Doug’s first quarter books reviews
LESS by Andrew Sea Greer:
It won the Pulitzer, and it’s a great, quick read! Here’s some samples…
“You read poems about it, you hear stories about it, you hear Sicilians talk about being struck by lightning. We know there’s no love of your life. Love isn’t terrifying like that. It’s walking the fucking dog so the other one can sleep in, it’s doing taxes, it’s cleaning the bathroom without hard feelings. It’s having an ally in life. It’s not fire, it’s not lightning. But what if the Sicilians are right? That it’s this earth-shattering thing she felt? Something I’ve never felt.”
“What if one day you meet someone and it feels like it could never be anyone else? Not because other people are less attractive, or drink too much, or have issues in bed, or have to alphabetize every fucking book or organize the dishwasher in some way you just can’t live with. It’s because they aren’t this person. This woman. Maybe you can go through your whole life and never meet them, and think love is all these other things, but if you do meet them, God help you! Because then: ka-blam! You’re screwed.”
“The brain is so wrong, all the time. Wrong about what time it is, and who people are, and where home is: wrong, wrong, wrong. The lying brain.”
“What is love, Arthur? What is it? Is it the good dear thing I had with Janet for eight years? Is it the good dear thing? Or is it the lightning bolt? The destructive madness that hit my girl?”
“I’ve got a theory. Now, hear me out. It’s that our lives are half comedy and half tragedy. And for some people, it just works out that the first entire half of their lives is tragedy and then the second half is comedy.”
ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman:
I loved this one too. It’s hilarious at points, and heartbreaking at others. It’s about being different in a harsh, seemingly uncaring world. It speaks of friendship and human connection. It is not a downer!
“I do exist, don’t I? It often feels as if I’m not here, that I’m a figment of my own imagination. There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar. A strong gust of wind could dislodge me completely, and I’d lift off and blow away, like one of those seeds in a dandelion clock.”
BIRD BY BIRD: SOME INSTRUCTIONS ON WRITING AND LIFE by Anne Lamott:
I have yet to read a book by Lamott that I don’t enjoy. This one is especially useful if you work on-air.
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”
“I don’t mind if a person has no hope if he or she is sufficiently funny about the whole thing, but then, this being able to be funny definitely speaks of a kind of hope.”
ALMOST EVERYTHING: NOTES ON HOPE by Anne Lamott:
Actually the perfect follow-up book to Bird by Bird…Read that second quote below aloud. Substitute ‘air talent’ for ‘writer’ and you have your job definition…
“Empathy begins when we realize how much alike we all are. My focus on hate made me notice I’m too much like certain politicians. The main politician I’m thinking of and I are always right. I, too, can be a blowhard, a hoarder, needing constant approval and acknowledgment, needing to feel powerful. This politician had an abusive father, but he managed to stay alive, unlike his brother. I don’t think he meant to grow up to be a racist who debased women. But he was raised afraid and came to believe that all he needed was a perfect woman, a lot of money, and maybe a few more atomic weapons. He must be the loneliest, emptiest man on earth, while I am part of a great We, mostly old us. We show up, as in the folktale about stone soup, and we bring and give and put what we can into the pot, and this pot fills up, and we know it.“
“What a writer is telling us, asking us to hear, has to have meaning. Tell us something that stirs us, that makes us think, or tear up, or laugh. We have to cultivate the habits of curiosity and paying attention, which are essential to living rich lives…“
It’s not so much us seeking God, tracking Her down with a butterfly net; it’s agreeing to be found. The Old Girl reaches out to everyone and wants to include us in this beautiful, weird, sometimes anguished life. All people: go figure. These days are among the hardest we will ever live through. The wind is blowing, but because we are together in this, we have hope. Most days. Maybe more than ever before in my lifetime, my friends and I are aware of our brokenness and the deep crazy, the desperation for light, hope, food, and medicine for the poor.”
“What helps is that we are not all crazy and hopeless on the same day. One of us remembers and reminds the rest of us that when it is really dark you can see the stars. We believe grace is stronger than evil and sin. We believe love is stronger than hate, that the divine is bigger than all huge egos simmered together in a bloviation stew, and this makes us laugh. And laughter is hope. We believe and hope that we will get through these terrifying times.”
“In my current less-young age, I’ve learned that almost more than anything, stories hold us together. Stories teach us what is important about life, why we’re here and how it is best to behave, and that inside us we have access to treasure, in memories and observations, in imagination.”
THE FIFTH RISK by Michael Lewis:
This is one I wish every person in America and the developed world would read, and soon. From the author of The Big Short, another amazing, true book, it will stir you to action and help inform your choices in next year’s elections.
“When you come from San Francisco and grew up in Silicon Valley, every measure is about progress,” he (David Friedberg) said. “The progress in society. The progress in the economy. The progress of technology. And you kind of get used to that. And you think that’s the norm in the way the world operates, because you see everything getting better. Then you get on a plane and if you land anywhere but a big city, it feels the same. It’s total stagnation. It’s ‘we’ve been farming the same six fields for the last seventy years.’ It’s getting married at nineteen or twenty. It’s the opposite of progression. Life is about keeping up. Life is about keeping everything the same.”
“People in the places he’d traveled lived from paycheck to paycheck.”
“The problem with the internet is that it shows everyone on earth what they’re missing,” said Friedberg. “And if you can’t get to it, you feel you are getting fucked. That there is this very visceral and obvious shift that is happening in the world that you’re missing out on.”
“After Trump took office…both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior removed from their websites the links to climate change data. The USDA removed the inspection reports of businesses accused of animal abuse by the government. The new acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mick Mulvaney, said he wanted to end public access to records of consumer complaints against financial institutions. Two weeks after Hurricane Maria, statistics that detailed access to drinking water and electricity in Puerto Rico were deleted from the FEMA website.”
“…the first annual crime report released by the FBI under Trump was missing nearly three-quarters of the data tables from the previous year. ‘Among the data missing from the 2016 report is information on arrests, the circumstances of homicides (such as relationships between victims and perpetrators), and the only national estimate of annual gang murders’…”
“…there was nothing arbitrary or capricious about the Trump administration’s attitude toward public data. Under each act of data suppression usually lay a narrow commercial motive: a gun lobbyist, a coal company, a poultry company. ‘The NOAA webpage used to have a link to weather forecasts,’ he said. ‘It was highly, highly popular. I saw it had been buried. And I asked: Now, why would they bury that?’ Then he realized: the man Trump nominated to run NOAA thought that people who wanted a weather forecast should have to pay him for it. There was a rift in American life that was now coursing through American government. It wasn’t between Democrats and Republicans. It was between the people who were in it for the mission, and the people who were in it for the money.”
“The government was the mission of an entire society: why was the society undermining it? ‘I’m routinely appalled by how profoundly ignorant even highly educated people are when it comes to the structure and function of our government,’ she (Kathy Sullivan) said. ‘The sense of identity as Citizen has been replaced by Consumer. The idea that the government should serve the citizens like a waiter or concierge, rather than in a ‘collective good’ sense.’ “
EXIT GHOST by Philip Roth:
Perhaps it resonated because of my age, or from watching my father age, but it definitely felt real and true and compassionate. Many of Roth’s books feel like non-fiction, almost biographical, like this one…
“I dialed her number as though it were the code to restoring the fullness that once encompassed us all; I dialed as though spinning a lifetime counterclockwise were an act as natural and ordinary as resetting the timer on the kitchen stove.”
IN ORDER TO LIVE: A NORTH KOREAN GIRL’S JOURNEY TO FREEDOM by Yeonmi Park
It’s the true story of one mother and daughter risking everything to escape the unimaginable life most North Koreans are forced to live, and it’s important to read now because of our President’s seeming acceptance and support for a leader who makes Saddam Hussein seem almost benevolent.
“There are so many desperate people on the streets crying for help that you had to shut off your heart or the pain would be too much. After a while, you can’t care anymore. And that is what hell is like.”
THE PARIS ARCHITECT by Charles Belfoure:
Set in a city I love during WW2, this book forces us to confront our own moral code when each decision can be one of life or death.
“One evening, after Dauphin brought her a meal and some clean clothes, Juliette asked him why he was putting his life in so much danger. His answer stunned her. ‘Oh, madame, you don’t know how good it makes me feel about myself to help a human in this time of evil.’ The zookeeper, who probably had no more than a few years of schooling, had a far more profound sense of morality, Juliette realized, than many of the highly trained scientists she used to work with.”
“Lucien looked at Speer closely. Speer didn’t look evil at all. He was an architect, a respectable-looking, professional man like himself. A man of great intelligence and charm who was responsible for the implementation of the death and destruction of tens of thousands of people in the past six months. He was a cold-blooded murderer, but he didn’t personally use a gun or a knife. Instead, he ordered others to use the weapons he planned and produced. And to what end? The pure evil of dominating other nations merely because the Nazis deemed them inferior.“
FINAL GIFTS: UNDERSTANDING THE SPECIAL AWARENESS, NEEDS, AND COMMUNICATIONS OF THE DYING by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley:
Unfortunately, you will need this book to help you help someone you love who will be dying, and it will help. We should teach this skill to everyone, but let it start with you.
IN A LONELY PLACE by Dorothy B. Hughes:
This book was really good. It was perhaps the first thriller/murder story written from the viewpoint of the killer. It was also decidedly ahead of its time for its feminist voice. It was written in the 1940s, telling the story of a serial killer in post-War Los Angeles.
SHORT NIGHTS OF THE SHADOW CATCHER: THE EPIC LIFE AND IMMORTAL PHOTOGRAPHS OF EDWARD CURTIS by Timothy Egan:
I happened upon this book after Shannon read it in her book club. It is the winner of the National Book Award, and it’s the amazing, true story of a person very few people alive now have ever heard of. Curtis spent most of his life living with, photographing and recording the language and songs of every remaining Indian tribe in America at the beginning of the 20th century.
He was friends with Teddy Roosevelt, and funded mostly by the world’s richest man, J. P. Morgan, but died penniless and alone.
It may not sound like your kind of book, but trust me, you’ll like it a lot.
“His goal was to capture native people as they were before their cultures were too diluted. For more than thirty years his main concern and competitor in this project was time itself. As he said often, every day meant the passing of some person who held knowledge that might disappear entirely. Near the end, he feared that most of the Indian world would eventually look as Oklahoma did to him in the 1920s — a people utterly remade by others.”
“The Kiowa writer N. Scott Momaday, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel House Made of Dawn…saw a Curtis picture of Plains Indians on horseback dragging a travaux. ‘It struck me with such force that it brought tears to my eyes…I felt I was looking into a memory in my blood. Here was a moment in time, a moment I had known only in my imagination, suddenly verified, an image immediately translated from the mind’s eye to the picture plane.”
“Taken as a whole, the work of Edward Curtis is a singular achievement. Never before have we seen the Indians of North America so close to the origins of their humanity, their sense of themselves in the world, their innate dignity and self-possession“
“We have wronged the Indian from the beginning. The white man’s sins against him did not cease with the explosion of the final cartridge in the wars which subjugated him in his own country, Our sins of peace…have been far greater than our sins of war…In peace, we changed the nature of our weapons, that was all; we stopped killing Indians in more or less a fair fight, debauching them, instead, thus slaughtering them by methods which gave them not the slightest chance of retaliation.” ~ Edward Curtis
THE SHELL COLLECTOR: STORIES by Anthony Doerr:
Just as it was impossible for Elizabeth Gilbert to write a followup book as good as Eat, Pray, Love — it was impossible for Anthony Doerr after All The Light We Cannot See, which won the Pulitzer Prize, but this is a great read. A collection of 8 short stories. Here’s a taste, with each story headlined:
THE HUNTER’S WIFE:
“More clearly than ever she could see that there was a fine line between dreams and wakefulness, between living and dying, a line so tenuous it sometimes didn’t exist. It was always clearest for her in winter. In winter, in that valley, life and death were not so different.”
“There were things he had been preparing to say: something about a final belief, about his faithfulness to the idea of her, an expression of gratitude for providing a reason to leave the valley, if only for a night. He wanted to tell her that although the wolves were gone, may always have been gone, they still came to him in dreams. That they could run there, fierce and unfettered, was surely enough. She would understand. She had understood long before he did.”
“But he was afraid to speak. He could see that speaking would be like dashing some very fragile bond to pieces, like kicking a dandelion gone to seed; the wispy, tenuous sphere of its body would scatter in the wind. So instead they stood together, the snow fluttering down from the clouds to melt into the water where their own reflected images trembled like two people trapped against the glass of a parallel world, and he reached, finally, to take her hand.”
“Everything feels very tenuous, just then, and terribly beautiful, as if he is straddling two worlds, the one he came from and the one he is going to. He wonders if this is what it was like for his mother, in the moments before she died, if she saw the same kind of light, if she felt like anything was possible.”
“Belle has reclaimed her hands and is pointing somewhere far off, somewhere over the horizon. Home, she signs. You are going home.”
“She heard a pulse inside her ear, a swishing cadence of blood and it was time, the steady marking of every moment as it sailed past, unrecoverable, lost forever. She mourned each one.“
Doerr is just a beautiful writer. If you love language, you’ll love The Shell Collector
DEVIL’S BARGAIN: STEVE BANNON, DONALD TRUMP, AND THE STORMING OF THE PRESIDENCY by Joshua Green:
Another non-fiction book that everyone needs to read before the elections of 2020. I actually felt this the best of all the books I’ve read so far about the Trump presidency.
“I had looked over the shoulders of some of the private-equity guys who had put the money into The Huffington Post,” Bannon said. “You’re really not thinking about traffic; you’re thinking about community.”
“I realized I liked being hated more than I liked being liked—that’s when the game began,” Breitbart explained to TIME in 2010.”
Unless you just want to read everything written recently, I’m not sure I would recommend either BRAIN ON FIRE: MY MONTH OF MADNESS by Susannah Cahalan or THE DAKOTA WINTERS: A NOVEL by Tom Barbash. It’s not that either is badly written, it’s just that there are so many great books, I’ve learned to treat books like wine: If I open a bottle of wine and hate it, I pour it out, because there are plenty of wines I love.
If you made it this far, wow! – you love books as much as I do, so tomorrow and Sunday I will reveal the best non-fiction book I read in the first quarter as well as the best fiction book I read, one I loved enough to immediately include in my all-time Top 10 favorites list.