Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli is a beautiful, beautiful novel. Two sound engineers, one a documentarian and the other a documentarist, travel across country with their two children from previous marriages. The book captures and archives and arranges for the sake of memory. It unfolds stories — made up histories, real histories, and current events against a backdrop of geography and family inventing itself and unbundling.
Please read this book.
Logistics: Checked out from the Berkeley Public Library and listened to on walks, and sitting on the front porch so the walk could last longer. Book 12 finished 24 March.
We by Yevgeny Zamyati was written in the early 1920s. The book and the author was attacked by the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers. Zamyati ended up leaving Russia, dying in Paris in the late 30s. The book was a Christmas present from Erica. She found it on a shelf of bookseller recommendations. The billing as a seminal and influential work of science fiction sold her. It’s prescient in the way Trump had so many of saying Parable of the Sower is prescient.
It’s a political novel. The abandonment of the soul for the all knowing regimentation of the state. It is warning of the dangerous future ahead. The one person who discovers a core, a soul that makes him different. The conflict at all levels that creates. You can see Metropolis — which is broadly contemporary, 1984, of course, and the mass weddings and cults of the late 70s. It is a fantastic read an feels so weird with the new version of the Russian state playing out in front of us now.
Logistics: I read the mass market paperback copy — my favorite format for any science fiction novel — in bed. It went slow. Sometimes only a page before falling asleep, sometimes rereading what I’d read the day before. And then it went all at once, finishing it on the front sofa, not even music playing. Book 11 finished 18 March.
I found Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham scrolling through available audio books on Libby. Like almost everyone else, I watched the miniseries. And from that I had a picture of what happened. This book filled in the shadows. It showed people with belief in a system where systemic issues — cost cutting, unrealistic delivery schedules, quotas — undermined everything. Especially when inside a system that seems opposite of learning.
Enemy of All Mankind by Steven Johnson is a fantastic adventure. Pirates with their tremendous violence and weird shipboard egalitarianism, mixed with the very beginnings of globalism and multi-national corporations. The read is easy and enjoyable and did that thing I love which is unlocked a desire to read more history — of the time in which the book is set, of Red Sea pirates, of India, of British tea corporations.
It was an accidental purchase. I mistake of a Christmas gift. I liked A Gentleman in Moscow enough that I decided to keep Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. The Lincoln Highway feels like a nostalgic visit to a past U.S. that may or may not have existed. The landscape does not sprawl. It is close in to the sides of a train, the inside of a car, even a boat at the very end.
Somehow for me this book, beautiful written and with a variety of well drawn characters, never hits its stride. And then end felt, well, like a twist to many and outside of the scope of the story itself. I'm not sure, honestly, if I would recommend it. Though I may be alone in that.
Logistics: I had this book in hardcover, purchased from Pegasus Books in Berkeley. I read it at night, before falling asleep. Sometimes a paragraph, backing up the next time to remember what I read. Book 07 finished 18 February.
I just finished listening to Poland by James Michener. It is all Michener, big and sprawling and historic. We have an office in Warsaw and I’ve been a few times. That and a recommendation from a colleague was the inspiration for reading the book. It was full of history I don’t know well and, frankly, found somewhat hard to track. I loved the device of meeting two men and then going back to see the political and personal events that led to those two men being in that time and place.
I do now want to read some histories of the country. It feels like so much was left out.
The title refers to two events: the death by suicide of Jamie Raskin's son and assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. The two events weave together in Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy by Congressman Jamie Raskin. This book provides an insiders view of grief, the events of January 6 from a Congressperson who was inside, and then the political view of January 6 from the House Impeachment Manger, who also happens to be a Constitutional law professor. And all of whom are one person, Raskin. So the stories swirl together in a way that makes each more real. All heartbreaking. The book opened up my understanding of events and the power of politics, with the different way that power is used, Donald Trump on one side, Nancy Pelosi on the other.
While I was reading the book, I kept asking myself why Congressman Raskin was writing it. Both stories so raw and painful. And in the end, with the epilogue which is the best part of the book, I realized he was writing it for history. He was writing so neither story would be washed away, glazed over, changed. This book has flaws, of course. Even with them, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Logistics: No version of the book was at my local library, so I bought an audio copy from Apple Books. I listened to it while walking Berkeley's early morning streets. Once crying hard enough that another early morning Walker stopped me to ask if I was okay. Book 05 finished 1 February.
Read by the author, Sherman Alexie, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is moving, funny, personal. Alexie writes about his family, his community, and himself. He writes about public performance as the place where he can be the most unguarded, the most vulnerable. He writes about rape and the looming presence on native lands, Native American people. He writes about rape culture. All of which started sounding different when I learned midway through the book of his own MeToo history.
This book is heartbreaking. It’s the story of family and love and mythology told through the eyes of a teenage girl as she and her brothers and father get ready for the storm that will be Hurricane Katrina. That we know how bad Katrina will be adds urgency. The physicality of Ward’s writing gives this book a searing intimacy. We feel, through touch, what the narrator feels. It is the best of literature, giving us intimate access to a complete world.
Logistics: I checked the audio book out from the library and listened to while walking the dog on the Berkeley streets, while cooking dinner, and while driving short errands. Book 03 finished 8 January.