Beyond by Bettijane Sills

Dancing with Merce Cunningham by Marianne Preger-Simon

Out of the Shadows by Walt Odets

Underland by Robert Macfarlane

Publisher’s Weekly

May 3

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (F) (YA)

The Assassin of Verona by Benet Brandreth (F)

Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang (Science Fiction) (Short stories) *

The Law of the Skies by Gregoire Courtois, trans. from French by Rhonda Mullens (F)

The Archive of Alternate Endings: A Novel by Lindsey Drager (F)

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna (F) *

The Buried: An Archeology of the Egyptian Revolution by Peter Hessler (NF)

Calm Seas and Prosperous Voyage by Bette Howland (Short Stories)

China Dream by Ma Jian, trans. from Chinese by Flora Drew (F)

The Flight Portfolio: A Novel by Julie Orringer (F)

Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and The End of the American Century by George Packer (NF) *

Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Loneliest Horse Race by Lara Prior-Paler (NF)

May 10

The British are Coming: The War for America: Lexington to Princeton Volume One of the Revolution Trilogy by Rick Atkinson *

The Never Game by Jeffrey Deaver (F)

Dream Sequence by Adam Foulds (F)

A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism by Adam Gopnik (NF) *

Once More We Saw Stars: A Memoir by Jason Greene (Memoir)

Red Birds by Mohammed Hanif (F) *

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren (F)

Dream Within a Dream by Patricia MacLachlan (YA)

The Satapur Moonstone: A Mystery of 1920’s India by Sujata Massey (F)

The Obsoletes by Simeon Mills (F)

Lanny by Max Porter (F)

No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us by Rachel Louise Snyder (NF)

Message from the Shadows by Antonio Tabucchi, trans. from Italian by Anne Milano (Short Stories)

May 17

Gather the Fortunes by Bryan Camp (Fantasy)

Riots I Have Known by Ryan Chapman (F)

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins (F)

Hot Comb by Ebony Flowers (Short Stories)

The Island by Ragnar Jónasson (Thriller)

Deception Cove by Owen Laukkanen (F)

Necessary People by Anna Pitonisk (F)

The Organs of Sense by Adam Ehrlich Sachs (F)

The Vinyl Frontier: The Story of the Voyager Golden Record by Jonathan Scott (NF)

Einstein’s War: How Relativity Triumphed Amid the Vicious Nationalism of World War I by Matthew Stanley (NF)

The Perfect Predator: A Scientist’s Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug by Steffanie A Strathdee, Thomas Patterson (NF)

May 24

Supernavigators: The Astounding New Science of How Animals Find Their Way by David Barrie (NF)

Time is the Thing a Body Moves Through: An Essay by T. Fleischmann (Essay)

The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz (Mystery)

Passion on Park Avenue by Lauren Layne (Romance) *

Dark Site by Patrick Lee (F)

Austentatious: The Evolving World of Jane Austen Fans by Holly Luetkenhaus and Zoe Weinstein (NF)

May 31

A History of the Bible: The Story of the World’s Most Influential Book by John Barton (NF)

Exposed by Jean-Phillippe Blondel (F) *

This Storm by James Ellroy (F)

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert (F) *

Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin (on Pride and Prejudice) (F)

Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane (NF)

Out of the Shadows: Reimaging Gay Men’s Lives by Walt Odets (Memoir)

Dual Citizens by Alix Ohlin (F)

Aug. 9 – Fog by Kathryn Scanlan (F) *

Grinnell: America’s Environmental Pioneer and his Restless Drive to Save the West by John Taliaferro (NF)

Love They Neighbor: A Muslim Doctor’s Struggle for Home in Rural America by Ayaz Virji with Alan Eisenstock (NF)

In West Mills by De ‘Shawn Charles Winslow (F)

 

 

 

 

 

The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates – Book

When I post on Linkedin.com I often see posts from Bill Gates. Lately it seemed that he kept trying to get me (yes me personally ha-ha) to read The Moment of Lift, a recently published book by his wife Melinda Gates. Sometimes I leave billionaires out of my personal pursuits because their lives are so distant from mine that they don’t really feel like real people. It is exclusionary but I always figure they don’t really mind because it doesn’t impact their lives in any negative way and I am not real to them either. But prejudice in any form is probably not good for the soul and billionaires who are also philanthropists, trying to make life better in some way for all us on this tiny planet at the edge of this universe deserve some attention, even if it is just to see whether or not they are just making huge cosmic errors out of misguided arrogance. Now I am being arrogant. Anyway I read Mrs. Gates’ book and it really did give me a moment of lift, in fact more than one moment. When people use their huge fortunes to make a difference for people at the bottom of the economic heap it makes the inequalities of our current economy seem less obscene. And their experiences can teach us about realities in places we can’t afford to go.

I was deep into Chapter 3 of Gates’ book when Alabama decided to make abortion illegal in that state except in rare cases for the health of the mother. Melinda Gates was talking about the effect of women’s lack of control over their reproductive health and what a profound effect that has on the success of an entire family and even the village in which the family lives. If a women gets pregnant many times with little space in between it means she can’t pay proper attention to each child so the children often do not thrive. Infant mortality rates are really high in such cultures and the family is not able to progress, to send the children to school, to grow more crops or work harder to save money and the family does not thrive either. Generation after generation this is a reality that keeps families poor.

Gates was working in Africa and Asia, in countries where these patterns are very noticeable and small efforts can make a big difference. She began with finding ways to provide free vaccines to children. But she found that the mothers were begging to get regular access to contraceptives so they did not wear themselves out having baby after baby. Access to contraceptives is not something you might think would have such profound positive outcomes wherever it is available, but evidence shows us that it does.

So I cheated a bit and made use of Melinda’s new book to try to drum up readers for my recent blog post “Alabama and Melinda Gates” because I wanted to shine a light on what is happening with Roe v Wade.

https://www.thearmchairobserver.com/alabama-and-melinda-gates/

Melinda Gates is a very spiritual person. She is a devout Catholic who completed her college degrees at a Catholic college. But she is not a missionary. If she was about the business of spreading Catholicism she might not be so open to listening to women in the African and Asian places she visits, she might care more about fulfilling her own needs than the needs of the people she meets. However she has learned to let socially active people she meets at conferences and in her travels, people who know where to look in Africa and India to enlist the Foundation’s help for programs that already exist. These people become her mentors and they take her with them to meet the village people and see programs that are successfully allowing poor people around the world to have a future that is not simply a repeat of the lives people in that area have lived for generations, lives that can’t plan ahead, lives that can only get through each day and sometimes not even that.

There is no sense in talking about this as a work of literature. It is not intended to be considered in that way. But the book made me aware that not all billionaires are selfish people sailing around on yachts, drinking and dining at swanky restaurants, or building survival dwellings in isolated places. It gave me a lift to learn about the intimate problems of women on other continents (although we certainly have some of these problems on our own continent) and to hear about programs that were trying to lighten women’s loads and free them up to enjoy feeling that they could make personal contributions to their families and their culture, that life did not have to be drudgery and heartache or full of repetitive and difficult tasks that wear down the spirit.

So you might find that you also get to experience some of The Moments of Liftthat Melinda Gates offers in her book if you spend a few days immersed in the life of the wife of a billionaire. One more point – just because this book is mostly about the things women face does not mean that men should not read Gates’ book. Perhaps they need to hear about these issues even more that women do. Many women’s lives are still under the control of men, and men’s lives also change for the better when women become partners rather than property.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Goodreads

 

 

Anathem by Neal Stephenson – Book

Although I have enjoyed Neal Stephenson’s books in the past I had a little trouble finding the best way to read Anathem. First of all, it uses the word “maths” a lot, and math is not my strong suit, although in the end no deep knowledge of math was required. Since Stephenson is building a world, the planet Arbre, the learning curve is a bit steep in the beginning. The characters have names that are almost familiar, but just a bit off. Main characters are Erasmus, Lio, Arsibalt, Jesry, Tulia, Ala, Orolo, (and many, many others).

So first I tried Audible, but I learned that listening to books puts me to sleep, which tends to destroy the continuity. I bought the paperback so I could read along but the print was just too small. Finally I reserved a hardcover copy from the library and that had another disadvantage. Once I started reading the hardcover edition I could not put this book down.

The book’s title, Anathem– a mash-up of anthem and anathema –  is a perfect example of the way Stephenson plays with our reality to make his invented world seem close enough to what we know in our own world that we can catch on to life in the Concent of Saunt Edhar fairly quickly. By the time we get to sample what is going outside the walls of the concent we are easily able to adjust.

Our characters are on the same clock-winding team. Since the Third Sack praxis (technology) is outlawed in the concent so mechanics are handled in old school ways. This giant clock at the center of concent life is connected to the observatory on the roof and must be wound with ceremony every day. Bells and weights all play important roles in the clock ceremony and in the community. The similarity to a combined monastery and convent helps us realize that our minds already have a schema for this world.

We spend a long time getting acquainted with the world of the concent and the maths that are scattered around the planet. We learn that these communities are not about religion though; they are about philosophy, geometry, history, astronomy, and physics. We also learn that the concents are surrounded by secular cultures lead by the Sæculua and that the concents open their gates at intervals and these separate populations visit each other. Erasmus, first among main characters has a cousin, Cord, who lives in town.

Just as we get familiar with these two adjacent cultures we learn through Raz’s “Fraa” (concent brother) – Orolo that something is going on with the Sun, something the members of the maths are not supposed to know about. But Erasmus is young and worried when Orolo is expelled from the Concent and he takes an enormous risk to find out what’s going on.

Worlds within worlds is a theme in Anathem. The concents share a design and ceremonies and titles. They all wear the bolt and chord and carry the sphere. Outside the concents where the people known as slines live differences vary by geography.

Eramus and his clock-winder group, in response to the emergency connected to what is going on with the Sun, get sent out of their concent to another, much larger concent for a Convox (a working conference). This does not go smoothly for Eramus who gets sent on a side mission by a Thousander prior to arriving at the Convox.

Eventually we see that Stephenson is headed to sucking us into a theory that says that there is more than one cosmos – there are cosmi. We also see that he is a unifier rather than a divider. Tag along with our heroes and see where this takes you and learn a whole new vocabulary along the way. (If you know your Latin roots you’ll have few difficulties.)

Neal Stephenson can transport me into one of his elaborate creations anytime and Anathem was no exception. The only problem is that landing back in my own reality required an airlock (metaphorically of course).

May 2019 Book List

May 2019 Book List

Don’t judge a book by its title. If you paste the title or type it into Google or Amazon you can get a nice brief summary of the book. I have marked some books that I like with an asterisk. This does not mean that you will like these titles best. I sometimes get a brief description of a book as I am compiling this list but I don’t do a search about every book. Keep your eyes open and you will begin to hear which new books create a buzz on people’s reading lists that is reflected on the internet. If you don’t pay any attention to book talk and like to pick your own selections just dip in and start reading. Summer is coming. Some people get lots of reading done in summer, perhaps on vacations. (Probably not if you have young children.) So many good books, so little time.

Amazon

Literature and Fiction

Rabbits for Food by Binnie Kirshenbaum

Riots I Have Known by Ryan Chapman

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna: A Novel by Juliet Grames

Walking on the Ceiling: A Novel by Aysegul Savas

Correspondents by Tim Murphy *

The Guest Book: A Novel by Sarah Blake

The Farm: A Novel by Joanne Ramos

Like Lions: A Novel by Brian Panowich

A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How to Do: A Novel by Pete Fromm

The Confessions of Frannie Langton: A Novel by Sara Collins

Mystery and Thrillers

Little Darlings: A Novel by Melanie Golding

Like Lions: A Novel by Brian Panowich

The Paris Diversion: A Novel by Chris Pavone

The Road to Grantchester by James Runcie

The Night Before: A Novel by Wendy Walker

Cari Mora: A Novel by Thomas Harris

The Rationing: A Novel by Charles Whellan

The Last Time I Saw You: A Novel by Liv Constantine

The Never Game by Jeffrey Deaver

The Satapur Moontstone (A Perveen Mistry Novel) by Sujata Massey

Biographies and Memoirs

Bitcoin Billionaires: A True Story of Genius, Betrayal, and Redemption by Ben Mezrich

The Apology by Eve Ensler

No Walls and the Recurring Dream: A Memoir by Ani DiFranco

Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the America Century by George Packer

The Deer Camp: A Memoir of a Father, a Family, and the Land that Healed Them by Dean Kulpers

Nothing’s Bad Luck: the Lives of Warren Zevon by C M Kushins

Riding the Elephant: A Memoir of Altercations Hallucinations, and Observations by Craig Ferguson

How to Forget: A Daughter’s Memoir by Kate Mulgrew

Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide by Karen Kilgariff, Georgia Hardstark

Nonfiction

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep

Bitcoin Billionaires: A True Story of Genius, Betrayal, and Redemption by Ben Mezrich

The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California by Mark Arax

The Darkest Places: Unsolved Mysteries, True Crimes, and Harrowing Disasters in the Wild by the Editors of Outside Magazine

The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood’s Hotel Marmont by Shawn Levy

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis by Jared Diamond *

Moneyland: The Inside Story of the Crooks and Kleptocrats Who Rule in the World by Oliver Bullough *

The Moscow Rules: The Secret CIA Tactics that Helped America Win the Cold War by Antonio J Mendez, Jonna Mendez *

Every Tool’s a Hammer: Life is What You Make It by Adam Savage

Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad by Gordon H. Chang

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Last Tango in Cyberspace: A Novel by Steven Lotter

Breach (An Analog Novel) by Eliot Peper

Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

The New York Times Book Review

April 5th

Fiction

Lost and Wanted by Nell Freudenberger

Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad

The Blind Worm in the Labyrinth by Veeraporn Nitiprapha

The Volunteer by Salvatore Scibona

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

Kaddish.com by Nathan Englander “Like a JDate for the Dead”

Nonfiction

Skeleton Keys by Brian Switek

Horizon by Barry Lopez

Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young (Essays)

Coders by Clive Thompson *

Solitary by Albert Woodfox *

The Club by Leo Damrosch *

The Empire and the Five Kings by Bernard-Henri Lévy

Gullible Superpower by Ted Galen Carpenter

April 12th

Fiction

The River by Peter Heller *

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

The Altruists by Andrew Ridker (Humor)

Women Talking by Miriam Toews

River of Fire by Quirrtulain Hyder

The Alarming Palsy of James Orr by Tom Lee

Nonfiction

Charged by Emily Bazelon

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl

Hale by Marc Weitzmann

The Last Stone by Mark Bowden (True Crime)

The Lion’s Den by Susie Linfield (Essay)

All You Leave Behind by Erin Lee Carr

April 19th

Nonfiction

Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing by Robert a Caro, Private Eye

Falter by Bill McKibbens

Running Home by Katie Arnold *

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T. Kira Madden

The Beneficiary: Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of my Father by Janny Scott

The Absent Head by Suzannah Lessard

Ben Hecht by Adina Hoffman

The Notorious Ben Hecht by Julien Gorbach

Fiction

The Club by Takis Würger

Outside Looking In by T C Boyle

A Wonderful Stroke of Luck by Ann Beattie *

Little Boy by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Minutes of Glory by Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Short Stories)

Naamah by Sarah Blake

Crime

Neon Prey by John Sandford

Who Slays the Wicked by C S Harris

Lights! Camera! Puzzles! By Parnell Hall

The Missing Corpse by Sorcha McDonagh

Fiction

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

Make Me a City by Jonathan Carr

The Shortlist

That Time I Loved You by Carrianne Leung

Sing To It by Amy Hempel (Short Stories)

Aerialists by Mark Meyer

April 26th

Nonfiction

The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace Webb

Losing Earth by Nathaniel Rich

Unbecoming by Anuradha Bhagwati

American Messiahs by Adam Morris

What You Have Heard is True by Carolyn Forché

Greek to Me by Mary Norris

What Blest Genius by Andrew McConnell Scott

Shakespeare’s Library by Stuart Kells

Stony the Road by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Biased by Jennifer L Eberhardt

Fiction

A People’s History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramanian

Vacuum in the Dark by Jen Beagin

The New Me by Halle Butler

Publisher’s Weekly

April 5th

Wounds: Six Stories from the Border of Hell by Nathan Ballingrud (Short Story)

Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration by Emily Bazelon (NF)

Working: Research, Interviewing, Writing by Robert A Caro (Essays)

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi (F)

Confessions of an Innocent Man: A Novel by David R Dow (F)

Optic Nerve by Maria Gainza (F)

The Parisian: A Novel by Isabella Hammad (F) *

Freedom’s Detectives: The Secret Service, the Ku Klux Klan and the Man Who Masterminded America’s First War on Terror by Charles Lane (NF)

Helen Oxenbury: A Life in Illustration by Leonard S Marcus (NF)

Notes from a Young Black Chef: A Memoir by Kwame Onwuachi (NF)

Rock, Paper, Scissors and Other Stories by Maxim Osipov, trans. from Russian by Boris Dralyuk, Alexandra Fleming and Anne Marie Jackson (Short Stories)

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold (NF)

Tombland by C J Sansom (F)

The Octopus Museum by Brenda Shaunghnessy (Short Stories)

Fame Adjacent by Sarah Skilton (F)

April 12th

Never a Lovely So Real: The Life and Work of Nelson Algren by Colin Asher (Bio)

Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells by Pico Iyer (Memoir)

Nest of the Monarch by Kay Kenyon (3rd in a series) (F)

Falter: Has the Human Gene Begun to Play Itself Out by Bill McKibben (NF)

Hacking Life: Systematized Living and It’s Discontents by Joseph M Reagle Jr. (NF)

Alice’s Island by Daniel Sánchez Avévalo, trans. from Spanish by the author

Eating the Sun: Small Musings on a Vast Universe by Ella Frances Sanders (NF) *

Clyde Fans by Seth (Graphic Novel)

Flowers Over the Inferno by Ilaria Tati, trans. from Italian by Eken Oklap (Crime novel)

The Polyglot Lovers by Lina Wolff, trans. from Swedish by Saskla Vogel (F) *

April 19th

Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein (F) *

Flowers of Mold by Ha Seong-nan, trans. from Korean by Janet Hong (Short Stories)

Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America by Jacquelyn Dowd Hall (Triple Bio)

The Heartland: An American History by Kristin L Hoganson (NF)

Bitter by Francesca Jakobi (F)

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan (F) “the novel loses steam”

Hawk Parable by Tyler Myles (F)

Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse (Fantasy)

Appendix Project: Talks and Essays by Kate Zambreno (Essays)

April 29 th

Springtime in a Broken Mirror by Marlo Benedetti, trans. from Spanish by Nick Caistor (F)

The Global Age: Europe 1950-2017 by Ian Kershaw (NF) *

The Lazarus Files: A Cold Case Investigation by Matthew McGough (True Crime)

The Invited by Jennifer McMahon (F)

Star by Yukio Mishima, trans. from Japanese by Sam Bett (F)

The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern by Robert Morrison (NF)*

Waste Tide by Chen Qinfan, trans. from Chinese by Ken Lui (F) *

The Ardlamont Mystery: The Real-Life Story Behind the Creation of Sherlock Holmes by Daniel Smith (NF)

A Good Enough Mother by Bev Thomas (F)

Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11 by Michael Zuckoff (NF)

 

 

 

 

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell – Book

Each section of The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell begins with the voice of a mosquito, or a swarm of mosquitoes- a fitting device for a tale of Africa.

“Zt. Zzt. (lots of Z’z) and a zo’ona And so. A dead white man grows bearded and lost in the blinding heart of Africa.”(Livingstone, I presume) “With his rooting and roving, his stops and starts, he becomes our father, unwitting, our inadvertentpater muzungu. This is the story of a nation – not a kingdom or a people – so it begins, of course, with a white man.”

 Colonialism, imperialism are words that inspire different emotions depending on whether you are the colonizer or the colonized. But whenever the European colonizers interfered in the natural development of the many places they felt would benefit from “civilization” (and supply untold riches to their imperial overloads) they diverted what might have been the history of an indigenous people into a new channel that forever combined native history with that of their colonizer. In this case, since we are in Africa, we have the further marker of skin color, which was often the case in colonization, as white Europeans (and later Americans) believed the white race far superior to any nation made up of folks with darker skin.

Namwali Serpell begins her tale of Zambia at a falls, mistakenly thought to be at the source of the Nile. They named the falls Victoria after the long-lived English queen. We hear the story of the first colonizers to arrive near the falls where the Brits who follow Livingstone to Africa set up their earliest town and drifted over Africa, and returned to settle near the Falls. Percy Clark was one of these early settlers. The Gavuzzi family owned and operated the Victoria Falls Hotel for a while. Colonizers eventually decided they would build a dam at the falls, a dam which will flood the lands of the Tonga people. These people have their entire history and culture tied to this land and would like to stay and drown on their land when it floods. The colonizers will not allow this. They disperse the Tonga people and raise a revolutionary spirit in them which never dies out. Each section of The Old Drift is written almost as a short stories. These short stories drift forward in time, but the stories always connect. The book ends back at the falls where it began, but despite a kind of belated divine justice, Zambia lives on.

Serpell’s characters are colorful, plentiful, full of human failings and quite loveable (for the most part). The European Giuseppe Corsale who returns to Europe to party in a gone-to-seed salon meets a child born with hair over her entire body that engulfs her and grows and grows. Sibilla, who captivates both Giuseppe and his brother Federico, learns that she has her own Zambian connection. Her father and grandfather are the same Gavuzzis who ran the Victoria Falls Hotel. Federico kills his brother, takes over his identity, marries Sibilla and takes her to Africa. His position at the dam construction makes his family a wealthy family in Zambia.

Ronald, an African man, goes to England to study, and falls for the blind ex-tennis star, Agnes, daughter of the rich family who gives him a place to stay. He marries Agnes and takes her to Zambia. They also, through Ronald’s position as an engineer, become a wealthy Zambian family, of mixed race – a thing that probably never would have happened if Agnes could see. The children of these two families involve themselves in the life of their new nation (they know no other) with, as the author tells us, many errors made.

A revolutionary spirt buzzes through the entire story as do those mosquitoes, and the urge to freedom drifts through generations of Zambians. Ba Nkoloso gathers in Matha’s mother and Matha is practically pickled in revolutionary chants, speeches, and writings. Matha dresses like a boy to attend school. She takes part in the Afronaut program of her mentor which aspires to beat the Americans to the moon. Then she enters puberty and her fellow Afronaut, Godfrey, now with ambitions to be a rock star, impregnates her and sends her spinning off track for almost an entire generation. Her daughter Sylvia, beautiful and adventurous, takes the family back into their connections to the colonizers. The thrum of freedom is almost louder than the swarms of mosquitoes. So many great characters in this novel.

Freedom becomes less and less likely as Zambia becomes entangled in European and American capitalism and eventually computer technology through the “Digit-All “bead” which turns hands into a computer interface. Addictive and enslaving, especially once government learns how to connect all to the cloud or the “swarm”. Those pesky mosquitoes are both inspirational and deadly.

The AIDS epidemic hits Zambia, the symbolic offspring of Ba Nkoloso, that original Zambian revolutionary and the children of Europeans alike. Are Zambians being used to test new AIDS drugs – are they the new lab rats? It becomes easy to understand the yearning for freedom. These young Zambians of the near future, create microdrones that connect and swarm, that drift wherever you direct them, called Mosketoze. They are used to convene a political rally and they bring about the ending that I cannot tell you about.

Although even to comment on this excellent novel, turns me into something of a colonizer, I will, as my ancestor’s did, drift into this Zambian space and bequeath TheOld Driftby Namwali Serpell to all adventurous readers everywhere.