Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 Book List: THB goes for 100

How THB's used hospital devices were put to good use this holiday season
2016 Book List
Note: Kindle version unless otherwise noted. Non-fiction unless (novel) is appended.

Department of Clarification (only a year old): THB read and included How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer (read in hardback) in the 2015 list (Top Picks, no less), not realizing that the book had been recalled due to accusations of plagiarism. No wonder there’s no Kindle version! In any case, THB unintentionally hedged when he included the following summary (quoting his own work without attribution was one of Lehrer’s flaws): “…you’re six years smarter now than Jonah was when he did the compilation.” THB is now seven (or is it 8?) years smarter?

Department of Analysis: For you analytics, THB is here for you as 13 of the 14 top picks are non-fiction, six by women. The top two books are connected in that Strangers in Their Own Land (read in late December) several times indirectly references A Field Philosopher’s Guide (read in January, written earlier), and each starts with a focus on the environment before becoming something much larger.
Does cataract surgery make it easy to read? You bet! THB is reading "books on paper" again
The chart at the bottom give just dry statistics, showing as always a balanced reading between fiction and non-fiction. THB included some recommendations on documentaries (or mockumentaries) that go well with some of the books (or vice versa). Overall, THB thinks he spends about 60-65% of his time reading non-fiction: its slower and in general it’s easier for THB to give on a novel going nowhere. Given the political nature of 2016, a tough year for women, the turmoil of the Middle East, and eco-catastrophe running amok, this may have been even more of an extreme non-fiction year.

And, many of the books in the Recommended Category could just as well been in the Top Books Category. While there were more Not Recommended books this year, there was also a very high quality level among the top 56 books.

Where THB did a lot of reading
Top picks (14)
Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, Arlie Hochshild: Louisiana is the focus of this five year research program, with an emphasis on the environment and how individuals and the state react to the damage being done: much shorter lives, much less spent on health and education services (with huge tax incentives given to big corporations), larger state debt, and anger and resentment over the fading hopes of attaining the American dream.  A well thought out insight to how D J Trump became president. THB’s conclusion:  many Red states are being led to destitution by major corporate interests and voting in people that are impoverishing their lives, and there’s nothing the Blue states can do to stop it (in fact, the anger and resentment of the loss of the American Dream is moving traditionally Blue states Red). Will alignment of the three branches of government and these same corporations move more of the Blue states closer to destitution as well?

A Field Philosopher’s Guide to Fracking: How One Texas Town Stood up to Big Oil and Gas, Adam Briggle: Yes, the author is a field philosopher (what the hell is that?) and got involved in a city overrun by wells being fracked for natural gas extraction next to residences, public parks and near schools, which resulted in a ballot measure to ban fracking inside the city limits. Not good: pollution, noise, destroying the water aquifers, sick locals. Big money vs local indignation; health vs mineral rights. Briggle lays out the issues between precautionary (heavy analysis before action) and proactionary (nothing gets done without acting) viewpoints (this must be the philosophy part). THB wishes we were more precautionary when it comes to innovation (see the 40 Years On post), and here are Briggle’s 3 commandments (and ones that THB heartily endorses):
1.    Those most vulnerable to the unintended harms must give their consent to the risk, or at the very least be compensated for any harms done
2.    There must be a robust monitoring system and learnings established
3.    The original innovation must be readily renovated based on learnings
A great story, a light touch with the philosophy lectures, a state sorely tilted to letting oil and gas companies have their way with the citizens, and a terrific outcome (sure to be appealed, Note: In May 2015, Texas passed a law that disallows local governments like Briggle’s from banning fracking). For the fictional version, read Heat and Light (see Recommended category)

Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, Kate Bolick: The essence of the book is captured right at the end: “Are women people yet? Are we finally ready for a young woman to set out on the long road of her life as a human being who inhabits but isn’t limited by her gender?” An intriguing mix of feminism and one woman’s story of reaching for a fulfilling life not based on marriage. Skip the (very short) part of her discussing a dream with her therapist (THB’s worst doubleheader).

Lab Girl, Hope Jahrens: a memoir by a geobiologist. The struggles of being a woman in a male dominated field, struggling with bipolar, finding two life partners while disassociating from her family. The science descriptions are fascinating as well while not dwelling on the eco-catastrophe of the last 70 years of global warming. Goes well with Spinster and Paris, He Said.

In the Darkroom, Susan Faludi: The story of Faludi’s father, who late in life transitioned to a woman and moved back to the place of his/her birth, Budapest. Faludi integrates her family history with Hungarian history and her father’s life: living through the Holocaust, turning his back on his parents, emigrating to Denmark, Brazil and America, starting a family, his divorce, and finally bringing us to her father’s death and the virulent resurrected extreme right, anti-Semitic Hungary of 2015. Especially poignant as THB was reading the book through the last weeks of the US presidential election.

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape, James Rebanks: A year of raising sheep in the Lake District of England. Elegantly told in short chapters, presenting the value in doing a job well while illustrating the numerous nuances in something as “straightforward” as shepherding on a small farm in a long-established tight-knit and competitive community. What is more rewarding than a sense of accomplishment?

Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help, Larissa MacFarquhar: Right up THB’s alley: philosophy, human nature, comments on fiction, and extreme behaviors (yes, do-gooding is an extreme behavior). A few chapters appeared in the NY’er. If you’re thinking about charity or having to make a choice of saving someone you love vs two (three? four?) strangers drowning in shallow water, read this book.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, William Finnegan: A memoir, Bill is about 3 years younger than THB, and his descriptions of a wanderlust and surfing life sound current and forceful, immediate. THB had read the early days in the NY’er, and the background of several other articles THB had read resonated as well. Won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize.

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery, Henry Marsh: irreverent look at (British) neurosurgery, hospitals, and a variety of ailments. Quick read and in some chapters you’ll recognize various illnesses that you know someone has suffered from or identify as something you suffer from, and many chapters where you’ll identify with administrative snafus. Watch the documentary!

The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunites, Emma Sky: Somehow, a young British woman with experience in the Middle East working for NGOs gets embedded with the US military at the highest levels as a political officer (i.e., someone telling truth to power) in Iraq during the period where Saddam is ousted and there's an attempt to nation build. She's co-opted: there's a truism that you shouldn't bother doing well that which shouldn't be done at all. As a reader, it is great to see what the US was attempting and how someone believed it might succeed.

Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War, Anthony Shahid: Published in 2005, a terrific summary of just before and the immediate aftermath (1-2 years) after the Iraq war was started. Shows a deep understanding of how the Iraqis went from appreciating the overthrow of Saddam to quickly seeing the US as a conqueror / occupying force rather than as a liberator and thus unleashing sectarian strife.

Brazillionaires: Wealth, Power, Decadence, and Hope in an American Country, Alex Cuadros: If you have any interest in Brazil (which, after 19 posts, THB hopes you have some), are going to Brazil or have been to Brazil, you’ll like this expose of the top .00001%. THB is both happy and sad he didn’t read much of it before spending 3 weeks in Rio: it would both have really informed much of what was seen (other than the actual events) and been very depressing. There’s even a reference equating D. Trump to one of the personalities covered by Cuadros.

Descent, Tim Johnston (novel): A teenage girl is kidnapped and her younger brother, hit by the kidnapper’s car while riding his bike, is left behind. A crime thriller with the ubiquitous happy ending except everyone involved has been badly damaged.

The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between, Hisham Matar: A story of the son’s emotional life after his father disappeared into Qadaffi’s Libyan prison in the early 1990s and never re-appearing. Between the idea and reality falls the shadow, beautifully written. Even more, it ends with the revolutionary overthrow of the regime and thus we are all left to wonder what the future will bring now that the Arab spring is in chaos.

The newly marked parking slot for our beach guests
Recommended (42): Enjoyed, listed in no particular order (well, actually mostly in the order read)

All Involved, Ryan Gattis (novel):  Told in chapters individually narrated by mostly Latino gangbangers, it’s a story of the 1992 riot in LA immediately after the acquittals of police involved in the Rodney King beating. The action takes place mostly in or near Lynwood, where THB worked one summer in the mid-60s (as the area was transitioning from white immigrants from the Dust Bowl to ethnically black and Hispanic).

Lucky, Alice Sebold: the story of Sebold’s rape during her first year at Syracuse University and the subsequent trial of her rapist. The event and emotional toll told in vivid detail. You may recognize Sebold: she’s the author of Lovely Bones.

Shadow Divers: the True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of WWII, Robert Kurson: Wreck divers find a U-Boat off New Jersey coast in 1992 and then over the next 5-6 years solve the mystery of what happened and when.

Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot, Mark Vanhoenacker: The perfect book to read on long-distance flights. Meditations on flying, specifics about airplanes, emotions of places-locations, and an unusual look at teamwork.

The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir, Vivian Gornick: Odd is right, and intriguing, and very much NY city.

Joan of Arc: A History, Helen Castor: Short and snappy, more the “what” than how Joan had her moment in 15th C France. Joan the Maid was a true anomaly, with the (very confusing) context of the French infighting and the English occupation. Castor’s Blood and Roses is also in the 2016 Recommended category.

Paris, He Said, Christine Sneed (novel): THB thinks of this book as a fictional discussion of the feminist movement and a great companion/sequel to Spinster. A struggling (lapsed?) artist in NY becomes involved with a much older French gallery owner (with locations in NY and Paris) and moves with him to Paris and resurrects her career aspirations. 

Fates and Furies, Laura Groff (novel): A "his perspective/her perspective" with all truths told from her perspective novel. Lots of momentum, exciting events, hot sex, crimes, success, Oedipal fantasies. Not as moving (or as long) in the quietude of the writing as A Little Life, more a very good example of a great summer beach read. 

The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? Dale Russakoff: Zuckerberg goes big with a huge grant for Newark’s school, partnering with then mayor Cory Booker and governor Chris Christie. Many lessons of how hard it is to bring energy, enthusiasm and creativity to teaching those most in need of learning the basics. Much content appeared in the NYer originally.

Red Sparrow, Jason Matthews (novel): Book 1 of 2 of the KGB vs the CIA brought right up to the minute, Putin's in charge (he's ex-KGB). In other words, the cold war is alive and well. 

Palace of Treason, Jason Matthews (novel): Book 2 of 2. The CIA infiltrates Russia’s equivalent, a fast paced summer read by a retired CIA operator.

Seven Days in the Art World, Sarah Thornton: From events in the mid-aughts highlights a day at: an auction, MFA level critique, art fair, the awarding of an art prize, Artforum magazine, studio visit and the Venice Biennale. Lots of big money and many people involved and intertwined. Excellent overview (and not at the lower level THB collects!).

My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout (novel): A very little A Little Life, like 3 hours worth. More a novella, pretty short. A lot of impact for few words.

Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner: A very good magazine article expanded to medium size book. Shadows A Field Philosopher’s Guide to Fracking: try, fail, analyze, adjust, try again (emphasis on “try again” equal to practice, practice, practice).

High Dive, Jonathan Lee (novel): a fictionalized version of the lives of a few people leading up to the hotel bombing unsuccessfully targeting Margaret Thatcher, pretty much without Thatcher (a good thing).

Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire, Roger Crowley. A sprightly version of how Portugal went via the sea between 1493 and 1515 and: routed foreign lands with not that many soldiers, using better weaponry; traveled with a lot of prejudice and not much knowledge; undercut the competition in the spice business; and just missed out in creating a global war with Islam. Lots of sea battles with a focus on a few not-well-known conquistadors. 

Dictator, Robert Harris (novel, third in a trilogy): In Harris’ own words, this is the story of the final fifteen years (THB: seems like it covers 30, so much goes on) in the life of the Roman statesman Cicero, imagined in the form of a biography written by his secretary, Tiro.  Tiro, a slave made a free man by Cicero, did exist and did write such a book. THB: The book covers the rise of Caesar, his death, and the immediate years afterward. Published in 2015, THB feels like he read this book before…déjà vu? Another book just like this one read years earlier? And, try Fatherland by Robert Harris; it is a terrific book (THB did read that one years ago, not imagined he read it)

Francis Bacon in Your Blood, Michael Peppiatt: A unique memoir by a young student who had a 30+ year friendship with Bacon after he became famous painter. Lots of boozing and philosophizing by a guy who loved to drink with a wide range of people and loved to throw around his money.

The Association of Small Bombs, Karan Mahajan (novel): The arc of aggressors and victims involved in the Khasmiri separatist movement, total at a very intimate level (as opposed to a lot of philosophical dialog). Felt very accurate as to the motivations and reactions of those involved.

The Iceberg, A Memoir, Marion Coutts: The last two years of her 52 year old husband in his battle with a brain tumor, and the second and third years of their only son. They live in London, so this is a British version of the health system, mostly akin to the US model. Extremely articulate, dense, almost poetic, and openly honest.

The Adventurist, J. Bradford Hipps (novel): Gosh, a good book written by a former programmer, and a novel at that. Four months in the life of a software manager (hmmmm, THB was one of those; this guy is way more technically competent than THB ever was), dealing with the company’s struggles, the recent death of his mother, the failing health of his father, a close sister taking care of dad, and intra-company infatuations and machinations. Real life on all fronts.

Heat and Light, Jennifer Haigh (novel); a great fiction companion to one of THB’s top 2016 books, A Field Philosopher’s Guide to Fracking by Adam Briggle. Both involve small towns infected by fracking: small towns fighting big oil and gas. Lots of local color, plenty of the locals impacted, the fight of instant money versus long-term health, one true and one obviously based on the truth.

Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche by Haruki Murakami (translated). The attack was in 1995, this non-fiction book was published in English in the late 1990s. THB is just now getting around to reading it, the only book by Murakami read by THB (Murakami is a big time bestselling author in fiction). Though Murikami does speak English, it’s translated, and THB doesn’t read many translated books. The first 2/3 of the book is a series of interviews Murakami conducted with the victims of the sarin gas attack by Aum Shinrikyo (cult or religion?) and the other 1/3 is interviews with members of Aum. No interview is particularly compelling; collectively they make quite a statement about the Japanese and their views as victims and as perpetrators, and real insight into how the Aum members are cultivated into becoming terrorists.

Shelter, Jung Yun (novel): A grim two weeks in the life of three generations of a Korean family living in US: brutal home break-in, marital break-ups, emotionally repressed individuals, poor child-rearing skills (including child abuse), police as actual people, and a small amount of kindness by a few non-main characters. Hard to recommend, yet THB couldn’t stop reading either.

The Fever, How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years, Sonia Shah: Published in 2010, maybe not the best book for THB to lead off a trip to Rio while Zika is the coming scourge of mosquito-borne diseases. Malaria is very debilitating, often lethal (especially in young people), and seemingly intractable. And, things haven’t got better since this thorough historical analysis: the CDC estimated 215 million cases in 2015 and 483,000 deaths (mostly children in Africa). Eliminating mosquitoes is not the answer, pesticides are not the answer, on-going perseverance to reduce infections is ineffective in poverty areas, and global warming flooding coastal lands is going to be a huge problem.

The Dig, John Preston (novel):  fast read based on true events in mid-summer 1939 England when a local estate owner decides to have burial mounds investigated.

The North Water, Ian McGuire (novel): Short enough to be consumed in less than one long flight; gory 1850s tale of a disgraced doctor aboard a doomed whaling ship.

Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russia, Anne Garrels: THB tortures himself again with a journalist’s story of an area with few foreigners, sort of the Omaha of Russia, having spent time over a 20+ period of years. The same story of intimidation, corruption, and lack of human rights, and local pride as fostered by “growing stronger” through sanctions.

Ways to Disappear, Idra Novey (novel): Another light, breezy noir-ish novel set in Brazil. Good companion to Brazillionaires.

The Rope, Kanan Makiya (novel): Insider’s view of events early in the Iraq invasion; don’t miss the Personal Note after the book where Makiya explains who everyone is/was in the novel (in fact, read it first and afterwards). And, while he supported the invasion, Makiya also makes it clear that the Iraqis own the aftermath of what the USA put in motion.

A Rage for Order: The Middle East in Turmoil, From Tahrir Square to ISIS, Robert F. Worth: While THB used to think the Middle East was an intractable problem (peace in the Middle East? You have got to be kidding…the Cubs will win the pennant before that ever happens), it is now 10 times worse as each nation implodes in its own way (and the Cubs may win the pennant!). Good companion to The Rope.

All the Living, C.E. Morgan (novel): pub’d in 2009; short, not too many characters, as told by a young woman who moves in with a young rural farmer now on his own after his older brother and mother are killed in a car accident.

Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space, Janna Levin: An iconoclastic review of the building out of a scientific experiment to measure gravitational waves emanating from deep space, which in the end “proves” that black holes exist. More about the personalities involved, akin to any major corporate project that seems too expensive and doomed to failure, yet this one is sponsored by the government and while expensive, succeeds soon after the buildings/measuring devices are completed.

The Natural Way of Things, Charlotte Wood (novel): Lord of the Flies in modern times, women stranded, two young males and a female as the overseers in a remote Australian fenced in asylum.

Hillbilly Elegy, a Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis, J.D. Vance: Vance’s grandparents relocate from the hollers of Kentucky to Middletown, Ohio, after WWII, along with many other (white) hillbillies. Jay dot Dee dot manages to “escape” by joining the Marines (instead of going straight to Ohio State) and ends up graduating from Yale law school. Vance describes how many hillbillies shy away from working, creating family dynamics that foster low incomes, poor parenting skills, poor health, and short stints of education. His answer to ending this cycle: integration across class structures so that the “hillbillies” are exposed to means of life other than poverty (and government interventions really won’t work). There’s a very good documentary companion: Country Boys (six hours, available on DVD from Netflix), following two teenage boys over a number of high school years. Note: from studies, ethnic integration is also the best cure available for moving poor students into higher education.

American Heiress, the Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst, Jeffrey Toobin (audio): Recommended if you want to relive or get a review of what radicals were like in the 70s; neutral if you to learn what happened to Patty (who fell in love with the sequential authority figures in her life starting in her late teens).

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, Mohsen Hamid (novel): fast, sweet story of a couple of kids aging into old age in modern India. The Reluctant Fundamentist is on this list, not near as good.

We Are Not Such Things: The Murder of a Young American, A South African Township, and the Search for Truth and Reconciliation, Justine Van Der Leun: A very thoughtful, low-key story, more memoir than thriller, of trying to understand South Africa post-apartheid. THB recommends that if you travel to S. Africa, this is an excellent companion to trying see beyond the obvious.

You Will Know Me, Megan Abbott (novel): what happens when a family gets too caught up in the older child’s dream of a sports championship.

Blood and Roses, One Family’s Struggle and Triumph During the Tumultuous Wars of the Roses, Helen Castor (paperback): A review of the political turmoil of England in the 1500s as seen through the Paston letters as the family tries to move from lower middle class to upper middle class.

Max Gate, Damien Wilkins (novel): The weeks before and after the revered British author Thomas Hardy died as told for the most part by one of the live-in-the-attic maids many, many years later. Charming...does anyone have a good bio of Hardy or James Barrie (Peter Pan) to recommend?

The Undoing Project, Michael Lewis (hardback): forty years ago, two Israeli psychologists, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, produced a series of papers that altered the view of decision making, creating behavioral economics. Think of them as the Steve Jobs of their time, creating the intellectual equivalent of the I-phone for the disruption of assumptions in everyday ways we (wrongly) plod along until our context is changed and puts us on a corrected course. Lewis gently describes their unlikely to mesh personalities in an unusual partnership as well as each of their back stories. And, wouldn't you know, how a woman got between them (also underplayed by Lewis).

THB recommends a reading hat; Mabry "pipe" in background

Neutral (22): Something of value, not enough to actively encourage reading (or listening)

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, Mary Norris: Not enough gossip about life at the New Yorker and a bit too much grammar talk (or is it grammar-talk?)

Lurid & Cute, Adam Thirlwell (novel): interesting style, just too long in the head of the narrator, an over-drugged spoiled 30 year old married Chilean male living with his parents.

The Loved Ones, Mary-Beth Hughes (novel): dysfunctional family, a child that died early, husband with a crooked brother, lots of drugs and drinking and sex, a lost young adolescent girl, set in the early 70s in New England and London.

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, Jon Krakauer: A bit too repetitive with one very important thing to say: a few men are responsible for many rapes, so it is very important for women to come forward and authorities to take them seriously.

The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson, Jeffrey Toobin: The book the TV series is based on. Bad prosecutors, poor jury management, a lousy judge, infighting among defense attorneys, a racist and incompetent police department allows the defense to play the race card and a very guilty celebrity.

The Tsar of Love and Techno, Anthony Marra: The perversion of family life in Russia from the 1930’s up to the late 1990’s.

Hunters in the Dark, Lawrence Osborne (novel): Written in the same style, The Forgiven is a much better book.

Farthest Field: An Indian Story of the Second World War, Raghu Karnad: India’s role in WWII as seen through the lives of three related men (and less so their sisters). A bit too much personal and not enough overview for THB.

When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanthi: A young neurosurgeon finds out he has stage 4 lung cancer and dedicates a large portion of his remaining time to authoring this book. It’s become a (posthumous) big bestseller (it is very short, more long magazine article length) and one that THB struggled with: are doctors more valuable to society than other occupations? Does dying become a justification for putting religion and science on the same level? Are you in a loving relationship when you work 100-120 hour weeks and your wife is also a doctor? Should a doctor with a serious illness be back in the OR? Well written, and the memoir up until he’s diagnosed is nicely done.

I Hate the Internet, Jarett Kobek (novel): Actually, a pretty interesting take on the internet being the ultimate advertising and dissing machine, the plot line isn’t so terrific.

Mortal Sins: Sex, Crime, and the Era of Catholic Scandal, Michael D’Antonio: The tracing of the pedophilia scandal of the Church’s priest from the mid 1980s through to 2013 or so. Basically, it shows how the church protected its employees over its customers. Judge Emilie gets a mention at the end of the book!

Noonday, Pat Barker (novel): Barker moves on to WWII and the London blitz (with plenty of remembrances of WWI and the interim between the wars.

Ordinary Grace, William Kent Krueger (novel): A then 13 year old looks back at a series of deaths in a small Minnesota town in 1961.

Exposure, Helen Dunmore (novel). This is a chic lit semi-spy novel set in post WWII London. Not a lot of spying, it’s all about the relationship between a husband and wife, both working, with three kids, and the trauma they go through when the husband is accused of passing secrets from the Admiralty to the Soviet Union. THB considered stopping about 40% through, then made it to the end. All ends well. 

What’s the Matter With Kansas, How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, Thomas Frank: An oldie from 2004, really a magazine article’s worth of content and lots of history of Kansas’ politics. In sum: starting in the early 90s, the pro-life movement turned Kansas red and the moderate Republicans got eaten up. Then spending on education dropped, and average wages slowed below inflation rates.

Under the Harrow, Flynn Berry (novel): a murder mystery where the killer isn’t really introduced until the last 5 pages. Hmmmmmm….

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsen Hamid: For those of you who pay really really close attention, this is a re-read from 2013 for THB. Having recently read a short story by Hamid in the NY’er, THB decided to give this one another go, having remembered NOTHING about it. Only takes a few hours, more a novella than novel.

City of Secrets, Stewart O’Nan (novel): Slim, takes place in Palestine between WWII and the creation of Israel, and focuses on a small cell intent on getting rid of the British.

Silence, Shusau Endo (novel, translated and paperback): the source for the upcoming Scorsese movie, it’s a somber story of faith set in mid 17th C  Japan while the Japanese government is trying to eradicate Christianity by hounding priests and local converts.

Paradise Lodge, Nina Stibbe (novel): another novel in the mode of Love, Nina, a truly great book. If you don’t want to read Love, Nina, then this book moves up to Recommended.

In the Country of Men, Hisham Matar (novel): if you read The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between (a top pic), you should give this novel a shot as well. I don’t think reading this one first will get you to The Return. A 9 year old boy lives through the start of the suppression in Libya, and somehow everything bad revolves around something he feels responsible for.

How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything, Tales from the Pentagon, Rosa Brooks: How did Brooks, the daughter of a 60s political activist, muckraker and writer (Barbara Ehrenreich), end up writing a softly told story that justifies the military running the entire country? Brooks is an attorney, law professor, Pentagon insider, and human rights supporter. Since the military is basically the biggest part of the government with the most international reach (it's not like we fund the State Department) and domestic clout (think Homeland Security), what the hell, let's just make it official.

In the Something Else category (9):  
The Tragedy of Macbeth, William Shakespeare (play): In anticipation of the Berkeley Rep performance starring Frances MacDormand as Lady Macbeth (the play is way better in the reading than in this staged version).

Collected French Translated Poetry, John Ashbery (hardback): by THB’s fave poet (yes, THB does have a fave poet, Ashbery’s work highly recommended), bought mostly to read Rimbaud (a Dylan inspiration). Not all that great.

The People vs O.J. Simpson: the 10 part FX television series, a terrific exploration of race, criminal justice, and LA in 90s. Based on the book by Jeffrey Toobin, The Run of His Life

O.J.: Made in America: a 10 hour documentary by ABC/ESPN of OJ’s entire life and how he fit into a changing America. Toobin shows up again as a talking head. Worth watching both series, and reading the book.

Gaslands and Gaslands 2 (documentaries), directed by Josh Fox:  illuminating many of the huge issues with fracking. The companions to THB’s top book reco: A Field Philosopher’s Guide to Fracking

Step Into Liquid (surf movie, 2003): By a son of the guy who did Endless Summer, the companion guide to Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life.

The English Surgeon (documentary): Henry Marsh, the neurosurgeon, spends much time in Ukraine, the companion to Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery

Chinatown Dreams, The Life and Photographs of George Lee (soft cover paperback): Short essays to accompany the pictures taken by George Lee, a resident of Santa Cruz and Monterey from the 1920s to late 1990s.  

The Death of Contract, Grant Gilmore: THB wasn’t quite sure where to list this short book; it’s a series of lectures from 1974 by a legal scholar about the actual “death of contracts” in such arcane terms as to be unintelligible to anyone but another legal scholar. THB read all the way to the end so can give you a spoiler alert: Contract is dead.

Not Recommended (and high likely not finished – 20):  
The Springs of Affection: Stories of Dublin, Maeve Brennan (fiction, short stories): A reco of Kate Bolick (Spinster), a collection of old NY’er stories. Too old (too quaint?), as told through the eyes of semi-autobiographical child in Ireland.

Among the Ten Thousand Things, Julia Pierpont (novel): Exactly half way through the book wraps up the characters lives and ends, then for some reason starts up again. THB did not move forward. Dad is a shit, mom is melancholy, teenage kids are uncommunicative…how did THB make it half way?

Pretty Is, Maggie Mitchell (novel): two kidnapped teenage girls grow up and reconnect. THB doesn’t get connected enough.

Immunity, Taylor Antrim (novel): Sci-fi? A whiff of the apocalypse? Drugs? Ultra-wealthy? Virus gone wild? Dull…

Once An Eagle, Anton Myrer (paperback novel, 1278  pages!): This is a must read for any young military person, and THB had tried before and failed. A 19 year old baseball phenom, Steph Curry, fresh out high school, passes up a shot at West Point to enlist in the infantry to serve in WWI in France, and shows exceptional skills in leadership (the best of mind and heart), leading his troops to victory and earning promotions and medals. NO WAIT: Not Steph Curry, Sam Damon is his name.  THB made it 500 pages this time, then got bogged down in marriage, long interregnum between the great wars, and watching the W’s on their way to a record season.

Muse, Jonathan Galassi (novel): cartoonish characters in the publishing business. THB may actually go back and try again, though the chances of that are pretty slim. If you are in publishing (and especially if you are responsible for this book), you should be ashamed and probably are entranced. 

A Cure for Suicide, Jesse Ball (novel): 2/3 a good story, last third just one long not-too interesting run on sentence of a story.

Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years, Thomas Mallon (novel): Not near as good as Watergate, mostly because Reagan was boring (and Nancy and her neurosis really boring) and Nixon had Watergate.

Give $mart, Philanthopy that Gets Results, Thomas Tierney and Joel Fleishman: Name dropping and no content (and THB means, no content)

Chelsea Girls, Eileen Myles (memoir or novel…doesn’t matter): How does someone so drunk and drugged and sex starved get to publish a book? By being a “well-respected” poet?

The Devils of Cardona, Matthew Carr (novel): too convoluted, too many characters, lots or random violence, all in the 1500s when Spain is trying to eradicate every and non-Christian worship.

Animals, Emma Jane Unsworth (novel): OMG, how did THB find two books starring drunk and drugged women narrators???? Somehow, he did…alas.

The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen (novel): A prize winning book about Vietnamese settling in US after the war ended and seemed to THB to be horribly bloated (maybe one has to be in the right frame of mind to assemble the grill?)

The Vanishing Velazquez: A 19th Century Bookseller’s Obsession with a Lost Masterpiece, Lauren Cumming: Not much information, and certainly not enough to stretch out to book length, about a famous painting and a guy in the 1850s who found and promoted it.

Lord of Misrule, Jaimy Gordon (novel): About horse racing, in a jazzy vernacular way, and way too complicated for THB in attempting to follow the many and various characters and horses while trying to understand the lingo of a down and out nowhere racetrack.

The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens, Paul Mariani: A famous 20th century poet who was also a full-time insurance company manager. Unfortunately, the author spent way too much time interpreting the poems and not enough time on Stevens’ life. THB suspects there wasn’t much to report on (at least nothing of note, after all the guy was an insurance company employee).

The Year of the Runaways, Sunjeev Sahata (novel): Dull, dreary, no connections with or between the characters.

Martial Bliss: The Story of the Military Bookman, Margaretta Barton Colt (paperback): This book got a glowing review in the NYT, and it contained an unbelievable number of names dropped, book stores visited in Britain, vacation stops, and lots of the everyday mundane small business issues, over and over. The key to running this bookstore: buying used books low and selling high. The end of the store: the internet.

Dancing With the Tiger, Lili Wright (novel): all clichés, all the time

Love, Sex and Other Foreign Policy Goals, Jess Armstrong (novel): THB somehow fell into buying another silly British farce (or is is satire)...whatever, too silly to finish 

Total Books:  100
The sort:
-        14 Top Picks: 13 non-fiction. 1 fiction  
-        42 Recommended: 22 non-fiction, 18 fiction
-        20 Neutral: 7 non-fiction, 12 fiction
-        4 Something Else books: 2 non-fiction, 2 fiction, 5 documentaries
-        20 Not Recommended: 4 non-fiction, 15 fiction
-        50 novels, 50 non-fiction

Total books
Top Picks

Something Else
Not Recommendd
42 Total
19 Total
4 Total (+5)
19 Total
36 Total
11 Total
4 Total
19 Total
8 (+2) Total
36 Total 22/14
29 Total 12/17
2 Total  2/0
18 Total
12 Total
42 Total 24/18
21 Total 12/9
3 Total 1.5/1.5
13 Total
8 Total
26 Total
29 Total 19/15
3 Total
all N-F
11 Total
10 Total
25 Total
11 Total
7 Total
All Fiction

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