Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime is the story of the author’s mother, told from the miserable ICU where she died, and punctuated by the tweets her son sent while sitting (and sleeping, badly) in her room. You will need to get by the occasional uncomfortably intimate details of her love life, but her spirit, determination, and astute upbringing of her son are wonderfully inspiring.
There is an interesting subplot of how terrible end-of-life care can be, even in a good hospital, and of how nurses and custodians seem to provide more comfort than the physicians who just do not want to talk about death. But the mother is the star!
You know that I love short books, and Keep It Fake: Inventing an Authentic Life is nice and slim — that’s about the only kind comment I can make about it. I’m not sure I could figure out what it was about, although I did read half-way through it before giving up. Let me offer an example, the first sentence of chapter 20: “Borges explores this Dadaist gap between constructed generalizations and ungraspable particulars in ‘Funes, the Memorious;.”
Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing is the astonishing story of the woes of the Los Angeles police department through the 1990s, culminating in the riots of 1992, and the very bumpy ride to a much lower crime rate in the following decade. The book is written by a journalist and suffers from systematic cliff hangers and occasional rough grammar, but the story of the miliary-style, racist “old” LAPD is breath-taking — and the many failed attempts at reform mind-boggling. Even the seemingly happy ending is doubtful, as it appears that commanding officers took to massaging metrics when they would not fall as fast as demanded by the top…
A good companion book to Project Fatherhood and Ghettoside.
The author of Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter quit her unsatisfying job as a journalist and went to work as a novice carpenter — really nothing more than a carpenter’s helper at first. She describes her apprenticeship, her satisfaction at making tangible things, her mistakes, and her pride when her dad asks her to build bookshelves for his new house. And she makes it clear that it is a tough job, with long winter furloughs (she lives in Boston) and unpredictable workloads.
The book occasionally meanders into less interesting (to me) digressions into non-carpentry considerations, but it renders beautifully the rewards of building.
Book of Numbers is a very clever, ambitious novel stuffed with ingenious ideas and structure changes. To simplify (greatly!) it is the story of a ghost writer working on the biography of a high-tech titan, who, brilliantly, has the same name as the author. The penurious writer is swept up in splendor and secrecy to capture the career of an artful mix of Steve Jobs (mercurial behavior, health issues) at Google (search engine, big-brother tendencies), with some WikiLeaks threats thrown in.
The first few hundred pages are delightful: the book within a book is enticing and the author managed to capture the mania of high-tech companies very well. And then paranoia about the all-encompassing internet sweeps in, and the story gets, strangely, quite boring despite intense action and bad guys. One wishes the author could have stopped throwing so many features in that product.
(Note: In Silicon Valley it’s never the 101, just 101. So many details of technology companies and lingo are spot on, but not this one.)
Two Across, starting with its title, is full of crossword reference, as its stars a scheming crossword creator and his spelling-bee co-winner, trying and failing to live together in some kind of harmony. I thought it was cleverly designed, with interesting back stories, especially of the mothers of the two heroes, but it seemed just a little too clever to really get into.
Project Fatherhood: A Story of Courage and Healing in One of America’s Toughest Communities is the story of a group of men from a housing project in Watts who are brought together to become better fathers. It’s a harrowing story, as most of them grew up without fathers and have criminal records, most are unemployed, and they are living in a very violent environment. But there are also wonderful moments, moments when they support each other in words and in action, and when they express their concern for the young men around them in general, not just their sons.
The book is an interesting counterpoint to Ghettoside, and left me with a similar feeling of hopelessness, with just a few beams of optimism.
Never mind the strange subtitle, you want to spend three hours reading The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape, an artful memoir by a sheep farmer from the Lake District in Northern England, who tells about the art of farming in a rough climate, his upbringing, and the lifestyle he wants to pass on to his children. He tells us about sheep auctions, the tricky lambing season, training, and also about his often stormy relationship with his father, as well as his beloved grandfather. There is an interesting subplot about his dismal early schooling career, followed by an unexpected degree at Oxford University. A wonderful book from someone who loves his land.