Photo credit: Edna Lewis
The Berkeley Law Library’s Summer 2022 Reading List - eclectic, amusing, erudite, thoughtful, engaging - like Berkeley Law itself. Thanks to our many contributors.
Have a wonderful summer!
THE BERKELEY LAW LIBRARY
Click on book cover to read review.
This is a collection of short stories about Cambodian-Americans in the Central Valley. The stories touch on themes of generational trauma, identity, sexuality, gender, and cultural conflict. So is a talented storyteller who died in December 2021 at the age of 28.
Ozeki’s sprawling novel covers love and loss along with lots of her usual big ideas in telling the story of 14-year-old Benny Oh and his mother, Annabelle, following the death of Benny’s beloved, jazz clarinetist father. The central narrator is The Book itself telling us the story and acting as a sort of guiding spirit for Benny. Additionally, there are many other voices (too many?) populating this story, including Benny himself, who contributes his own interpolated responses to the narrative, along with the thoughts of various objects and personalities that Benny begins to hear in his head – and which allows the reader to comprehend the cacophonous interior landscape that is tormenting Benny. Benny’s mother, Annabelle, also struggles to cope with her loss and to raise Benny as a single parent; she starts to develop a hoarding problem, for which she seeks help from a bestselling book called Tidy Magic, written by a Japanese Zen priest. In all, this is an imperfect, big-hearted book that centers attention on characters usually relegated to the margins as it celebrates self-discovery and the beauty of imperfection.
The Candy House is an inventive and electrifying exploration of memory, privacy, and authenticity in the digital age. Jennifer Egan weaves together a series of fragmented stories against the backdrop of social technology and the invention of “Own Your Unconscious” – an imagined virtual platform that enables users to upload and share their memories.
Egan fans will recognize characters from her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, A Visit From The Goon Squad, as well as her innovative writing forms. In Goon Squad, Egan experimented with a PowerPoint chapter, this time around there are chapters written in tweets, emails and text messages. Don’t worry if you haven’t read Goon Squad - this novel is more of a remix than a sequel.
Keep in mind that The Candy House requires more focus than the typical summer beach read. The connections between the stories are complex and narrative swings back and forth over seven decades. You’ll need to pay attention in order to connect the dots, but it is well worth the effort!
Freud knew how to wield a pen. (Sometimes a pen is just a pen. In fact, there is some dispute about whether Freud even uttered the quip about a cigar.) His prose is clear, his imagery evocative, and the logic compelling, if tentative. The discontents of civilization are those suffered by human beings, whose natural instincts our civilization would regulate in ways that demand harmful reinvestment of the energies the instincts seek to expend. Freud is not optimistic about the outcome, and some of his observations remain timelessly discouraging. For example, near the conclusion of the tiny book he writes, “Men [sic] have gained control over the forces of nature to such an extent that with their help they would have no difficulty in exterminating one another to the last man [sic].” He wrote this in 1930, well before the advent of nuclear weaponry. I want to read more Freud, but maybe I’ll choose a less gloomy title, say, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious.
The (mostly unnamed) protagonist of Chang’s debut novel is a young woman living and working in 2013 as a freelance tech reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area, who undergoes a quarter-life crisis as she leaves her job at an online publisher to trail her boyfriend starting his graduate program in Ithaca, NY. The narrative unfolds in a fragmentary series of blocks or snippets of text—appropriate for a distracted millennial, and grouped not so much by chapters as by location markers and white space to create a sort of novel-as-collage. She begins to awaken to the identity issues all around and within her, taking notice of instances of sexism, racism, and daily microaggressions. While the novel hits a bump in its Ithaca section, perhaps too aptly capturing its protagonist’s sense of ennui and dullness, it is very worthwhile to read a book that interrogates the Asian American female/white male pairing from the woman’s perspective. A section devoted to visiting her charismatic father in Zhuhai, China, is the best part of the book. Chang is one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” honorees of 2022.
My second favorite recent book (after the Torqued Man, recommended elsewhere in this list) is not just for librarians: Eva Jurczyk’s The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. Like The Torqued Man it is a great summer read even though I read it in the winter.
I will admit that the title of this book drew me in. I was further interested in the story because it takes place in the town where I live. Be warned though.This is a first-class tearjerker. Kat Monroe, a sophomore at Albany High, has to sit next to her former best friend, Evan, in carpool even though she hasn’t quite forgiven him for a betrayal. She has to deal with mean girls at school, and she’s at odds with her older sister, Rachel. Standard high school drama if she didn’t also have to deal with the fact that her younger brother’s leukemia has returned with a vengeance. I could relate to all these characters: the anxious mom, the dad who escapes into his work, the sister who tries to help as best she can. The character development is so good I was completely invested in all these young peoples’ lives. Kat and Rachel have active lives online through anonymous avatars. They interact in an online group for families of cancer patients. And Evan has a family history that puts him in a unique position to understand. Do yourself a favor. Don’t start this book if you have other things that need to be done, and have tissues handy. I devoured this story in a few days.
In A Double Life Berry imagines a fictionalized solution to the 1974 disappearance of Lord Lucan, the British peer accused of murdering the family nanny before disappearing never to be found. Thirty years before Claire, now a physician in London, and her brother Robbie survived an attack by a man presumed to have been her titled father. They escaped the house but their nanny was bludgeoned to death. Their father disappeared the same night. Though she has built a quiet and successful life for herself, neither she nor her brother has ever completely moved beyond the violence of that attack. Did her father really plan to kill them along with their nanny, and why? Is he really innocent, who helped him get away, and if he’s still alive, where is he and what has he been doing? And then there’s a report that he’s been seen, as there have been many over the past 30 years. But Claire feels this one might be real, and takes up the chase. Another quick, engrossing read.
If, like me, you take comfort in the fact that, though I doubt we're actually capable of acting in time to prevent the current climate apocalypse, the earth will survive without us, this is the book for you. Brannen takes us through six previous extinctions from which the earth has recovered (though it takes some time, like 5 million years). It's interesting and readable, and a fascinating glimpse into all the very different kinds of earths (geological and biological) that have existed over a very long time.
At over 900 pages, this is a long read! But it's written in an engaging manner and goes quickly. It covers the legal and political fight for same-sex marriage, delving into the individual personalities and conflicts along the way.
If you know anything about Harvey Fierstein you must listen to the audiobook as it’s read by him in his one of a kind gravelly rasp. If you have any interest in musical theater over the past 40 years it’s a treasure trove. I was aware of Feinsten’s Tony award winning role in Broadway’s Hairspray but did not know that he is the master behind such other hits as La Cage aux Folles, Kinky Boots, Newsies and Torch Song Trilogy. He also had roles in Mrs. Doubtfire, Independence Day, Cheers, and other TV shows as well as playing Tevye in a Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof. Fierstein was “Loud and Proud” long before that was part of mainstream culture and his stories of growing up different in a 1950s Brooklyn Jewish family, becoming part of the freewheeling gay culture in Manhattan in the early 70s, and his dogged advocacy in the midst of the AIDS epidemic are a moving personal history. Plus he’s candid, quirky, and often hilarious. This is a great listen.
As a long time Oakland resident I was excited to see the publication by University of California Press of this new history of the city from Mitchell Schwarzer, a Professor of Architectural and Urban History. Rather than a chronological telling of the history of Oakland, Schwarzer takes a thematic approach based on the built environment. The chapters focus on issues such as transportation, housing, industrialization (and deindustrialization), parks, sports teams and even shopping centers. However, this is no dry academic tome but lively and engaging storytelling. It was the type of book whereby I was enlightening friends and family with fascinating nuggets about the place we live. I had no idea that until the 1960s Oakland was home to major automobile manufacturing, or that the development of the wonderful East Bay Regional Park system was spurred on by the fact that the politicians in Oakland refused to fund a robust city park system.
I discovered that in addition to Children's Fairyland at Lake Merritt, there was another play area in the 1950s called "Peralta Playland" for older children at the other end of the lake which included a 60 foot long rocket ship for 32 passengers.I've found myself figuring out where the long gone streetcar lines - the Key System - used to run through my neighborhood. This book is a wonderful read for anyone with an interest in the history of Oakland.
Owls are great. I don't think this statement is controversial unless an owl swooped down and ate a family pet at some point in your life or if you are a fan of the logging industry. When I first started reading this book I was looking for something interesting that I could read to my kids that I would also find interesting. I expected some good owl facts and some basic owl information. This book has those things and a fair amount more. What I like best about this book is the author's ability to be an expert but also write about owls in a way that fully embraces how much she doesn't know about owls. Each chapter jumps to a new adventure featuring a story about a different species of owl and how the author is able to encounter and learn more about each species from other experts. In my mind, owls occupy a couple different images but this book really opened up my imagination to many of the different species. Are you interested in a discussion about climate change and invasive species? This has that too. I always think of plants and spiders as invasive species and now my list is longer. Now, when I'm walking around near almost any group of trees, I look up and wonder if there are any owls hiding in those trees. The answer is 'probably but probably not in the tree that I am looking at right now.'
I recommend Hitler's American Gamble by Brendan Simms and Charlie Laderman. This excellent history is an account of the five days between Pearl Harbor and Hitler's declaration of war against the United States. Hitler was obliged by treaty to come to Japan's aid if it was attacked, but was not obliged to join Japan in making war. Roosevelt almost certainly wanted to declare war on Germany but isolationist feeling was probably still too strong to enable him to do so in late 1941, and probably would have been for at least some time thereafter. Accordingly, Hitler would not have been at war with the United States had he not declared it himself. This book sets out day by day how and why he made his fateful decision.
Over the past few years I have read several of Childs' books--The Way Out, Soul of Nowhere, The Secret Knowledge of Water, and Atlas of a Lost World, almost all purchased at the Back and Beyond Bookstore in Moab, Utah. All are wonderful, but The House of Rain stands out. Childs grew up in and knows the southwest inside out, he has an awe of nature, and is a keen reader of anthropology and archeology. All these interests are brought together in The House of Rain.
I have been paddling the Green River canyons in Utah for forty years, and one of the great unknowns is the near-instant disappearance of the Anasazi culture along the river bottoms about eight hundred years ago. Childs addresses this mystery, and places it in a broader context, both historically and geographically. Drawing on the reports of modern archeology (carbon dating, pottery shard and basket work designs, stone tools) as well as photographs from space, and long-distance treks), he locates the Anasazi as part of one huge culture of canyon dwellers that spanned what is now Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Northern Mexico, whose separate units would expand and contract with shifts in the climate, concentrating on higher plateaus and the canyons flowing off them them in times of drought, and fanning out across the lower desert regions during wetter periods. In reconstructing this pattern, he describes ancient Roman-like road---straight lines hundreds of miles long linking various settlement sites, lookout points on mesas that allowed communication across vast distances, and astronomical sites that recorded specific times of the year. with stop-watch precision. He reports that cities were build and rebuilt on top of each other over hundreds of years, and reflects on the travel patterns of traders---sea shells from the Pacific, and flint from the north. In short, he presents a highly mobile culture which was in a continuous state of flux depending on weather patterns. The Anasazi did not disappear; they were part of a larger culture that just kept moving about. On my paddle down the Green River this past October, as I passed a family in a canoe, I pointed out a high cliff dwelling to their eight year old boy. I said, "look at the Anasazi cliff dwelling up there." Without a pause, he responded, "there were no Anasazi, just a great group of 'Southwestern desert peoples' who moved in and out of here." I acknowledged my carelessness, and congratulated his parents. They too apparently had read The House of Rain--and had taken their son out of school for experiential education.
Over the past few years I've also been reading some of the writings of Maimonides. When I started I thought of him as the supreme rationalist, and wondered if he were not even a secret atheist (I'm too influenced by Leo Strauss, perhaps), but as I read Maimonides, I found that his rationalism led him to mysticism, a confrontation with the unimaginable and inexpressible, the origins and size of the universe, which overwhelmed him, and left him near-wordless. The House of Rain conveys this same deep respect for scientific explanation, combined with yearning, awe, and wonder, thus providing, or at least attempting to provide, an account of the inexplicable and a glimpse of the infinite.
The Watergate Girl by Jill Wine-Banks is a real page turner. It's fantastic and something from which our students in particular could learn a lot.
Editor’s Note: Professor Tyler also recommends her latest book Habeas Corpus: A Very Short Introduction. For more information on this book and other 2021 Berkeley Law books check out our web display.
Brian Dirck’s account of Lincoln’s legal career provides a window into Lincoln’s moral and professional development, legal education, legal ethics, and nineteenth century America.
My favorite way to learn history is through fiction. This novel focuses on the character of Ailey Garfield whose family is from the fictional town of Chicasetta, Georgia. The story begins with the Creek people who lived in the area before it was “discovered.” The characters bring to life the devastating effects of generations of racism and oppression, and they make it personal. Ailey’s great-uncle Root tells stories of the family’s history and its deep connection to the land they live on. But Ailey takes a true deep dive into her family’s story when she starts working as a research assistant for a history professor at her alma mater. I have to admit the chapter about Ailey’s work organizing her boss’ research material and her work in the University’s archives spoke to my librarian heart. I came away from this book with a deeper understanding of colorism and how profoundly the study of history is affected by the historian’s lived experience.
This novel owes something to Mark Haddon's Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (and with a similar red cover) and maybe Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. It's a mystery set in the hotel where Molly Gray is a maid. Things are more complicated than they seem (to Molly) and the mystery is solved and Molly's life gets better by the end of the book. It's fun.
This is such a fun book - a perfect summer read. It’s the 1970s and 14 year old Mary Jane, a sheltered only child from a straight-laced judgy Baltimore family takes a job as a nanny for a progressive couple and finds that the dad, a psychiatrist, is treating a famous rock star for addiction and he and his movie star wife are secretly living there (which Mary Jane keeps from her parents knowing it would deep six her job). The house and its inhabitants are a total mess, and over the summer in a “Who's the adult here?” manner Mary Jane imposes order - clean clothes, clean house, regular meals. At the same time she learns about a different way of living and more importantly a different way of thinking and of course things inevitably come to a head. A charming coming of age story.
This collection of seven stories originally appeared in 2014; the English translation was published in 2017. It is receiving renewed attention because of its connection to the 2021 film Drive My Car directed by Hamaguchi Ryusuke and winner of the Oscar for Best International Feature. The film is most directly based on the story “Drive My Car” but is also influenced by two other stories (“Scheherazade” and “Kino”) in the collection. Frankly, I thought the stories were greatly enhanced by reading them in conjunction with seeing the movie. Without the movie, these stories, while entertaining to read, are classic Murakami tales presenting the usual male-centric, quirky point of view. The movie, though, takes that alienated, isolated masculine stance and then goes beyond it to achieve a more fully realized, humanistic, and hopeful world view. The book is an enjoyable summer read and leaves one with some memorable insights, but for a richer experience, watch the movie also. (And read Chekhov.)
I have been recommending The Ministry For The Future by Kim Stanley Robinson to everyone I meet. It's a science fiction/speculative non-fiction book about an obscure UN agency tasked with representing the future and implementing climate change solutions. The book explores the logical outcomes of current scientific and political ideas about climate change: everything from cloud seeding to eco-terrorism, returning half the land to nature, eco-religion, carbon cryptocurrency, and dirigible travel. Robinson was called an "anti-anti-utopianist" by the New Yorker in a recent profile. It was on Barack Obama's list of 2021 books.
Not long after its publication I read this collection of three lectures delivered extemporaneously at Princeton in 1970 by a young Saul Kripke. Recently I reread it and understood much more than before, if still not enough to produce a meaningful review. The two nouns in the title refer to our assignment of names to people, objects, events, concepts, etc., and to how certain kinds of statements, particularly those implicating names, are necessarily true. Kripke’s task is to flesh out the innocuous “and” in between. He offers conclusions that managed to up-end the prevailing “descriptive theories of names” derived from Frege and Russell. He coined the term “rigid designator” to characterize those names that necessarily refer to the same referent (person, object, etc.) in all possible worlds. I suppose one way to illustrate this is to state that since “Saul Kripke” (in all relevant contexts) refers precisely to that guy, the one whom we know as the author of Naming and Necessity, then “Saul Kripke” can’t refer to some other guy in any other world, even though it’s possible that in that other world Saul Kripke did not deliver the lectures that comprise Naming and Necessity. If that isn’t mind-bending enough, consider that a 6-year-old Kripke taught himself Ancient Hebrew, and that he read all of Shakespeare before he turned 10. (I didn’t even manage to read all of the extant issues of Mad magazine by that age.) The payoff for the mere mortal reader of Kripke’s affection for language and literature is that his brief book, despite its difficulty, is a pleasure to read and ponder. I believe it will remain so on the third go-round.
Tessa is a BBC producer and young mother in Belfast. She lives an uncomplicated, politically uninvolved life, and if she had ever thought about it, would be quite sure that her only sister, Marian did as well. Until Tessa sees Marian on the news, participating in an IRA raid. The story is present day, after the Good Friday agreement, but we learn that the IRA never really went away, they just moved underground. How did Tessa’s sister, who so lovingly helps care for her toddler son become one of them? And with the police at her door and a still violent IRA, just a step behind how will Tessa save her son, her sister, and herself? A quick, yet eye-opening read.
Jennifer Raff is a geneticist who unravels the genetic explanation for how and when people first came to the Americas. That's an interesting story in itself, but she also sensitively explores the unsavory history of archaeology in the Americas and discusses how archaeologists and geneticists can continue to explore the subject in a way that includes and respects the perspectives of the descendants of those people themselves.
If you hypothetically accepted a position while a healthy triathlete who rarely took Advil, and seven years later had five doctors and daily medications for the effects of chronic stress and sleep deprivation, you might be the kind of person inclined to pause in front of the subtly embossed, Nth-wave feminist cover of Pay Up: The Future of Women and Work. Especially, if its parentheses promised that it would not be the Nth incarnation of the amply-empirically-tested “lean in” Grl Power narrative, wherein women readers would be told they could have it all if only they learned to Delegate! Color code your calendar to stay organized! Declare the weekends an e-mail free zone! Exercise!
The author of this overdue book is Reshma Saujani, the razor-sharp erstwhile congressional candidate turned Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. A master of concision (I am exhausted), strong openings (I did everything right), and declarative sentence as battle cry (Let’s get loud and finish this fight once and for all), Saujani explains how the pandemic-induced, disproportionately female Great Resignation has made broadly visible a truth heretofore held in conspiratorial silence by modern American women: that through chronic over-work, each had long been walking the line between mere loss of sleep and loss of sanity.
In 189 pages that should be assigned to all men — and especially, those in positions of structural power (while remaining optional for already fully allocated women) — Saujani sequentially impugns and rewrites male-constructed role narratives that, in their workplace implications, continue to deplete women energetically and prevent them from rising to their natural level. The book’s authorship by a woman of color is also significant in this moment, when racial mistrust among women—however amply historically justified—so often works to the detriment of their future-looking common cause.
The revolution cannot come too soon. Preferably: before 10:00 pm.
This is a different sort of mystery, one I highly recommend. It’s Illinois 1999 and Samantha has been a dancer at a local strip club while trying to maintain a normal relationship with her boyfriend and to be a mother to his young daughter. One night when Samantha gives another stripper a ride home, her car is run off the road, the other girl is strangled and Samantha is nowhere to be found. The mystery unfolds in differing perspectives from the women who work in the strip club, their families, and the police detectives working to find Samantha and her abductor. In describing the subculture of the strip clubs the author moves beyond cliche. It’s a tough feminist view of a rough way to make a living, particularly well portrayed by Georgia, another stripper reluctantly pulled into the investigation. This book surprised me in places, which often doesn’t happen with mysteries no matter how well written.
Room to Dream is one of those kinds of books where you fall in love with the main character completely. Mia Tang is a character who is confident, kind, and caring. But one thing I like about Mia is that she doesn’t always do the right thing which I find is not usually the case with most characters. Room to Dream is a good family book and always makes you want to read more.
Mia Tang is a girl who moved to California from China and had to work hard to be acsep†ed with the help of her friends Lupé and Jason. Mia has always wanted to be a published author but she keeps getting rejected. Finally she gets published and has much to be grateful for. I hope you read and enjoy this book!
Hochschild’s masterful work has been on my “to read” list for years, but I just got around to this deeply researched and exquisitely written study of how fascism can destroy a republic just beginning to celebrate its freedom. (A lesson very relevant to our times.) There are some famous people here (Hemingway), some of whom are made to look ridiculous (Hemingway), but also many whose lives have been forgotten and should not have been. For some, Hochschild’s book is their only gravemarker. The author’s description of the role that Texaco Oil played in attacking Spain’s fledgling democracy — and in keeping Francisco Franco in power once that democracy had been crushed — is infuriating. When I was a child my family lived in Madrid for two years while my father was an NCO at the American Embassy, and my parents took us to a couple of Generalissimo Franco’s elaborate parades — just for the experience. I now feel fortunate: how many little children get to see a real live monster up close?
How can we not include a book by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Master who was also a Buddhist Monk, peace activist, and prolific author, poet and by all accounts, an incredible teacher, who recently passed in January 2022? He lived his life in a way that brought peace and love to so many and is credited with bringing Buddhism to the West in a term called - engaged Buddhism. With his passing, we lost an amazing human who worked endlessly for peace by being, breathing, and being present. There are so, so many stories, quotes and passages in this book and the 100 others he has written that you will read and want to read again and again. For me, one that helps as I walk through our hallways and my days is to 'walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.' Lovely, right?
I first heard about this book through a Strict Scrutiny podcast. This podcast is hosted by three wonderful women law professors (including Melissa Murray who jumped ship to go to NYU Law School). Listening to them talk to the author about the book was like eavesdropping on a conversation in a coffee shop. They all dug up nuggets from the book while laughing and bemoaning the situation. I promptly ordered the audiobook for my commute to and from the Law School.
Like many of you, I read the newspaper accounts and heard many podcasts during the time of the confirmation hearings. However, through this book, I learned so much more. For starters, I really had no clue how Justice Kavanaugh truly crafted his entire legal career for this position. I also learned much more about the mishandling and mistakes before, during, and after the Christine Blasey Ford hearings. And finally, I really got an earful of the machinations of this Supreme Court nomination process and the political escapades of the Senate, former presidents and their staff, and the Federalist Society. This book is like learning how the sausage is made.
This short review cannot do the book justice (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Read or listen to the book and be prepared to talk back to your device, book, whatever.
This is another audiobook I indulged in during my commute to the law school. I had many reasons for wanting to listen to this book. Stanley Tucci is the narrator, he has a great voice, and you get all of the pauses and emphasis as intended by the author. I also really loved the movie called Big Night (1996) as well as his role in Julie & Julia (2009) (he played Paul Child, Julia Child’s husband). Tucci provides a lot of background about his life, his acting career, and his love of food (and drink). This book is considered a “food-focused memoir” and was not loved by all reviewers. However, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I liked it so much that I listened to it again with my husband (he’s a chef-instructor in a culinary program). In fact, my husband has added one of the recipes from the book into his repertoire: a yummy and easy zucchini pasta dish (it has a fancy Italian name, Spaghetti alla Nerano). Tucci’s YouTube videos are also great fun – if you like gin martinis, watch this.
First off, a warning: This highly engaging, award-winning novel is relentlessly bloody and violent—hence its title! But if you’re a fan of Westerns in general and Cormac McCarthy in particular, then you might want to give this book a try. It depicts the revenge quest of a gunslinger named Ming Tsu, an orphan who was groomed from childhood to be an assassin and enforcer. Making his way across Utah and Nevada to California in the 1860s, Ming connects with a blind prophet and a traveling troupe of unusual performers, who add elements of magical realism to the story. The author, a young English Ph.D. student at UC Davis, reportedly wrote his debut novel in just three weeks! It is a tense page-turner with incredible cinematic appeal. (And, in fact, it was recently acquired to be developed into a possible TV series.) This is one of the latest in the alternative Western genre, which is bringing previously unrepresented people to the fore as protagonists and other major roles. In other respects, though, this book remains faithful to some genre traditions, including shortchanging the women characters.
What I love about this book is not just this idea that all of these men were incredible human beings, larger than life, but that much of the credit for their being and work should go to their mothers, which made this mother very happy. Seriously, though, the author has done an incredible amount of research - going back to primary sources and finding people who knew these men and who knew their mothers. She weaves stories about each mother with events and your heart breaks with their sadness and sings with their joy as they stand in the background supporting their sons who all tried to make this world a better and more just place. And finally, I just love that she wrote this while she was pregnant which she mentions once at the beginning - doing this painstaking research and delving into these difficult issues must have been hard on a good day, but we all get to reap the benefits of her hard work, and it is a good read, and one that we should buy for all our mothers, our sons, and all of our communities.
The Torqued Man, by Peter Mann, a debut novel, is just great! Imagine a blend of Isherwood and LeCarre. Like the The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections (recommended elsewhere in this list), it’s a great summer read although I read it in the winter.
In his first novel Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of Between The World and Me, tackles slavery in the antebellum south through the story of Hiram Walker, a slave on a Virginia tobacco plantation (and illegitimate son of the plantation owner). Hiram narrates his life story from the distance of many years but with an immediacy that captures the many perversions of slavery. Coates' language reinforces the division and subjugation. Slave owners are the “Quality” and the slaves the “Tasked”. The plantation is named “Loveless”. By the time Hiram is born the Virginia plantations are played out and the main business is selling slaves “Natchez-way” as the plantations in the Deep South are still thriving. Families are routinely broken up (Hiram’s mother is sold off when he is a small child), and the Tasked are subject to the fleeting whims of the Quality. Hiram is forced to be a servant to and minder of his numbskull of a half-brother, the plantation’s legal heir, with no thought that Hiram has a right to anything. When the two are in a wagon crash, his half-brother drowns but Hiram survives through a mystical power he doesn’t quite understand - later termed “Conduction”. Hiram’s desire for escape increasingly consumes him, and he finally makes it to Philadelphia. Later he joins the Underground Railroad and unites with Harriet Tubman ( “Moses” in the book) to bring slaves to freedom using their powers of “Conduction”.
Magical realism usually annoys me, but as in Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad it works here to convey the indomitable drive of the enslaved to find freedom against impossible odds. And Coates’ prose pulls you into Hiram’s head and heart. Coates really gets at the artificial construct of slavery - not only is it deeply wrong it’s also deeply nuts. This book made me want to learn more about the abolitionist movement, Harriett Tubman, and the divisions in our country in the immediate pre-Civil War period. It also resonates as I look at the fractured state of things in our country and the world today.
This is a well-researched and still-relevant depiction of a little-known aspect of the Japanese American World War II experience, spotlighting acts of defiance and resistance against wrongful incarceration through the real-life stories of three young Americans. One is Jim Akutsu, who refused to be drafted from camp at Minidoka after the U.S. government had classified him as an enemy alien, and as a result was imprisoned at a federal penitentiary. Another is Hiroshi Kashiwagi, who, while incarcerated in Tule Lake camp with his family, refused to complete the so-called loyalty questionnaire and in the ensuing confusion renounced his American citizenship and was nearly deported to Japan. The third is Mitsuye Endo, lead plaintiff on a petition for writ of habeas corpus following her and her family’s incarceration at Tule Lake and later Topaz, which led to the landmark Supreme Court decision that ultimately closed the camps. This book is an important history lesson in graphic novel form, filled with fascinating detail.
With a foreword by Van Jones and a quote by Bryan Stevenson mentioned on the front cover you know what you are getting into when you pick up this book. Zach Norris is a local treasure, being the Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights (right here in Oakland) and an engaged and accessible movement lawyer who we should all know about for his good work. For those new to the Berkeley area and for those less familiar with Oakland and the neighborhoods and the politics, this book is a great way to learn about Zach and the many other heroes he brings in to tell his story about how we need to build communities from the inside. You will learn about many local (not just East Bay) organizing campaigns and you will feel inspired by the individuals who risk so much to help so many.