Idaho stars the wife of an early-onset Alzheimer patient, who tries to untangle her husband’s past, now that he can no longer remember what happened to his first wife and daughters. The tale is hazy and disconnected, as surely his mind must be by the time the story starts, but also kind and loving, despite what we know from the start must be a very dark story. The magnificent Idaho mountains are an added pleasure to the complex tale.
Monthly Archives: August 2019
Writing to Persuade: How to Bring People Over to Your Side attempts to mix suggestions on writing persuasively with tidbits from the author’s life–and, as is often the case, I much preferred the life story to the advice, starting with the startling realization that her mom may not have liked her much because she reminded her of her absconded husband. The advice is fine, really, albeit sometimes hackneyed, and hectoring. The author does include wonderful examples of before- and after-editing prose, which show the awesome power of good editing.
The author of Home for Erring and Outcast Girls proposes a fictionalized history of a real institution that took in abused and pregnant women and allowed them to keep their children, unlike most other institutions of the time. It is to be expected that the stories would be heartbreaking, and indeed there are enough rapes, abandonments, and betrayals to keep going for hundreds of pages–and still there’s more, as she overlays the equally sad stories of the fictional contemporary researchers of said institution, both with similarly exploited pasts.
If you like dramatic stories with clearly marked good and bad characters, you will like this book.
A Decent Life: Morality for the Rest of Us has a modest goal–to inspire us to be a little better than we are. No heroics required. The author encourages us to do the little things that will make others happier, and perhaps inspire them to pay it forward. (I must say I did not get his favorite example, putting a napkin on top of someone’s cup of coffee to keep it warm. I think it’s a little creepy!) He reminds us that surrounding ourselves with like-minded people, and like-minded people only, is tempting but overly comfortable. He encourages us to visibly demonstrate support for people who are being verbally abused. It’s all pretty easy, really. And what if everyone did it?
Number One Chinese Restaurant stars an immigrant family who owns a Chinese restaurant, of course, while one of the sons wants to strike out on his own and build something more fancy. There’s a difficult mother, the memory of a controlling father, a mafia-like figure, and a large case of waiters that complicate all decisions and actions. There’s a fire and a difficult opening night, and lots of behind-the-scenes intrigues. I did not find any of it very exciting.
The hero of Lake Success is hedge fund manager with an autistic son, a large watch collection, and an upcoming SEC investigation. He decides to chuck everything and go find his decades-old girlfriend (who, supposedly, will drop everything for him, just like his wife will just keep on taking care of his son). He discovers Greyhound buses and an entirely different set of characters from his rich colleagues and their educated, but now unemployed wives.
I could not care less about watches or performance cars, and following the predictable adventures of a man trying to slum it seemed unappealing at first, but the author does great job of exposing the logical, if distasteful, workings of his hero’s brain as he bumbles outside his cushy life, always expecting that his privilege will continue to hold. It’s funny story, really. Also, we need to tax hedge fund managers more. They would totally understand why.
There is much to admire in This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto, especially a longer-term view of how immigration shaped not only the United States, but indeed the entire earth. The author also reminds us that many of the reasons why migrants decide to leave their countries were manufactured by the many countries that now wish to keep them away, through colonialist and other exploitative actions–and that much anti-immigrant sentiment is manufactured by plain racism.
That said, the book is written as a pamphlet that fails to present rational, let alone balanced views. For instance, the author takes great pains to show that immigrants into the US come with much more education than native-borns, so more immigrants would ensure a better-educated populace. Really? Isn’t the difference at least partly caused by but the (overly tight, to be sure) immigration policy? And he proposes utterly impractical solutions, such as requiring incoming immigrants to settle into depressed areas of the country, where housing is abundant (but, presumably, jobs are not!) So it’s a rant more than a constructive discussion.
Ever wondered how military funerals can be “perfect”? You will learn all the secrets in Sacred Duty: A Soldier’s Tour at Arlington National Cemetery. (Spoiler: it’s mostly about rehearsing everything, over and over again, and being able to occasionally tolerate a bug up your nose.) The author mixes the history of Arlington Cemetery with the practical secrets of keeping uniforms in perfect shape, rain or not. It goes on a little too long, and I wish he did not feel compelled to call everyone buried at Arlington a hero, but it’s a wonderful behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to run The Old Guard.
If you’ve ever felt bad for famous people hounded by their fans, Fame: The Hijacking of Reality will be an instructive read, and a good reminder that entitled fans and 24×7 media can turn anyone into a hermit. But it seems that what the author complains about the most is the feeling of loss when fame faded and, along with the entitled fans, she could no longer get prime restaurant tables. Bitter and drama-making.
I’m not sure I quite understood what the author of Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society was trying to accomplish. He starts by a lengthy review of shipwrecks, arguing that the surviving crews can be good models of what human societies can look like. I would beg to differ, and he opines that crews tend to be young, male, and fit, even as he continues his analysis.
He then presents a “social suite”, criteria he considers essential for good (meaning lasting and stable) societies. with not too much justification for the criteria, before proceeding to share examples taken from ethnographic studies (those poor Hadza, forever studied; I wonder if they have a “fool the anthropologist” set of tricks!) and classic psychology studies, along with many animal observations and studies. With such a rich and long book, there are many interesting tales, but I wish the author did not try so hard to tie everything together into a grand theory.