Like the Great State of California, we have a “superbloom” of summer reading suggestions for you. We see so much that is great at Berkeley Law, and this list reflects the depth and breadth of our community. Enjoy these over the summer - let the sunshine in. With thanks to all our contributors.
Click on book cover to read review.
This set of stories must lay claim to the most incredible backstory of any recently published fiction. The author working under the pseudonym "Bandi" is a North Korean writer who was, and maybe still is, a part of the state-authorized writers' association. The stories in the collection were written from the late 1980s into the mid -1990s, with two major events looming large - the death of the founding leader of North Korea, Kim Il Sung in 1994 , and the onset of a devastating famine that lasted from 1994 to 1998. The stories were smuggled into South Korea where they were published in 2014. Unlike other repressive regimes there has been no tradition of underground literature in North Korea, and certainly no dissident literature published from an author who still resides in the country. This makes this book a unique contribution to our understanding of North Korea.
The stories themselves are harrowing vignettes of a system that controls almost all aspects of their citizen's lives. The characters themselves, in story after story, come to the realization that the lies that they have been told are all pervasive and that there is little possibility for meaningful change. The only sense of hope one can take away from The Accusation is that the system hasn't been able to stifle all independent thought and that is reason enough to read these fascinating stories.
This book, an international best seller . here translated from the French, pulled me under its spell. It is not an easy or simple read. There is violence in it and the first third of it is especially challenging. But halfway through the story turns upside down. Violence holds little appeal these days. Why read a book about horrible deeds? So why did I read it in thirty six hours? The story is compelling and intricately plotted. The characters are well-drawn and unlike any whom I have encountered. Having read hundreds of volumes of crime fiction, I pride myself on predicting the course a book will take. This one fooled me once and, yes, fooled me twice, then fooled me a third time. It begins with a truly diminutive French police detective trying to solve the kidnapping of a young woman on a Paris street, from there it goes off the tracks. The police detective is the pivot of the story, but an intricately plotted tale whirls around him. As a true French detective, he spends much time thinking and philosophizing, but that did not stop the pages from calling me onward. This book is part of a series and my guess is that one appreciates the characters even more if one knows them better. I plan to read the first one and find out. The women who produce the bookriot podcast pointed me toward this one. Their advice will be taken seriously in the future.
Much has been written about the so-called Cambridge Spies, the four friends who managed to operate as Soviet agents at the highest levels of British government because their status as social elites placed them above suspicion. Ben Macintyre pens this biography of Kim Philby with a wry wit that highlights the utter absurdity of the situation: “Even drunken, unhinged knicker shredding, it seemed, was no bar to advancement in the British diplomatic service if one was the ‘right sort’.” But Macintyre is blunt in his documentation of the number of men and women who were tortured and killed as a direct and immediate result of Kim Philby’s betrayal – a chilling reminder of what happens when political ideology trumps human decency.
Marci Hoffman reviewed Fredrik Backman’s first 3 novels in our December 2017 Book List (and I highly recommend all 3). All I can say is that Beartown, his latest novel, surpasses them all. I started this book at 11 p.m., read all night until I finished, and then I picked it up the next day and read the whole thing again. Beartown tells many stories: that of a dying small town in northern Sweden that’s pinned its hopes on a junior hockey team, that of a family and a town torn apart by an act of violence, and what a sport and a team can mean both individually and to a community. I’ve always marveled at Backman’s ability to find the extraordinary in the everyday and in the ordinary person. The characters in this novel are heartbreakingly human. I thought this novel beautifully portrayed how someone can love and be saved by athletics, how demanding and unforgiving it is to attempt an elite level in sports, and how a pervasive sports culture can not only save lives but also destroy them and those they touch. A beautiful, wonderful, moving book.
What is one to do when their favourite period drama has long ended and no suitable replacement has yet to be found? Look to the creator of said drama of course! Enter Belgravia by Julian Fellowes. You know - the creator of Downton Abbey? This book is a sweet confection of soapy intrigues, happy endings, and proper manners all wrapped up in pretty laces and officer’s uniforms. Swoon! If you are like me you’ll see the conclusion coming from a mile away but getting there is half the fun! Be prepared as this tome clocks in at 402 pages, but it really is a breeze to read. You can find it in the Law Library’s Popular Fiction section on LL2. Check it out!
If you’ve seen the series on HBO, which started out annoying but got better, you might want to read the book it’s based on. The series had a stellar cast and a strange setting in what was called Monterey but didn’t seem like it. The book is set in Australia. Both book and series deal with relationships between the mothers and fathers of a class of kindergarteners. Someone is bullying a little girl named Amabella, but it’s not clear who. There are the usual conflicts between mothers who work outside the home and mothers who work at home. But it’s also a book about second chances and forgiveness and how complicated life is. “This can happen to anyone,” is the closing line, and it’s a book about how that is true. It’s not a book of great depth, but it’s a surprisingly good read.
I played chess every two weeks with Bob Blauner for a few years until he died last October at the age of 87. He was a far better player, but was patient with me and just enjoyed having a game or three with some Cheeseboard or a liver-and-onions sandwich from Saul's. We didn’t talk a whole lot, mostly just grimaced and harrumphed over the board.
A couple of years before he died, his wife held a party for him in their backyard. It was then that I learned of his influential scholarship in Sociology, and his courage in taking up early fights on the Berkeley campus around affirmative action and sexual harassment. His sociology work took him through factory labor issues, race, men's issues and the Loyalty Oath. Students and colleagues from all over the world stood there with their paper plates and looked Bob in the eye to tell him how much he meant to them. He wasn't happy about being the center of attention, but he put up with it without too much fuss.
Black Lives, White Lives is a collection of kitchen-table-style interviews with mostly Bay Area blacks and whites. Most of the interviews are longitudinal. We meet them in the 60s then check back in with them some years later to see how their lives and views have changed over time. The interviewer largely stays out of the way and lets the interviewee lead. The effect is open, honest and unmediated. The framework provides the necessary sociological and economic context, etc. The book shows how it impoverishes everyone when we're too busy with our own lives to listen deeply and at length to what's going on with our neighbors and their experience. They become caricatures, poster slogans, media images, political campaigns, memes. I grew up in Alabama, so it was interesting to hear the same forces named and shamed in a book about our precious Bay Area in the 1960s-80s, and to realize how some of the same tired forces are in play now in our national drama as demographics gather themselves into their bubbles.
Kidney disease took Bob down. He decided to forego treatment and experience a natural death at home. Great man, wicked chess player. Bravest guy I've ever met. Here's to ya, Bob.
I am a huge fan of the “funnies” as my dad used to call them. The Sunday funnies in color are one of my favorite things about the weekend. Back in the day (throughout the ‘80s) the comic strip Bloom County appeared in the newspaper, and I read it religiously. Starting the day with a chuckle sets the right tone, don’t you think? I even went so far as to buy a plush Opus doll that I’ve held onto through many moves during college and beyond. Tired of relentless deadlines, Breathed stopped producing his daily strip in 1989, but not before he won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning.
After a 25-year hiatus, spurred by the new “national ridiculousness,” Breathed began posting new strips to his Facebook page. The New York Times shared the good news. Posting his comic online gives Breathed the freedom to create according to his own internal deadlines. It also gives fans, and the inevitable internet trolls, the chance to comment. Since Breathed tends to develop story lines over multiple strips it’s hard to choose a good example to give you a taste of what I find so brilliant. But have a look at this strip that ran after we dropped the MOAB on Syria. And this commentary on North Carolina’s HB2.
Do yourself a favor and spend some time with Bloom County this summer. It’ll be fun!
Mary Oliver won a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984. “What are you doing with your one wild and precious life?” is a line I often quote from one of her poems. That’s the kind of poet she is – wise and wonderful, asking us the right questions. Oliver notices the quotidian details and distills them down into perfect, gem-like gifts. Short. Delectable. She points out the transformative power of the particular moment, or, as William Blake put it, “the holiness of the minute particular.” Who doesn’t need a few more holy moments in their lives. Oliver invites us to notice, ponder and be present. Read Oliver’s poems out loud to someone you love. Blue Horses is in the Berkeley Law Popular Reading collection.
This fun graphic novel takes book lovers on a ride with the Library Police as they try to track down a priceless book that has been replaced with a forgery right under the Oakland Public Library's nose. It's a detective story in a library setting, circa 1973, involving card catalogs, microfilm, book preservation, and more. Available in print and online.
Back in the mists of time I had a student job filing cards in a card catalog. I had to adhere to the complex and sometimes impenetrable Library of Congress Filing Rules, and it was work that suited me well. So it’s not a surprise that I rushed to order a copy of the Library of Congress’ new publication, The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it turns out to be a fun read, full of both history and images of libraries, books, and catalog cards. Many of the cards are written in a standardized handwriting style called “library hand”, created by Thomas Edison and Melvil Dewey. I also was intrigued to learn that in 1791 the French developed cataloging rules that relied on playing cards, which at the time were blank on one side and were available throughout the country. Because of their uniform size, they were perfect for recording a book’s author, title, and date. My favorite picture is a photo of the Library of Congress Card Division in 1919. I would have loved to have been perched on scaffolding when I filed my cards so many years ago.
I like books with a great plot – and Dark Matter delivers! The story revolves around our hero, Jason Dessen, a quantum physicist, who was at one point headed toward a brilliant career in research. But life intervened and now he is a professor at a small Chicago college, content with his warm and loving family life. That is, until he’s abducted into a world in which his quantum many-worlds theory has become a fully realized technology for inter-dimensional transfer.
I don't want to give any more of the plot away except to say that it's like nothing you've ever read and is full of twists and turns. It’s a truly fabulous yarn told at breakneck speed. It’s the kind of book you want to stay up way past your bedtime to read and, when it’s over, you wish there was more. It’s super smart and keeps you on your toes – a perfect book for summer vacation!
This powerful book has garnered a bouquet of awards and deserves each and every one of them. To research the question of eviction and how it affects the poorest Americans, the author lived in Milwaukee, the most segregated city in the U.S., embedding himself first in a trailer park of whites, then in a boarding house of blacks. It is a book about the terrible mistreatment of the poorest in society. For these people there is no safety net. Rents for abysmal lodgings are almost as high as for regular apartments. Seriatum evictions make the life of the poorest even more wretched. The book can almost be too much to bear, but the author infuses the book with humanity. Not many books fundamentally alter my thinking. This one did.
During the ‘90s I worked at a public library where selection of classical music recordings for the collection was among my duties. I read every bimonthly issue of Fanfare for business and pleasure. When I left in 2001, I lost my employer-subsidized access to the magazine. Now in 2017 I have finally ponied up for a personal subscription, of which two issues so far have arrived. After sixteen years, I’m delighted to encounter it again. Some of the reviewers of old remain, some have departed, and new reviewers have joined the roster. As before, the reviewers are the heart, soul, and brains of Fanfare.
First, a note about nomenclature. If Fanfare is a “magazine,” then Gateau St. Honoré is a “muffin.” The most recent issue is eight pages shy of a whopping 600, encompassing hundreds of reviews of new recordings on multiple media, and more than a dozen articles spotlighting musicians and composers, each including reviews of recordings of their work. Reviews run a few paragraphs to a few pages.
The reviewers are deeply knowledgeable and opinionated musicians, scholars, and enthusiasts who recount summary histories and characteristics of works, recordings, composers, performers, performances, and performance practices to set a background for judging the release under review against the competition. Critical observations are both subjective and objective. Reviewers approach each new recording (or reissue of an old recording) in a spirit of charity and eager appreciation, but they do not pull punches. Of a 2008 live recording of Dvořák’s Symphony no. 9 a reviewer writes, “The New Cologne Philharmonic is a puppy. Everything is properly connected. But the hindquarters and forepaws don’t always consult one another.” (In a past issue a review of a New Age-y piano recital concludes, “This is a music journal and it is the music that we judge: Awful. Insulting to the intelligence. Bland. Useless. Avoid.”) Nor are the reviewers always in agreement. One complains about a new release of Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole,
[T]he more I listened to [the solo violinist’s] Lalo, machine-like was exactly how it sounded to me…. It has all been pre-programmed and carries out its set of instructions like a computer executing lines of code. Take the rhythmic component, for example. Never mind setting your watch by it; it’s so exact and rigid it could set the atomic clock.
…while another waxes, “This is an inspired CD in every way…. I don’t know what it tells one to say so, but I’ve been listening to this piece for 44 years—and I’ve never liked it so much as today.”
Every issue of Fanfare is a musical education, and an entertaining one at that. Echoing reviewers when they celebrate a superlative release, I declare Fanfare “Urgently recommended.”
Flush is about a kid, his sister, mother, and father. Noah, the kid, went to see his father in jail. The father is in jail because he sank a casino boat called the Coral Queen. He believed that Dusty, who ran the Coral Queen, had been dumping waste from the boat into the water. A lot of kids who went to Thunder Beach were getting sick. The book is written from Noah’s perspective. He knows that his dad can get carried away sometimes, but he also knows that his dad does the wrong things, but for the right reasons.
Do you think that Dusty was really dumping the waste? Does the father get out of jail? Well, you should read on then!
I really recommend this book. I have never read anything like it! It’s really entertaining and, at the same time, it teaches you about pollution.
I just read this book, straight through, on a cross-country flight. If you loved Batuman’s earlier book, The Possessed, you will love this one, too. Apparently it’s a novel she wrote straight out of college and then put aside. Twenty years later she looked at it again, realized it was horrible, and rewrote it. It’s wonderful. It’s a story about being a 6’ tall Turkish-American woman from New Jersey who is a freshman at Harvard. It’s a story about being that tender age when you don’t really know anything, and you think there is an answer to the question of what life is about. It’s about being so much in love that you can’t even talk. So many details are given, so flatly, because when you’re that age, you don’t actually know which ones are important. It’s very funny.
Selin Karadag arrives at college just when colleges started handing out email addresses. Through happenstance more than anything else she ends up taking Russian where she reads the rather odd story of “Nina in Siberia.” “The story was ingeniously written, using only the grammar that we had learned so far. Because we hadn’t learned the dative case, Ivan’s father, instead of handing the letter to Nina, had to say, ‘There, on the table, is a letter.’ Because we hadn’t learned the verbs of motion, nobody said outright, ‘Ivan went to Siberia.’ Instead, Ivan wrote, ‘When you receive this letter, I will be in Siberia.’ The story had a stilted feel, and yet while you were reading you felt totally inside its world, a world where reality mirrored the grammar constraints, and what Slavic 101 couldn’t name didn’t exist.”
In her Russian class, she also meets an older math student, Ivan, and falls hopelessly in love with him.
The book opens with a quote from Proust which ends, “In later life we look at things in a more practical way, in full conformity with the rest of society, but adolescence is the only period in which we learn anything.” The Idiot is a painfully hilarious, painfully accurate recounting of that desperate and embarrassing phase of life in which we learn everything.
Everyone should have a biographer as skilled and forgiving as Susan Faludi, the feminist author and journalist. This sympathetic portrait of Faludi’s parent, from whom she had been long-estranged, is about identity, grievance, obligation, culpability and family. When Faludi learns that her seventy-six year old father has undergone sex-reassignment surgery and identifies as “a complete woman now” she travels to Hungary to reunite with the parent who had often been explosive and violent. Faludi’s father had many incarnations – American dad, Jewish fugitive in Holocaust Budapest -- and was a photographer who built his career on the alteration of images. Faludi’s inquiry into her family’s history and her father’s metamorphosis is a gripping tale. That Faludi ultimately comes to understand and forgive her father is extraordinary. Faludi writes “I set out to investigate someone I scarcely knew. The project began with the grievance of a daughter whose parent had absconded from her life. . . I was preparing an indictment, amassing discovery for a trial. But somewhere along the line, the prosecutor became a witness.” It is a complex story, and Faludi’s journalistic and research skills are put to use as she uncovers the truth about her family’s history. Her willingness and ability to tell her father’s story is a gift, both to her parent Stefanie Faludi, and to her readers.
I think it's safe to say that most of us know Mary Poppins as portrayed by Julie Andrews. I have started reading the books to my son and I can say I have some real beef with Walt Disney. The Mary Poppins of the book is not a likeable person. She's incredibly narcissistic, a bit unpleasant, and seemingly never breaks out into song. I'm sure there's some interpretation here that her outward persona is like that because it makes the magic more exciting but even as an adult I don't like her and I refuse to accept that interpretation. I can't imagine a kid reading this book and thinking 'Ah, I see what you did there Ms. Travers. Very clever!'
There are still more books to go in the series and maybe the character begins to align with the movie but I refuse to give Walt a pass and here's why: the best adventures taken in the book are not in the movie! So that means that the main character is not accurately represented and the best parts of the book are not included. The movie was entertaining but think how good it could have been. It reminds me of the 'Saving Mr. Banks' movie. Did P.L. Travers cry at the end out of relief as that movie implied? Apparently not. There's another lie in your hat Mr. Disney! The New Yorker wrote a piece about how she cried because she was furious with Walt for the way he (mis)treated her books. And now I'm furious too. I will never read about the Von Trapp family because surely I will find out that Julie Andrews made another unlikeable to mediocre person likeable. How far does this reach? Was the Little Mermaid actually a regular mermaid that lured sailors to their death? Was Cruella de Vil actually just a puppy hoarder and her story is more sad than evil? I mean, we can all be sure that Pocahontas was entirely inaccurate. Listen to the Myths and Legends podcast for a good, real story about John Smith (who was a shyster).
I suppose this is a book review though and Walt Disney will not be reading my rant any time soon. The book is good. It's an easy read with lots of good adventures. You can borrow my copy.
The Noir series from Askashic Books has been around since 2004 publishing gritty short story collections based in specific geographic locations, from Brooklyn to Tehran. San Francisco has two collections in the series. It was about time that Oakland was added to the list. Oakland Noir brings together a wonderfully diverse selection of writers, each of them basing their particular story in a defined East Bay location - whether it is the Fruitvale Bridge, the famous White Horse Inn in North Oakland ("the oldest LGBT watering hole in the US") the Victorian homes of Alameda, Sausal Creek or Eastmont. The book isn't however just a nod to Oakland locations but a strong collection of interesting, surprising and sometimes grim stories.
While giving birth to her first child, Kerry Egan suffered a drug-induced psychotic disorder that lasted seven months. She recovered and is now a Harvard Divinity School-trained hospice chaplain, and her work is to be present with and listen to men and women as they do the hard work of dying. This isn’t a book about dying, though, it’s a book about the spiritual work of being a human being, which is learning how to love and how to forgive. Ultimately, “On Living” is an invitation to open your heart to your own life. Chapter titles “If I Had Only Known, I Would Have Danced More” and “It’s a Beautiful Life and Then You Leave It” telegraph the poignant yet direct nature of this lovely book. Egan has the gift of listening deeply and then writing clearly about the stuff that really matters in a life.
Are you feeling slightly overwhelmed with so much information, and trying to make decisions? Then this book is for you. It is a wonderful resource and guide to help organize and streamline. Topics covered include, organizing our homes, our social world, our time, the business world, and organizing information for the hardest decisions. Each chapter is full of useful tips that can be easily applied to daily life.
Although this book came out in 2015, I didn’t hear about it until recently through “Trumpcast,” a Slate Magazine podcast1
This is an interesting story about power, greed, Russian Oligarchs, human rights, and so much more. The author, Bill Browder, has an equally interesting lineage. His grandfather was the foremost American communist in the 1930’s and 1940’s. In fact, grandpa, Earl Browder ran for president as a communist -- twice. This Stanford MBA decided that he wanted to leave his family’s left-leaning history behind and became the “biggest capitalist in Eastern Europe.” He makes boatloads of money while building the largest hedge fund in Russia. Then the Russian oligarchs, including Putin, start to take notice and his life and the lives of others are turned upside-down. He’s deported, unable to work in Russia, and many of his company’s assets are stolen. However, what really changes his life is the arrest and murder of one of his Russian lawyers, Sergei Magnitsky.
Upon learning that Magnitsky was beaten to death by prison guards, Browder fights back against the Russian government. He uses social media and newspapers to get out information about what happened to his lawyer. Eventually, this takes him into the realm of U.S. politics and the Magnitsky Act. In 2012, Browder (and others) persuade Congress to pass a law imposing sanctions against the Russian government officials said to be responsible for Magnitsky’s torture and death. Of course, this action makes the Russian government take further action against Browder and his associates, even trying to issue an Interpol Red Notice.2
The book is a good read, even if you could care less about hedge funds and Browder’s path to fortune. Browder does make himself look rather good throughout the book (“one man’s fight for justice” – it was more than one man), but this doesn’t take away from the story or the end result.
Along with the book, I recommend the podcast, especially in light of the recent interest in Putin and Russia.
Originally published in Japan in 1998, these overlapping stories share macabre themes and twisted psyches, perhaps reflecting a modern-day anxiety as well as evoking the ghost story tradition. The title of the English-language edition doesn't seem quite right, as the stories are not about vengeance-seeking but instead show layers within layers of a world populated by odd, disturbed characters. Presented in deceptively simple language and style, this is a quick summer read for those with a taste for the bizarre.
The book, The Schwa Was Here, by Neal Shusterman, is about an eighth grader named Antsy Bonano, who becomes friends with Calvin Schwa, a kid that no one seems to notice. For some reason, nobody can remember when they met him. Antsy’s best friends are Howie, who never thinks outside of the box; and Ira, who uses his camera to film everything. Since they were all bored, they try to do almost everything to get Manny Bullpucky to break (Ira films it all). Manny Bullpucky is a plastic dummy made of “a new ultra-high-grade lightweight plastic,” made at Pisher Plastic Products, where Antsy’s dad works. His dad wants them to test if the plastic really is unbreakable. They finally choose to throw Manny off of Marine Park Bridge onto the rocks in the water. When he hits the jagged rocks, his head pops off, leaving Manny headless on therocks. As it turns out Manny is not breakable because his head is connected with a ball and socket joint, making the head easy to snap on. Then, a mysterious kid asks if they are looking for the head. He is barely noticeable. When he introduces himself as Calvin Schwa, Ira is shocked because there are lots of rumors about why nobody notices the Schwa. Throughout the rest of the book, they try to prove that the Schwa Effect (whether the Schwa can or cannot be seen when doing things like dress crazily or bring an iron bar through airport security) is true.
I recommend this book to middle-schoolers because of its complicated storyline. I like this book because the plot is super addictive. There are also two more books in the series with Antsy Bonano: Antsy Does Time , and Ship Out of Luck .
I do not seek out books about war or military history, but an upcoming trip to Spain has me searching for engaging reading material about the country. Spain in Our Hearts, by historian Adam Hochschild, is a book that I highly recommend regardless of any travel plans. It tells the story of the roughly 32,000 men and women, including about 2,800 Americans, who volunteered to serve on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War as soldiers, medical staff, and other workers. Hochschild also writes about the journalists who reported the stories and the artists whose works reflected the plight of the democratic Republicans, including Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, and Pablo Picasso.
By focusing on the volunteers whose political passions or wish for adventure led them to help the Spaniards fight fascism in the lead-up to World War II, Hochschild retells a familiar story through their eyes using such sources as letters, journals, diaries, memoirs, and contemporary newspaper articles. He also finds relevance in today’s political climate, writing: “Aspects of 1930s Spain still seem all too similar to many countries today: the great gap between rich and poor, and the struggle between an authoritarian dictatorship and millions of powerless people long denied their fair share of land, education, and so much more. These things make Spain of the 1930s a crucial battleground of its time, a resonant one for ours as well.”
This collection of short stories by award-winning sci-fi writer Chiang was reissued in 2016 as a tie-in to a recent adaptation of one of the stories into the film "Arrival." Even readers who do not usually go for science fiction will get a lot out of these idea-popping, thought-provoking stories. Each one is written in a clear, approachable style, showing the author's concern for language, human connection, and high-level concepts. Engaging and intelligent.
Ominous from the very beginning, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian is an allegory steeped in surrealism. The book, clocking in at just under 200 pages, is broken up in three parts. In the first act of the story we meet Yeong-hye, the vegetarian in question, through her emotionally distant and occasionally abusive husband. In the second act, we witness Yeong-hye through the sexual obsession of her brother-in-law. Finally, in the third act we hear the completion of the story of Yeong-hye through her sister, whom has taken on the responsibility of her care despite the events that transpired in the first and second parts of the book. Confused? Good, because you will be. The author has stated that the book is a statement on modern day Korea, and that was the impression I was left with when I was done reading The Vegetarian. This story touches on many different topics: conformism, the agency of women, mental illness, abuse, family ties, and bodily autonomy. Yeong-hye’s vegetarianism is a stand-in for both her physical starvation as-well-as her emotional starvation, which are both a direct result of an individual bumping up against the fourth wall of the culture between she and we the audience. We expect her to act in specific ways related to the social conventions of her birth, or in rebellion against it. She does neither. It’s an interesting and strange read and, since it’s so short, well worth the time spent lost in the maze of this story. The Vegetarian is located in the library’s fiction section. Check it out!
A beautifully crafted book of short stories that span different time periods and landscapes, both emotional and physical, Helen Oyeyemi’s What is Not Yours is Not Yours uses keys and locks to explore the themes of connection and discovery. Oyeyemi’s prose drifts the reader from one place to another as we meet or follow some characters that appear and reappear throughout the stories creating a chain that is linked together and in separate pieces at the same time. This is my first experience with reading any of Oyeyemi's work and I find her writing sublime though admittedly impenetrable at times. Despite that hurdle, What is Not Yours is Not Yours is a weird and wonderful read that satisfies like a piece of lemon cake; tart and sweet. What is Not Yours is Not Yours is located in the library’s fiction collection. Check it out!
This historical novel tells the story of three fictional women, widows of anti-Hitler conspirators who were executed after the failed assassination plot on Hitler’s life on July 20, 1944 (aka Operation Valkyrie). Marianne, an aristocrat, having promised to take care of the wives if the plot fails, finds 2 other widows, Benita and Ania, in the post-war chaos and (they together with their young children) take refuge in Marianne’s crumbling castle in northern Germany. This is not so much the story of the war but of its aftermath and the long shadow war casts on those who survive. The three women are very different. Marianne, the putative leader, is devoted to preserving the dead men’s legacies with a self-righteousness that hinders her ability to understand and help those around her. Benita, the beautiful much younger widow of Marianne’s closest childhood friend, is much more ambivalent and somehow lost in the postwar world. The third, Ania, the widow of a Polish aristocrat and the most capable at helping the group survive the shortages and dangers of the immediate post-war era, has her own secrets.
Through these women Shattuck demonstrates the mental damage war inflicts on survivors. And, while no one in the immediate group committed horrible atrocities during the war, some were complicit. The book made me ask myself repeatedly what would anyone have done given some of the same choices. While the book focuses primarily on the immediate post-war era, the story travels from 1923 to 1991. The Women in the Castle is a beautifully written tale of endurance.
There are so many terrific podcasts out there that it was hard to pick just one. But since this is coming from the Law Library, I thought I’d focus on my favorite one about books and authors - Writers & Company, a CBC Radio podcast hosted by Eleanor Wachtel. Like many things Canadian it truly is better than all the rest. Wachtel has been at this since 1990, first only as a weekly radio broadcast and then also as a podcast. There is a great online archive of older stuff. Wachtel has a marvelous voice and a unique ability to get authors talking about themselves, their work, and the writing process while avoiding the obvious cliches. I have a soft spot for this podcast as my youngest daughter and I used to listen to it on the drive to and from high school and together we learned about lesser publicized authors from Pakistan, Iran, and Africa as well as insights from folks as diverse as George Saunders, Fran Lebowtiz and Michel Tremblay. If you have a long drive ahead or just a boring task around the house tune into Writers & Company - the time will fly by.