Tag Archives: California

*** Every Other Weekend by Zulema Renee Summerfield

I was a little leery of the precocious Nenny’s voice in Every Other Weekend — plus, can the ordinary life of the daughter of divorced parent be really that interesting? Well, yes! As we follow her to her parochial school, through her wildly devastating nightmares, and along her complex relationships with her silent, though, but secretly sweet stepfather, we fall in love with her world and her vision of it. Even without the eventual tragedy, she takes us into the universe of third graders, and it’s not quite as simple as we might think. Don’t give up before you read at least 100 pages!

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Filed under New fiction

* Live Work Work Work Die by Corey Pein

I wonder how Corey Pein, the author of Live Work Work Work Die: A Journey into the Savage Heart of Silicon Valley would describe California’s Gold Rush. He would find much to bemoan: the fantastic hopes of newcomers who believed there were fortunes to be made, the long work hours, the unbelievable cost of housing, the swindling and backroom dealings, and the harsh realization that the only ones making a reliable living are those that sold shovels and jeans. And that’s exactly what the book is about: how dreamers of riches find themselves lining the pockets of unscrupulous property owners and promoters of “startup boot camps” while gentrifying neighborhoods push out blue-collar workers much like the Gold Rush crowd systematically removed Native Americans that were in the way.

I’m not sure why we need a book-length expose to show that Silicon Valley is in an economic bubble, with all the problems attending to economic bubbles. And some facts are curiously wrong: it’s true that commuter trains are unconscionably slow in these parts, but it does not take three hours to go from San Francisco to Mountain View.

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Filed under Non fiction

** My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

I hesitate to recommend My Absolute Darling because I almost closed the book after the first few chapters, whose vivid evocation of child abuse I found overwhelming, even repugnant. Yes, the heroine is indeed a survivor, as critics note, but she does have to endure a lot at the hands of her father and it makes for man rough pages. Two things really shined for me: the description of the Mendocino coast, with its physics beauty and its strange characters, and the complicated reality of abused teens, who choose to retreat rather than trust outsiders. But a tough read, for sure!

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Filed under New fiction

* A Gambler’s Anatomy by Jonathan Lethem

A Gambler’s Anatomy is certainly different, starring a shadowy backgammon player who plays high-stakes games with rich men (all men) around the world and winds up needing surgery for a threatening brain tumor. We visit Singapore, Berlin, Berkeley. We revisit the hero’s strange childhood and the strange business ventures of his childhood friend. But as exciting as gambling and neurosurgery can be, the story never crystallized into a satisfying whole for me, just a string of occasionally tiresome adventures.

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* Bullies by Alex Abramovich

It must be fashionable for grown men to write about their childhood bullies. Unlike Whipping Boy, however, Bullies: A Friendship focuses on the present. The author’s one-time bully is now the president of a motorcycle club in Oakland, CA, and the author, somewhat strangely, sets out to explore in great detail the activities of the club, depicting Oakland as a drug-infested den of violence and hopelessness which leaves locals, and even semi-locals like me shaking our heads. Yes, there are very dangerous places in Oakland but even the author acknowledges that he managed to live there for months in complete safety, apart from his repeated trips to the infamous triangle where his ex-bully, now supposedly “friend”, operates. It turns out that motorcycle “clubs” (I would say gangs) are very violent and 200 pages of that simultaneously turned my stomach and bore me immensely. Stay away from psychopaths.

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Filed under True story

** An American Genocide by Benjamin Madley

Warning: although it is August, this is far from beach-reading fare. And if you think you know how California natives were exterminated (by the bad Franciscan missions, right), you are wrong. Yes, the missions enslaved them in what has been described as “Nazi concentration camps”, but between roughly the Gold Rush and the Civil War they were just about decimated. An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873 takes us through the horrific political decisions (including by the US Congress, which funded a lot of the anti-Indian activities by militias), savage attacks, routinely on women and children, and forced removals to reserves that occurred during those years. It’s impeccably documented, chilling, and I have to say a little too detailed to be of interest to the casual reader. But it seems to me that some version of the story should be included in all California history textbooks.

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Filed under Non fiction

*** X by Sue Grafton

Whether you have been a fan of Kinsey Millhone since “A” or you are just starting at X, this is a good one! Of course a solid psychopath makes for a good mystery, but there are at least three villains in this story, who intersect but never meet — even as the avid reader tirelessly anticipates how they will! And it’s the little details that make the story, whether it is having to re-read the manual of the answering machine before changing the message (pre-internet, pre-cell phone, pre-everything), or finding ways to meet the drought-mandated conservation measures (the internet did not change that!). I could do without Kinsey acting as a marriage counselor, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story.

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Filed under Mystery