The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer – Book

Amazon.com

There is a writer’s lecture series at a local theater which is currently held as a Zoom presentation because of the covid pandemic. You buy a ticket and you are registered to attend. Meg Wolitzer was the writer and the book she was speaking about was The Female Persuasion. I ordered the book but did not finish it in time so I never bought a ticket to the presentation. I find it hard to keep track of the many zoom meetings that come to me in my email. I am sorry I missed it though. I don’t often get to see a best-selling author in person (on zoom).

I finished the book not long after that, although spring had been a pleasant distraction. The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer covered women’s rights territory that had key moments in my younger years, and here in this novel we have young people involved in the women’s movement which is having another key moment. Women’s rights are under attack. Hard won concerns, once thought resolved, could possibly be overturned here at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Wolitzer’s book does not spend much time arguing the issues though. 

Greer Kadestsky, a young lady who did not get to attend the college of her dreams with her boyfriend, Cory, finds herself at a smaller college. Despite having to travel to keep her relationship with Cory alive, Greer makes a good friend Zee. Although Zee is gay and Greer is not, their friendship transcends their sexuality. When Greer meets an iconic figure from the women’s movement of the 60’s, Faith Frank, she finds her focus. Zee has guilted her into going to the lecture, but it is Greer who becomes a Faith Frank fan. 

After college Greer goes to work for Faith and overcomes her fear of public speaking, but she also learns about the compromises Faith has felt it necessary to make. Greer eventually criticizes the lack of purity in her mentor. Her mentor reminds Greer of something Greer has done which is a betrayal of a relationship. 

Greer also has some lessons to learn about her relationship with Cory, a man who does not just talk the talk. It turns out that he understands love and sacrifice in ways that Greer does not recognize – until she finally does.

It’s a good story and some of the observations about compromise, and purity, and the correlations between means and ends are interesting to think about for our own lives and issues. It just didn’t grip me. It wasn’t relevant enough to women’s rights to hook me. Today’s news, modern activism and the current makeup of the Supreme Court offer far more gripping concerns. The mentor relationship was less interactive than it kept promising to be. However, Cory I came to like very much, and he might end up being the best mentor for Greer in this novel.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro – Book

From a Google Image Search – http://www.nwaonline.com

Kazuo Ishiguro may seem to be telling folkloric tales in his most recent books, but they are actually quite philosophical and contemporary. In Klara and the Sun we meet a number of AF’s on display in a shop in a city very like London. The Manager rotates the AF’s into and out of the front window hoping to attract the attention of a teen who will convince an affluent parent to buy an attractive friend, dedicated only to them. Klara and Rosa are both B2’s, with the newest B3 models hot on their heels. They follow all the manager’s directions to try to attract a buyer. A teenager named Josie admires Klara and tries to convince her mother to purchase her but then she disappears. Klara takes a chance and turns down a potential buyer because she is waiting for Josie to come back. Manager lets her get away with it, but tells her she will not be allowed to turn down a buyer again. 

Klara is an unusual AF because she pays attention to what is going on around her and draws conclusions from what she sees in the store and outside the front window. She watches when the sun seems to resurrect the Beggar Man and the Dog and when it smiles on the reunion of long separated lovers. She is shocked when the Cootings Machine comes to park in the street with its 3 funnels that vacuum pollution and send it out into the air, turning day into night. 

This is a future, perhaps a near future, when some children are genetically “lifted” in their childhood years if parents so choose. A social gap arises between those who are lifted and those who are not. Josie is “lifted.” Her best friend from a young age, and now her boyfriend is Rick, who was not “lifted.” For some young people being “lifted” can cause illness and even death. Josie is at the critical age when she is ill and she could die. That’s when her mother buys Klara for her. Klara goes home with Josie to their home in the suburbs.

I believe this is a story about soul; do we have one, can an AF have a soul, what is a soul. Perhaps Ishiguro is answering back to someone like Yuval Noah Harari who doesn’t put much stock in a human soul in his book Sapiens. To Harari we are animals, human but not “lifted” above any of the other animals on the planet. In fact, to Harari our big brains have been more of a liability than an advantage, especially to the planet we call home.

But Ishiguro may be suggesting that our soul may be a function of what we do, of how we live our life. If even a robot can do something that seems soulful, could believing in a soul prompt us to do better, to be less selfish. Klara undertakes a task that she thinks will cure Josie but she is unsure how her own abilities will be affected by the bargain she accepts and the sacrifice she must make to complete it. We can’t help but compare Klara’s optimism to the way Josie’s mom, Chrissie, gives in to the past experience she has had in this matter and sets a truly selfish and rather macabre plan in motion. If Klara had chosen to go along with Mother’s plan how would things have turned out differently, for everyone?

Do we have a soul? Do we build a soul by believing that we can affect the universe in positive ways? Is soul the same thing as character? Regardless of how you answer these questions or others you might arrive at, it is almost certain that you will find Klara an extraordinary AF indeed. This one speeds by. Make sure you stop and ponder the ideas as well as the story.

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates – Book

From a Google Image Search – Gates Notes

How To Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates – Book

If you like a level-headed, carefully researched roadmap to ‘get to zero’ (zero greenhouse gas emissions), tapping into the mind of a man who brought on the age of technology can’t hurt. Bill Gates in How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, is exactly the unemotional problem solver, backed by a team that has helped collect data and facts (you remember facts) who could foment the kinds of changes the humans on our planet need.

Did you know that 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere in a year? How do we get that number to zero? Gates comes as close to showing us how we can do this, without making our lives unrecognizable, as any one has. “I came to focus on climate change in an indirect way – through the problem of energy poverty,” says Gates. (pg. 8) Eventually Gates divested of all stocks in coal, gas, and oil.

Gates offers plenty of graphs and charts but not to prove that carbon dioxide and methane are heating up the world and causing global warming that is great enough to affect climate. He begins with the assumption that this correlation is real and spends his time exploring every thing humans do that creates emissions and how we get each to zero global warming emissions. He uses one graph and some dramatic examples to show how warming affects the earth and some people more than others. He admits that ‘getting to zero’ will be hard. The effects of warming will be worse in poorer countries that are not responsible for emissions. The changes will have to be made in rich nations who will be most reluctant to change their ways.

“To sum up: we need to accomplish something gigantic we have never done before, much faster than we have ever done anything similar. To do it we need lots of breakthroughs in science and engineering. We need to build a consensus that doesn’t exist and create public policies to push a transition that would not happen otherwise. We need the energy systems to stop doing all the things we don’t like and keep doing all the things we do like – in other words, to change completely and also stay the same…But don’t despair. We can do this.” (pg. 48)

Gates starts us off with a chart on page 51 which shows “How much greenhouse gas is emitted by the things we do?” Making things (cement, steel, plastic) – 31%, Plugging in (electricity) – 27%, Growing things (plants, animals) – 19%, Getting around (planes, trains, trucks, cargo ships) – 16%, Keeping warm and cool (heating, cooling, refrigeration) – 7%

Using this chart every greenhouse gas producing activity is assigned a Green Premium. That green premium needs to go to zero. Gates, with the help of his research groups (Gates Ventures and Breakthrough Energy) takes each greenhouse gas emitter and shows how we get to zero carbon emissions. This is another climate book you really need to read. In fact, if you are an inventor, there are any number of areas where you could follow in the footsteps of Bill Gates and perhaps get in on the revolutions in energy that we all need. Will you end up skyrocketing to fame and fortune? Perhaps, perhaps not, but you could end up in some future history books. Help Bill Gates, help yourself.

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy – Book

From a Google Image Search – Time Magazine

Franny Stone, born in Australia, taken to live in Galway by her mother, is one the migrators in Charlotte McConaghy’s book Migrations. She is part ocean, part sea ice and part arctic tern. In this atmospheric tale the reader is taken to a landscape and a life unlike their own. Franny is a woman who must live near water, cold water, wild water. She must live near the few nesting sea birds that remain in a world where wild animals are almost gone. She embraces the cold and it seems to have seeped into her, except that she is also passionate. 

This is a love story. Two people have this passion for arctic terns in common, and Niall Lynch is the only one who can bring this wanderer Franny to stay on land. This is a tragedy. I can’t tell you the details. This is an Irish folk tale. People imagine that Franny is a selkie (she’s not). When she is ten she leaves her home and follows a boy to his home on the other coast of Ireland. He tells her this story; “There was a lady, long ago, who spent her life coughing up feathers, and one day when she was gnarled and gray she stretched from a woman into a black bird.”

Franny, now older, places trackers on three arctic terns at a nesting site in Greenland. It is her passion to follow them on their migration, one of the longest of any of the birds. She has to find a sea captain who will take her. She has to ride on a fishing boat when she knows that fishing is over and destroys the very balance she wishes she could protect. She finds Ennis Malone, captain of the Saghani, in Greenland. Saghani means raven. Off they go.

You carry the entire Franny ecosystem in your mind for days, perhaps longer. A sadly sweet, cold water journey of a book. In a time when we are not supposed to leave our living rooms what would happen to a footloose, can’t stay in one place person whose entire life is a series of Migrations? And, since we already lost 3 billion birds it is not at all unlikely that there may be a last migration.

A Promised Land by Barrack Obama – Book

From a Google Image Search – CNN

Hanging out with President Barrack Obama has been a real trip through his early days in politics, campaigning for the Senate, his journey through the presidential primary in 2007, his presidential campaign and a win that will seem like a bit of magic and a truly historical accomplishment. Obama was both a black man and a young man, fairly new to Washington, but with a grasp of American hopes and a charisma that fueled his improbable election. 

It took a while to finish Obama’s book, A Promised Land, but not because it wasn’t readable or revealing, just because there were so many things going on as the 2020 election unfolded and the events of January 6 th shocked us all. I was actually blogging about politics all through the Obama administration because the opposition to him in the Republican party and in the media, especially the alternative media (Fox News, Talk Radio) became a constant stream of negativity. As a Democrat, I agreed with Obama’s politics, but setting that aside, the use of racist tropes and the shade cast on his every move jump-started my love of the underdog. 

Obama’s book gives him space to reveal the thinking behind his actions as President and offers plenty of insight into foreign affairs, especially the upheavals in the Middle East, which perhaps grew out of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq which Obama inherited but did not initiate. 

After blogging for the past decade, I published some of my posts in a series of books entitled Loving America to Death and two omnibus editions which cover all ten years, including the Trump administration. Reading about the same events I wrote about with the new advantage of being, in a sense, inside Obama’s head and heart was similar to time travel. He discusses but does not dwell on the ACA. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the difficulty plugging that leak was something we both wrote about. Obama touches on Fukushima, the tsunami and the failure of the nuclear reactor. The dual track optics was so odd for me. We were observing the same events; me as a citizen sitting out here in the cheap seats, and Obama as the prime actor, the President of the United States. 

Even if you don’t agree with Barrack Obama and you don’t like his politics and you think any of the dozens of complaints that were aired about him were true, it never hurts to spend time in someone else’s shoes. The memoir is personal, intimate, and informative and well worth the time it takes to read it. After all, it is our history.

https://www.amazon.com/author/nlbrisson

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett – Book

From a Google Image Search – Vanity Fair

Twin girls born in a town that isn’t even on any map, black girls with skin so light who, in any fair world, would not have to worry about how society would classify them are at the center of this story – twin girls who see their father dragged from home and lynched in the middle of a traumatic night. This is the world that Brit Bennett describes in The Vanishing Half. It is a world where skin color is an issue and not just with white people but also with black folks. Desiree and Stella find their small eerily segregated town, confining. They graduate from high school and run away to the big city. Desiree is the twin with the inclination to wander, but Stella is the one who disappears.

Good characters and an interesting concept introduce us to a world most of us cannot inhabit. Even to talk about the issues presented in this novel makes it far too easy to stray from political correctness. Before slavery was there a skin color hierarchy? When we acknowledge that skin color is used as a kind of class indicator even among black folks does that indicate that the superficial judgments of slave owners were passed on to their human “property”? These are things I can perceive but cannot pass judgment on. But Bennett gives us a peek behind the curtain.

This is not a heavy tome full of academic discussions of these matters. This is basically the story of a family and the traumas that determine their futures. It is a story of separation and a sort of reconciliation. It is a story of secrets kept and finally half revealed. But behind the story is that undertow that makes us think deeper thoughts. Interestingly, it is a wanderer who becomes the glue in this family of woman who were robbed of their father/husband. I wouldn’t mind having my own Mr. Early.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell – Book

From a Google Image Search = Goodreads

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell has gotten a lot of buzz and it made this reader curious enough to open the covers and enjoy Maggie’s novel. O’Farrell takes us back to Shakespearean England. She noticed a record in a local parish that recorded the death of a child named Hamnet Shakespeare. The tale she embroiders is as possible as any tale of Shakespeare’s homelife about which very little is known.

Agnes attracts the attention of a barely adult William while he is tutoring Latin at a local sheep farm to pay a debt owed by his father, a glove maker. She goes into the woods most days with a falcon (kestrel) on her gloved hand. She is a bit older than William but she is a conundrum he wants to solve. When that kestrel flies off to hunt and then returns from these wild adventures to the hand of Agnes, William imagines that she is a singular woman with a will of her own and powers that set her apart from other village women. 

Agnes is able to read people’s lives, but she lives long enough to learn that what she reads may be cryptic and misleading. William and Agnes have three children, one girl, Suzanna and then twins, Judith and Hamnet. Judith is tiny and is often afflicted with health problems. Hamnet is a strong and smart boy. But when the plague comes to Stratford the outcome surprises Agnes and breaks the hearts of both Agnes and William. 

I think what comes across most powerfully in this invented history is the depiction of a mother’s grief and what it does to a family and a marriage. Although Agnes is not a witch, she has supernatural talents and a knowledge of plants as medicines. How much of Agnes’ character is based in fact and how much is created by the author could be determined by finding out what is known about Shakespeare’s wife, who we know as Anne. The idea that Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, may have been inspired by family tragedy is a possibility that would be difficult to prove, but it makes for a good book, even if you have to suspend some disbelief.

The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson – Book

This is a book but also politics – From a Google Image Search – Entertainment Weekly

In order to profit from The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson you must get through the first chapter – the catalyst for all that follows. Frank May is the only survivor of an extreme heat wave event that kills 20 million people, an entire village, in India. We don’t even learn his name until much later in the book. There are reasons.

Robinson skips around a lot which helps move this fictional/nonfiction book, full of what could be very dry science, along. India, in reaction to that enormous heat wave tragedy tries to recreate the ashy clouds of the Pinatubo volcanic eruption which blocked the sun for almost two years. The strategy India settles on of creating a layer of  a reflective substance (several are under consideration) which would reflect some sunlight back into space thus cooling the earth’s atmosphere temporarily is an actual tactic being considered by climate scientists. The Children of Kali, also in India, decide to go ‘dark’ and use more violent strategies.

In order to make the billionaires listen up and force these greedy souls to give up fossil fuels, massively effective plans will be required. The Ministry of the Future, a UN project headed by Mary Murphy from Zurich, Switzerland, never openly supports violent action. But Mary’s Assistant Chair, Badim, has no such compunctions and he has Mary’s permission to head a ‘dark’ arm of the agency. It is so ‘dark’ that even as the book ends we have no clues about the tactics used by Badim’s group, but you might want to learn about Pebble Mobs.

Mary Murphy’s machinations are not secret at all. Through the Ministry, Robinson’s book offers up one idea after another – the state of the art ideas, the far out ideas and ideas unpalatable to many – that could be used to lower the temperature raised by global warming and for sequestering the carbon dioxide (carbon) that is to blame. A story that is basically a climate textbook is made readable by making it a personal story with characters who interest us, and by flashing around the globe. We might be in India in one short chapter, or in China, or at a committee meeting, or experiencing the kidnapping of Mary Murphy, or in Antarctica, or Russia, or in the Alps, or San Francisco, along the new wildlife corridors, presenting an audacious financial plan to the world’s central banks. It’s a whirlwind for the most part, belying how slow actual change may be, but it’s exciting and it makes the reader believe that we could do this; we could save the planet.

The Ministry for the Future is a fiesta of climate ideas. If it gets a bit Kumbaya near the end, after all our recent coronavirus isolation, some communal esprit might be welcome. Mary Murphy’s mantra is “lose, lose, lose, lose, lose, lose, win.” We might need to stop losing and use some of Robinson’s pirated ideas if we want to have any hope of winning. Every person on the planet should read this book.

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari – Book

From a Google Image Search – Penguin Books Australia

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari begins by lifting us up as humans and ends with our obsolescence as a species. Harari argues that we humans have almost conquered poverty and disease and that our newest goals will no longer be humanistic ones such as individuality and progress and success. He says, “In seeking bliss and immortality humans are in fact trying to upgrade themselves into gods. Not just because these are divine qualities, but because in order to overcome old age and misery humans will first have to acquire godlike control of their own biological substratum.” (pg. 43) He talks about the ‘new peace’ brought about by the existence of nuclear warfare which threatened man’s actual existence. The implications are so dire that powerful nations have backed off from all-out war. Humanism has replaced the Industrial Age and now even humanism is being replaced by a quest for immortality and happiness.

Harari believes that humans were once just one more animal living as hunter-gatherers like all of the other animals. He bemoans how far we have wandered from our natural state and he does this by making it clear that the way we treat the animals who provide our food is unacceptable. He talks about the cages pigs are placed in where they can barely turn around, and he describes how they are impregnated again and again but not allowed to raise their babies. His descriptions of our food industries’ inhumane way of treating animals, such as chickens, pigs and cows, ignores the science which tells us that animals experience psychological and physical agonies from our treatment of them. It sets the reader to imagining ways that we could change this dynamic, treat our animals as biological entities, or perhaps even become vegetarians. Harari is, of course, right that treating living entities like parts on an assembly line belies what science has taught us about our biological similarities.

Then Harari predicts that we are entering a new religious era. Mr. Harari believes that all of our religions are myths; myths that allowed humans to live together in ever larger groups (caves, villages, towns, cities, nations). He believes we now worship data and he names this new religion “Dataism.” According to Harari we are trying to create the Internet-of-all-Things (the Singularity). But, he warns, if we are able to do that we may create artificial intelligence that will make humans obsolete, unnecessary. His predictions about what our love of data could do to us reminds me of that old saying, “don’t ask for what you want because you might get it.” 

Harari’s Dataism also reminds me of Neal Stephenson’s last book “The Fall” in which the world actually does end up empty of all humans when they choose to be stored as data after they die. Eventually there is no one left alive to reproduce and humans no longer have a biological presence, although there is an afterlife of sorts. Artificial intelligence (AI) will be a trending topic of discussion for some time. Can we look far enough ahead as we see the ramifications of our passion for information and data to understand if what we are doing will threaten our very existence? Human pride in accomplishing our objectives makes it difficult to step back despite apprehending the outcomes. Will the Internet-of-all -Things become like the nuclear bomb. Once we go there we will suddenly understand David Foster Wallace’s dedication of being a Luddite. Back away and live; succeed and become extinct. Is Homo Deus too far out? Perhaps not.

Squeeze Me by Carl Hiaasen -Book

From a Google Image Search – The New York Times

How does a character who relocates wild critters who have wandered too close to a human turn out to be a person of rare and admirable character? That describes Angie Anderson, the main character in Carl Hiaasen’s new book, Squeeze Me. Perhaps Angie stands out because most of the characters in Hiaasen’s book are caricatures. Hiaasen, a Florida author, is famous for creating both mayhem and humor that is recognizably Floridian. He loves Florida but he also sees that it is a wacky place and he mines it for his satirical prose. He knows how to tell good stories.

This time we find ourselves at Casa Bellicosa, a thin disguise for the winter White House. You can probably guess who has the code name Mastodon, and by association, who has the code name Mockingbird. There are secret service men and women all over the place. Mastodon and Mockingbird are getting it on, but not with each other. We also have the Potussies (POTUS + Pussies) a gaggle of old socialite club members who idolize Mastodon.

When one the Potussies disappears the wealthy ladies are sad to lose one of their own but they are also worried that there will be a scandal for their beloved POTUS. Assumptions are made which lead to the arrest of Diego, an illegal immigrant and college graduate who just found his way back to the US where he went to college. He’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mastodon is only too happy to whip up his cult to harass the young man in his cell in the local jail, and to even get cult members arrested so they can try to kill Diego. Sentiments are running high and Diego is in despair.

Angie Anderson has a good idea of what happened to Kiki Fitzsimmons, but the proof keeps escaping from her clutches even though the proof is dead. It’s a romp that feeds into a certain political viewpoint which may or may not be yours. If it is you will surely enjoy Hiaasen’s book, Squeeze Me. I don’t want to give away the yucky parts so this is all I can tell you. If you subscribe to the opposite political viewpoint buy the book anyway. You can always burn it on behalf of the president you love. Support writers.