The Economist: Books of the Year 2020

A list from a list (highly idiosyncratic — in which self decides which kind of writing she’s going to spend most of 2021 doing)

BIOGRAPHY AND MEMOIR

  • A Promised Land, by Barack Obama – “A reminder that the 44th president is one of the best writers ever to serve in that office”
  • Stranger in the Shogun’s City, by Amy Stanley – “The everyday struggles of an obscure woman in Tokyo in the first half of the 19th century”
  • Kiss Myself Goodbye, by Ferdinand Mount – “The hilarious tale of a . . . pathologically inventive aunt in raffish, upper-class Britain either side of the second world war”

HISTORY

  • A House in the Mountains, by Caroline Moorhead – “Weaving deep research into a compelling narrative . . . about four women fighting with the partisans in northern Italy in 1943”
  • Alaric the Goth, by Douglas Bain – “Colorful portrait of the city and empire in the fifth century”

FICTION

  • The Slaughterman’s Daughter, by Yaniv Iczkovits – “Late 19th century picaresque about a Jewish mother in the Pale of Settlement who sets out to retrieve her wayward brother-in-law in Minsk”
  • Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart – “Coming of age in Glasgow in the 1980s”
  • Homeland Elegies, by Ayad Akhtar – “Part autobiographical tale about growing up as a Pakistani-American through the age of 9/11 and then Donald Trump”
  • Burnt Sugar, by Avni Doshi – Opens with “I would be lying if I said my mother’s misery has never given me pleasure.”

CULTURE AND IDEAS

  • Leo Tolstoy, by Andrei Zorin – “Weaves together his times, his writing, his faith and his political activism”

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

  • Apollo’s Arrow, by Nicholas Christakis – “the history of plagues”

BUSINESS AND ECONOMICS

  • No Rules Rules, by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer – “The boss of Netflix and his co-author explain how he arrived”

The Reading Year, So Far 2020

At the end of January, she landed on her first great read of 2020: Someone Who Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory, by Raphael Bob-Waksberg.

February was TOTALLY GREAT! She spent the entire month reading two good books: The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison, and I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith.

The end of March brought her to Brideshead Revisited.

The end of April brought her to Leviathan Wakes, by James. S. A. Corey.

Last half of May: Caliban’s War (Book 2 of The Expanse) and Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family, by Robert Kolker.

June: Abaddon’s Gate and Cibola Burn, Books 3 and 4 of The Expanse

July: The Snakes, by Sadie Jones

End of August: The Charterhouse of Parma, by Stendhal

September: Great, great month. Read In West Mills, by De’Shawn Charles Winslow, and Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Sen. Joe McCarthy (totally absorbing, great biography) by Larry Tye.

Currently reading: Your House Will Pay, by Steph Cha.

To look forward to this month: the official launch of Caroline Kim’s collection, The Prince of Mournful Thoughts, the winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize!

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Voice of America, 1953

from Larry Tye’s Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Sen. Joe McCarthy, Chapter 6:

  • Kaplan was an engineer at the Voice of America and the liaison with MIT on the radio transmitter project that Senator McCarthy was slamming as an instance of deliberate sabotage of America’s propaganda war with the Russians. In the heat of those hearings, early in 1953, Kaplan traveled to Cambridge to talk to the Voice’s MIT advisers. Co-workers say it was a fraught mission for the anxious Kaplan, who, despite the fact that he was merely a middleman, had long worried that he might be dragged into the controversy over the siting of the towers. When he got to MIT, the researchers who could clear things up weren’t available to meet with him. Kaplan came unglued. As he was leaving campus, Henry Burke was driving down the street in his ten-ton trailer truck. “I saw him standing on the sidewalk as if he was ready to cross, Burke told the police later. “I slowed the truck. When (I) got near him, he jumped in front of it.”

Kaplan was, Tye writes, “a fragile target,” under pressure in many areas, not the least of which was a sick wife.

Sen. Joe McCarthy blamed Kaplan’s death on “sinister forces.”

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Sen. Joe McCarthy 2.0

Replace McCarthy’s name below with Trump, replace ‘the Red Menace’ with Chy-nuh and you have McCarthy 2.0. History repeats itself.

After a bruising battle in the Senate, Joe McCarthy’s primary Democratic opponent, Millard Tydings, was left “exhausted and deflated.” Instead of “muzzling McCarthy, the Tydings Committee had given him a wider stage and a louder bullhorn to name his names.” Somehow, McCarthy “made himself look more like the aggrieved than the aggressor. His murky cause had become an article of canon for Senate Republicans. His audience never was fellow senators, or even the reporters in the gallery, but … chicken farmers and grocers … Ask God-fearing people anywhere who their white knight was in the crusade against the Red Menace and there were no longer ifs and buts, it was the battle-ready Leatherneck, Jousting Joe McCarthy.” (Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy, p. 187)

p. 188: “Joe couldn’t forget a slight … Joe was the one framing the narrative.”

DEMAGOGUE: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy, by Larry Tye

from the Preface:

This is a book about America’s love affair with bullies.

Beginning IN WEST MILLS, by De’Shawn Charles Winslow

The Charterhouse of Parma: Five Stars

In terms of her reading life, August was the bomb. All the books she read were library check-outs (YAY! Library’s back, it’s back, it’s back!)

She read, in addition to The Charterhouse of Parma: Colonel Chabert, by Balzac; First: Sandra Day O’Connor, by Evan Thomas; and The Shadow King, by Maaza Mengiste.

Excited to begin a new novel (and discover a new writer). Opening Sentence of In West Mills:

In October of ’41, Azalea Centre’s man told her that he was sick and tired of West Mills and of the love affair she was having with moonshine.

Well! That is some opening.

The author bio on the book jacket says that De’Shawn Charles Winslow is from North Carolina. He is a 2017 graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Political Reads for This Fall

These are exciting times. Self is reading The Charterhouse of Parma (Brilliant and funny and moving).

Five on her ‘To-Read’ List

  • The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
  • Surrender, White People! Our Unconditional Terms for Peace, by D. L. Hughley
  • Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy, by Larry Tye
  • In West Mills, by De’Shawn Charles Wilson
  • The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories, by Drue Heinz Literature Prize winner Caroline Kim

The 90s: Those Were the Days

NOTE: WordPress switched self over to the New Block Editing, which she hates. She can’t find a thing. Can you imagine WordPress PAID PEOPLE to study how to make self slower and more inefficient? Where, for instance, are categories and tags? Now self has to hunt for them. Thanks a lot, WordPress! It’s like those apps that keep downloading on her Android, preventing her from making a call (You have to wait for the app to finish downloading; there’s a download a day).

If you press the button for paragraph, you get a menu that has ten items for paragraph. AAAARGH. Who has the time. Can’t a paragraph just BE a paragraph, does self have to pick and choose one out of ten options for paragraphs?

In the 1990s, and especially after the Rwandan massacre, the American Bar Association (ABA) “recruited an astonishing five thousand American lawyers to go abroad and spend months of their time working pro bono publico, free for the common good, drafting laws and training judges. (“Lawers are bored. We were dying to go,” said one of them, Mary Noel Pepys, a land use lawyer from Kansas who went to Bulgaria and slept in her coat in the winter)”

“At a reception in Sofia in 1994, an older gentleman, a professor at the university, walked up to Sandra Day O’Connor “and pulled out a badly frayed copy of the U.S. Constitution and said he had been reading it for 40 years. O’Connor, who always carried a copy of the Constitution in her pocketbook, choked up. ‘It will serve you well,’ she told the man, ‘and guide you as it has us.’ “

First: Sandra Day O’Connor, pp. 288-289

Can you imagine ANYONE in Trump’s White House pushing such a program. Now, everything is ME ME ME, how much can I get, how much can I get away with. Even Melania can’t summon up any energy to start something as simple as a Sister City Relationship with her hometown (Unless she’s really trying not to call attention to how she left it!)

She had plenty of time to start some kind of humanitarian thing with Eastern Europe, who knows? But no. She just didn’t care. Too busy re-negotiating her pre-nup to Dear Donald? (Does my pre-nup say I need to hold his hand in public? Then no, I do not need to hold his hand)

Self thinks the public’s perception of the law profession has forever been marred by association with Trump, the seediest President in American history. Think of the Trump lawsuits to block: a) revealing his taxes; b) suing to stop books like his niece’s from being published; or c) suing Democratic officials to make them look bad, such as the suit Gov. Brian Kemp brought against Atlanta Mayor Kesha Lance Bottoms to stop her from implementing her order to make wearing a mask mandatory in Atlanta.

Self is glad she’s reading a book about idealistic lawyers, for a change.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Sentence of the Day: FIRST

  • The Constitution is a moral document.

— Evan Thomas, First: Sandra Day O’Connor, p. 223

Sentence of the Day: SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States)

First: Sandra Day O’Connor, an Intimate Portrait of the First Woman Supreme Court Justice, p. 178: The votes of the justices are rarely swayed by oral argument.

This is a very, very good book, and so timely. It’s about law, and about the administration of justice, and about the courts, and about women, and about women’s rights, and about abortion rights. Self is learning so much!

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

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