*** Moonglow by Michael Chabon

Moonglow is a novel that reads like a family history, of a grandfather finally sharing his secrets with his grandson on his deathbed. The stories are  brilliantly tangled, as could well be the case of real death bed conversations. There are some wonderfully entertaining moments, as when the women of the synagogue try to set up the lovely refugee from France with the rabbit, only to have his rakish brother (the grandfather) win out, starting a predictably difficult marriage marred by mental illness and, oops, a murder. As the book progresses, the stories become more and more unlikely and grandiose, perhaps as would befit a dying man with a life of adventure behind him.

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* Born on Third Base by Chuck Collins

I found Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good to be a very strange book. Its author was born with a trust fund but gave it all away as a young man. The first part of the book, in which he describes the many hidden advantages of wealth, from connections to financial capital, and how government programs protect the wealthy through tax advantages for mortgages and especially charitable contribution, is excellent. He also makes a wonderful appeal to the wealthy to interact on a personal level with the 99%.

After that, the book lost me. He somehow wants to include climate change, sustainable agriculture, and small businesses in the equation,  and the connections don’t quite work. I suppose you could start reading mid-way through.

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** The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich

The author of The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II collected hundreds of testimonies from Soviet women who fought during WWII and presents them here, arranged in logical chapters but otherwise raw, unedited. It makes for often gruesome stories of killing and often picking up the wounded and dead, of tremendous hardships, no food and no proper clothes against the extreme cold — all that to go home after the war and get none of the recognition accorded to men, but instead suspicion of what the women were really up to, at the front, with all the men…  Not exactly uplifting, but a wonderful portrait of women who don’t seem themselves as heroes, but are.

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*** My Lovely Wife in the Psych Yard by Mark Lukach

My Lovely Wife in the Psych in the Psych Yard is the memoir of a man whose wife had several episodes of severe breakdowns, each involving lengthy hospitalizations, uncertain prognoses, and tremendous burdens on him as he tried to care for her and their son. It’s a weighty subject matter, and the author does not avoid the horrors of mental illness, the weaknesses of the psychiatric medical system, or the hardships on caregivers. He gives us an honest recounting of a very hard time, and we can only admire his pluck, and his wife’s.

 

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** Scandinavians by Robert Ferguson

Scandinavians: In Search of the Soul of the North is a long and discursive history of the Scandinavian countries, written by an Englishman who has lived for Norway for decades. If you want to learn about burial cairns from the sixth century, or conversion to Christianity in 999, or the Stockholm Bloodbath in 1520 — this is the book for you. As always, I could live with fewer details — but if you want a leisurely trip through space and time (and many drunk friends), this book is for you.

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*** To Siri With Love by Judith Newman

To Siri with Love: A Mother, Her Autistic Son, and the Kindness of Machines is a series of essays about raising an autistic son, which, as the title suggests, includes a touching story about his dialogs with Siri but the essays go much beyond his interaction with machines. There are lovely moments about how he “helps” the doormen in the building, painful interactions with teachers and principals, and interminable efforts to teach him basic life behaviors. And since her son has a twin, there is the constant contrast with his brother, whose interests and concerns are utterly different, but who displays remarkable kindness towards his brother. But the best part of the book is how the author understands, and makes us understand, how her son looks at the world and how his behaviors are completely logical based on his world view.

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** Woolly by Ben Mezrich

Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures tells the story of a dream, that to bring back to life the wooly mammoth. The author chooses to tell the story in dramatic manner, with cliffhangers at the end of each chapter and emotional depictions of the various scientists. It feels rather overdone. That said, the science is thrilling, even if the rationale for resurrecting the woolly mammoth is obscure, at best, and the story is certainly lively.

 

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