The Sport of Kings is probably best suited for horse lovers. For me, this attempt at a family saga failed, with over-long descriptions of landscapes, flashbacks to predictable family ancestral stories, lengthy digressions seemingly drawn straight from biology textbooks, and, most problematic of all, long racist rants where a short one would have sufficed to show the distasteful beliefs of the father and grandfather.
What’s left? Cruel parents, cruel husbands, cruel horse trainers, cruel people all around. Definitely not a Christmastime story.
Who Will Catch Us As We Fall centers on an Indian family living in Nairobi, Kenya and the difficult love story between the daughter and an African man, in the midst of a racist society. A corrupt police officer provides a strong secondary plot and the setting also figures prominently in the book. The love story is rather predictable but the societal and cultural portraits make for an enjoyable book.
Barkskins is the ambitious saga of two families, descended from two French emigrants to what was now New France, aka Canada, in the 17th century. The story follows the families into the present and travels to China, New Zealand, and Europe as the descendants seem to be very eager to explore new lands (and poor enough that sometimes they ave no other choices. At 700 pages, this is not for the faint of heart but the massive historical research behind the book and the variety of characters kept my interest. There is too much preaching about clearcutting to my taste when the story itself could tell the tale, and although I always love strong women the presence of so many in centuries where opportunities for women were limited is a little suspect — but still a massive achievement.
Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe is a classic astronaut story from wide-eyed kid watching of a certain generation watching the Apollo moon landing to fixing the Hubble telescope, tethered on the space shuttle whizzing by the earth. The author is a friendly and communicative nerd who seems to love everything and everyone and is not shy about sharing his struggles with academics, vision training, or survival training. That and his love and awe of space make the book. By the end, his always-positive attitude wore thin for me — but what a story!
She Made Me Laugh: My Friend Nora Ephron is a fawning portrait of Nora Ephron by a dear friend of hers and the best part of the book for me was the deep love and admiration the author shows for Ephron: deep friendship is uplifting.
For the rest, the author considers the East Coast and especially New York as the center of the universe, which is just slightly silly when one considers that Ephron was raised in California. And the name dropping of the rich and famous is rather tedious. And even though he presents in a remarkably candid manner some aspects of her scathing personality, one may wish for a little less admiration. It’s perhaps best is to read her own writing, especially I Feel Bad About my Neck.
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City follows a handful of poor families in Milwaukee, and their landlords, as they struggle to pay rent or collect rent. The tenants lead complicated lives. Many have addictions of various kinds, too many children, criminal records, abusive partners, disabilities of all kinds, little education and grim employment records and prospects. Evictions are just one more problem on top of the others, and although the author clearly demonstrates how unstable housing creates enormous problems for poor households, it’s not entirely clear how the fix he recommends, providing universal housing assistance, would solve the larger issues.
Despite the simplistic recommendation, the description what it takes to be a landlord in inner-city Milwaukee is enlightening.
All That Man Is is billed as a novel but it’s really a set of short stories. I kept hoping they would come together in some way but they don’t. Each of them features a man, from adolescence to retirement age, struggling to keep it together and find an acceptable love interest. We take planes, yachts, cars all across Europe and analyze feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy.
I was bored. Clearly (male) critics liked this book much more than I did.