The Book of Hope by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams – Book

From a Google Image Search – CBS

Jane Goodall and her work with chimpanzees in the wild always fascinated me because it seemed brave for a woman raised far from the African bush to adjust to living with the heat and the bugs so close to the soil where she had to sit for hours and hours among the chimpanzees in Gombé to get them to accept her as part of the landscape and eventually befriend her. 

Jane Goodall tells us in The Book of Hope from the Global Icons Series, in conversation with the author Douglas Abrams, that she often got discouraged, suffered scratches and sores, and once had a near death experience when she fell down a hill in the company of an enormous rock which could have crushed her. Although she had worked with Louis Leakey on his digs in Africa looking for human bones and animal bones that might offer clues to evolution, she was often afraid that her grant money would run out. Interesting to note that as a woman could not venture out into the African forests by herself, Jane’s mother went with her in the early years and was a great help. But how did she continue to hope that one day she would be able to interact with the chimpanzees in their wild habitat? She is perhaps the perfect person to talk to us about hope in these times that seem hopeless.

The book is full of anecdotes which makes it very personal. Storytelling often spices up deep philosophical discussions and takes them from the realm of the sublime and esoteric to a level that makes the abstract real and comprehensible. As the local people started to challenge the ability of the chimpanzees at Gombé to survive, as locals began to cut down the forests that provided habitat for them, as they began to hunt them for food and capture baby chimps to sell as pets, the numbers of chimpanzees dwindled and extinction looked imminent. Rather than criticize the local residents, Jane tried to understand why this was happening. She came to an awareness that this was due to the poverty of the residents, and that unless the poverty was addressed the extinction trend would continue. Through an agency she and others founded, microloans offered to help residents buy farm animals or seeds, to help them accumulate wealth and build schools and maintain fresh water supplies. Once the standard of living rose nature was left alone to bring back the forests and bush lands that the chimpanzees needed to survive and thrive. She shows us how her intimate knowledge of the needs of the species allowed her to made decisions that were wise for both humans and animals, and incidentally for the environment.

Jane Goodall says that we must solve four great challenges and that working on solving these challenges will offer us hope for the future sustainability of all living things on this earth. Even plants are alive. All things on earth, under it, and above it are interconnected.

#1 First we must alleviate poverty. “If you are living in crippling poverty, you will cut down the last tree to grow food. Or fish the last fish because you’re so desperate to feed your family. In urban areas you will buy the cheapest food-you do not have the luxury of choosing a more ethically produced product.”

#2 We must reduce the unsustainable lifestyles of the affluent. Let’s face it, so many people have way more stuff than they need – or even want.

#3 We must eliminate corruption, for without good governance and honest leadership, we cannot work together to solve our enormous social and environmental challenges.

#4 We must face up to the problems caused by growing populations of humans and their livestock. There are over 7 billion of us today, and already, in many places, we have used up nature’s finite natural resources faster than nature can replenish them and by 2050 there will apparently be closer to ten billion of us. If we carry on with business as usual, that spells the end of earth as we know it. (pg. 59-60)

Jane Goodall tells us she was shy, and she describes the first speech she gave in public and says that now she speaks to people all around the world. She tells them and us, her readers, that these environmental and cultural challenges are not insurmountable. She blames our current dilemma on a “disconnect between clever brains and compassionate hearts.” “True wisdom requires both thinking with our head and understanding with our hearts.” We are left with the feeling that we could solve the problems facing us and wondering if we will find the wisdom to do it.

Anthem by Noah Hawley – Book

From a Google image Search

Anthem was a gutsy title for Noah Hawley to choose since the original book with that title was written by Ayn Rand. His invocation of the previous book was perhaps done deliberately to stress his similar themes and to point out that threats to the free world now may be as serious as the threat of the rise of Hitler was in 1937 when Rand wrote her book. 

Hawley’s book takes place in near-future America. Teens are committing suicide, and no one knows why. Parents are devastated but they don’t seem to blame themselves for their children’s choices. Simon loses his older sister Claire in just such a way. His anxiety disorder soars, his grief for his sister is all-encompassing, and his wealthy parents eventually place him in a center that tries to prevent the inevitable in children who are exhibiting signs that they should not be left alone. At the recovery center Simon is given a program of medications to treat just about every mental ailment that medication has been created for. He meets a young black girl named Louise who has suffered and wants revenge on someone she calls The Wizard, and he meets another teen named Paul, who wants to be called The Prophet.

America is the same mess we see around us right now only the social diseases are further along a scale indicating that collapse and chaos are imminent. Simon’s father makes a pill that is as addictive as opioids and yet he never accepts that his destructive path to personal wealth might have been what upset his daughter, although she papered the bathroom where she bled out with the wrappers that held her father’s pills. 

The original trio is joined by others they collect along the way, Felix, aka Samson, son of Avon who lives way off the grid. Felix shares a guilty secret with his father. Story is the girl Felix falls in love with and is hiding out with. Story’s mother is in the process of getting approved as a Supreme Court Justice. Story doesn’t know that Felix has another name, his off-the-grid name. Felix’s sister, Bathsheba has been kidnapped by a billionaire with a taste for sex with very young girls, (parallel with Jeffrey Epstein’s predation scheme right down to the female “friend” who keeps him supplied). Bathsheba, now called Katie, has been impregnated by her keeper, The Wizard, and she is being held as a prisoner in a compound in Texas until she gives birth. Louise was molested by this same billionaire who lives in houses all over the world and never has to suffer any consequences for his horrific behavior.

As the teens make plans to rescue Bathsheba, as they collect weapons and learn to use them, the world explodes around them and complicates their mission. There are militias all over the place, some organized, some not. Why are the teens feeling such despair? Is there any hope for creating a world where money doesn’t rule and any endeavor, no matter how harmful to a healthy society, is fine if it offers material rewards? The Prophet tags along on all the rescues but his true purpose is for this band of unlikely heroes to establish a utopia, to start over and to not make the same mistakes as their parents and ancestors.

Noah Hawley breaks the “rules” of writing fiction by breaking into the story to present commentary about the events of the story and to talk about the questions his daughter asks about what he is writing. It may not be part of usual story structure to sort of “break the frame,” but Hawley also writes for TV and movies which may explain his willingness to use story structure creatively. This is just the sort of dystopian tale that I enjoy, especially because of the social commentary that also tags along for the ride. One more thing – if you get a text message that says “A ll” you had better get a copy of Anthem right away so that you will be able to decode the message.

Is it possible for flawed humans to create a Utopian society? Maybe not, but if it takes a few centuries for a culture to turn bad then starting from scratch every now and then may be the only way to avoid the human capacity for rationalization, for turning our worst traits into self-destructive positives.

Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson – Book

From a Google Image Search

How does a well-adjusted Queen of the Netherlands meet a half Comanche mourning Texas father on the autism spectrum who spends his days hunting for the wild hog that snatched his baby and ate it, and who still manages to be one of the sanest people in any room? What is the Queen of the Netherlands doing in Texas? These two unlikely characters meet as the Neal Stephenson novel, Termination Shock begins with a crash.

Neal Stephenson has been a favorite author of mine since I read The Quicksilver Trilogy, also a tale with keys scenes in Dutch cities. Stephenson writes unique science fiction, often long and complex, teaching me things that ignite my mind and entertain me. He mixes the plausible and implausible, always making running commentary on the human condition, buried in all that complexity somewhere.

Perhaps after seeing Kim Stanley Robinson publish The Ministry of the Future and Bill Gates publish How to Avoid a Climate Disaster the time seemed right to weigh in with a plot Stephenson had already been working on.

TR Schmidt (one of several names), a wealthy Texan, is the real reason Frederika Mathilde Louisa Saskia, the Queen of the Netherlands (familiar name Saskia) is in Texas. She has been invited to a Conference/Demonstration/Extravaganza. Apparently, in this not-so-distant future, America is the laughingstock of the world, but a wealthy Texan who owns an enormous tract of land can do just about what he likes. It turns out that TR is tired of the world’s inaction on climate change. The world is getting hotter, the ice at the poles is melting faster and the seas are rising higher. TR’s land is outside Houston. What he has in common with the Queen of the Netherlands is that they both live in low places along coastlines, as is true of all the other leaders invited to the conference (Singapore, Venice, certain island nations in the South Pacific). 

TR is a man of action. This conference is not about forming a think tank. He already has a plan based on one summer when Mount Pinatubo erupted and the whole world cooled off. TR has a way to use that model to cool the earth for a few years while more permanent solutions can be put into effect. His Pina2bo structure is finished. These people are here to witness activation of the apparatus. 

One problem with his new process is that it is a geoengineering approach, opposed by those who favor green solutions. Another problem is that this process has certain “knock-on” effects that some nations won’t like – namely China and India, two very large and powerful nations. China and India are rivals. China is trying to swallow India at the Line of Actual Control one gulp at a time. This parallel story line of a young Sikh man named Laks who comes to be known as Big Fish connects with the TR and Queen Frederika story line eventually. TR is trying to cover countries that will be left out of his original cooling scheme because of things like prevailing winds, and is using isolated locations perfect for building and employing his apparatus. Internet rumors say that if Pina2bo continues to function the Punjab, the breadbasket of India, could lose its monsoons making farming impossible. No one on the internet is showing the maps that describe TR’s plans to cover all areas on the planet with cooler temperatures, thus slowing the melting of the ice caps and the rising seas. TR knows that if he stops now there will be an equal and opposite reaction called termination shock.

This is not a climate change textbook lesson, but, as usual, Stephenson teaches us many things, including some esoteric geography and some ancient martial arts. Kim Stanley Robinson talked about geoengineering. He mentioned but did not stress using particles in clouds to reflect more of the sun’s cooling back into space. Neal Stephenson concentrates almost entirely on geoengineering. Stephenson is a great describer and explainer. You will get the picture. 

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr – Book

From a Google Image Search – NPR

It’s possible, but not certain, that the city named “Cloud Cuckoo Land” dates back to an Aristophanes story “The Birds” written in 414 B. C. E. “…how long had those tablets moldered inside that chest, waiting for eyes to read them? While I am sure you will doubt the truth of the outlandish events they relate, my dear niece, in my transcription, I do not leave out a word. Maybe in the old days men did walk the earth as beasts, and a city of birds floated in the heavens between the realms of men and gods. Or maybe, like all lunatics, the shepherd made his own truth, and so for him, true it was. But let us turn to his story now, and decide his sanity for ourselves.” (pg.14)

So, we start with a book, an old, old book, a book that has been wet and attacked by mold and lost for uncounted amounts of time. We end with the book in a new form, translated by Zeno Ninis who learned Greek from his fellow prisoner in a POW camp in the Korean War. The book may be fiction, and the characters may be fiction but the power of a great story to offer hope, to mellow grief, to calm anxiety has been a factor in many of our lives.

Anthony Doerr wrote All the Light You Cannot See. If he never wrote another book that one volume would be enough to keep him in my list of great authors. But here is another great book that stretches from the siege of Constantinople to sometime in the future. In the legend there is a shepherd who hears the tale of Cloud Cuckoo Land, and he learns that if you get to that land, you will be satisfied; that restlessness and yearning will no longer hound you. In the clouds where the birds circle the cloud towers is peace. But humans cannot go there, only animals. The shepherd uses magic, but it backfires, and he turns into a donkey. You will hear this story repeated in every age and the tale works its magic on many humans, even though they cannot expect to find Cloud Cuckoo Land unless they are transformed by the gods because of their deeds into a bird who can fly there. There is more to the shepherd’s story, but you should discover it for yourself.

Two characters are alive at the siege of Constantinople – Omeir and Anna. Anna finds the old manuscript when she is trying to save the life of her sister. Zeno begins his life about 18 years before the Korean War. The Cunningham sisters are librarians at the local library in Lakeport, Idaho. They introduce Zeno to the Greek writers, especially Aristophanes and his birds. There are birds everywhere in this story, especially owls. Seymour lives in the same place as Zeno, but when Seymour is a young man Zeno is in his eighties. Seymour has a mental disorder that involves hypersensitivity to sounds. His mother Bunny is patient but must work two jobs to support the two of them. Once Seymour disobeys Bunny and goes to the woods behind their double-wide he begins to communicate with a Great Grey Owl, and he finds peace in nature. When developers buy the land and remove the forest Seymour’s anger cannot be eased. We also have Konstance who is travelling aboard the Argos to a new earth she will not live long enough to see. 

Perhaps an homage to books, because of the lengths people go to save this book and because of the number of different historical contexts in which the story lives in the minds of readers; perhaps a coming-of-age story, there is yet another aspect of Doerr’s book that speaks about the damages done to our modern world, and the possible dystopia that awaits. “In late August, twin forest fires in Oregon burn a million acres each, and smoke gushes into Lakeport. The sky turns the color of putty, and anyone who steps outdoors returns smelling like a campfire. Restaurant patios close, weddings move inside, youth sports are canceled; the air is deemed too dangerous for children to play outside.” (pg. 487)

Konstance, in the Argos seems to be the only person left after her fellow travelers die in an epidemic that sweeps through the ship. She has her “perambulator” and access to a prodigious digital library. She makes it through a year of solitude by cutting up pieces of her 3D-printer powdered food sacks and writing down the stories her father told her about a donkey and a place called Cloud Cuckoo Land. If you like fantasies there is plenty of that; but it you require realism, there is also plenty of that. What book would you take with you if you could only take one. So many found exactly what they needed in Antonius Diogenes’ 24 Folios about a place called Cloud Cuckoo Land. The connections made between characters and eras in this book may remind you of your own eureka moments when your brain made similar connections as you read books and learned your way through life.

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen – Book

From a Google Image Search – Goodreads

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen took me back into my childhood. My large, unruly childhood family lived next door to a quaint and very tolerant Mennonite couple. Franzen’s main character in Crossroads grew up in a Mennonite family, living in a Mennonite community. These simple folks, similar to the Amish people, usually eschew modern machines and inventions, although Russ Hildebrandt’s family did have tractors. Mennonites are often farmers because other careers take them out of their spiritual comfort zone.

Russ leaves the Mennonite community in Lesser Hebron, Indiana where they practice simplicity “to make the Kingdom of Heaven manifest on earth.” He learned about serving others because it was a way of life. His father was the pastor for the community. His mother “made emulating Christ seem effortlessly rewarding.” Russ left because he was drafted in 1944 with five semesters of college completed. Because he could not shun his grandfather for living with his girlfriend, Russ’s family disowned him. He did his army service at a former CCC camp outside Flagstaff, Arizona, which is where he connected with the Navajo people who he continued to visit over the years. He was comfortable with the Navajos because he understood that they lived simply, also for spiritual reasons.

Because of Russ’s background sexual thoughts presented as a feeling of nausea. These thoughts were sinful. While still in the army he met Marion, his future wife, and learned that the way his body reacted, in his case, to women was natural but had to be governed and controlled by will. Marion was a Catholic girl with many secrets of her own and she carried with her the kind of guilt that caused monks to flagellate themselves or wear hair shirts constantly irritating their skin.

These two complicated people (and aren’t we all complicated) parented four children; Clem, Becky, Perry, and Judson and lived together peacefully until they all reached a sort of midlife crisis as three of their children entered puberty and a beautiful widow arrived at the First Reformed Church where Russ was the Associate Pastor. He was feeling low, having recently been replaced as the Youth Group leader by a younger hipper hiree. Marion was also at a crossroads. In fact, Crossroads was the name of the church youth group and clearly a symbol of one of the themes of the novel. 

It’s the 70’s, near the end of the Vietnam War. There are no cell phones; there is no social media, but there are drugs. When parent’s lives go off the rails even temporarily, families can suffer losses. As children begin to see the flaws in their parents and separation begins, children may make choices that dismay even the most distracted of parents.

Underpinning this story of an American family lies a nuanced conversation about God and Jesus, faith and religion, service to others and self-absorption. There is nothing preachy about it. Because Jonathan Franzen is able to entwine spirituality around the lives he depicts and the events he recounts, the exploration of spirituality is where the true value of this book lies. It reverberates in your mind and reminds you that you may indeed have a soul. 

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles – Book

From a Google Image Search – CBS News

In Amor Towles book, The Lincoln Highway, Billy Watson, young brother of main character Emmett, has been staying with a neighbor, Sally. His brother was serving a sentence at a juvenile work farm, his father recently died, and Billy is living out of his backpack which he keeps very close. In the backpack, along with his collection of silver dollars, is his treasured edition of Professor Abacus Abernathe’s Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and other Intrepid Travelers. These heroes whether mythical or real are beginning a new journey to complete a task or find something that is lost or to take care of a responsibility that has been entrusted to them. In other words, they are on a quest.

As the brothers are going through their father’s things they discover postcards from their mother, who left them on a memorable Fourth of July. The postcards, addressed to the boys show the stops their mom made on her trip west and the postcards stop at San Francisco, suggesting that that is where she may have settled to begin her new life. The thing they know for sure about her is that she loved fireworks and never missed an Independence Day display. Billy also knew from his mom’s postcard that there was such a spectacle every Fourth in San Francisco. Emmett loves his brother and he wants to please him but he wants to go to Texas. He was an apprentice to a local builder and now he wants to buy and restore houses, but he needs a city that is growing. After some research in the library (it’s the fifties, no internet, no cell phones) he discovers that San Francisco is growing even faster than Texas. The brothers agree to go to San Francisco on the Lincoln Highway, a real American highway that runs from coast to coast. 

Every good quest meets with obstacles and this quest is no exception. Two of Emmett’s incarcerated friends show up at the repossessed farm as the brothers prepare to leave. They have not been legally released from their sentences. Duchess and Woolly are two very different individuals. Woolly may have a slight mental disability, but he was born into a wealthy family. His father died and he is set to inherit a fairly large sum of money. Duchess is an opportunist. He never had a stable place to rest his head; his father was an itinerant actor who was often drunk. Duchess has a certain charisma though, and he has a ton of nerve. He doesn’t want to go to San Francisco. He wants to go to New York City to collect Woolly’s fortune. So he and a reluctant Woolly steal the car that Emmett paid for with his own apprentice pay and he leaves Emmett and Billy to find their own way to San Francisco. If a quest must have obstacles this twist is the first in a long line of them. It forces Emmett and Billy to follow Duchess and Woolly to New York City, not only to recover the car but to retrieve the envelop containing the $3,000 their father left for them in the well with the spare tire. 

Take the Lincoln Highway on this wild quest and you will meet more heroes and villains than you have in many a day. And you will discover that ordinary people often contain the stuff of heroes, and villains. Amor Towles writes about the quirks of human nature in ways that allow us to focus on what is best about us and what is worst about us. It’s a long journey but it goes quickly and yet the heroes pace is slowed by many astonishing events.

Silverview by John Le Carré  – Book

From a Google Image Search – Time Magazine

In an ‘afterword’ to the book Silverview, Le Carré’s youngest son, Nick Cornwell, tells us that the manuscript for this book was one his father worked on and set aside. He never seemed completely satisfied with it, but it was essentially finished. This was not one of those posthumous agreements allowing a new person to complete an unfinished manuscript. A bit of simple editing was all that was required. Silverview by John Le Carré offers fans a temporary reprieve from the finality of a beloved author’s passing. 

Julian Lawndsley has grown a conscience and left his successful career in the stock market to move to a small town by the sea. He opens a bookstore. He is not a reader and knows next to nothing about books, but he has a bank roll, and he has style. Julian is just considering leaving his new life behind to go back to what he knows because business is slow and boring. Then Edward Avon wanders in. Here is a man who is alive and exciting, even if slightly dodgy, and he knows books. He is also a mystery, quite inscrutable. Little does Julian know that he is being used by a spy gone rogue, a man married to a spy who is dying.

This is new territory for Le Carré, with new characters and new locations – no George Smiley, no Russia. Edward had been active in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia where ethnic cleansing can sicken even the most intrepid spirit. Edward cannot stay objective, and he questions whether an agency that requires its employees to stay objective should even exist. We view events through Julian’s eyes, the view of a mystified bookseller who is currently, in his new life, a fish out of water. The point of view allows Le Carré to fill the reader in little by little, creating that fog of intelligence work so familiar throughout his oeuvre. 

Silverview is the house of spies where Edward’s wife lives while she is dying. The fog of secrecy emanates from Silverview. The fog is part of the appeal. It confuses our reader’s view of Edward’s secret lapse from the rules of intelligence. However, his misadventures are not as secret from his handlers as he thinks. Edward and his wife Debbie have a daughter. Lily, who has a two-year-old son, Sam, and no husband. Julian may end up losing his partnership with Edward, but he may have found a new reason to stay in this village by the sea. Edward is up to something but my lips are sealed.

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead – Book

From a Google Image Search – Time Magazine

In the first chapter of his book Harlem Shuffle, Colson Whitehead sucked me right into his world. It was serendipity. His main character, Ray Carney, was driving in his truck to see Aronowitz, an old man who was a wizard at fixing up TVs and radios. Aronowitz had a shop full of tubes, TV tubes, radio tubes. It’s 1959, that’s what was inside radios and TVs in those days. I felt at home because my father’s basement workshop was full of those same tubes and the neighbors’ TVs and radios that needed repairs.’

Ray Carney is the owner of a furniture store at a good spot on 125 th street. He precariously straddles a life as a proud small businessman and a fence for stolen goods, because he can’t seem to leave behind his crooked cousin Freddie, his almost brother since early childhood. As Freddie’s life deteriorates, Carney’s life improves, but it is a life and death struggle. Between characters like Miami Joe, Chink Montague, and Pepper who keep pulling him into illegal schemes and the beat cop, Detective Munson, making him pay protection, getting ahead was like maneuvering through a minefield. It did help that criminals switched girlfriends a lot and bought a new dinette set for each lady friend.

There is a heist that Carney is roped into by Freddie and there is the rumor of an extremely valuable necklace. How far will Carney go to protect his dream and his ‘new apartment fund’, his wife Elizabeth and his little son and daughter? How far will he have to go? When Carney is moved to take revenge against Wilfred Dukes for one betrayal too many, Carney shows his focus and effectiveness, which suggest that he would have made a better crook than most of the crooks around him. Then Harlem erupts in violence when a young black man is killed by a policeman without any justification. Carney hunkers down in his store with his Heywood-Wakefield furniture lines and his Argent recliners and stays there day and night until the riots end and his store is safe, because the riots did not come to his little corner of the world

Most of us, if we are trying to get ahead in business do not have to face the challenges that Ray Carney had to face. There is a good argument in this story for taking Carney’s businessman route as opposed to the chaos of pursuing illegal means to get rich. Some people who break laws and learn to be tough, who will kill at the slightest provocation may manage to find their way into a legal and better life, but the odds are not great. Once Freddie meets Linus, a rich and interesting guy and an addict, Freddie’s fate is sealed, and Carney ends up in possession of that necklace full of emeralds which he has no idea how to rid himself of. This is a story of Harlem, but it could just as easily take place in any modern city. Colson Whitehead once again shows his chops as a writer.

Intimacies by Katie Kitamura – Book

From a Google Image Search – The New York Times

What an interesting novel – Intimacies by Katie Kitamura – an unexplored corner of the globe, a life previously uncontemplated. There is something new under the sun. Once again, we are presented with a first-person novel where the main character remains unnamed, perhaps because she represents a new reality. She is a child of our global world, Serbian mother, Ethiopian father. She lives in NYC while offering care to her father during a long illness. He mother has gone back to Singapore where the family used to live. After her father dies NYC holds too many sad memories. Because she knows several languages well enough to speak as a native speaker and others to at least understand, she applies for and is given a one-year contract for a job at the International Court of Justice at the Hague in the Netherlands.

After six months she has learned a bit of Dutch and has acquired a boyfriend, Adriaan. The intimacies a reader might expect to find in a book with this title are not what we find. There are no sex scenes. This author is exploring the intimacies of people bumping up against each other in ways that are not at all intimate and yet learning intimate things about virtual strangers. 

She is isolated from the city she lives in. She has made a few friends and there are the people she works with but they are separated by the nature of the work. She has no truly intimate connections. Her job as an interpreter at the court has her confined to a glass box, wearing headphones, translating from one language to another almost without listening to content, because she must switch languages quickly in her mind and remember the text of a witness or lawyer word for word.  

She has a boyfriend, and he invites her to live with him, but then he leaves to pursue his wife and children in Portugal. He tells her to stay until he returns, but then he stops communicating. Eventually she moves back to her own nondescript apartment. She admires the way her friend Jana has personalized her new home, she longs for the permanence of a place to settle, but she stays adrift. She arrives late for a dinner with Adriaan and Jana, and feels that some intimacy has taken place in her absence that is not shared with her. She makes another friend who turns out to support the unethical behavior of a brother.

What happens while she is in that glass box is intimate in an entirely different way. One of the trials involves a terrorist who has done unspeakable things but has a charming demeanor at odds with his horrendous acts. Another involves a deposed president of a nation in turmoil who bears no guilt for acts of genocide, torture and execution. But he doesn’t present as a monster. He presents as a victim of people who are crueler and more power-hungry than he is. “Although she knew there was nothing the man could do to her, she could not deny that she was afraid, he was a man who inspired fear, even while sitting immobile he radiated power.”

This is a look at intimacies that do nothing to expel loneliness. Our lady says, “increasingly I’d begun to think the docile surface of the city concealed a more complex and contradictory nature.” The book is layered and has captured the nature of the city and the Court, and indeed, modern life. There might be a veneer of civility, but beneath it the Hague was as complex as any city. Encountering evil in a place that takes great care to present a calm face is unsettling even though the one observing the evil is at a safe remove. In the end she says she felt, “not primarily fear, she felt guilt. I will watch out for books by Katie Kitamura. 

The Reading List by Sara Nishe Adams – Book

From a Google Image Search – goodreads.com

In Sara Nishe Adams’ book The Reading List, one of the main characters, Aleisha, has a summer job at the Harrow Road Library, a small neighborhood library in danger of closing. The library has been forgotten by residents in the bustle of daily life. Aleisha is at the checkout desk and is not in a good mood when an old man, Mukesh, cannot even open the door to the library. She is short with him, and he leaves upset. Aleisha’s boss takes her to task about her behavior. She is the librarian he tells her. She needs to take her responsibilities seriously. Aleisha is young. She doesn’t like being scolded, but she got this job because her brother, Aidan loved this library and he had also worked there one summer. She decided she would behave for her brother’s sake. When Mukesh forces himself to return to the library Aleisha is a different person. She has found a list in the library, left on a table. It’s a reading list. The first book on the list is To Kill a Mockingbird, although the first book mentioned in a chapter title is The Time Traveler’s Wife

Mukesh lost his wife to cancer. She was a voracious reader. Mukesh was not. His wife also read books with her granddaughter Priya, and Priya became a book lover like Naina. Mukesh was not making much headway with Priya. She would find a chair at his house and read and ignore her grandfather. When Aleisha recommended that Mukesh read To Kill a Mockingbird, the book interrupted his grief and gave him a way to stay close to his wife even after death. This also gave him a way to be more pleasing in the eyes of his granddaughter, Priya.

In fact, everyone who found that reading list, including Leonora, Chris, Indira, Izzy, Joseph, Gigi, Aleisha, Mukesh found their lives changed by the characters and themes in those books and by sharing their thoughts about the books with others. Eventually, it seems, the repercussions from this ‘reading list’ may even end up saving the Harrow Road Library.

This is a simple tale that ends up having more depth than you would think. The problems these characters are dealing with in their personal lives are rather serious ones that could derail a life, and in real life such traumas do psychological damage that loneliness exacerbates. Some of these characters have lost loved ones, some are troubled by social difficulties, one character is dealing with such hopelessness that he cannot cope with it. Not everyone is saved. But a community of fictional characters, relevant plots, and a cause offers a reset to more than one of the characters in The Reading List, who are intended to represent real people. 

Who made the copies of this book list and distributed them? Will we find out? What nationalities are these people who all live in London now? Do people from Kenya eat Indian food? What is the religion of many of the characters? Does it matter if we know the answers to any of these questions when the same solution seemed to work to pull almost everyone out of their personal preoccupations and isolation. It’s a sweet book. I know we are not supposed to use the word ‘sweet’ when describing literature. There is bitterness in this story also. But it is an uplifting story overall and it would not hurt anyone to read the books on that reading list. In fact, I might read some of them again.