Fear by Bob Woodward – Book

Fear Washington Times

Bob Woodward (of Watergate fame) recently published his exposé of the chaos in the early days of the Trump White House called simply, Fear: Trump in the White House.If you have been paying attention to the news (not Fox) then what you are reading in this book is hardly surprising. You see Steve Bannon come and go. The James Comey drama is in there. You see the contributions of people who played a role in those early days but are now gone, like Hope Hicks and Rob Porter. Tillerson and Trump disagree about foreign policy and Tillerson is replaced by Pompeo. Some of Trump’s fears about the Mueller investigation are covered.

There was a recent article in the NYT’s written by an anonymous source who told us that Trump’s West Wing staff are so worried about Trump’s orders telling them to design documents that will solidify bad policies, orders to place those documents on his desk to be signed, that they delay producing the papers and even remove the documents if they appear on Trump’s desk. They know that Trump’s mind jumps around from one idea to the next and that if the policy document is not placed in front of him he will forget about it (for a while). This is all covered in Woodward’s book. Woodward was there so it helps us feel like we are actually in the Oval Office, flies on the wall, experiencing staff fears in real time.

One of the greatest of all the fears is the one that shows us that someone who formed his policy ideas in some earlier decade, someone as inflexible as Trump, someone unwilling to learn about in-depth intelligence and to apply it to his fondly-held theories, someone unwilling to evolve, to revise old dogma, to encompass new data controls the nuclear codes. People in former administrations did not lightly make nuclear threats in hopes that going nuclear will turn enemies into friends. We don’t usually brag that our nuclear capabilities are greater than those of our enemies although we believe that it is basically understood. Nuclear boasting might backfire and the consequences could be devastating. Sometimes threatening documents, once produced, were removed from presidential proximity before he could sign them, but the fear that surrounds any casual treatment of nuclear weapons is always there.

Bob Woodward is not just making us aware that Trump’s staff lives in fear of Trump inadequacies and belligerent nature; he is telling us that we need to be fearful of a man who is filling a position he does not understand. We need to know that he is running America on ego, calcified opinions, and praise elicited by implied threats (fear). We need to follow Bob Woodward into those rooms in our nation’s White House and watch the slapdash way that business is now conducted daily in America. His account is very readable and the actual meat of the book ends well before the pages do. What follows is a section of photos, some pretty useful end notes, and a detailed index. If you have been paying attention to an in-depth news station like MSNBC it will all be very familiar. What will be different is that this time you are “in the room where it happens”.

The children in this Rainbow Room video offer revealing and very brief reviews of Bob Woodward’s book, reviews that sum things up very well.

https://mashable.com/video/stephen-colbert-reading-rainbow-woodward-trump/#FGlobArRcZqb

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Washington Times

Living Inside Donald’s Mind

living in Donald's mind BBC.com big

It is entirely possible that we Americans are guinea pigs for all the wacky ideas, revelations, and eureka moments that have been fixed for decades in Donald Trump’s mind. If he had never been elected President he would just be an old dude, who was once famous, pontificating about the state of America these days. He would be boring everyone by repeating over and over what he would do about the way America is treated if he could. All within hearing would have to listen to how he, Donald, would renegotiate all the bad deals that had been made on behalf of American. He would drone on and on about how none of those other presidents knew how to get a good deal. He would berate other nations about how badly they have treated America. He would project his sense of victimhood onto the world’s view and treatment of America. But his opinions would carry no weight.

But he is not just some obscure old man; not, as they say on Morning Joe, someone’s crazy uncle who ruins holidays. He is the president of the United States of America and every day we are living in Donald Trump’s brain.

Donald's royal brain big New Statesman

Some of Donald’s pronouncements seem to have been placed in his brain in 1960; some seem a bit more recent. Is this proof that he evolves? Not really. It is perhaps proof that he occasionally finds a new guru. He used to be pro-choice for example, and now is anti-abortion. (In the NYT this week there was an article about what the country will be like without legal abortion.) But once Donald gets something in his brain he is convinced that he has found the exact truth of that particular situation, that only his truth is the truth, and he repeats that “truth” like a parrot. And since he is a narcissist he cannot be convinced to change his mind until he has his next eureka moment (when someone he admires teaches him a new phrase.)

Trump seems to have formed some of his biases against immigrants fairly recently and some he has pontificated about for some time. His bias against Mexicans seems to have been around for a while. The belief that all Mexicans are members of the M-13 gang is perhaps more recent. And yet as a businessman he also swallowed his prejudices and hired the least expensive labor possible, so many Mexicans worked for him and many may have been in the country without having gone through proper channels. Since he often refused to pay his workers, most likely the Mexicans who worked for Donald (who were probably not all Mexicans) did not like him very much either.

Donald’s fear of Muslims is more recent. Those opinions were most likely formed sometime after 9/11. There is no nuance to Donald’s feelings. Once he passes his judgment he believes it absolutely until he doesn’t. Donald sees America as a white and Christian nation and he is setting out to make it so. He feels threatened by the current waves of immigration and his fear is obvious from his big asks for funds for military defense and his desire to buck up our nukes. If Donald is paranoid, America is paranoid, because we now live inside Donald’s head.

Donald's brain big NYT

How badly will we let Trump treat other human beings because Donald feels Mexicans (he calls everyone Mexican, even if they are from other South American countries) are takers. He is convinced that they have trampled all over Americans, stolen jobs (which few Americans want), refused to learn English, and that they are responsible for drug use in America (when it is actually a two-way street).

Perhaps because some poor immigrants are forced to take some pretty menial jobs to survive he forms the opinion that they are without value; they are animals. So, he sees no problem in separating children from parents as if they were kittens on a 1950’s farm. Families who are already running from trauma are being traumatized by a once welcoming nation in order to discourage refugees from seeking legal asylum in America. It is vile, and it puts America in some pretty bad company. America has never used children or women as pawns in either war or peace. When we resort to this kind of behavior we lose all the high ground and we damage the soul of American, once seen as a humane nation. A certain degree of meanness becomes commonplace and acceptable, making it less pleasant and less safe to live in these United States. We are not living in our usual state, the one where we decide American policy by compromise and governance. We are living out Donald Trump’s knee jerk set of principles and pronouncements.

Given his white supremacist leanings he would probably like to eject everyone who is not “white” from America, but he seems to almost understand that he can’t go there. Although when he told the athletes who “take a knee” to love America or leave it, I’m not sure where he thinks they would go. He must remember that they did not all come here by choice. Once I saw what happened inside a slave ship coming to America it made me physically ill. It made me think that reparations might not ever even be enough. And that wretched trip was not the end of the nightmare for once free people sold into slavery. Most slaves were treated like farm machines, possessions that could be kept in minimum comfort, fed because they needed energy to work hard, denied almost any little pleasure, abused sexually, and separated from their loved ones (denied family ties). We should be building a world where slavery is never allowed again but there are still pockets of slavery on our little world. Empathy does not seem to be one of Donald’s personality traits. Donald doesn’t like people who are captured. Still I don’t like to think about the lengths some people might be encouraged to go to in order to make America white again.

I’m not sure Trump ever cared two cents about health care because I doubt he offered it to his employees, but he is now convinced, as right-wingers are, that all government benefits are bad because they hurt business and the economy of America. What will American citizens do without healthcare? We did not have health care after World War II and before. Those were very different times though. Our population was smaller and there was no powerful coalition of doctors, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies (which, ironically was created when employers began offering health insurance. Capitalism deplores a vacuum.) Doctor’s fees were smaller, hospitals charged much less, emergency rooms did not exist. If your family was like mine, trips to the doctor were very rare. Folk remedies were more likely to be the order of the day for lower class Americans, and our life expectancies were much lower than they are now. There were no CAT scans or MRI, no robotic surgeries. Paying our hard-earned dollars into the system has brought some amazing changes to the field of medicine. Too bad we have to sell our futures to use them. Too bad our dollars were used to create drugs that have turned us into addicts. Meanwhile, inside Donald’s head it goes something like this – Me Donald, me think that all these government programs bad – they cost too much – me no like – cut them. Spend money on something like guns and nukes and a wall so Muslims can’t pour over our southern border to pillage and control us.

Donald was always a misogynist, although he would say, with a leer, that he loves women. But women are only useful to Donald as playmates and decoration, something beautiful to admire like a work of art in a museum. For Donald women with a brain, but who do not possess the ideal beauty that the world admires, might as well be men. However, they are not men. They are weaker than men. Donald does not admire people who are weak. Therefore women should stay home, exercise and avoid food, take care of the children, act as eye candy, but they should never involve themselves in men’s business, or govern nations. If they attempt to take over the roles of men they are to be humiliated or ignored, unless they are exceptionally beautiful, and then they should be ravished. In Donald’s simple brain, with its few and absolute rules, this is a man’s world.

Donald's brain burger big notello.com

Donald’s view of women affects his view (he has only the one) on foreign entities. He likes people who are strong. Women can’t be strong. Therefore, he like nations ruled by strong, ostensibly virile men; men like him. He made an assessment that our friends, our allies have been bad to us. They have abused American generosity, complained about our help (meddling) and they bad-mouth us too. What the world needs is a friendly coalition of nations ruled by men who will take no guff from anyone, who will protect their boundaries and throw out anyone who doesn’t belong, and then go off and feast and perform a manly sword dance. He probably plays that Saudi tape over and over while he scarfs down his cheeseburgers and smiles.

Donald's brain big Bigger Fatter POlitics

Some pundits are giving credit to Trump for the rise in Nationalism and xenophobia in Europe. Although his willingness to telegraph views similar to the populism in Europe perhaps gives other leaders permission to own attitudes that once were kept on the down low, the populism in Europe most likely is based on the flood of refugees arriving from the Middle East and especially Syria. Eastern European nations are barely recovered from their sojourn behind the Iron Curtain and they often merely tolerate the various groups within their rather unnatural post-war boundaries. Being flooded by people with no economic advantages to offer, who speak a different language and adhere to a different religion is a real problem they deal with every day. In Western Europe, where national identity is more secure, refugees are still creating many new problems for leaders to solve. Deportation is not really an option for these refugees because their own country has been devastated and is still at war. One could almost believe that Bashar Al Assad and Putin devised this war on purpose to throw the European Union into disarray. On the other hand Trump’s fears of being inundated with “others” is only imagined. He will not offer to have America share the dilemma of European nations that he labels as stingy. Besides, that would ruin any chance for a white, Christian America.

This is the guy who is running our country. We are just lackeys who act out the contents of his uncrowded mind. The rules are simple. You get no real prize if you obey Donald’s rules. You get his loyalty until it becomes inconvenient to offer it, or you no longer deserve it. You are a subject, nothing more, a contestant on the show called Donald Knows Best. We are all living in Donald Trump’s head, but his head has no use at all for most of us. We are here mainly so he can tell us how great his ideas are and so we can admire him when mighty observations he has concocted prove as accurate and effective as he tells us they are. We are Trump’s guinea pigs. We are living out any old thought or executive decision that happens to lodge itself in his psyche on any given day. Yikes!

May 2018 Book List

May 2018 Book List

Books with Glasses big

I did not include all the interesting lists from editors, publisher’s and readers for Summer Reading suggestions but you might want to Google them. Some people like to choose a long and meaty selection that will occupy them for most of the summer, some people like lighter fare, such as romances or stories that happen near beaches, some want thrillers or detective stories. We are so rich in writers and good books that it should not be difficult to find something engrossing to read while you soak up sun (or lounge in dappled shade).

Amazon

Literature and Fiction

A Shout in the Ruins by Kevin Powers

Alternative Remedies for Loss by Joanna Cantor

Pretend I’m Dead by Jen Beagin

My Ex-Life: A Novel by Stephen McCauley

Tomb of the Unknown Racist by Blanche McCrary Boyd

The Mars Room: A Novel by Rachel Kusher

Warlight: A Novel by Michael Ondaatje

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Mr. Flood’s Last Resort by Jess Kidd

Love and Ruin by Paula McClain

Mysteries and Thriller

The Mars Room: A Novel by Rachel Kushner

Star of the North by D B John

It Ends with Her by Brianna Labuskes

The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll

Wicked River: A Novel by Jenny Milchman

How it Happened by Michael Koryta

The Dark Angel (Ruth Galloway Mysteries) by Elly Griffiths

Cult X by Fuminori Nakamura, Kalau Almony

Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall

The Outsider by Stephen King

A Million Drops by Victor de Ánbol, Lisa Dillman

Biographies and Memoirs

Paul Simon: The Life by Robert Hilburn

From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia by Michael McFaul

The Electric Woman: A Memoir of Death-Defying Acts by Tessa Fontaine

Robin by Dave Itzkoff

Figures in a Landscape: People and Places by Paul Theroux

Spring by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Tip of the Iceberg: My 3,000-Mile Journey Around Wild Alaska, The Last Great American Frontier by Mark Adams

The Destiny Thief: Essays on Writing, Writers and Life by Richard Russo

Kickflip Boys: A Memoir of Freedom, Rebellion, and the Chaos of Fatherhood by Neal Thompson

The Last Cowboys: A Pioneer Family in the New West by John Branch

Nonfiction

Talking to my Daughter About the Economy or, How Capitalism Works – and How it Fails by Yanis Varoufakis

Bull Shit Jobs: A Theory by David Graebar

Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America by James Fellows, Deborah Fellows

Men in Blazers Present Encyclopedia Blazertannica: A Suboptimal Guide to Soccer, America’s Sport of the Future since 1972 by Roger Bennett, Michael Davies

Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics by Stephen Greenblatt PhD

The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli

The Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia by Mark Galeotti

The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World by Simon Winchester

Sex Money Murder: A Story of Crack, Blood, and Betrayal by Jonathan Green

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock by Steven Hyden

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence by Michael Pollan

Kickflip Boys by Neal Thompson

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson

Into the Raging Sea: Thirty-Three Mariner’s, One Megastorm and the Sinking of El Faro by Rachel Slade

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Only Human (The Themis Files) by Sylvain Neuvel

The Plastic Magician (A Paper Magician Novel) by Charlie N. Holmberg

Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Furyborn (The Empiricum Trilogy) by Claire Legrand

Medusa Uploaded (The Medusa Cycle) by Emily Devenport

In the Region of the Summer Stars (Eirlandia) by Stephen R. Lawhead

Dark Queen (Jane Yellowstone) by Faith Hunter

Artificial Condition: The Murderbot  Diaries by Martha Wells

The Poppy War: A Novel by R F Kuang

King of the Ashes: Book One of the Firemane Saga by Raymond E Feist

Time Was by Ian McDonald

 

NY Times Book Review

 

Apr. 8

Fiction

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

Gun Love by Jennifer Clement

Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

Nonfiction

Russian Roulette by Michael Isikoff and David Corn

Educated by Tara Westover

Blue Dreams by Lauren Slater

Never Remember by Masha Gessen and Misha Friedman

Alt-Right by Mike Wendling

No Turning Back by Rania Abouzeid

I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O’Farrell

The Food Explorer by Daniel Stone

The Making of a Dream by Laura Wides-Muñoz

Watch One with the Gipper: An Aide Recalls Movie Nights with the Reagans by Mark Weinberg

Apr. 13

Fiction

Overstory by Richard Powers

The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman

Stray City by Chelsey Johnson

American Histories by John Edgar Wideman

The Sandman by Lars Kepler

The Ghost Notebooks by Ben Donick

Summer Hours at the Robbers Library by Sue Halpern

Crime Fiction

The Cutting Edge by Jeffrey Deaver

Twenty-One Days by Anne Perry

Black and White Ball by Loren D. Estleman

Greeks Bearing Gifts by Philip Kerr

Nonfiction

A Higher Loyalty by James Comey

Thinking Without a Banister by Hannah Arendt (essays)

The Marshall Plan by Benn Steil

The Art of Screen Time by Anya Kamenetz

Be the Parent, Please by Naomi Schaefer Riley

To Change the Church by Ross Douthat

A Dangerous Woman by Susan Ronald

Apr. 20

Fiction

Macbeth by Jo Nesbo

The Bible of Dirty Jokes by Eileen Pollack

The Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser

Happiness by Aminatta Forna

Paris Metro by Wendall Steavenson

Anatomy of a Miracle by Jonathan Miles

Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Daniel Mallory Ortberg

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

The Queens of Innishear by Tessa Gratton

Nonfiction

Who We Are and How We Got Here by David Reich

On Grand Strategy by John Lewis Gaddes

Picasso and the Painting that Shocked the World by Miles J Unger

The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison

Look Alive Out There (essays) by Sloane Crosley

Maker of Patterns by Freeman Dyson

Apr. 27

Fiction

Going for a Beer by Robert Coover

The Only Story by Julian Barnes

If We Had Known by Elise Juska

How to Be Safe by Tom McAllister

Census by Jesse Ball

Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff by Sean Penn

Nonfiction

God Save Texas by Lawrence Wright

State of Resistance by Manuel Pastor

The Promise and the Dream by David Margolick

Make Trouble (Memoir) by Cecile Roberts

The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos by Christian Davenport

Rocket Billionaires: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the New Space Race by Tim Fernholz

Sharp: The Women Who Make an Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean

Wrestling with the Devil by Ngugiwa Thiong’o

The Beekeeper by Dunya Mikhail

 

Publisher’s Weekly

Apr. 6

Dictionary Stories by Jez Burrows (F)

Sharp: The Women Who Make an Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean (NF)

The Cutting Edge: A Lincoln Rhyme Novel by Jeffrey Deaver (F)

The Dark Clouds Shining (last in a quartet) by David Downing

The Plant Messiah: Adventures in Search of the World’s Rarest Species by Carlos Magdalena (NF)

Circe by Madeline Miller (F)

Blackfish City by Sam J Miller (F)

A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee (F)

Demi-gods by Eliza Robertson (F)

Apr. 13

Beyond the Map: Unruly Enclaves, Ghostly Places, Emerging Lands and Our Search for New Utopias by Alastair Bonnett

The Little Art(Memoir) by Kate Briggs

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee (NF)

The Art of the Wasted Day by Patricia Hampl (F)

The Human Instinct: How we Evolvedto Have Reason,Consciousness, and Free Will by Kenneth Miller (NF)

Postcards from Auschwitz by Daniel P Reynolds (NF)

Foxby Dubravka Ugresic trans. From the Croatian by Elias-Bursac and David Williams (F)

Apr. 20

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World by Steve Brusatte (NF)

Companions by Christina Hesselholdt, trans from the Danish, by Paul Russell Garnett (NF)

The Pope Who Would Be King: The Exile of Pius IX and the Emergence of Modern Europe by David I Kertzer (NF)

Beneath the Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found by Gilbert King (NF)

Theory of the Bastards by Audrey Schulman (F)

Property by Lionel Shriver (F)

You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld (F)

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History of the Century by Kirk W Johnson (F)

The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamarlya and Elizabeth Weil (F)

The Art of Reading (Essays) by Damon Young (NF)

Apr. 30

The Optimistic Decade by Heather Abel (F)

Slave Old Man by Patrick Chamoiseau, trans from the French and Creoleby Linda Coverdale (F)

Sorority by Genevieve Sly Crane (F)

The Electric Women: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts by Tessa Fontaine

Alter Ego: A Jonathan Stride Novel by Brian Freeman (F)

Motherhood by Sheila Heti (F)

Tradition by Brendan Kiely (F-YA)

Beauty in the Broken Places: A Memoir of Love, Faith, and Resilience(Memoir) by Allison Pataki

Exit Strategy by Charlton Pettus (F)

Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna by Edith Sheffer (NF)

Into the Raging Sea: Thirty-Three Mariners One Megastorm, and the Sinking of El Faro by Rachel Slade (NF)

Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto by Alan Stern and David Grinspoon (NF)

 

 

 

 

How Democracies Die by Levitsky and Ziblatt – Book

 

How democracies die big Chicago Humanities FestivalSteven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt wrote How Democracies Die. They were challenged to complete this book project by their agent Jill Kneerim. They did so with help from their student research assistants who are listed in the acknowledgments. It is a book that tries to analyze how much danger we are in of losing our democracy at this current moment in time. It begins with a story about Benito Mussolini and ends with references to the goings-on in the Trump/Republican administration, the 2016 primaries, and in the campaign of 2016. In the middle the authors look at a number of “political outsiders” who “came into power from the inside via elections or alliances with powerful political figures.” They take us through the rise of Adolf Hitler, Getúlio Vargas in Brazil, Alberto Fujimori in Peru and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. They say, “in each instance, elites believed the invitation to power would containthe outsider, leading to a restoration of control by mainstream politicians. But their plans backfired. A lethal mix of ambition, fear, and miscalculation conspired to lead them to the same fateful mistake: willingly handing over the keys of power to an autocrat-in-the-making.”

Although the authors remind us that America has had no shortage of authoritarian personalities in politics we also, they explain, have had “gatekeepers”, first in the form of powerful men in smoke-filled rooms and later in the form of political parties, conventions and the electoral college which kept authoritarianism in check, possibly with the sacrifice of some of the “will of the people”. They go on to explain that the primary system opened elections up to “outsiders” who had not come up from the ranks of government. Two factors weakened the gatekeepers, one being the availability of outside money (Citizen’s United) and two being the “explosion of alternative media”. “It was like a game of Russian roulette: The chances of an extremist outsider capturing the presidential nomination were higher than ever before in history.”

There were signs as early as the primaries that Trump might represent dangers for our democratic government.

  1. He would not say whether he would accept the results of the election
  2. He denied the legitimacy of his opponents
  3. He show a tolerance for and encouragement of violence
  4. He exhibited a readiness to curtail civil liberties of rivals and critics

The authors tell us that “No other major presidential candidate in modern U.S. history, including Nixon, has demonstrated such a weak public commitment to constitutional rights and democratic norms.” They offer evidence for each point they make. They also say that Republicans closed ranks behind Trump and normalized the election results.

Throughout their interesting and well-researched book we are shown examples of instances when outsiders have gradually and, sometimes, almost invisibly, sometimes rather violently taken the reins of power from the “referees” such as the courts, or the congresses of government, bought off their opponents, subverted the media, and have ended up with absolute control, thus ending a democracy. We can see where the authors are headed. They want to warn us that our democracy also could die such a death, just sliding into authoritarianism one baby step at a time. Here we look at Erdogan in Turkey and the Orbán government in Hungary and many more.

“Even well-designed constitutions cannot, by themselves, guarantee democracy,” say the authors. Successful democracies rely on informal rules, they add. “Two norms stand out as fundamental to a functioning democracy: mutual toleration and institutional forbearance.” The rest of the book shows us how these two norms are no longer functioning or are being eroded. In the end they explore our possible futures under Trump, but even if he is not the one who destroys our democracy it seems as if it has never been more threatened and it is good time to have a blueprint of what cues we should look for. Knowing when to put on the brakes or when the brakes will no longer functions could be very important either in the near or the more distant future.

Although this book seems scholarly and is constructed according to academic principles it is very readable. The language is not at all obscure and the examples of other nations who have lost their democratic government to a dictatorial government are interesting with easy-to-draw parallels. How Democracies Die should, perhaps, be required reading given where we find ourselves right now in America. It is the very best kind of thriller, the real kind.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – Book

There are not many family sagas that are non-European but Min Jin Lee has added Pachinko to the genre. Sunja Baek is the Korean woman that we follow to Japan. Hooni and Yongji are her parents, poor Koreans who carve out a viable economic space for themselves in the years just before the Japanese come to occupy the Korean Peninsula (in 1910, prior to Europe’s first world war). Hooni is born with a hair lip and does not expect to marry, but he has strength and personality. Yongji is old enough as a single woman to believe she will never marry. Sunja is their only living daughter. She is no great beauty but she has the allure of youth and she is pursued with some patient skill by Koh Hansu, who only visits Korea, but actually lives in Japan. When she tells him she is pregnant he offers to support her but tells her he cannot marry her.

Sunja and her mother run a boarding house for fishermen which is popular because her mother is a great cook. Izak Baek comes to their boarding house very ill, having just arrived in their village on the ferry. He is a Christian minister, going to Japan to take up a post in his brother’s congregation. He most likely has consumption (TB to us) and is not strong. When he learns of Sunja’s pregnancy he asks her to marry him and come to Japan with him. Sunja is reluctant to go because Koh Hansu lives in the very city where they will go to live but she has few options.

Sunja has a son, named Noah and another son named Mozasu (after Moses). Christians are outlawed in Japan and Koreans are looked upon as dogs so the family lives in what is basically the Korean ghetto. Sunja’s husband Isak is arrested and thrown in jail for preaching Christianity. His health problems make this particularly punitive for him. By the time he gets out of jail he is in very bad shape indeed. According to this author, the Japanese do not feel any foreign people are fine enough to be accepted by the Japanese people. This is the same attitude, seven decades later, that Sunja’s grandson Solomon encounters when he returns from school in America to work in Japan.

Noah, Sunja and Izak’s first child,  is actually the son of Koh Hansu. Hansu climbs the power ladder in Japan, but as a yakuza, so he is considered a criminal type, like a member of a mafia. Noah does not know this man is his father. Noah is very bright and longs to go to college in Japan. Hansu makes sure Noah is able to do as he wishes but there are repercussions and, in a sense, Sunja pays for her sins. The second son meets a Korean mentor who runs several Pachinko parlors. Pachinko is a game similar to pinball but it also involves gambling, so our equivalent of a Pachinko parlor is a casino. Many owners are criminals but Mozasu’s mentor runs his businesses cleanly. Eventually this second son owns three Pachinko parlors of his own and the family no longer has to worry about money.

This book covers the generations of this family growing up in Japan between 1910 and 1989. These Korean people never become Japanese citizens because, in fact, even if an immigrant from Korea does become a naturalized citizen, Koreans must carry passports from South Korea. The family may be fictional but the events they live through are not. This follows the form we are used to in most family sagas.

Sunja lives with Izak’s brother Joseph and his wife and it is the lives of the two couples and their offspring that we follow for seven decades and through two world wars. This novel requires an investment in time but the history covered is new to most of us and interesting because of it.

I listened to this book on Audible as I was able to use a credit to read it in that format without cost. The narrator had a clear voice but she was so sweet she did not always seem appropriate in times when life got bitter for the family. There is also some graphic sex in the last section of the book which seemed odd when read in the same tone as the rest. The sexual scenes were there for a reason but were quite jarring juxtaposed against the rest of the content. Even when Sunja had her illicit relationship with Koh Hansu the encounters were not at all graphic (of course Sunja’s experiences were in 1910 and Hannah’s experiences were in the 1980’s). Still I think if this was used as a book club selection readers would need to be forewarned about what to expect. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is a book that is growing on me now that I have finished reading it. It is vivid enough to be memorable but has a sort of sparseness that makes it better as history than as literature.

March 2018 Book List

March 2018 Book List

 

This month we find a long list of topics covered by authors of newly released books. In this March 2018 book list there is sure to be something here for everyone: Physics, the 60’s, Virtual Reality, Romance, China, Paris, Food,  Sex Toys, Justice Marshall, Eisenhower, Hippies and Food, Kids these days, Kennedy women, Doctor books, Factories, Seppuku, Racism and much more including a perennial favorite, crime fiction. Happy reading. If we could only inject books directly into our brain – although, as with everything, there would be disadvantages I’m sure.

Amazon

Literature and Fiction

 

Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

The Sparshot Affair by Alan Hollinghurst

Gun Love: A Novel by Jennifer Clement

The Italian Teacher: A Novel by Tom Rachman

The Adulterants by Joe Dunthome

Trenton Makes: A Novel by Tadzio Zoelb

Laura and Emma by Kate Greathead

Girls Burn Brighter: A Novel by Shobha Rao

Whiskey and Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea

Gods of Howl Mountain: A Novel by Taylor Brown

The Cloister: A Novel by James Carroll

 

Biographies and Memoirs

 

Disappointment River: Finding and Losing the Northwest Passage by Brian Castner

Twentieth Century Boy: Notebooks of the Seventies by Duncan Hannah

Just the Funny Parts…and a Few Hard Facts about Sneaking into the Hollywood Boy’s Club by Nell Scovell

Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life by Laura Thompson

Patriot Number One American Dreams in Chinatown by Lauren Hilgers

Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Life, and the Fight for Trans Equality by Sarah McBride, Joe Biden

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara, Gillian Flynn (Intro), Patton Oswalt (Afterword

Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet by Claire L. Evans

The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950’s by William I. Hitchcock

A Season in the Sun: The Rise of Mickey Mantle by Randy Roberts, Johnny Smith

 

Mysteries and Thrillers

 

Crimson Lake: A Novel by Candice Fox

The Flight Attendant: A Novel by Chris Bohjalian

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano, John Brownjohn

Barbed Wire Heart by Tess Sharpe

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

High White Sun by J. Todd Scott

Bone Music (The Burning Girl Series) by Christopher Rice

The Punishment She Deserves: A Lynley Novel by Elizabeth George

Chicago: A Novel by David Mamet

The Temptation of Forgiveness: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery by Donna Leon

Green Sun by Kent Anderson

 

Nonfiction

 

What is Real? The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics by Adam Becker

To the Edges of the Earth: 1909: the Race for Three Poles and the Climax of the Age of Exploration by Edward J. Larsen

The Last Wild Man of Borneo: A True Story of Death and Treasure by Carl Hoffman

Walking the Americas: !800 Miles, Eight Countries and One Incredible Journey from Mexico to Columbia by Levison Wood

Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 by Ryan H Walsh

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker

The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos by Christian Davenport

Atom Land: A Guided Tour through the Strange (and Impossibly Small) World of Particle Physics by Jon Butterworth

The Wisdom of Wolves: Lessons from the Saw Tooth Pack by Jim Dutcher, Jamie Dutcher

 

Science Fiction and Fantasy

 

The Coincidence Makers: A Novel by Yoav Blum

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

The Wonder Engine: Clocktaur War Book 2 by T. Kingfisher

Children of Blood and Bones (Legacy of Orïsha) by Tomi Adeyemi

The Warrior Within by Angus McIntyre

Blood of the Four by Christopher Golden, Tim Lebbon

High Voltage (Fever) by Karen Marie Moning

Burn Bright (Alpha and Omega) by Patricia Briggs

Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins

Lake Silence (The World of the Others) by Anne Bishop

 

New York Times Book Review

Feb. 4th

Fiction

 

In Every Moment We Are Alive by Tom Malmquist

Munich by Robert Harris

The Afterlives by Thomas Pierce

Little Reunions by Eileen Chang

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

 

Crime Novels

 

The Gatekeeper by Charles Todd

The Wanted by Robert Crais

Mephisto Waltz by Frank Tallis

The Undertaker’s Daughter by Sara Blaedel

 

Nonfiction

 

Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality by Jaron Lanier

Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How it Works, and What it Can Do by Jeremy Bailenson

The Wizard and the Prophet by Charles C. Mann

The Road to Sleeping Dragon by Michael Meyer

Nine Continents by Xiaolu Guo

To Fight Against This Age by Rob Riemen

The Saboteur by Paul Kix

L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home by David Lebovitz

A Taste of Paris: A History of the Parisian Love Affair with Food by David Downie

Eating Eternity: Food, Art, and Literature in France by John Baxter

 

Feb. 11th (for Valentine’s Day)

Fiction

 

Sunburn by Laura Lippman

Endless Summer by Madame Nielsen

Some Hell by Patrick Nathan

Straying by Molly McCloskey

The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin

The Art of Vanishing by Laura Smith

My Last Love Story by Falguni Kothari

Our Lady of the Prairie by Thisbe Nissen

Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella

 

Romances

 

Devil in Tartan by Julia London

One and Only by Jenny Holiday

Promise Not to Tell by Judith Krentz

Duke in Shining Armor by Loretta Chase

A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole

 

Nonfiction

 

The Kiss by Brian Turner

Getting Off by Erica Garza

Buzz: The Stimulating History of the Sex Toy By Hallie Lieberman

Vibrator Nation: How Feminist Sex-Toy Stores Changed the Business of Pleasure by Lynn Comella

 

Feb. 18th

Fiction

 

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

The Maze at Windermere by Gregory Blake Smith

Peculiar Ground by Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Ferlinghetti’s Greatest Poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

In Black and White by Junichiro Tanizaki

 

Crime Fiction

 

Down the River Unto the Sea by Walter Mosley

The Unforgotten by Laura Powell

The Woman in the Water by Charles Finch

The Policeman’s Daughter by Trudy Nan Boyce

 

Nonfiction

 

Directorate S by Steve Loll

Hippie Food by Jonathan Kauffman

Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millenials by Malcolm Harris

The Selfie Generation: How Our Self Images are Changing Our Nation’s Privacy, Sex, Consent, and Culture by Alicia Eles

iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebelious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood by Jean M. Twenge

The Ukranian Night by Marci Shore

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara, intro by Gillian Flynn, afterword by Patton Oswalt

 

Feb. 25th

Nonfiction

 

Time Pieces by John Banville

Feel Free by Zadie Smith

When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors

Up, Up, Down, Down by Cheston Knapp

Smoketown by Mark Whitaker

Jackie, Janet, and Lee by J. Randy Taraborrelli

The New Negro by Jeffrey C.Stewart

The Real Life of the Parthenon by Patricia Vigderman

 

Fiction

 

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (Oprah’s Book Club Pick)

The Boat People by Sharon Bala

A Beautiful Woman by Juliàn López

A Girl in Exile by Ishmail Kadare

 

Domestic Thrillers

 

Need to Know by Karen Cleveland

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Girl Unknown by Karen Perry

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

 

Mar. 2nd

 

Nonfiction

 

Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker

Eat the Apple by Matt Young

Political Tribes by Amy Chua

It’s Better Than It Looks by Gregg Easterbrook

The Rub of Time by Martin Amis

The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú

Happiness is a Choice You Make by John Leland

Tears of Salt: A Doctor’s Story by Pietro Bartolo and Lidia Tilotta

In Shock: My Journey From Death to Recovery and the Redemptive Power of Hope by Rana Awdish

The Narrow Space: A Pediatric Oncologist, His Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Patients, and a Hospital in Jerusalem by Elisha Waldman

Becoming Myself: A Psychiatrist’s Memoir by Irvin D Yalom

 

Fiction

 

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

The Invention of Ana by Mikkel Rosengaard

Neon in Daylight by Hermione Hoby

Daphne by Will Boast

 

Crime Fiction

 

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

The Plea by Steve Cavanagh

The Day She Disappeared by Christobel Kent

 

Publisher’s Weekly

Feb 16th

 

Napa at Last Light: America’s Eden in an Age of Calamity by James Conaway

I’ll Stay by Karen Day

Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson

Sunburn by Laura Lippman

Down the River Unto the Sea by Walter Mosley

Without Precedent: Chief Justice Marshall and His Times by Joel Richard Paul

What the Night Sings by Vesper Stamper

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

 

Feb 26th

 

The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington

A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena

A Good Day for Seppuku by Kate Braverman

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper

Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World by Joshua B. Freeman

Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther, and the Fight for the Western Mind by Michael Massing

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

Silver Girl: A Novel by Leslie Pietrzyk

We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights by Adam Winkler

Eat the Apple: A Memoir by Matt Young

 

Mar 2nd

 

The Poet X: A Novel by Elizabeth Acevebo

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Census: A Novel by Jesse Ball

A Tokyo Romance: A Memoir by Ian Buruma

In Search of Us by Ava Dellaira

The Family Medici: The Hidden History of the Medici Dynasty by Mary Hollingsworth

Speak No Evil: A Novel by Uzodinma Iweala

The Infernal Library: On Dictators, The Books they Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy by Daniel Kalder

The Sandman: A Joona Linna Novel by Lars Kepler

The Escape Artist: A Thriller by Brad Meltzer

3 Kings: Diddy, Dr. Dre, Jay Z and Hip Hop’s Multibillion-Dollar Rise by Zack O’Malley

Woman’s Hour: The Last Furious Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine Weiss

God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State by Laurence Wright

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – Book

 

In a book peopled by many ghosts and few living people George Saunders writes a thoughtful book that reminds me of one of those black and white photographs with only one spot of color. Perhaps a splash of bright red or saffron yellow.

Abe Lincoln (and Mary Todd Lincoln) lost their son Willie Lincoln in 1862, probably from typhoid fever. Willie was eleven. The Lincoln’s had planned a grand party to show off the new White House décor. No expense was spared and hundreds of important people had been invited. In such a situation, do you go ahead and have the party with your little son so sick upstairs? If you are the President you must and you do, even though you know some people will think you made the wrong choice. Given that the Civil War had already begun, people’s reactions to the party were bound to be emotional even if guests did not know about the illness of Lincoln’s son.

Thus begins Lincoln in the Bardo, the first full length novel by George Saunders. On the night of the party we are introduced to one of the unusual literary devices used in this amazing book, a book that breaks new ground for fiction. The author begins quoting from some of the many Lincoln books. Each quote describes the sky on the night of the party. The descriptions are not at all consistent. Some describe a clear night with a brilliant moon. Others say the night sky was cloudy and there was no moon. Some actually recall that it was a stormy night.

The narrator uses actual quotes and avoids footnotes by telling the source, title and author as part of the story. If an author is quoted again, we get a name and an “op cit”. There are a lot of “op cit-s” in this novel, adding a sense of authenticity. You might worry that this would be deadly as a device in a novel, but somehow it isn’t, and that is part of the genius of this unusual book.

Willie Lincoln, history tells us, does not recover. He dies so young. His father is distraught.

But what is “the Bardo”? The internet tells me that in some forms of Buddhism this describes an existence between life and death. Saunders puts quite a Christian spin on this, almost like purgatory. Once Willie is laid to rest in a crypt at the cemetery his little body/soul comes forth to join the many other souls who are clinging to what they know (as much as the sort of half-life in that place bears any similarity to real life) because their human failings make them afraid to “go on”.

The Bardo is full of souls, of all classes, and all genders, all ages, and many professions. Many alliances are formed in the Bardo. Three souls in particular are our guides to the Bardo in this particular cemetery. But there are no children here. Children usually “go on” right away. However, Lincoln and Willie are so fond of each other that Willie cannot bring himself to go, and Lincoln cannot bring himself to let go.

Do souls in limbo have feelings? Is there still some sense of good and bad in the Bardo? The shades are genuinely worried about the fact that Willie is staying for his father’s sake. Bad things happen to children who stay in the Bardo. What duty do the shades take on and how does that work out? The reader gets to think long and hard about the nature of death and the after effects of decisions we make in our lives, although the denizens of the Bardo never use any words that might make death seem real. We also get to think about what might have happened if Lincoln had given in to his grief and had been unable to govern well in the critical situation of that moment in time.

I listened to the book on Audible, read by an enormous cast of some pretty well known people. This made the Bardo “come alive”. (Sorry for the double meaning.) I have to caution that not everyone in the Bardo is “quite the thing” so some of the language and the deeds get too inappropriate for children, the folks at the gym, or the neighbors to hear, especially out of context. Headphones might be a good option.

This is a unique book offering several more breaks from “life” in the Bardo to quote from the abundant Lincoln literature with plenty of “op cit-s”. If you sometimes give up on fiction because it seems there may be no new stories to tell or no new ways to tell stories, George Saunders’ book Lincoln in the Bardo will make you question that notion. Saunders book is poignant and profound; thoughtful and thought-provoking.

This site gives a list of characters and also a list of the cast on the Audible version of this book.

http://www.penguinrandomhouseaudio.com/lincolninthebardo