What I’ve Been Reading

The good, the bad, and the ugly.


If I show up at your house 10 years from now, and find nothing in your living room but Reader’s Digests, nothing in your bedroom but the latest Dan Brown novel…I will chase you down to the end of your driveway and back shouting ‘Where are the damn books? Why are you living the mental equivalent of a Kraft Macaroni & Cheese life?‘” — Stephen King, to the 2005 graduating class of the University of Maine

So we’re halfway through 2018 and I thought I’d share what I’ve read so far this year. Summer sometimes means more book time.

First, the only book I read that I would not recommend: Fire and Fury.

And then, The North Water is good, but not as good as I had expected… Just as I no longer drink wine I don’t love, I have given myself permission to dislike books, even ones that get critical acclaim.

As you know, John McCain has a terminal type of brain cancer. His time is short which is why I wanted to read what will turn out to be his final book on the state of government in our nation: The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights and Other Appreciations.

Whatever you think of his politics, you have to admire his personal courage and his willingness to admit mistakes.

This book takes a look back on most of the policies America has followed since the election of George W. Bush in 2000.

McCain has always been most interested in America’s foreign policy and his concern about what’s happening today with our government is palpable.

But his greatest angst is saved for the condition of the relationship between Republicans and Democrats, the decline of moderates in each Party, and the unwillingness of either side to compromise. This has brought the work of Congress to a virtual halt for the past decade and Senator McCain is worried about the longer term viability of our form of government in the age of Trump.

This isn’t a great book, but McCain is a great man. I’m glad I read it.


FantasyLand: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History is both fascinating and terrifying and I highly recommend it.

America is now a nation where every individual is gloriously free to construct any version of reality he or she devoutly believes to be true.”

Chief Justice Warren Burger, a conservative appointed by Nixon, complained after he retired that the Second Amendment ‘has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud – I repeat the word fraud – on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.’ ”

More than any other single American by far, outside conventional religion and politics, Oprah Winfrey is responsible for giving a national platform and credibility to magical thinking, New Age and otherwise.”

The GOP is now quite explicitly Christian, the first time the United States has had such a major party. It is the American coalition of white Christians, papering over doctrinal and class differences – and now led, weirdly, by one of the least religious presidents in modern times.”

Trump understood at least one thing better than almost everybody,” that the “breakdown of a shared public reality built upon widely accepted facts represented not a hazard but an opportunity.”

The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism, instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.” ~ Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism


I was still trying to understand what’s happening in America and other democracies around the world, when a friend recommended THIS:

The point at which a society can no longer “think” its way out of its problems is called the cognitive threshold.”

“And once a society reaches this cognitive threshold. It begins passing unresolved issues from one generation to the next until, finally, one or more of these problems push the civilization over the edge. This is the real reason for collapse.”

“Two telltale signs occur prior to collapse. The first sign is gridlock.”

“Gridlock occurs when civilizations become unable to comprehend or resolve large, complex problems, despite acknowledging beforehand that these issues may lead to their demise.”

“As conditions grow more desperate, the second symptom appears: the substitution of beliefs for knowledge and fact.”

“This commonly held stereotype – the belief that people with money are in some way superior – is just as harmful to human progress as racism, sexism, and ageism.”

“Instead of being a natural outcome of accomplishment, for the first time in history money has become the end goal.”

“In his landmark book The Selfish Gene, Dawkins writes: ‘Natural Selection favors individuals who successfully manipulate the behavior of other individuals, whether or not this is to the advantage of the manipulated individuals.’ ”



If you haven’t yet read The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying, buy it today. It’s sad and poignant and beautiful, and it’s all true.

Also, Just Mercy, which will infuriate you and embolden you to try to change an unjust America.





















Want to know and understand a true genius? This biography is stunning:





















Two more non-fiction works. I’m a History major so you’ll understand the first, and the second, to help me try to be prepared for whatever’s next:



The loveliest fiction book I read was this one, familiar and sad and one that will stick with me a long time: EXIT WEST

We are all children who lose our parents, all of us, every man and woman and boy and girl, and we too will all be lost by those who come after us and love us, and this loss unites humanity, unites every human being, the temporary nature of our being-ness, and our shared sorrow, the heartache we each carry and yet too often refuse to acknowledge in one another, and out of this Saeed felt it might be possible, in the face of death, to believe in humanity’s potential for building a better world, and so he prayed as a lament, as a consolation, and as a hope, but he felt that he could not express this to Nadia, this mystery that prayer linked him to…”

“Neither much enjoyed catching unexpected glimpses of their former lover’s new existence online, and so they distanced themselves from each other on social networks, and while they wished to look out for each other, and to keep tabs on each other, staying in touch took a toll on them, serving as an unsettling reminder of a life not lived, and also they grew less worried for each other, less worried that the other would need them to be happy, and eventually a month went by without any contact, and then a year, and then a lifetime.”


I tend to get on kicks, either Fiction or Non-Fiction and because Exit West was so beautifully written, I tried several more, each of which I can recommend, either because the story is worth your time or because the author writes so well.

These two, both by Sebastian Barry, are haunting and violent and heartbreaking. A Long Long Way may be the saddest book I’ve ever read:










And The Underground Railroad is brilliant:




















Then a quartet of page-turners. So much to read, so little time. Turn off the TV one night a week, and dive into any of these…