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Best Books

Best Books

I read in October

 

If Educated, by Tara Westover wasn’t a memoir, you would think it fiction, yet it’s all true.

It’s the story of a girl born within a family who live in rural Idaho, completely off the grid, to the point that the children never went to school, but also never even got home schooling.

It’s a story of madness, paranoia about government, about medicine, about everyone in authority; it’s about religious fanaticism, and abuse, but it’s also a story of survival and hope.

It’s another view of an America most of us don’t even know exists.

Here’s a review

“…but vindication has no power over guilt. No amount of anger or rage directed at others can subdue it, because guilt is never about them. Guilt is the fear of one’s own wretchedness. It has nothing to do with other people.”

“I shed my guilt when I accepted my decision on its own terms, without endless prosecuting of old grievances, without weighing his sins against mine. Without thinking of my father at all. I learned to accept my decisions for my own sake, because of me, not because of him. Because I needed it, not because he deserved it.”

“It was the only way I could love him.”

“But what has come between me and my father is more than time or distance. It is a change in the self. I am not the child my father raised, but he is the father who raised her.”

Moving, beyond words. Inspirational, because of this woman’s courage.

Hopeful, for where it leaves you.

 

 

If you ever wonder why, why we’re here, why we are the way we are, you will devour this book.

It is tribalism, not the moral tenets and humanitarian thoughts of pure religion, that makes good people do bad things.”

“…the core belief (of any religion) assures its members that God favors them above all others. It teaches that members of other religions worship the wrong gods, use wrong rituals, follow false prophets, and believe fantastic creation stories.”

“In more secular societies faith tends to be transmuted into religionlike political ideologies. Sometimes the two great belief categories are combined. Hence, ‘God favors my political principles over yours, and my principles, not yours, favor God.’

Human beings are not wicked by nature. We have enough intelligence, goodwill, generosity, and enterprise to turn Earth into a paradise both for ourselves and for the biosphere that gave us birth. We can plausibly accomplish that goal, at least be well on the way, by the end of the present century. The problem holding everything up so far is that Homo sapiens is an innately dysfunctional species.”

“We are hampered by the Paleolithic Curse: genetic adaptations that worked very well for millions of years of hunter-gatherer existence but are increasingly a hindrance in a globally urban and technoscientific society. We seem unable to stabilize either economic policies or the means of governance higher than the level of a village. Further, the great majority of people world-wide remain in the thrall of tribal organized religions, led by men who claim supernatural powers in order to compete for the obedience and resources of the faithful.”

“We are addicted to tribal conflict, which is harmless and entertaining if sublimated into team sports, but deadly when expressed as real-world ethnic, religious, and ideological struggles.”

“Too polarized with self-absorption to protect the rest of life, we continue to tear down the natural environment. And it is still taboo to bring up population policies aiming for an optimum people density, geographic distribution, and age distribution.”

“Our species dysfunction has produced the hereditary myopia of which we are all uncomfortably familiar People find it hard to care about other people beyond their own tribe or country, and even then past one or two generations. It is harder still to be concerned about animal species — except for dogs, horses, and others of the very few we have domesticated to be our servile companions.”

 

Time for some fiction?

This is a love story, set in Athens. As is true of all love stories, this one is also about loss.

You can read the Wall Street Journal review of  Everything Beautiful Began After HERE.

It’s not one of my favorite books, but was a nice and necessary diversion after the heaviness of the two books above.

 

 

 

Fiction I loved? Read A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

The language alone is soothing, which I found I desperately needed in this loud, rancorous, bullying and profane electoral year.

Fate would not have the reputation it has if it simply did what it seemed it would do.”

Or, “If patience weren’t so easily tested, then it would hardly be a virtue...”

For what matters in life is not whether we receive a round of applause, what matters is whether we have the courage to venture forth despite the uncertainty of acclaim.”

“Looking back, it seems to me that there are people who play an essential role at every turn. And I don’t just mean the Napoleons who influence the course of history; I mean men and women who routinely appear at critical junctures in the progress of art, or commerce, or the evolution of ideas — as if Life itself has summoned them once again to help fulfill its purpose.”

“…our lives are steered by uncertainties, many of which are disruptive or even daunting; but that if we persevere and remain generous of heart, we may be granted a moment of supreme lucidity — a moment in which all that has happened to us suddenly comes into focus as a necessary course of events, even as we find ourselves on the threshold of a bold new life that we had been meant to lead all along.

Beautifully written, with lead characters that will steal your heart, this was the story I needed to escape the fetid reality in which we find ourselves, battered by daily lies and taunts from our leaders and helpless in the face of ever-increasing violence and hatred.

It takes you to a time when manners still mattered, when honor was the supreme virtue, and when love was important than greed.

You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

The Gradual Disappearance of Jane Ashland is about grief, losing oneself. It is a mystery that kept me tense, uncertain of the outcome. It is the first translated work of the hugely popular Norwegian author, Nicolai Houm.

It’s a small book, a quick read, perfect for a 2-hour flight.

“…she wanted the students to write about an unreal world. Outside fiction, conditionality is a basic aspect of life. Generally, it is what people struggle with, at least when they are not fighting each other.”

“If only I had more money…If I build this barrier tall enough…If I keep my head down and say the right things…”

“And then, with no permission, without respect of consideration, it hits you: the untreatable esophageal cancer, the fire in the fuse cupboard, the armed methamphetamine-maddened burglar who rambled along to your open bedroom window rather than your neighbor’s, the winter blizzard that dumped tons of snow on the substandard roof of the sports arena.”

“Conditionality creates the irreducible gap between the world as you wish it to be and what it actually is: a place ill suited to creatures in search of meaning.”

 

 

I can’t say I learned a lot from FEAR, by Bob Woodward; it was more confirmation than information, and for all its media hype, I thought it painted a more balanced picture of Trump than others about his presidency have offered.

 

 

 

 

 

And I finish with a book I think every Democrat or Liberal should read: Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild.

The cover says it is “A Journey to the Heart of Our Political Divide” and that’s apt.

As an ideal, the American Dream proposed a right way of feeling. You should feel hopeful, energetic, focused, mobilized. Progress — its core idea — doesn’t go with feeling confused or mournful. And as a ideal, the American Dream did not seem to guide people in what to feel when they had attained some of their goals but not others — a state inspiring a more cautious impulse to protect what you already have.”

“Progress has also become harder — more chancy and more restricted to a small elite. The Great Recession of 2008 in which people lost homes, savings, and jobs had come and gone, but it had shaken people up. Meanwhile, for the bottom 90% if Americans, the Dream Machine — invisible over the brow of the hill — had stopped due to automation, off-shoring, and the growing power of mutlinationals vis-å-vis their workforces. At the same time, for that 90%, competition between white men and everyone else had increased — for jobs, for recognition, and for government funds.”

“If the federal government was anything like the Louisiana state government — which he thought it was — it wasn’t worth believing in or paying taxes to. The ‘federal government’ filled a mental space in Mike’s mind — and the minds of all those on the right I came to know — associated with a financial sinkhole.

“…the federal government wasn’t on the side of men being manly. Liberals were certainly on the wrong side of that one. It wasn’t easy being a man. It was an era of numerous subtle challenges to masculinity, it seemed. These days a woman didn’t need a man for financial support, for procreation, even for the status of being married. And now with talk of transgender people, what, really, was a man?”

“If you have one drop of Native American blood, you qualify under some affirmative action guideline to get financial aid for college. But why does that put you ahead in line? they wondered. If a person said he or she was white, as a way of describing themselves in the manner of the Native American or black, they risked being seen as racist soldiers of the Aryan Nation, If they stood up to declare themselves proud to be male — unless they were part of a men’s group trying to unlearn traditional ways — they risked being seen as male chauvinists. If they called for recognition for their lifetime of experience, their age, they risked seeming like old fools in a culture focused on youth.

 

If you read only one book in the next 12 months, make it this one.

In a nation struggling with what appears to be increasing political and cultural divisions, even violence, we need to really feel what “others” are feeling, really hear what they’re trying to articulate if we ever hope to understand why they are voting and acting as they do.

And that’s both sides, by the way.

We need to stop demonizing the other side if we hope to emerge from this latest struggle united.

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