The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates – Book

From a Google Image Search -CBS


The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates – Book

For me, it’s official, Mr. Coates can write. In The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehisi Coates proves he can write fiction that is just as deep and accessible as his nonfiction. In The Water Dancer he writes about slavery (which he calls the Task) and abolitionists and the Underground, a subject that has had some good authorial attention in recent years. But, although the movement is present in the story, for Coates it is the people affected by slavery, the families torn apart, the histories lost, that matter. It is the inspirational struggles to create new family ties and to hold on to traditions, even if they had to be formed anew in a strange and terrible land.

Virginia is the state where the Lockless plantation tries to maintain an idle lifestyle, maintain a genteel veneer which rests on the shoulders of those who are tasked to do anything that might even vaguely be considered work. Every white person even has a personal maid or valet, a slave, who bathes them, grooms them, and dresses them. 

These white plantation owners were supposed to be farmers but they were so greedy and so tied to the payouts from their tobacco crops that they refused to believe that the crops they depended on were depleting the land they were planted in. Some of those who “tasked” on the land understood what was happening but either no one listened or, as the land produced less income, those who understood the land and the crops were sold away south and west – to Natchez and beyond. Slaves really were sold away to Natchez but Coates also uses Natchez as a symbol for family separation, for sorrow, for harsher conditions, for loss. 

Plantation owners, slave owners, sold off the most valuable “taskers” first so the family members who remained were left without the strongest among them, perhaps the most characterful, and the older slaves who kept the stories of celebrations and family ties alive. Sorrow that is never given time to abate collects and turns “the task” into a sadder, even more burdensome duty to preserve a failing white lifestyle even as the “taskers” see the community of their own, that they have been able to create in their captivity, disintegrate daily into grief and tearful good-byes.

Hiram Walker is a mixed-race son of Howell Walker, who also has a son by his white wife. Hiram who finds a home on the Street where the “tasked” live, a home with Thena, a women he is not related to, is a child with an excellent memory. He remembers every detail of what he sees and hears. But he cannot remember his mama. He knows her name is Rose. He knows she was a water dancer. He has seen her dancing in a vision on a bridge. A water dancer can dance joyfully and gracefully with an earthenware jar full of water on her head and not spill a drop. He knows his mother was a beauty, and he knows she had a sister, Emma – also a water dancer – because his “adopted” people have told him so. But where his own memories of his mother should be there is a hole.

Hiram also has a special talent. He can conduct himself across distances without being seen. In a land where no slave can walk off the land of his/her “master” without a pass, and where running away can be punished by near death (slaves are valuable property and so are rarely killed outright), someone who can “conduct” himself unseen has a very great gift indeed. But Hiram cannot control his talent and this is somehow related to what he does not remember about his mother. His love for another Lockless slave, Sophia, has grown over the years and it allows him to also accept and love her mixed-race child. Hiram needs to learn how to control his talent so that he can take the two women he loves and the child to freedom in the North.

Whether or not Hiram learns to control “conduction” and how he uses it is at the heart of this story but for me toil and survival, family and heritage; anger and sorrow and the mistaken idea that one person can “own” another – these things are the true heart and soul of this story. Conduction is part of an almost-lost origin story which never died even though the people the story belonged to were kidnapped, abused and held without freedom (in a land that supposedly treasured freedom).

I happen to be reading the Frederick Douglass biography by David Blight at the same time as I am reading Coates’ novel. These two book pair very well and one book seems to riff on the other. If white folks ever hope to understand not just why slavery was wrong but how the repercussions of this aberrant human behavior will echo forever in the souls and families of our fellow Americans of African Descent then The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates should add depth to your quest for understanding. I cannot speak to how black and brown people experience Coates’ novel but I hope to get exposure to some of their reactions.

October 2019 Book List

Here’s my October 2019 Book List compiled from the Amazon front page for books, NYT Books, and Publisher’s Weekly Tip Sheet. Fiction and political nonfiction are probably the winning categories on this list with the most contenders for our attention. If you like crime books NYT always gives good crime. And there are plenty of thrillers. I imagine myself sitting in a chair surrounded by stacks of books. As soon as I am done with one the next one is close at hand. Of course the needs of the human body must still be met but I do so reluctantly and wish for a robot to at least bring me foodstuffs to graze on. Hint: Don’t give in to a fantasy like this. Our bodies deteriorate if we sit all the time. You still need fresh air and walks in the park. This is what books read aloud for our listening pleasure are for. 

Amazon

Literature and Fiction

All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg *

The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy *

Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson *

The Topeka School: A Novel by Ben Lerner *

Cilka’s Journey: A Novel by Heather Moss *

Sarah Jane by James Sallis *

Olive Again: A Novel by Elizabeth Strout

Metropolitan Stories by Christine Coulson *

Divide Me By Zero by Lara Vapnyer *

Mysteries and Thrillers

The Guardians: A Novel by John Grisham

Empire of Lies by Raymond Khoury

The Deserter: A Novel by Nelson DeMille

The Night Fire by Michael Connelly

The Butterfly Girl: A Novel by Rene Denfeld

Agent Running in the Field: A Novel by John le Carré

Ninth  House by Leigh Burdugo

Blue Moon: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child

Sarah Jane by James Sallis

Nonfiction

The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson

Dreams of El Dorado: A History of the American West by H. W. Brands

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow

The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek

The End is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments, from Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses by Dan Carlin

Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan *

On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey by Paul Theroux

Movies and Other Things by Shea Serrano, Arturo Torres

Letters from an Astrophysicist by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Running with Sherman: The Donkey with the Heart of a Hero by Christopher McDougall

Biographies and Memoirs

How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir by Saeed Jones

Face It by Debbie Harry

Horror Stories: A Memoir by Liz Mair

Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover and Me by Adrienne Brodeur *

Homework: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton

Me: Elton John: Official Autobiography by Elton John

Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA by Amaryllis Fox

I Will Never See the World Again: The Memoir of an Imprisoned Writer by Ahmet Altan

Edison by Edmund Morris

Beautiful on the Outside: A Memoir by Adam Rippon

Things We Didn’t Talk About When I was a Girl by Jeannie Vanasco

Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church by Megan Phelps-Roper *

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Supernova Era by Cixin Liu, Joel Martinsen

The Girl With No Face: The Daoshi Chronicles by M. H. Boroson

Ormeshadow by Priya Sharma

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

Salvaged by Madeline Roux

The Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith

Steel Craw Saga by Paul Keueger

The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz

How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse – Book One of the Thorne Chronicles by K. Eason

New York Times Book

Sept. 6

Quichotte by Salman Rushdie F – see my review on goodreads.com

Overthrow by Caleb Crain F

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa F

If You Want to Make God Laugh by Bianca Marais F

The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan F

Travel Light, Move Fast by Alexandra Fuller Memoir

The Optimist’s Telescope by Bina Venkataraman NF

Audience of One by Gene Shteyngart NF

Learning from the Germans by Susan Neiman NF

Floating Coast by Bathsheba Demuth NF

Silver, Sword, and Stone by Marie Arana NF

First You Write a Sentence by Joe Moran NF

Karl Marx: Prophet of the Present by Shlomo Avineri Biography

Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith Memoir

4 Books about CIA

Black Site: The CIA in Post-9/ll World by Philip Mudd NF

The Targeter: My Life in the CIA, Hunting Terrorists and Challenging the White House by Nada Bakos with David Coburn NF

The Moscow Rules: The Secret CIA Tactics that Helped America Win the Cold War by Antonio J. Mendez and Jonna Mendez with Matt Baglio NF

Surprise, Kill, Vanish: The Secret History of CIA Paramilitary, Armies, Operators, and Assassins by Annie Jacobsen NF

All the Powers of Earth: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. 3 by Sidney Blumenthal NF

The Nature of Life and Death: Every Body Leaves a Trace by Patricia Wiltshire Autobiography

Our Dog: Ourselves: The Story of a Singular Bond by Alexandra Horowitz NF

Defending Israel: The Story of My Relationship with My Most Challenging Client by Alan M Dershowitz NF

Editor’s Choice

Human Relationships and Other Difficulties: Essays by Mary-Kay Wilmers Essays

Faber and Faber: The Untold Story by Tony Faber NF

The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine F

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk F

Reasons to be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe F

The Lie: A Memoir of Two Marriages, Catfishing and Coming Out by William Dameron NF

And How Are You. Dr. Sacks? A Biographical Memoir of Oliver Sacks by Lawrence Weschler Biographical Memoir

Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects by Ann Sverchup-Thygerson, trans. by Lucy Moffatt NF

Sept. 13

The Institute by Stephen King

Crime (4)

Heaven My Home by Attica Locke F

What Rose Forgot by Nevada Barr F

Missing Person by Sarah Lotz F

Three Hours by Anders Roslund and Gorge Hellstrom, trans. by Elizabeth Clark Wessel F

We the Survivors by Tash Aw F

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman F

The Outlaw Ocean by Ian Urbina NF

Inconspicuous Consumption by Tatiana Schlossberg NF

The Many Lives of Michael Bloomberg by Eleanor Randolph NF

Savage Appetites by Rachel Monroe NF

Love Falls on Us by Robbie Cory-Boulet NF

A Good Provider is One Who Leaves by Jason De Parle NF

Maoism: A Global History by Julia Lovell NF *

New Dystopian Novels

The Diver’s Game by Jesse Ball F *

The Warehouse by Rob Hart F *

The Nobody People by Bob Proehl *

Sept. 20

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood F *

Dominicana by Angie Cruz F *

A Door in the Earth by Alice Waldman F

Hard Mouth by Amanda Goldblatt F

Coventry by Rachel Cusk Essays

She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey NF

The Education of Brett Kavanaugh by Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly NF

Gender and Our Brains by Gina Rippon NF

See Jane Win by Caitlin Moscatello NF

Nobody’s Victim by Carrie Goldberg NF

Consent by Donna Freitas NF

YA Crossover

Who Put This Song On? By Morgan Parker

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

American Royals by Katharine McGee

The Beautiful by Renée Ahdieh

Sept. 27

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett F

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson F

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller F

Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry F

Cold Storage by David Koepp F

Bottle Grove by Daniel Handler F

How to Be An Antiracist by Ibhram X Kendi NF

The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power NF

How the Other Half Learns by Robert Rondiscio NF

The Years that Matter Most by Paul Tough NF

The Geography of Risk by Gilbert Gaul NF

How to Fight Anti-Semitism by Bari Weiss NF

On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal by Naomi Klein NF

The Green New Deal: Why Fossil Fuel Civilization Will Collapse by 2028, and the Bold Economic Plan to Save Life On Earth by Jeremy Rifkin NF *

Oct. 4

The Topeka School by Ben Lerner F

How to Fight Anti-Semitism by Bari Weiss NF

Crime (4)

Sarah Jane by James Sallis

Bloody Genius by John Sanford

Gallows Court by Martin Edwards

The Bird Boys by Lisa Sandlin 

Cantoras by Carolina DeRobertis F

Akin by Emma Donoghue F *

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell NF

A State at Any Cost: The Life David Ben-Gurion by Tom Seger NF

What was Liberalism? The Past, Present and Promise of a Noble Idea by James Traub NF *

The Stakes: 2020 and the Survival of American Democracy by Robert Kuttner NF *

The Accusation by Edward Berenson NF

Scarred by Sarah Edmondson NF

Super Pumped by Mike Isaac NF

The Anarchy by William Dalrymple NF

Publisher’s Weekly

Sept. 6

Clear My Name by Paula Daly – Thriller

Animalia by Jean-Baptiste Del Amo, trans. from French by Frank Wynne – F

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman “challenging but undoubtably brilliant”, 750 Pages, Short-listed for Man Booker Prize F *

The Institute by Stephen King F *

Transaction Man: The Rise of the Deal and the Decline of the American Dream by Nicholas Lemann NF *

Don’t Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane – rom com

Guest House for Young Widows: The Women of ISIS by Asadeh Moaveni NF *

Tinfoil Butterfly by Rachel Eve Moulton (horror) F *

A Season on Earth by Gerald Mumane F *

A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker F *

The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir by Samantha Power NF

Ruby and Roland by Faith Sullivan F *

Sept. 13

A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie – Thriller

Gamechanger by C. X. Beckett – Science Fiction

The Undying: A Meditation on Modern Illness by Anne Boyer – Memoir

Opioid Indiana by Brian Allen Carr F

Gallows Court by Martin Edwards – Mystery 

Think Black: A Memoir by Clyde W. Ford – NF *

The Paris Orphan by Natasha Lester (based on a real story) F *

Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke (Aryan Brotherhood storyline) – Mystery 

Wildhood: The Epic Journey from Adolescence to Adulthood in Humans and Other Animals by Barbara Natterson Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prscott (Women in the CIA) – F *

Pittsburgh by Frank Santoro – Memoir

Snowflake, AZ by Marcus Sedgwick – YA 14+

Imagined Life: A Speculative Journey Among the Exoplanets in Search of Intelligent Aliens, Ice Creatures, and Super Gravity Animals by James Trefil and Michael Summers NF

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson “this is a wise, powerful, and compassionate novel” F *

Sept. 20

Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse F

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates (currently reading) F *

Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming by Lászió Krasznahorkai, trans. from Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet F *

The Shadow King by Manza Mengiste (“a slice of Ethiopian history”) F

The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz Science Fiction

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett F

The Fool and Other Moral Tales by Ann Serre, trans. from French by Mark Hutchinson – Short stories

Exile from Eden by Andrew Smith – Dystopian F – YA

Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith – Memoir

Rusty Brown, Part 1 by Chris Ware – Graphic Novel

Sept. 30

I Will Never See the World Again: The Memoir of an Imprisoned Writer by Ahamet Altan, trans. from Turkish by Yasemin Congar NF

A Tall History of Sugar by Curdella Forbes (Jamaica) F

The Shape of Night by Tees Gerritsen – Thriller

The Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith – Fantasy

Qualifications: A Graphic Memoir in Twelve Steps by David Heatley (addicted to rehab) Memoir

Dry Country by Jake Hinkson F

Whisper of Shadow and Flame by L. Penelope – Fantasy

Sarah Jane by James Sallis F

Frankissstein by Jeanetter Winterson F *

Oct. 6

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield – Short stories

Ninth House by Leigh Burdugo – Fantasy

Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir by Nikki Grimes – Memoir in verse

Older Brother by Mahir Guven, trans. from French by Tina Kover F

American Radicals: How Nineteenth Century Protest Shaped the Nation by Holly Jackson NF *

Fake Bingo by Jac Jemc – Short Stories

How We Fight For Our Lives: A Memoir by Saeed Jones – Memoir

Passing: A Memoir of Love and Death by Michael Korda (wife with brain cancer) NF *

Anti-Social: Online Extremists, Techno Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation by Andrew Marantz NF *

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia F *

Grand Union by Zadie Smith – Short stories

Commute: An Illustrated Memoir of Female Shame by Erin Williams – Memoir

Quichotte by Salman Rushdie – Book

From a Google image Search – NPR.org

Quichotte, Salman Rushdie’s most recent book is chock full of India-Indian Americans who seem as at home and doomed, with lives as empty as any American whose family has lived here for decades, or even centuries. Why are we here, not in America, but on this planet? Why are we intent on destroying the planet that is our home? What do we want? What does it all mean? We seem, in Rushdie’s tale as aimless as five dice in a Yahtzee cup.

Thematically Rushdie covers a lot of territory. Immigration or at least transplantation is in there, as are journeys, tilting at windmills, nostalgia, despair, guilt, hate, love, forgiveness, human failings, cultural failings, Planet B, apocalypse, dystopia and more, sort of an I Ching of modern pathologies.

This is a story loosely based on the Don Quixote story and Quichotte (Key-shot) is on a journey from Motel 6’s to Red Roof Inns across America peddling meds for his distant relation, Dr. Smile. Our Quichotte is a man with a big hole in his memory, a retrieval problem. He follows meteor showers from one magical western rock formation to another as he distributes his samples. Dr. Smile and his wife Happy Smile don’t think of themselves as drug dealers, but they are – so is Quichotte although he can barely be considered as capable of peddling anything.

Dr. Smile has created a new form of fentanyl to help cancer patients with breakthrough pain. It is sprayed under the tongue killing pain instantly. But it is very seductive and dangerous, the perfect pairing to make it beloved by those who abuse drugs. It is opioids on mega-steroids. Of course the drug escapes the medical boundaries of its designers and gets prescribed to just about anyone who wants it. 

Quichotte does not know he is a drug dealer. He is just working for his relative and fortunately he gets fired before his job becomes an issue, fortunate because he has many other issues, one of them being that he is in love. Dr. Smile and Quichotte cross paths again though.

If you have seen a mirror that reflects the same scene back to a vanishing point, mirror after mirror, then you have some idea of Rushdie’s story structure. Or perhaps it’s like a set on nesting dolls. We have brothers, sons, fathers, sisters, all over the place, all estranged, all seeking to reconcile. Everyone is questing to bind wounds from the past. Everyone is looking for love, mostly of the sibling variety, except for Quichotte who has fallen in love inappropriately with a young TV star, and has created a son (Sancho) from a fervent wish on a meteor shower. Also, the world is starting to flicker around the edges like an old film that is fading in spots or dying from overexposure to light or heat in others.

I always say that India and America are soul mates but it is perhaps more likely that the people of our two nations are the actual soul mates. Thanks for the trip Salman Rushdie. I hope this story, Quichotte, which seemed to say farewell, will be followed by more Salman Rushdie productions in the future. Maybe despair is our present and our future, but maybe not. Perhaps we can turn our own planet into Planet B and soon, before we destroy each other along with the planet.

September 2019 Book List

My September booklist is a bit late this month. No apologies because I am into reading Frederick Douglas: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight and, although it is not at all difficult to read, it is long and I have not had as much time to read (because I subscribed to Netflix, very naughty). I have been tempted away from print media for a while. But I will be back and I already have other books clamoring for my attention. Salman Rushdie has a new book and it is calling to me along with all the new fiction on the Amazon list this month. The New York Times Book Review has changed it’s format and I will have to get used to the new setup, so I did not include those books on this month’s list. I will have to get with the new program. 

Amazon

Literature and Fiction

Dominicana: A Novel by Angie Cruz *

Quichotte by Salman Rushdie *

The Secrets We Kept: A Novel by Lara Prescott *

Gun Island: A Novel by Amitov Ghosh *

The World That We Knew: A Novel by Alice Hoffman *

The Water Dancer: A Novel by Ta-Nehisi Coates *

The Grammarians: A Novel by Cathleen Schine *

The Dutch House: A Novel by Ann Patchett *

Red at the Bone: A Novel by Jacqueline Woodson *

Opioid, Indiana: A Novel by Brian Allen Carr *

Mysteries and Thrillers

The Nanny: A Novel by Gilly Macmillan

The Institute by Stephen King

A Better Man (a Chief Inspector Gamache Novel) by Louise Penny

Land of Wolves (Walt Longmire Mystery) by Craig Johnson

The Secrets We Kept: A Novel by Lara Prescott

Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage by Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Anna Waterhouse

The Glass Woman: A Novel by Caroline Lea

Cold Storage: A Novel by David Koepp

The Chestnut Man: A Novel by Sören Sviestrup

The Girl Who Lived Twice by David Lagercrantz

Biographies and Memoirs

Make it Scream, Make it Burn (Essays) by Leslie Jamison

Over the Top: A Raw Journey of Self Love by Jonathan Van Ness

The Soul of Care: The Moral Education of a Husband and a Doctor by Arthur Kleinman

High School by Sara Quin, Tegan Quin

The Ride of a Lifetime: Lesson Learned from 15 Years as CEO of Walt Disney Company by Robert Iger

Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith

Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead by Jim Mattis, Bing West

Permanent Record by Edward Snowden

Sontag: Her Life and Work by Benjamin Moser

Prisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control by Stephanie Kinzer

Nonfiction

We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast by Jonathan Safran Foer

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell

She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Helped Ignite a Movement by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey

How to Raise a Reader by Pamela Paul and Maria Russo

How to: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death by Caitlin Doughty, Dianné Ruz

Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garett M. Graff

Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime by Sean Carroll

Super Pumped: The Battle of Uber by Mike Isaac

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Last Ones Left Alive: A Novel by Sarah Davis-Goff

The Testaments: The Sequel to the Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

A Little Hatred (The Age of Madness) by Joe Abercrombie

A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker

The Nightjar by Deborah Hewitt

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

Publisher’s Weekly

Aug. 5th

Without a Prayer: The Death of Lucas Leonard and How One Church Became a Cult by Susan Ashline – NF

King of the Court by Travis Dandro – Memoir

Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma – Memoir

The Wolf Wants In by Laura McHugh – Thriller

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silva Moreno-Garcia – F

City of Windows by Robert Pobi – Thriller

The Right Swipe (Modern Love #1 by Alicia Rei  – F

Say You Still Love Me by K A Tucker – F

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware – Thriller

The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán trans. From Sp. By Sophie Hughes

Aug. 12

Rule of Capture by Christopher Brown – Science Fiction Thriller

The Last Ocean: A Journey through Memory and Forgetting by Nicci Gerrard (dementia) NF *

Gods with a Little g by Tupelo Hassman – F *

Unbreak Me by Michelle Hazen – F – Romance

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee – YA *

Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America by Christopher Leonard – NF *

The Perfect Son by Lauren North – F

Inland by Téa Obreht

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa trans. from Japanese by Stephen Snyder – F

Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan by Alan Paul and Andy Aledort – NF

The Plateau by Maggie Paxson NF

The Retreat by Sherri Smith – Thriller

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk trans. from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones – F

Catfish Lullaby by A C Wise – Horror novella

Aug. 19

The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham – Science Fiction

The Second Biggest Nothing by Colin Cotterill – F

Coventry: Essays by Rachel Cusk – Essays

A Good Provider is One Who Leaves: One Family and Migration in the 21stCentury by Jason De Parle – NF or based on a true story

Going Dutch by James Gregor – F

Tidelands by Phillippa Gregory – F

The Warehouse by Rob Hart – F

Meet Me in the Future by Kameron Hurley – Short Stories

The Whisper Man by Alex North – Thriller

The World Doesn’t Require You by Rion Amilcar Scott – Short Stories

Machine by Susan Steinberg – Thriller

This Poison Will Remain by Fred Vargas trans. from Frenchy by Siân Reynolds – Mystery

Aug. 23

Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat – Short Stores

From the Shadows by Juan José Millas trans. from Sp. By Thomas Bunstead and Daniel Hahn – F

A Better Man by Louise Penny – Mystery

The Ventriloquists by E R Ramzipoor – F

Gender and Our Brains: How New Neuroscience Explodes the Myths of Male and Female Minds by Gina Rippon – NF

Aug. 30

Unbreakable: The Woman Who Defied the Nazis in the World’s Most Dangerous Horse Race by Richard Askwith – NF

We the Survivors by Tash Aw – F

Women War Photographers from Lee Miller to Anja Niedringhaus by Anne-Marie Beckmann and Felicity Korn – NF

Dominicana by Angie Cruz – F *

Quichotte by Salman Rushdie – F *

The Art of Statistics: How to Learn From Data By David Spiegelhalter – NF

The Bone Fire by S D Sykes – Whodunit

Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes by Dana Thomas – NF

The Sweetest Fruits by Monique Truong

Fall by Neal Stephenson – Book

From a Google Image Search – The Verge

When Neal Stephenson takes on a subject he does not fool around, or he does but with purpose. In Fall, Neal Stephenson takes on the small topics of our times like how to fix the internet, immortality, artificial intelligence, and the Singularity. He even gets in a prolonged jab at modern American culture when he takes us with Sophia to Ameristan for a quick and terrifying visit (hint: the border is made up of WalMarts).

Who is Sophia? She’s Dodge’s great niece. Dodge, also known as Richard Forthrast, is the key character in this sprawling novel. One of Dodge’s last acts before entering a clinic for a simple procedure (which proves fatal) is to be distracted by a red leaf that he catches on the palm of his hand before it hits the pavement (Fall). He asks “if we lived on as spirits or were reconstituted as digital simulations” would things still have “quale” (for example) ‘the subjective experience of redness’.

Dodge, although his demise is premature, has made legal arrangements to have his brain frozen (a legal dilemma since the cryonics company has folded, but also not a dilemma because Forthrast is a very wealthy man with relatives who love him). So his brain is separated from his body until those at the forefront of using computers to scan brains and preserve them in digital form can progress. Once this is accomplished Dodge awakens in an empty digital simulation, a digital afterlife. But Dodge earned his fortune as the inventor of a popular world-building game called T’Rain. He begins to build a world to give the afterlife form. Back on earth living people can watch Dodge’s simulation unfold (he remembers his name as Egdod)

Dodge’s cohorts and rivals are Corvallis Kawasaki (cohort) and Elmo Shepherd (rival) and, of course his niece Zula, mother of Sophia (loyal family). A fake nuclear incident which leaves many people believing that the town of Moab, Utah was attacked points out some of shortcomings of the internet. “The Internet – what Dodge used to call the Miasma – had just gone completely wrong. Down to the molecular level it was still a hippie grad school project. Like a geodesic dome that a bunch of flower children had assembled from scrap lumber on ground infested with termites and carpenter ants. So rotten that rot was the only thing that was holding it together.”

Our intrepid computer wizards and coders invent a new way to protect an individual’s identity by using their actual “lifeprint”, called a PURDAH (Personal Unseverable Designation for Anonymous Holography). The internet needs to keep expanding to keep Dodge and all the new souls being scanned into the afterlife alive. Then Dodge, creator of the land mass of the afterlife from his Palace to the Knot, decides to see if he can bring forth new souls in the Landform Visualization Utility (LVU). When he is ultimately successful his old rival El (Elmo) Shepherd feels the entire design has been taken in the wrong direction. He decides to end his own life (he has a fatal disease anyway) and get scanned into Dodge’s creation. He ousts Dodge and takes over.

Eventually, of course, all the friends and enemies of Dodge die (or are murdered) (bots are no better than their owners). The population of Earth is declining. Who will be left to make sure the afterlife is supplied with enough energy to continue to exist? How do we get to the Singularity?

It’s a long strange trip (from the Grateful Dead song ‘Truckin’). Neal Stephenson is always amazing and Fall might just be the quintessential gamer fantasy novel/or you might think it is just past weird. As for me, although it lagged in a few parts, it worked. That does seem like one way we could get to the Singularity and leave the Earth to its own devices to recover from humans. On the other hand, I have not signed up for any tech leading to a digital afterlife, and as far as I know, no such tech exists. I don’t think the afterlife looked all that appealing unless you were a member of the ‘Pantheon’. We may find out if books copy life, or if life copies books. Keep your ears open.

August 2019 Book List

From a Google Image Search – Books

Here is my list of books published in July, available in August. Lots of fiction, not as much nonfiction. If you are someone who loves crime books or thrillers and these kinds of books top your summer reading list then you are all set. There is also quite a bit of interesting science fiction and fantasy for you if that is your taste. And there are several good biographies and memoirs that were published recently. The ones that struck me when I read the summaries are starred. If you Google a book you will get a very short summary of what it’s about. Go to Amazon or your library for a longer description if you’re not sure what to pick. Don’t worry, you can’t keep up. Just dive in and carve out a little niche for yourself. Happy reading. 

Amazon

Best Books of August

Literature and Fiction

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

American Saint by Sean Gandert *

Chances Are…by Richard Russo *

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory *

Inland by Téa Obreht *

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christi Lefteri *

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokaczuk, Antonia Lloyd-Jones *

Summerlings by Lisa Howorth *

Gods with a little g by Tupelo Hassman

Mysteries and Thrillers

The Escape Room by Megan Goldin *

The Bitterroots by CJ Box

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

The Whisper Man by Alex North

The Last Widow (Will Trent) by Karin Slaughter

The Whisperer (13) (Inspector Sejer Mysteries) by Karin Fossum, Kari Dickson

True Believer (2) (Terminal List) by Jack Carr

The Perfect Wife by JP Delaney

A Keeper by Graham Norton

Don’t Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokaczuk, Antonia Lloyd-Jones

Biographies and Memoirs

Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma

Idiot Wind: A Memoir by Peter Kaldheim

Alexander the Great: His Life and His Mysterious Death by Anthony Everitt

Barnum: An American Life by Robert Wilson

Natural Rivals: John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and the Creation of America’s Public Lands by JohnClayton

Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan by Alan Paul, Andy Aledort

Nights in White Castle: A Memoir by Steve Rushin

The Sober Diaries: How One Woman Stopped Drinking and Started Living by Clare Pooley

Nobody’s Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers Pervs and Trolls by Carrie Goldberg

Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver by Jill Heinerth

Nonfiction

Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties by Tom O’Neill, Dan Piepenbring

Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors by Edward Niedermeyer

Strange Harvests: The Hidden Histories of Seven Natural Objects by Edward Posnett

The Deep History of Ourselves: The Four-Billion-Year Story of How We Got Conscious Brains by Joseph Le Doux *

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi

The Mosquito: A Human History of our Deadliest Predator by Timothy Wineqard

The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes by David Robson *

The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Woman Who Pursued Him, and the Murder that Shocked Jazz-Age America by Karen Abbott

The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier by Ian Urbina

Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Z. Hossain

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? By Temi Oh

Blood of an Exile (Dragon of Terra by Brian Haslund)

Shrouded Loyalties by Reese Hogan

The Dragon Republic (The Poppy War) by R F Kuang

Cry Pilot by Joel Dane

Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buston

Turning Darkness into Light by Marie Brennan

The Gossamer Mage by Julie E Gernada

The New York Times Book Review

Crime

Conviction by Denise Mina *

More News Tomorrow by Susan Richards Shreve *

The Island by Ragnar Jonasson

Finding Mrs. Ford by Deborah Goodrich Royce

Fiction

Last Day by Domenica Ruta *

Fall; or, Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson *

The Body in Question by Jill Ciment *

Nonfiction

The Guarded Gate by Daniel Okrent *

The Way We Eat by Bee Wilson *

Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero by Tyler Cowen

A Thousand Small Sanities by Adam Gopnik (defense of liberalism) *

The Buried by Peter Hessler

The Shortlist (books on mental illness)

The Edge of Every Day: Sketches of Schizophrenia by Marin Sardy

Mind Fixers: Psychiatry’s Troubled Search for the Biology of Mental Illness by Anne Harrington

Tyrannical Minds: Psychological Profiling, Narcissism, and Dictatorship by Dean Haycock *

Podcast 50 Best Memoirs – https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/05/books/review/50-best-memoirs-past-50-years

July 12

Great Summer Reads

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

Summer of ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand

The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by Pamela Dorman

The Islanders by Meg Mitchell Moore

The Last Book Party by Karen Dukess

The Travelers by Regina Porter

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kivok

Fiction

Clyde Fans: A Picture Book by Seth *

Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn

Nonfiction

A Good American Family by David Maraniss

Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century by Alexandra Popoff

Running to the Edge by Matthew Futterman

The Making of a Justice by Justice John Paul Stevens

The Land of Flickering Lights by Michael Bennet

The Thirty-Year Genocide by Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi

July 19

Fiction

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead *

Crime

Knife by Jo Nesbo

The Shameless by Ace Atkins

The Body in the Wake (Faith Fairchild) by Katherine Hall Page

The Hard Stuff by David Gordon

Fiction

Mostly Dead Things by Kristin Arnett

A Philosophy of Ruin by Nicholas Mancussi

Lanny by Max Porter

The Shortlist (Story Collections)

Rain by Mia Couto

The Sun on My Head by Giovani Martins

Arid Dreams by Duanwad Pimwana

Nonfiction

My Parents/This Does Not Belong to You by Aleksandar Hemon (Memoir)

Appeasement by Tim Bouverie (Neville Chamberlain)

The Crowded Hour by Clay Risen

July 26th

Recursion by Blake Crouch (alternate reality thriller)

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

The Need by Helen Phillips

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

Whisper Network by Chandler Baker

Empty Hearts by Juli Zeh

The Escape Room by Megan Goldin *

Publishers Weekly 

July 5

The Substitution Order by Martin Clark (legal thriller)

Dapper Dan: Made in Harlem by Daniel R Day (memoir)

Stay and Fight by Madeline Ffitch – F

Hungry: Eating, Road-Tripping, and Risking it all with the Greatest Chef in the World by Jeff Gordinier – NF

Ash Kickers (Smoke Eaters #2) by Sean Grigsby (Science Fiction/Fantasy)

The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez (F) (Rom-Com+)

The Chain by Adrian McKinty (F) (thriller) *

The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America by Margaret O’Mara (NF)

The Need by Helen Phillips (F) (crossover, thriller, sci-fi, literary)

The Toll by Cherie Priest (F) (‘Gothic tale’)

Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss by Margaret Renki (NF)

George Marshall: Defender of the Republic by David L Roll (NF)

Say Say Say by Lila Savage (F) *

Supper Club by Lara Williams (F) *

July 12

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone *

Native Tongue by Suzetter Haden Elgin *

Red Metal by Mark Greany and H Ripley Rawlings IV (F)

Greasy Bend by Kris Lackey (F) (2 investigations that connect)

Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler (F)

Four Men Shaking: Searching for Sanity with Samuel Beckett, Norman Mailer, and My Perfect Zen Teacher by Lawrence Shainberg (Memoir)

They Call Us Enemy by George Takei, et al

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (F) *

The Rage of Dragons (The Burning #1) (Fantasy)

July 19

Rocket to the Morgue by Anthony Boucher (F)

Desdemona and the Deep by CSE Cooney (F) (Fantasy/Sci Fi)

The Gomorrah Gambit by Tom Chatfield (F) (high tech thriller)

Jade War by Fonda Lee (F) (Fantasy)

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman (F) (Crime novel)

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCullock (NF)

Gravity is the Thing by Jaclyn Moriarty (F)

Crisis in the Red Zone: The Story of the Deadliest Ebola Outbreak in History and of the Outbreaks to Come by Richard Preston (NF)

Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham (F) (Crime) (forensic psychologist)

Glory and It Litany of Horrors by Fernanda Torres (F)

The Last Astronaut by David Wellington (F) (Space thriller)

July 26

Can Two Women Ever Be – Too Close by Natalie Daniels (F)

A Capitol Death by Lindsey Davis (F) (a Flavia Alba novel)

Smokescreen by Iris Johansen (F) (thriller)

God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss and Renewal in Middle America by Lyz Lenz (NF)

The Hound of Justice (The Janet Watson Chronicles) (F)

The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen (F) (Fantasy)

The New Girl by Daniel Silva – Book

Having read all of Daniel Silva’s spy novels that feature Gabriel Allon and his team of talented Israeli intelligence specialized spies, I could not resist getting to The New Girl as soon as possible. None of the other books (there are 18 of them) deals with a global situation that is quite as recent as the one we find here. Silva always uses his spy Allon, now the head of the Israeli Intelligence Service to make sure that bad actors pay for the mayhem they cause and that the activities of the bad actors cease and desist. Often evil doers must die to insure that they will not eventually practice their crimes and terrors at some other point in the future.

This time Daniel Silva wants to remind us of how important journalists and journalism are to maintaining the freedoms that people treasure. We are reminded that one of the first things dictators often do is shut down the free press and support a press that is merely a mouthpiece for the leader. The most shocking recent example involved the murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi assassination team sent into a Turkish embassy, perhaps by Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) the heir to the throne in Saudi Arabia, although he denies it. In a way this novel attempts to do the same thing that Quentin Tarantino did in his most recent movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywoodby righting a wrong, although in both cases we know that a fictional revision of history cannot really right a past wrong. However revenge fiction can offer some personal satisfaction.

The names have been changed of course, MBS becomes Khalid bin Mohammed bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. who is buying a painting in NYC from our old friend Sarah Bancroft, occasionally part of Gabriel’s team, when his daughter  at a exclusive private school in kidnapped. She is only twelve. Who would know where she was? Who would abduct her? The reasons are not as mysterious. There could be many reasons why Khalid might attract violence. Stealing a child is a low-life way to get the attention of someone this powerful and it is probable that it involves a hope to get Khalid out in the open in order to kill him.

Omar Nawwaf is the name of the fictional character who faces the same fate as Khashoggi and whose murder disgusts people around the world and causes us to stop noticing that MBS is handsome and to just remember that he is ruthless. The world reacts similarly to the killing of Omar Nawwaf in Silva’s book but people who know about the kidnapping of his daughter (very few people) do not believe in punishing the child for the sins of the father. Omar was trying to give Kahlid information about a plot against him by his uncle when he was assassinated. Omar’s wife, Hanifa Khoury, eventually shares what Omar learned with Gabriel, but only to help save the child.

How does it all end? Well, as usual, bummer, I can’t tell you. All the other Gabriel Allon books deal with history that is further in the past. You may feel that this particular piece of global terror is too fresh to qualify for Silva’s fictional treatment of it. People’s reactions will probably be personal and varied. Although many of my favorite characters appear and there is the beginning of a romance that readers should like (but Gabriel does not think will work), I can’t help but feel that it may have been too soon to approach this subject.

Photo Credit: from a Google Image Search – Houstonia

Also find me on Goodreads.com as Nancy Brisson

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