2016, a year in reading, with two sentence reviews, more or less. 83 books, 12 from Folio Society, only 3 from Library of America. I kept up with the Indiespensable subscription and my Early Reviewer copies.  Fascinated by the rise of Bernie Sanders, I also sought out several books on the current state of Socialism/Marxism/whatever. It still isn’t as good a story as Ben Franklin or Daniel Boone, and if 2016 taught us nothing else, it is that the story, the narrative of a candidate, is more important to an election than 1000 policy papers left to die.

January

Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss

Music and art in 1980 Big Apple. This was a fun novel, with several ‘whoa’ moments – another gem from Powell’s Indiespensable subscription. I never would have read this otherwise.

 

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

I kept waiting for the light to go off – and there are some great moments/sentences in this novel. I could never get over the creep factor – I simply can’t imagine feeling sympathy for HH as some reviewers have noted. The novel would have been much stronger, IMO, if the relationship were never consummated. THAT would have made me sympathetic to ol’ Humpy.

 

This book creeped me out so much that I sold my Folio version on ebay – I didn’t want it leering at me from the shelf.

 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Just before completing a neurosurgery residency and launching a promising career as scientist/surgeon, Paul Kalanithi is diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.

This is an amazing book. Imagine Hemingway as a Yale PhD, transitioning from Dr/expert to patient at the mercy of the merciless.

A few sentences, but really the entire work rings like a temple bell.

‘Humans are organisms, subject to physical laws, including, alas, the one that says entropy always increases. Diseases are molecules misbehaving; the basic requirement of life is metabolism, and death is its cessation.’

‘Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnoses, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.’

Describing his feelings, after years of distilling probabilities and odds to patients and families: ‘It occurred to me that my relationship with statistics changed as soon as I became one.’

The afterward, written by his wife describing his final days, is equally significant. His end was heroic. I can’t recommend this book enough.

 

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

“P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military Payment Certificates, C rations, and two or three canteens of water.”

It took me a long time to understand why dad always had a can opener (the P-38 referenced above) on his key ring throughout my childhood. I especially appreciated this book for its iterative treatment of memory, that we keep revisiting the same moments, from different angles and perspectives, until we let them go or finally acknowledge their place and move on.

 

e: The Story of a Number by Eli Maor

I doubt this book appeals to readers with ‘modest background in mathematics’ as the cover promises. ‘e’ is the base of the natural logarithm. I vaguely recalled that e was the only number that was its own derivative. This book is at its best describing the discovery of ‘e’, and its historical import.

As a non-mathematician I had to skip the most complicated moments, but still appreciated the overall story.

 

This Moment Is Full of Wonders: The Zen Calligraphy… by Thich Nhat Hanh

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Injunctive zen. Breathe. Listen. Go as a river. Plain advice from Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese monk that immigrated to France after the American War. Sit. Listen. Be free where you are.

 

Funk & Soul Covers by Joaquim Paulo

Part of the Taschen Pop Culture series. This book is an amazing amount of fun. Should be read and browsed with a healthy helping of Youtube videos.

 

Nobody Home: Writing, Buddhism, and Living in Places by Gary Snyder

A series of interviews and letters between a South African scholar and Gary Snyder. The correspondence started when the scholar, as a MA student, sent Snyder a series of questions about his work. This is a great dialogue that helps fill the gaps in Snyder’s works.

 

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

I can’t recommend this book to anyone. I realize it was written in a different time and place, and it is James Bond, so I was expecting some degree of sexism. Right up towards the end, it went about as I suspected and was fine. But towards the close there is one line, one clause really, that is just beyond the pale and inexcusable. Even a couple of days later it still bothers me.

 

FEBRUARY

 

City on Fire: A novel by Garth Risk Hallberg

This was an amazing book, a kiss to 1977 NYC. There are several memorable characters developed, and despite weighing in at 900 pages I didn’t want it to end, and purposely slowed down when I was close to the finish. Despite its length, there were unresolved plot points that left one wanting more.

 

Losing My Mind: An Intimate Look at Life with Alzheimers      by Thomas DeBaggio

I was a young boy when my great-grandmother moved in with my grandparents, and was told she had Alzheimer’s. I remember being amused with her confusing the Saturday Night Live Weekend Updates with the news, and later still tickled when she would ask your name, inevitably remark ‘that is an easy name to remember’, and then five minute later have her ask your name again. It was less amusing when the same disease manifested in her son, my grandfather.

It took him too. Like many spouses, my grandmother acted as an absolute saint, keeping him home as long as she could. It is quite possible, possibly probable, that the same hidden bomb lurks in my mother, her siblings, and me. None so far have had early onset, and for that we can all be grateful.

I loved this memoir. I liked how it moved in and out of the present and past, recursively. I truly felt like Tom was sharing his stream of consciousness with us.

I knew how it ended before I picked up the book, and loved it the same.

 

MARCH

 

A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century by Jerome Charyn

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

The first half of this book is very strong, obviously the result of a life-long passion and devotion for the work of Emily Dickinson. The author urges us to engage the poet as she is, on her terms, as she engaged life.

The book then shifts from the poetry to the poet, and speculates (almost certainly erroneously,as we’ll certainly never know) on her bi-sexuality, rumored suitors, and presumed flames. He rejects the agoraphobic explanations of her solitude and presumes a jilted heart as the cause.

Charyn then takes us on another wide-ranging jaunt, introducing various 20th Century artists and their interpretations of ED – a found artist and his assemblages, a dancer friend, several poets. He casts a wide net to little affect.

I felt the best insights here were those that if she were born 150 years earlier, ED would likely have been tried as a witch. Born 150 years later, and she would likely be a lesbian adjunct, walking among us. I’d like to think regardless of the era, she would have found her self-same attic and worked on her live verses, and we wouldn’t be the wiser.

Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin

This was just a joy to read, and laugh out-loud funny. I definitely remember my grandfather getting an ‘arrow through his head’ for a gift, putting it on and giving us his best WELL EXCUUUUUUSE ME!

I sought this out after seeing Martin and Seinfeld together, getting coffee. The descriptions of his bits, and the thoughts that went into them, are fascinating.

 

Mister Skylight by Ed Skoog

Topeka native and Lunchbox podcast veteran with some well-ranged words.

 

APRIL

Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution        by Eric Foner

I can’t remember ever reading a book that made me so mad, over and over. I of course knew what to expect, and yet managed to be repeatedly horrified at our ancestors’ failures.

Political change is a grind it out, every day battle. Think Ho Chi Minh. There are no shortcuts. The Redeemers knew they weren’t going anywhere, and the North would eventually tire of the war they ‘won’, and thereby lose the peace. And so it was.

A timely reminder to the Bernie Bros – winning the election is the START of the battle, not the finish.

 

Granta 134 (The Magazine of New Writing) by Sigrid Rausing

Stories that stood out-

_Base Life_ Life in the Angola bush during the war, from a little girl’s perspective, and the catastrophic consequences of her misplacing her Coke Can transistor radio.

_The Ferryman_ Afghan ‘negotiator’ settling accounts and bodies between Taliban and Americans.

_Last Day on Earth_ Marriage ending, through eyes of a boy, and his father’s hunting dogs.

_Coventry_ Meaning and Silence in one extended family

 

The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild E… by Ben Lindbergh

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

The older I get, the better I am at finding books I like to read. So I can scan a review and go ‘yeah’ or ‘naw’ in a few lines. I knew I was going to like this book. It is even better than I had hoped.

Ben and Sam are baseball writers, both Editors-in-Chief (like Attorneys General) of Baseball Prospectus – Sam current, Ben emeritus, my go-to site for daily baseball browsing.

Through an unlikely series of events, they were able to ‘take-over’ an unaffiliated minor league team last summer, given mostly free-reign over decisions by the team’s GM and owner.

The authors showed up to spring training armed only with spreadsheets and baseball geek connections, and had to figure out how to make it all work over an 80 game season. They mostly succeed, with a few (foreseeable) difficulties integrating the data into the various humans affected.

BenandSam (run-on intentional) are also podcast hosts for the (mostly) daily Baseball Prospectus podcast. I hope they eventually – maybe next off-season – go into a lengthy, chapter-by-chapter out-take – because I have some questions. One is did they change names, because some of the portrayals are less than flattering. They may have burnt some ships.

Like life, the events last summer didn’t all work out as planned. At best, the existential gale quieted for a few innings here and there. But that is more than enough reward for the reader. This book is like your favorite sandwich at your favorite sandwich shop – you look forward to it, despite knowing what to expect, and devour it down every time, pickles and all. Five stars.

These Heroic, Happy Dead: Stories by Luke Mogelson

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Luke Mogelson went to Afghanistan on your behalf. In return, he has written you some stories. They are a scattered miscellany of tales, from here and there, now, and then. Flashbacks and afterwords.

More importantly for our selfish purposes, he can write.

“Without waiting to be invited, the woman squeezed into the both across from Jeanne, scooting toward the window with labored, seal-like thrusts of the torso.”

“In the den, Leo DeMint sat on the sofa and a big girl Mayeaux didn’t recognize sat beside him, one fish-netted hock draped on his knee, little flesh diamonds pushing through the webbing like a string-tied ham.”

“Diaz, in his uniform, with his limp, almost always met a woman. The limp was gold. As the woman watched Diaz hobble back to us with drinks, sloshing gin and tonic on the floor, I’d say, “Fucking Iraq.” She’d seldom ask me to elaborate. If she did, I wouldn’t tell her how, as a squad leader, Diaz contracted a bacterial infection while masturbating in a Port-a-John; how the infection spread up his urethra, into his testicles; how that made him lurch, causing a herniated disk, which resulted in sciatica. Instead, I’d say, ‘We lost a lot of good men over there.’ Which happened to be true.”

 

Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt

What a weird book. Read it as part of my Indiespensable subscription. I was drawn along the long walk by the language and by sharing Cora’s bewilderment. The ending, and really entire novel was just too precious for me to ultimately enjoy.

 

MAY

Stomping the blues by Albert Murray

Fun, passionate read. I will be excited to see this in a Library of America volume soon, I hope they are able to reproduce all the priceless pictures along with Murray’s stomping text.

 

Fever at Dawn by Péter Gárdos

Quick little novel, a post-holocaust love story, based on contemporary letters, written by the resulting son. The story is blighted by ‘holocaust porn’, a page or two of no doubt true, but needless, descriptions by the son of what the parents must have experienced in the camps.

 

The Buffalo Hunters: The Story of the Hide Men by Mari Sandoz

Sweeping history of the destruction of the great bison herds in the post-Civil War American West. This is a type of book from the middle of last century that is no longer written, but despite that gives fair consideration to the fact that it amounted to genocide.

 

Granta 135: New Irish Writing (The Magazine of New… by Sigrid Rausing

Strong, if stifling, issue. I could have used a more general introduction explaining the various factions in play. The Traveller pieces stood out.

 

The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the… by Jeff Passan

Read with alternating periods of horror and fascination. The 13 year-old really likes to pitch, may need to look up DriveLine (not far away) once he gets a chance to read the book.

 

Rough Day by Ed Skoog

Like all good words, leaves me feeling a bit dirty, a bit blue, and voyeuristic.

 

The ABCs of Socialism by Bhaskar Sunkara

If anything, I didn’t think this was basic enough. The book should have started with a three or four page primer on what socialism _is_.

Lacking that, the book is well done. It purports to answer several pressing questions about socialism – ‘Socialism sounds good in theory, but doesn’t human nature make it impossible to realize?’ – ‘Will socialists take my Kenny Loggins records’ – ‘why do socialists talk so much about workers?’

I hope every Sanders supporter gets a copy and reads this. Forward!

 

A Doubter’s Almanac: A Novel by Ethan Canin

Solid arc of life through fathers, lovers, and sons. Yes it is the same damn thing all over again, lucky you. The mathematician forever haunted by the weak spot in his greatest proof pretty much sums it all up.

 

JUNE

 

Jazz Covers by Joaquim Paulo

Taschen Pop Culture. I can confidently predict hundreds of hours sorting through youtube uploads with this volume. A treasure.

 

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Amazingly prescient in affect, if not fact, for what the future held.

 

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos

I ended up liking this more than I thought I would, it is startling to realize that it was written more than 90 years ago. There were several moments that I laughed out loud. I need to re-watch one of the movies.

 

Norman Mailer: Moonfire, The Epic Journey of Apollo 11 by Norman Mailer

Extraordinary, I am so glad to have read this. Mailer’s use of the third person ‘Aquarius’ is awkward, but works once you get the hang of it. As someone that isn’t old enough to remember this (I was born during the last Apollo Mission, 17), this really brought home the experience, especially in dealing with the astronauts as men doing an incredibly tough job. Mailer, writing in 1970, also successfully anticipates the 70s: ‘Yet even this model of the future was too simple. For the society of the rational and the world of the irrational would be without boundaries… Sex would be a new form of currency in both worlds – on that you could count. The planner and the swinger were the necessary extremes of the computer city, and both would meet in the orgies of the suburbs.”

 

2001: a Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

You know what is going to happen, yet it is still fantastic. Makes explicit most of what was implicit in the film, and is a much better product or story as a result.

Clarke successfully predicted the internet age, and its affects:

“There was plenty to occupy his time, even if he did nothing but sit and read. When he tired of official reports and memoranda and minutes he would plug his foolscap-sized newspad into the ships’s circuit and scan the latest reports from Earth. One by one he would conjure up the world’s major electronic papers; he knew the codes of the more important one by heart, and had no need to consult the list on the back of his pad. Switching to the display unit’s short-term memory, he would hold the front page while he quickly searched the headlines and noted the items that interested him. Each had its own two-digit reference; when he punched that, the postage-stamp-sized rectangle would expand until it neatly filled the screen, and he could read it with comfort. When he had finished he would flash back to the complete page and select a new subject for detailed examination.

… Here he was, far out in space, speeding away from Earth at thousands of miles per hour, yet in a few milliseconds he could see the headlines of any newspaper he pleased. (That very word ‘newspaper’, of course, was an anachronistic hang-over into the age of electronics.) The text was updated automatically on every hour; even if one read only the English versions one could spend an entire lifetime doing nothing but absorb the ever-changing flow of information from the news satellites.

…There as another thought which a scanning of those tiny electronic headlines often invoked. the more wonderful the means of communication, the more trivial, tawdry or depressing its contents seemed to be.”

Yep.

 

Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky

Love and loss in occupied France, completed before the author was deported to Auschwitz. A treasure, amazing that it survived, and when combined with the author’s story this may be the most unforgettable book I’ve ever read.

 

Hurricane Street by Ron Kovic

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Unfortunately I can’t recommend this book. Unless you are specifically a disabled vet advocate, or Ron Kovic fan, this book won’t appeal to you at all. It is not well written, repetitive, and not at all comparable to the magnificent Born on the 4th of July.

 

Lenin and the Russian Revolution (Interlink… by Antonella Salomoni

This is probably the best attempt possible at describing the chaos of the Russian Revolution. There is too much to cover for a thin paperback, but given that this book is a noble attempt.

 

JULY

 

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

If the author didn’t become Orwell, this book would be forgotten.

 

Homegoing: A novel by Yaa Gyasi

This is an amazing book, very well done, effortless shifting between stories and generations. I’ve never read _Roots_ in large part because it should have been sold as a novel. Like this one.

 

26 Songs in 30 Days: Woody Guthrie’s Columbia River… by Greg Vandy

Quick history of Woody’s time in the Northwest. The illustrations set this work apart, many fantastic period posters and shots of Woody in the area.

 

The Blue Devils of Nada: A Contemporary American… by Albert Murray

The Ellington essay on the ‘representative anecdote’ and onomatopoeia with trains was unforgettable, as was the Hemingway essay. Very strong essaying as the blues ‘work’.

 

Grief Is the Thing with Feathers: A Novel by Max Porter

Almost a pamphlet. Very brief fable, heavily oversold. It was okay.

 

The Good Lieutenant: A Novel by Whitney Terrell

Unusual format, with the author working backward from the climax in the first chapter, It just felt like the author re-shuffled the deck to be cute. Which was annoying, because the story is good enough to stand on its own without resorting to cute.

This is the story of the futility of our invasion of Iraq, captured in one otherwise nondescript IED, a relationship in extremis, and some shackles.

 

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Revisited as an adult, mostly holds up to a re-reading. Funny to now identify with the ‘star sisters’, instead of the wayward children.

 

The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a… by Jonah Keri

Quick read of a solid baseball story. The work itself is somewhat repetitive, and of course the Rays have again fallen on hard times after Friedman, Maddon, and company have moved on. Keri’s Up, Up, and Away is a much better book.

 

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

I had some trouble joining Le Guin in Ged’s world, but the finishing climax made the effort worthwhile. Everyone has to wrestle with their shadow-demons.

 

AUGUST

 

How the Post Office Created America: A History by Winifred Gallagher

Purchased as gift for my former postmaster mother, 30+ year USPS employee. A solid history of the service, at times devolves into ‘here are some anecdotes’ for a few chapters, but forgivable. Narrative is hard.

 

Train Whistle Guitar: A Novel by Albert Murray

I am anxious to find out what Scooter is up to next. Solid Bildungsroman.

 

Granta 136: Legacies of Love (The Magazine of New… by Sigrid Rausing

Stories that stick out:
Potted Meat – down and out in WV
Interior Monkeyboy – adapting to adoption
The Tenant – itinerant woman settles down, slightly knocks the future off kilter with kindness to landlord’s son
A Syrian escape – just what it says

 

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

Read as I revisit Conrad from front to back. This is the culmination of his early novels – many familiar threads from the works up to this one, right up to the long Marlowe monologue. Conrad’s ambivalence to race, especially compared to the time he was writing, stands out to the modern reader.

 

33 Days: A Memoir (Neversink) by Léon Werth

A memoir of chaos. Fits in well with reading [Suite Francaise] and visiting the World War I memorial in Kansas City last weekend.

 

Barkskins: A Novel by Annie Proulx

An epic, Micheneresque multi-generational tale of two families and the great boreal forests of North America. The ending felt forced and abrupt, but after 700 pages I’m sure it was difficult to figure out how to stop. The interview that came along with the Indiespensable version noted that she had to cut more than 200 pages from her final draft, and unfortunately that probably contributed to the so-so finish.

 

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Glad to be able to scratch this off the life-list. As a native Kansan, I was probably jaded against the ‘Capote amongst the rubes’ reputation. I am glad I finally read it, the book is simply magnificent.

 

Reporting World War II, Part 1: American Jo… by Library of America

Mostly excellent. There were a few selections that were more reporter-centric then I would have preferred, but then it is a book about reporting WW II.

Liebling, Pyle, and the Tarawa account stand out.

 

“Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People”: And… by Dennis A. Henigan

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Reasoned responses to the typical bumper-sticker arguments regarding our countries mass hysteria towards instruments for killing our neighbors. No one on the other side would be convinced, of course, because it isn’t about reason. Our gun mania will die out, slowly and painfully, the same way smoking and drunk driving did – through generational changing of mores, and increased financial liability. To put it a little more succinctly, gun owners today are where smokers and drunk drivers were in the 1970s. Remember smoker’s rights?

 

SEPTEMBER

 

Reporting World War II Part Two: American Journalism… by Samuel Hynes

Excellent. I especially appreciated the entirety of Bill Mauldin’s _Up Front_ and the long New Yorker piece on the Hiroshima survivors.

 

The White Earth by Andrew McGahan

Wonderful. A complicated Australian story across three generations, and the title ends up being a literal one. I especially enjoyed the reiterative ‘man on fire’ motif, and the complicated history of the station over time.

 

Cruel Shoes by Steve Martin

So the good news is it Steve Martin, and this particular copy is from my grandparents – I remember my grandfather re-enacting ‘well Ex-cuuuuuuuse me’ and being a a ‘wild and crazy guy’. I love Steve Martin now, saw him in concert a few years ago with the banjo. I wonder how well the act ages – written down, doesn’t seem to be much here. Which of course was the point, all along. It’s funny if you feel like laughing.

 

The name of the rose by Umberto Eco

Medieval monks arguing the finer points of papal intrigue, some murders at the abbey, and a phantasmal library – wonderfully done, and translated at that.

 

The End of Tsarist Russia: The March to World War I… by Dominic Lieven

This is a thorough history of an insanely complicated period. I am trying to bone up on pre-revolutionary Russia, a blind-spot in my education to date. The book really slogs along until events start to pick-up in the months leading to the outbreak of war. Purchased from The Raven in Lawrence.

 

Elmore Leonard: Four Novels of the 1970s: Fifty-Two… by Elmore Leonard

52 Pickup – Violent, quick and tightly written. No real protagonist, except maybe poor Barbara.

Swag – Still violent, funnier. The scantily-clad NHRA model getting the loot and heading to California is perfect.

Unknown Man – I thought there was going to be more to this scam, predictable. ‘Nicer’ than the previous two, still violent.

The Switch – The ending was both unexpected, and predictable. I laughed out loud.

I enjoyed these novels more than I thought I would, and am looking forward to the next Leonard volume.

 

OCTOBER

 

Objective Troy: A Terrorist, a President, and the… by Scott Shane

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

This is a well-sourced book exploring the rise of the drone as a weapon of war, and the evolution of the Obama administration in their use. Objective Troy was an American citizen, killed in Yemen after inciting numerous terror attacks on the United States. The author does a great job contrasting the American experiences of Barack Obama and Anwar al-Awlaki. This book whets the appetite for the inevitable Obama memoir. Five stars.

 

Ninety-Nine Stories of God by Joy Williams

Some of these are very good, or laugh-out-loud funny. I’m a Powell’s Indiespensable subscriber, but not very interested in Joy Williams’s stories of God. Eh.

 

Here I Am: A Novel by Jonathan Safran Foer

Indiespensable volume. This may have been my least favorite one yet. First, I’m not religious, nor really interested in other’s religion, so hundreds of pages of religious angst is just lost on me. I didn’t care, and grew very tired and mostly wanting it to be over. Second, this book is just too… precious. There was a Phillip Roth meta-joke that was exactly right – if you like Roth, you’ll likely like this. I don’t, and didn’t. Finally, I also don’t really care for dogs, so yeah, just not much here for this reader.

 

Utopia or Bust: A Guide to the Present Crisis… by Benjamin Kunkel

Six essays towards understanding the Great Recession, and what comes next, from a Marxist perspective. I thought the chapters on Brenner and Graeber stood out.

 

The Great Clod: Notes and Memoirs on Nature and… by Gary Snyder

The Old Master empties his notebooks. These brief chapters are snippets of a long-rumored work encompassing the natural history of China, its peoples, and the paintings they inspired. Too short to be anything but a merest appetizer of Snyder’s life-long feast.

 

John Reed and the Writing of Revolution by Daniel W. Lehman

Used book find from August visit to Dusty Bookshelf in Lawrence. This has an academic focus, but is still readable for the layperson. I only knew Reed from _10 Days That Shook_…, so was very interested in reading about his other work. I’ve ordered an out of print collection from Modern Library that includes ‘An Insurgent in Mexico’ and ‘The War in Eastern Europe’. This volume also reprints ‘In the German Trenches’ and ‘Back of Billy Sunday’, both excellent. I’m very happy I chanced across this volume.

 

NOVEMBER

 

Universal Harvester: A Novel by John Darnielle

Iowa slacker noir. A fascinating story of absence, and unwanted presence. I enjoyed this novel a great deal, and was continuously surprised by its turns.

 

The New Prophets of Capital (Jacobin) by Nicole Aschoff

Excellent summation why capitalism will never be tweaked from above. The author honestly approaches Sandberg (Lean In…), Oprah, Whole Foods CEO Mackey, and the Gates Foundation, and dismisses their ability to improve upon the system that brought them about. A great intro to modern Marxist thought.

 

The Eastern Front 1914-1917 by Norman Stone

Sought this out after many sources claimed it as the best general history of the Eastern Front. In many places it reads like a shopping list of divisions, casualties, number of railroad carriages, and the like. When the narrative takes hold Stone is excellent. There were unfortunately not enough of those instances for me to recommend this book for anyone else.

 

Hard Times: An Illustrated Oral History of the… by Studs Terkel

Oral history of the Great Depression. The ‘common ‘man’ interviews are the best, but Terkel interviewed many politicians and government officials as well. Contains the only interview I’ve ever read with Topekan Alfred Landon, 1936 GOP candidate. The vitriol aimed at Roosevelt by some reminds one that every election is terrible.

 

The Mothers: A Novel by Brit Bennett

This is a fine novel. I initially found the voice off-putting, but came to appreciate how the characters grew – and the author’s voice along with them. ‘The Mothers’ are a nice touch.

 

Fire and Blood: The European Civil War, 1914-1945 by Enzo Traverso

An absolutely sobering read as the US moves into the age of Trump. The discussion of fear and violence by Hobbes, interpreted by Schmidt, is chilling. All these years later, the song remains the same. Nothing is certain, every victory temporary.

 

The Analects by Confucius

There was much less here than I expected. The Folio volume is very nice.

 

DECEMBER

 

Suttree (Modern Library) by Cormac Mccarthy

Re-read. Laugh out loud funny when not crushingly tragic. G-d d–n, Cornelius.

 

Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through… by Dan Epstein

This was a fun one, sought at library after seeing a Rob Neyer tweet. These were my first baseball memories, Royals v Yankees, Brett vs Gossage.

My only complaint is that there was some glaring repetition between the ‘year’ chapters, and the ‘overview’ chapters.

 

Granta 137 (The Magazine of New Writing) by Sigrid Rausing

Highlights include a diary of a Gulag guard, Vladimir in love, Miriam Toews on Canadian Mennonites, and Julie’s life.

 

Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast by Carson Cistulli

Get yer red hot aphorisms here. I wish it were shorter.

 

Four Futures: Life After Capitalism (Jacobin) by Peter Frase

This was very good, and whoo boy do recent events seem to verify the ‘Mad Max’ version. Fight to the last because we fear the worst.

 

The Underground Railroad (National Book Award… by Colson Whitehead

A little Steam Punk, a little _The Man in the High Castle_ re: the American Civil War, and of course ceaseless violence to the enslaved. Whitehead brilliantly captures the past is prelude rut the US continues to roll in, of course including our last miserable election. May we all dodge the coming Regulators.

 

Run the Red Lights by Ed Skoog

I hope I live long enough to visit Ed Skoog park on a trip home to Topeka, in the shadows of the abandoned West Ridge Mall on the median of Wanamaker Road. In fact I may plant a sign there myself.

 

Life on the Dry Line: Working the Land, 1902-1944 by Harry Morgan Mason

This is an extraordinary memoir, and not just because he is describing ‘my’ people right down the road from where my great-grandparents toughed it out. One of my great-grandfathers also had an early auto service and dealership that was wrecked on the rocks of the Depression. Mason straightforwardly describes a lost world, familiar but distant.

 

The Miracle of Mindfulness, Gift Edition by Thich Nhat Hanh

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

This is a wonderful summation of Hanh’s thought, and Buddhism in general. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but very much appreciated his ‘living’ meditation – when you are doing the dishes, do the dishes. When you wake, wake. I hope to concentrate much more by not concentrating… breathe in… out. Walk, wash, and breathe. Cook, eat, clean, breathe.

 

The Communist Postscript (Pocket Communism) by Boris Groys

I was interested in a communist philosopher’s take on post-communism. I hope this isn’t the best attempt. Some gems:

‘The struggle between these positions [marking left and right of party] determined the life of the country for a considerable period until the general line, represented by Stalin, won out at the beginning of the 1930s, whereupon left and right deviationists were liquidated over the course of the decade. ‘

‘were liquidated’, like a mattress you don’t want.

‘Thus Stalinist communism proves finally to be a revival of the Platonic dream of the kingdom of the philosphers, those who operate by means of language alone. In the Platonic state, the language of the philosophers is converted into direct violence by the class of guardians. This violence holds the state together. The Stalinist state was no different. It was the state apparatuses that translated the language of the philosopher into action – and, as is common knowledge, this translation was exceedingly brutal, incessantly brutal. Nevertheless, this remains a case of rule by language, for the sole means by which the philosopher could compel these apparatuses to listen to him and act in the name of the whole were those of language.’

I’m not sure who that passage shortchanges more, the Greeks, Chekists, or Gulag guards. We all cower to the middle of the night knock of a philosopher’s language. Guffaw.

‘On the one hand, sub-atomic particles are primary because all matter is made up of them. But in relation to finance they are secondary, because the greater the acceleration that releases the sub-atomic particles are discovered – and the size of the particle accelerator depends entirely upon its finance.’

Yes, the existence of quarks and muons in stars billions of miles away billions of years ago are completely dependent upon human government finance. Idiot.

 

The Communist Manifesto / The April Theses by Karl Marx

This dual book is a solid concept. The manifesto seems less lively than I remember, perhaps this is a different translation. The introductions are solid, and it was interesting to read Lenin’s Finland station address. Someone is going to write a tremendous book on the election of Trump, linking it to the centenary of 1917.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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