Reindeer - California Academy of Sciences
We have a holiday blockbuster issue for you! A big shout out to everyone at Berkeley Law who contributed reviews, with an extra special thanks to the many law students who did reviews (our students - brilliant and well read).
Wishing you a joyous holiday season and all the best in 2020.
Berkeley Law Library
Click on book cover to read review.
The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater is amazing, about an event that happened locally, and navigates gender fluidity, class differences, and criminal justice all in a very manageable style of writing. I'd recommend it to everyone in the building and beyond!
This was a recommendation from the “Calm Before the Storm” episode of the Strict Scrutiny podcast with none other than our former colleague, Melissa Murray. Find the podcast that Melissa co-hosts with Leah Litman, Jaime Santos and Kate Shaw @StrictScrutiny_ on Twitter and at http://strictscrutinypodcast.com/. Strict Scrutiny deserves a spot on your list of favorite podcasts whether or not you truly miss having Melissa Murray as part of our faculty.
Linda Greenhouse was the first print journalist to get access to the Harry Blackmun papers at the Library of Congress which contains a treasure trove for a researcher. Justice Blackmun kept a diary, and he kept copies of all the letters he received and the responses he sent. The Blackmun family gave Greenhouse a 2-month head start to work with the papers before they became publicly available. For more on her research process, see this C-SPAN interview. I was enthralled by the story of how Harry Blackmun ended up at Harvard after hearing at the last minute that he’d gotten a scholarship. He was certainly not the average east coast elite boarding school Harvard student. He worked extremely hard, and came close to giving up. Remember he was in college and law school in the midst of the Great Depression. Greenhouse’s biography pulled me in and kept me engaged in Justice Blackmun’s personal story -- including his life-long friendship with Warren Burger. Reading excerpts of their letters back and forth was fascinating.
Greenhouse breathed life into names and stories that I only knew from history. Learning about the Abe Fortas scandal and the two unsuccessful nominees to replace him brought to mind certain current events. Blackmun’s notes on SCOTUS cases and various drafts of opinions circulated in conference gave me an idea of what goes on behind SCOTUS’ closed doors. As a special bonus, I finished reading the book that included details about Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s nomination and earliest days on the Court just days before hearing her speak.
This book is an enjoyable way to gain insight into SCOTUS history and to understand some background of where we are today in SCOTUS jurisprudence. I highly recommend it. https://lawcat.berkeley.edu/record/430080
Ursula K. Le Guin, who was born in Berkeley in 1929 and passed away in 2018, was one of the first women writers of science fiction. She is also widely recognized as one of the best, winning both the Hugo and Nebula awards for her gender-bending “thought experiment,” The Left Hand of Darkness (1968). This short novel, The Beginning Place (1980), showcases Le Guin’s empathetic storytelling at its best. The story begins in the suburbs of a world much like our own, which is unusual for Le Guin. But when the protagonist runs away from problems in his world, he discovers a portal to another in the woods beyond his neighborhood, a world where it is always dusk and time passes differently. Eventually he learns he is not alone in the new world—a girl from his side of the portal has also been visiting the dusk-world. Together, they must work together to overcome an unspeakable fear that has gripped the people of the dusk-world. You might find that this coming-of-age story teaches you something about the power of emotions, courage, and confidence. Read this book, especially if you think you don’t like science fiction or fantasy!
I’ve had Caramelo on my list of books to read for years (it came out in 2002) and I’m so glad I finally read it. In this semi-autobiographical book, Cisneros tells the multigenerational story of the Reyes family. Focusing on Lala Reyes, the youngest of seven children (and the only daughter), the story examines what it’s like to live on both sides of the Mexican-American border and tells a wild, engaging, entertaining, and moving story about identity, place, and relationships. Cisneros is a masterful storyteller and I strongly recommend you check it out.
Sex and drugs and rock n’ roll! Do I need to say more? Yes? Ok then.
In Daisy Jones and the Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid has spun a tale of a 1970s rock band as they make their way up from relative obscurity to superstardom, and then to their eventual implosion. The story is all told in an interview format which can be tricky but is done to great effect in this book. The interviews allow the reader to get into the heads of not only the (extremely unlikable) main characters of Daisy and Billy, but all of the other band members and additional friends and family. You really get to understand where everyone is coming from and why they take the actions they do. Did I mention that Daisy and Billy are unlikable? Yeah, they are. But like a train wreck you can’t look away, and then when you aren’t paying attention, you find you care despite the fact that you don’t like them. Meanwhile, in the background (and foreground) the craziness of the 70s music biz rages capturing the feel of the times. Daisy Jones and the Six is a quick read and a fun read, with a little something for everyone.
“God gave rock and roll to you -- Gave rock and roll to you -- Put it in the soul of everyone” ~ Argent
As a postscript I am going to make some suggestions for further non-fiction reading that covers all the themes relative to the same time period as Daisy Jones and the Six. This list is not exhaustive but provides a jumping off point for those who may be interested. Enjoy the (s)exploits, lies, and lore of rock and some of its biggest stars. Happy reading!
Since I read before bed, I tend to judge books by how often they inspire me to nudge my nearly-asleep wife awake because I simply can't wait to share something from them. Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard holds the all-time record for these well-intended rib jabs.
A masterful work of narrative nonfiction that blends political history with medical mystery, Destiny of the Republic reads like a soap opera. It recounts the ascendance and (spoiler) assassination of President James A. Garfield. Don't worry, your friends and family will enjoy it, even if, like me, they didn't pay enough attention during their high school U.S. History class.
Those tired of crowded Democratic debates will fawn over Garfield's casual approach to campaigning. And proponents of presidential transparency will marvel at the public's unfettered access to the Executive. But that "good ol' days" sentiment dies fast when Millard probes (that pun will make sense, I promise) Garfield's torturous death in detail that leaves one squirming for more.
As Millard shows, Garfield is worthy of so much more than a historical footnote. And her book is certainly worthy of your holiday shopping list.
This is a memoir of a year in the life of Bythall, the owner of The Bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland, that country’s largest second hand bookstore. Bythall is often cranky, whether due to his eccentric staff, the inane requests of his customers, or the travails of trying to make a living running a brick and mortar bookstore in today’s economy. His rants on the behemoth that is Amazon are worthy of a book in and of themselves. Each diary entry includes a tally of how much the store took in that day - an amount which ticks up considerably during the town’s annual book festival and all that entails. This is an amusing, engaging read, and if I’m ever in Wigtown, Scotland I’m checking this place out.
As a fan of Ann Patchett’s work I anticipate the arrival of a new book with excitement. Sometimes she can be challenging, sometimes she takes on big themes but the writing is always elegant. The Dutch House, her latest effort, is both elegant and an easy read. Though the title makes clear the important role played by the extraordinary house the tale is really that of two siblings, following them from childhood through adulthood. It explores the entanglements of family, the telling power of long-festering resentment, and the relief of forgiveness. A mother who abandoned the family for the ‘best’ of reasons is the catalyst for all that follows. Told first person by Danny, the male sibling, the book truly focuses on Maeve, the enigmatic and powerful older sister. Akin to a fairy tale, the pair are driven out of the sumptuous house by an evil step-mother who is steeped in the most banal and hurtful emotions. The story then journeys through the years and a generation. The house exerts a gravitational pull on the siblings as they return to look at it over the years. The final section of the book was a surprise and in the end both generous and redemptive; to discuss it would be giving too much away. As a life-long lover of mysteries who loves to guess endings, I must admit that the twists in this tale took me by surprise. This is a one-sitting read that is perfect for a rainy day.
Have you ever read a book where you the character reminds you of someone you know? As soon as Eleanor is described in this book, she immediately reminded me of someone (no one in the law school). Throughout the book I kept picturing this person. The reason I say this is because we all know someone like Eleanor. Someone who is orderly and quiet at work, but goes home to an empty (but structured) life. Like many of us, she has her routines. On Friday night, she gets her frozen pizza from a local market and several bottles of vodka. She then proceeds to not speak or interact with anyone until Monday morning.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I loved Eleanor’s wit and lack of social skills (while commenting, in her head, on the social skills of others). The book describes many uncomfortable moments for Eleanor as she navigates through life where you cannot completely avoid contact with other humans. Eleanor ends up meeting the office IT guy, Raymond, and they end up developing a friendship, of sorts. Of course, he is sloppy, smokes, eats with his mouth open, and he has many other characteristics that Eleanor cannot abide. They both end up helping an elderly man, Sammy, who falls on a busy sidewalk. Through Raymond and Sammy, Eleanor begins to see that other people can be friendly, kind, and caring -- but this takes a bit of time.
In the meantime, she develops a crush on someone she doesn’t know (she sees him at a concert) and decides to remake herself for him. Through all of this, we learn about Eleanor’s mother and right away you discover that she is the root of all of Eleanor’s problems. I won’t give it all away, but she is a terrible person and rotten mother. If the holidays involve family, read this book. It will make you appreciate your own family. Oh, her co-workers are rather awful to her too. This book could make you appreciate them as well.
In the end, the story is uplifting without being too “happily ever after.” The book is funny, touching, sad, and triumphant.
Using historical documents (inquest reports, census info, birth certificates, etc.) Hallie Rubenhold attempts to piece together the individual lives of the five women killed by Jack the Ripper. In doing so she raises an objection to the official conclusion that all of the victims were prostitutes, and in at least two cases I think she is able to raise some serious doubt on those findings. Indeed, it is unclear if a third victim may or may not have been participating in some form of solicitation. Despite her conclusions she makes an argument against judging them one way or the other as it perpetuates a continued classicist and misogynistic double standard wherein Jack the Ripper is the celebrity, while they are just victims who may have deserved it based on their supposed actions. By delving into the lives of these five women, Rubenhold sheds a light on the poverty, homelessness, and alcoholism rampant in Victorian England and how these social ills coupled with a lack of political and cultural will may have helped to contribute to their deaths. By exploring the issues that confronted these and countless other women Rubenhold puts a human face on the women who, sadly, met such tragic ends. Located in the law library’s popular reading section.
I rediscovered Freight Train, a picture book from when I was little, while volunteering at the El Cerrito Library, reshelving books in the children’s section.
Freight Train shows a freight train moving along the track going through different places. It starts on a track and continues through tunnels and cities, across trestles, and in darkness and daylight. It teaches colors as each train car is a different color. The pictures have vivid colors, with clean, sharp edges, and makes you feel like you’re seeing the train rush by.
I recommend this book to anyone who likes picture books. It is good for someone learning to read as it only has 55 words, none of which are too difficult. Reading Freight Train is perfect for young readers because the words describe what is happening in the pictures.
This debut collection of stories will mostly unsettle and disturb you, purposefully. Whether about race relations, capitalism and income disparity, or the terrifying power of imagination, each story seems to exist on a surreal or satiric plane yet is grounded in real-life events. The title story, for example, takes the annual holiday shopping frenzy, which itself is already a distortion, to further extremes featuring a super sales clerk and the zombie-like hordes he has to sell to/keep in check. The rage and frustration underlying some of these stories is palpable, but there is also humor, compassion, and human connection throughout. “Zimmer Land,” “The Finkelstein 5,” and “Through the Flash” are particular standouts. The author was one of the “5 Under 35” writers selected by the National Book Foundation in 2018.
Set in the beginning of the 20th century Russian Empire, one of the most turbulent times in the history of Europe. A time where old political systems were deemed obsolete and people wanted change and rights for all, not just for the wealthy. In this period of social unrest, Count Alexander Rostov, sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity by forging long-lasting relationships with various characters of the Metropol. One of the best novels I read in recent years. A delight for those like me that appreciate and love history.
Chesa Boudin may set your law-and-order teeth on edge. He may light up your progressive-but-like-not-too-progressive heart. Either way, it's probably worth getting to know him, as our brethren across the Bay have chosen him as the new San Francisco District Attorney (a post both Pat Brown and Kamala Harris previously occupied). Boudin has an impressive radical pedigree: raised by Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, child of Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert (all Weather Underground royalty). But perhaps unlike most militant leftists, he went to the fanciest private schools, got a Rhodes Scholarship, and clerked for Judge Charles Breyer.
Gringo tells the tale of his pre-law-school jaunt through South America, where he tried desperately to engineer solidarity with "the people" and was shocked to find that not every poor South American shared his disdain for capitalism. He also would up as Hugo Chavez's translator. That summary might make the book sound more exciting than it is, though. It reads like the most self-satisfied college essay a Yale man could possibly write. Despite his naked attempts to invite comparison to Paul Theroux or, better yet, Che Guevara, the book is a stark reminder that some tales are better told from a bar stool.
Dreary prose aside, it's quite a story. I wholeheartedly wish Boudin well in his progressive prosecutorial mission, and the groans I got at the expense of Gringo and the smug, fancy law boy who wrote it were well worth the read.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark leads the reader across California – from Sacramento to the Bay Area, and down to Santa Barbara County – following the horrific trail of the Golden State Killer. The GSK terrorized communities throughout the 1970s and 1980s yet went undetected until 2018, when investigators used modern genetics tools to finally identify a suspect. What sets I’ll Be Gone in the Dark apart from other true crime books is that author Michelle McNamara gives readers a window into her own years-long, dogged, and in some ways unhealthy, obsession with the unsolved case. You see her infiltrate the investigation, stay up all night in Internet chat rooms, and scour for clues everywhere. By the end of the book, I was heartbroken that McNamara died unexpectedly in 2016, without knowing the GSK’s identity. It’s a must-read for true crime fans and anyone who wants to learn some fascinating local history.
An awesome collection of recipes, and some foundational how-tos for good South Asian cooking, like making ghee and grinding spices. Author and Top Chef alum Preeti Mistry focuses on street classics, comfort food, and her favorite dishes from her restaurant career. Her recipes bring the heat from all over India and the US. The book isn't organized except by the stories Mistry wants to tell; her Oakland connection, love of family, and outspoken queerness come through on every page, making this book a sweet and fun read as well as a great resource. At the end of the day, JBCC is a reminder of the two things that bring us all together: tiny sandwiches and butter.
All props to Henna for giving me my copy and to Dhruv for happily eating through my practice runs.
I’m having trouble reading anything these days – I think with the current state of things, I just can’t lose myself in a novel the way I used to be able to. But I was able to read this. Renkl writes opinion pieces for the New York Times about the natural world around her Tennessee house, including pieces on the migrations of birds and butterflies. In Late Migrations she has shaped short essays on local natural history into the story of the lives of her parents, her husband and her children. It takes a while to realize that you are reading a story – a particular story but more generally the story of family relations, the relations of mothers and daughters, love and death.
I recommend Clair Bloom's memoir, Leaving A Doll's House, especially good on her long relationship with Phillip Roth.
Much has been written about Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel, but nonetheLESS I feel the need to recommend it to all looking for a clever, fun, holiday read. Less follows protagonist, Arthur Less, a novelist who years ago wrote a book to “moderate success” but has since been relegated to hosting interviews and lectures for other far more successful writers. Spurred by his upcoming fiftieth birthday and an invitation to an ex-lover’s wedding, Less embarks on a journey around the world to New York, Paris, Berlin, Morocco, India and Kyoto. Greer does an amazing job of poking fun at the self-obsessed, yet lovable, protagonist by placing countless hilarious disasters in his path. This novel is a welcome combination of masterful, elegant writing and laugh-out-loud humor.
I recommend Claire Tomalin’s A Life of My Own, a wonderful memoir of the author's life written by a noted biographer of the lives of other people, including Pepys and Dickens.
Miller, a prolific literary critic whose first scholarly publications appeared in the late 1950s, is renowned for having been during the '70s and '80s one of the so-called Yale Critics associated with Jacques Derrida and his quasi-philosophical (some would say, "kwazy philosophical") notions of "deconstruction." The Linguistic Moment was published in 1985 not long after the death of Yale's still more notorious Paul de Man, to whose memory Miller dedicates the book, but before the discovery of de Man's anti-Semitic wartime journalism. The book appeared at the peak of the Yale group's influence; early the following year they were the subject of a New York Times Magazine cover story, "The Tyranny of the Yale Critics." After the de Man scandal, deconstructive literary criticism and theory largely fell out of favor.
Rereading this book more than thirty years after I first read it, I was struck (again) by the breadth and depth of Miller's learning. He ranges across literary genres and eras with virtuosic facility, illustrating the affinities shared by works of literature independent of their historical contexts. His achievement is testimony to the value of voluminous close reading paired with a capacious memory. (Miller's recently departed former Yale colleague, Harold Bloom, arguably surpassed Miller in this respect.) Moreover, Miller's literary acumen is incisive. This, in particular, is not a characteristic one stereotypically associates with writing informed by deconstruction. But by and large one learns a lot about the work of the eight authors to whom Miller devotes a chapter each, with only a slight burden of obscurantist jargon.
The book's main title names a phenomenon Miller identifies in each poet's work when a poem's language calls attention to itself and in so doing eclipses all other properties of the words on the page: reference, narrative, drama, rhythm, rhyme, and so forth. This foregrounding of language as language poses unsurmountable interpretive hurdles for Miller. Such hurdles he deems linguistic moments in literary texts. If this sounds like head-in-the-clouds ivory tower pseudo-philosophizing, incapable of verification, well, perhaps that is so. Yet somehow Miller's exegeses make more approachable the writers he analyzes, their work more welcoming, more available than before to being read, not because Miller supplies an exclusive key to understanding a poem or an author's entire oeuvre, but because he demonstrates ways to interrogate poetry that reveal patterns, incongruities, surprises...in other words, meaning. Still, a meaning is not the same thing as the meaning, and Miller's hypothesis is that a poem, like any literary text, "is undecidable in meaning." For some reason, observations like this infuriated many readers, hence the accusation of tyranny. For me, they go without saying, and yet I get a lot of pleasure out of reading Miller's going ahead and saying it.
Though it’s on a family member’s list of Top 10 all-time favorites, I’d put off reading Middlesex for some time, having not entirely enjoyed the author’s earlier works. Middlesex lives up to the recommendation and then some – I regret that I let it languish at the bottom of my reading list for so long. (And in case you share in my former skepticism: it won a Pulitzer.) Jeffrey Eugenides weaves together a complex, intercontinental family history through narration that examines – at times explicitly and throughout by exposition – societal gender constructs, sexuality, tribalism, and intergenerational trauma as a legacy of war (i.e., identity). Eugenides’ narrator, Cal, incisively summarizes the novel’s central critique (of othering) in the denouement: “[n]ormality wasn’t normal. It couldn’t be. If normality were normal, everybody could leave it alone.” The length of the book might be off-putting to students who have only recently escaped from class reading assignments, but I can assure you that Eugenides uses the space to build towards something quite special.
This is a superb British police procedural involving the disappearance of Emily Hinds, a Cambridge postgraduate student. As a mystery it holds it own with several plot twists you never see coming. The protagonist, 39 year old DS Manon Bradshaw, is charismatic and appealing even if she is a hot mess. The other members of the team are well fleshed out characters, particularly her subordinate DC Davy. The book is told from various characters’ perspectives - Manon, Emily’s mother Miriam, Davy, and Emily’s friend Helena - which adds an emotional complexity you don’t typically find in a police procedural.
This book and the rest in the series are a true guilty pleasure. A 21st century FBI detective, Kendra Donovan, stumbles through a wormhole in time and ends up in a 19th century English estate where, due to the enlightened sensibilities of the castle’s owner, she is taken in and goes on to solve the case of a serial murderer. I know, I know, it sounds ridiculous, but the protagonist is immensely appealing and layering her 21st century sensibilities onto a very well realized early 19th century landscape makes for a great read. There are currently four books in the series - besides this one there’s A Twist in Time, Caught in Time, and Betrayal in Time. A perfect winter break wallow.
This summer two friends separately told me that since reading Normal People they had been fervently searching to no avail for a book that made them feel like they had when reading it. Don't let the fact that every millennial in your life has read and/or posted photos of themselves reading Normal People on Instagram fool you into thinking this book is anything less than magical. Normal People is a gripping love story that follows Marianne and Connell through a relationship that spans high school and college, while deftly exploring class, Marxism, capitalism, colonialism, and power. Rooney, who published this book before her 28th birthday, is the side-kick you wish you had at dinner when your relative claims millennials just want be coddled and have nothing of value to add. Borrow it from a friend or buy a hard copy from a book store, read it, and then pass it along endlessly to friends and family. I suspect Rooney herself would happily approve of such an anti-capitalist distribution model.
Johnny Carson always said that if you buy the premise you buy the bit. This delightful book makes a major request of the reader. One must accept that human spontaneous combustion that produces real and destructive fire can take place and that the person generating the fire remains unharmed. The twin ten-year-olds who combust quickly become believable. The story, told through the intriguing voice of Lillian who has come at the urgent request of her old friend Madison who is now the children’s step-mother to help care for them. The relationship between Lillian and Madison lies at the heart of the story. Wilson creates memorable characters in these two women. Nothing to See Here has laugh out loud sections, incisive observations about class, parenting and politics. One would really like to meet Lillian, Madison is best viewed at a distance. This book is a quick read that has stayed with me. I have given a copy to a few friends asking them to read it just so we can discuss it. Please buy the premise; you will love the book.
Sometimes it's OK to give the people what they want: the opposite of legal scholarship. Red, White & Royal Blue is just fun – it's a romance novel and an American political thriller featuring the British royal family. There's gay romance too, so you can pat yourself on the back while you read the pulpiest of fiction. Oh, and it sets up an alternate universe where a lady president won in 2016. Come on, you know you wanna. Just turn your brain off and turn those pages.
Daniel Pennac has written some of my favorite stories that are also easy to read (Cabot-Caboche, Le Roman d'Ernest et Celestine, and The Rights of the Reader). This work was originally written in French nearly 30 years ago and translated in English for the second time in 2006. The illustrations by Quentin Blake definitely add some unnecessary but appreciated liveliness to the text that is split up into 4 parts.
Part 1: Pennac describes the wonder of first hearing stories from our parents and learning to read. I think anyone who interacts with kids can appreciate this, even if they can't remember it from their own childhood.
Part 2: Pennac describes the horrible task of being told what to read and how fast to read it. You are probably experiencing something like this every day of your life right now.
Part 3: This part contains methods of how to get people who don't consider themselves readers to consider reading. The key is to make reading something a person does because they enjoy it, not because they have to. This seems to partly rely on letting a person read (or hear) something and soak it in on their own time. Don't bombard them with comprehension questions. Crazy, right?
Part 4: The 10 Rights of the Reader. These come down to the basic idea of read what you like any time you can get a chance. If you don't like it, don't keep reading it.
One of my favorite ideas from this book is that all time spent reading for pleasure is stolen from time that is budgeted for other tasks. Few people have the luxury to block out time in the day to just read so you have to find ways to fit reading in.
Note: The views expressed in this book will not help you do better in your courses or convince your professors that there should be more reading time for your own interests.
Patrick Radden Keefe, a staff writer at the New Yorker, has written an absolutely mesmerizing nonfiction narrative about the conflict in Northern Ireland that lasted from the late 1960s until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The central event that Radden Keefe focuses upon is the disappearance of Jean McConville in December 1972. McConville was a widowed mother of ten who was dragged from her Belfast flat by masked paramilitaries, whom everyone knew were the IRA, and in the parlance of the time "disappeared." Radden Keefe intwines the tragic story of McConville into a broader story about the conflict in Northern Ireland, the roles of the various sets of paramilitaries, the British government and army, informers, peace activists, Gerry Adams and even the actor Stephan Rea. Also for us library folks there is a quite central role played by the archives at Boston College which housed oral histories of the conflict after the Good Friday Agreement. He somehow manages to juggle the various narrative threads into a page turning story of stunning power.
Based on a hit 1946 radio series about Superman battling white supremacists in Metropolis, this first part of a three-part comic book by award-winning writer Gene Luen Yang and art duo Gurihiru (aka Chifuyu Sasaki and Naoko Kawano) brings a compelling story to life again with bold and vibrant artwork. The plot remains set in the 1940s and is mostly faithful to the original, including a central role for a Chinese American family, with one major modification expanding the role of a tween named Roberta Lee. This classic Superman story could not have come at a more timely moment. But not only is it an important read, it’s also fun for comics fans of all ages, particularly when it shows an early-stage Superman who could leap tall buildings but had not yet figured out how to fly and who didn’t know what kryptonite was. However, it should be noted that the story does not shy away from hateful sentiments and imagery, which can be difficult to stomach. Issue #2 will be released on December 18, #3 should come out in February, and all three will be collected in a bound edition sometime in 2020.
So many friends have recommended There There that I doubt the author, Tommy Orange, has any need for additional praise and exposure. But he certainly deserves it. Orange doesn’t shy away from blunt expose on the continued erasure of indigenous communities in a place that purports to be (and capitalizes on being seen as) progressive. He specifically juxtaposes the white liberal compulsion to be politically correct in language with blithe indifference to others’ circumstances (and complicity in creating them). In that sense, Orange has provided a critique that is a must read – especially for East Bay residents. Lucky for us, Orange delivered a novel that is also an absolute pleasure to read. The first chapters read as standalone short stories that explore contemporary indigenous identity, but the interwoven plots converge in the latter half of the book. The distributed suspense lends the novel a particular cadence. And by choosing to narrate through a host of characters, Orange gives us a chance to explore the question that he asks both to himself and the reader: what does it mean to be indigenous today?
It’s been a long time since a book has spoken to me so directly. If I were a better writer, creative thinker, and diligent worker (i.e., if everything but my sensibilities were different) Trick Mirror is the book I would write.
Now, critiques of social media and commentary on what “the internet” — as if a monolith — is doing to our society — as if a monolith — are a dime a dozen. Tolentino dispenses with all hyperbole by delivering prose that owns a precision that attorneys could only dream of. And yet she manages to contextualize the effects of the web capitalism broadly — on our “civic reality,” as she calls it. But you’ll find no lecture about virtue signaling and divisive politics here: Tolentino is a great essayist because she pays equal attention to the constraints and “best of the bad” choices that consumers face in this new performative economy—acknowledging her own buy-in in the process.
I’ve been lucky to be on a great reading streak this fall—every book seems better than the last. Trick Mirror is no exception. If I had to recommend just one book to read over the winter break, this is an easy first choice.
Winner of this year’s National Book Award for fiction, this is a fairly quick, though layered, read. Set in the 1980s at a performing arts high school in a city resembling Houston, this might be Choi’s first novel lacking an identified Asian character. But it’s not the characters that really drive the book. It’s the superb and agile writing that impresses. The novel begins as a teen drama mainly from the perspective of a student named Sarah, which then is turned on its head to become a divergent, more complex story. The book received a lot of buzz for its surprising narrative shifts, which make the reader unsure of what to believe and what to infer. Thus, the novel’s title refers to not only the various dynamics in the book but also the truth-telling ability of writing and fiction. Finally, there is an anger in this book emblematic of the times we live in, which is well worth thinking about.
Google translation: Word!!