“When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.” — Maya AngelouMaya Angelou
Still in my mind after six months: Ministry of the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. A prescient book, a wide sweeping story of our near future. I read this when it was first published and am rereading it. Many people across the world believe Robinson’s account is a likely forecast of where the world is heading as we grapple with Climate Change. P.S. Its not a dystopia. There is hope.
Antelope Woman by Louise Erdrich, (I recommend the audio version read by the author), is the most recent version of Antelope Woman originally published in 2016. Louise is the author with whom I most strongly relate as a writer. Her stories arise from a particular place. The Sentence and The Night Watchman are two others I’ve read in the last few years both twice. Check out her books at her bookstore in Minneapolis, Birchbark Books. Below is an interview with Louise on her novel, The Sentence. I recommend any of Erdrich’s books.
The Children’s Fire by Mat Mcartney. Inspiring memoir and challenge to all of us to ask whether we are keepers of the children’s fire in this world changing time on Planet Earth.
Horse by Geraldine Brooks who is another of my favorite writers. Geraldine began writing as a journalist, which I observe is the genesis for many of our best fiction writers. Horse demonstrates the power of a trained researcher who can weave a story around historical facts and mysteries. Year of Wonders, a novel about the Great Plague is a powerful example of how Brooks builds narrative around historical events. I have read all of Brook’s fiction and nonfiction. Each is a gem, a solid work of research and careful thought. Caleb’s Crossing is one that resonated powerfully with me.
The Haunting of Hajji Hotak by Jamil Jan Kochai, a finalist for the National Book Award in 2022, a book of interrelated short stories from which I am learning how to write. Jamil’s works illustrate how important we hear from writers whose direct experience reflect to us how our national policies impact people in other nations. Jamil Jan Kochai was born in a refugee camp in Pakistan, to Afghani parents, who later immigrated to America when he was a young boy. I had the rare privilege to participate in a writers’ group with Jamil during the Tucson Festival of Books Masters Review. His refrain for reviewing each of our works – Where’s the fire? – still rings in my mind. There is plenty of fire in this book. And, wonderful humor.
Finally, I am listening to Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead. A reimagined version of Dicken’s David Copperfield, this is an ambitious novel. I was born in the foothills of the Appalachians and I can testify that Barbara’s main character is so authentic that I both laugh and cry (with memories loosed in my mind of my grandparents and aunts and uncles and the people in and around Watauga and Johnson City, Tennessee.) I recall the mash up of local culture and mystical realism and poverty. It is the beginning of the Opioid Pandemic. Barbara, whose book plots are usually complex and nuanced, is a powerful writer whose books are some of the most powerful works of American literature in my lifetime.
2 thoughts on “Books I am reading”
I join you in your praise of “The Ministry for the Future.” I also liked Robinson’s “New York 2140.”
I will take this opportunity to call attention to other books that I want to recommend. Most recently, I read “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson, who is founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, AL. I cannot remember a book that invoked such a feeling of outrage at the injustice–the willful ignoring of common-sense justice–of our judicial system and too many people who work in the system. The book describes the many cases of convicting people–Black people especially–who clearly did not commit the crimes for which they were convicted, often because prosecutors withheld information that would have proven their innocence. A special focus of this infuriating book is on children convicted and sentenced to life in adult prisons. Many times I had to put the book down as I was overcome by my outrage. Monroeville, AL, the setting for “To Kill a Mockingbird” and home to some of my own mother’s family, is the setting for one case that is central to the book. The book gave me many new insights into our “justice” system.
One novel that rises above others I have read in recent years is “Shuggie Bain” by Douglas Stuart. This is another intense, excruciating and yet compelling story of a young gay man and his broken, addicted mother in Glasgow. It is heartbreaking yet somewhat hopeful at the end. One reviewer called it an instant masterpiece and I agree. It has been a long time since I have read a novel so engrossing. I was alerted to the novel on a sleepless night when I tuned into the BBC and heard Stephen Sackur interview Stuart on the program HARDtalk.
Finally, I want to highly recommend a book by Harvard University history professor and New Yorker contributor Jill Lepore, “These Truths: A History of the United States.” It is not a history book that tries to cover all aspects of history, such as military or diplomatic history. “These truths”–Jefferson’s phrase–are equality, natural (or human) rights, and the people’s sovereignty. The book explores this question: “Does American history prove these truths, or does it belie them.” Much in our history belies them, though we continue to struggle to this day to live up to them. To me, as a liberal or even a progressive, much of the book is a direct rebuke of the current group of conservative Republicans. For example, the idea that we should not teach in our public schools that systemic racism and white supremacy are essential elements in our history flies in the face of the facts, going back to the writing of the Constitution itself. To those conservative members of the US Supreme Court who proclaim their belief in originalism, I would remind them that Thomas Jefferson warned against treating the founders as God-like in their lasting wisdom. Jefferson said “laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind….Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reference, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched.” We must not ascribe to the founders “a wisdom more than human.” Lepore adds, we must not become “a slave to the past.”
Just seeing your wonderful reply, Larry. I wonder if you might let me bring these forward in a post and not you as a responder with more recommendations. I have read Lepore’s history a few years ago when it was first published. That is a good reminded for this day and time. I definitely want to read Bryan Stevenson’s book. My cousin has lived and worked in Montgomery for many decades. When I visit Mary, who is a historian and political science professor, we visit the many civil rights museums, conferences, and events around issues of justice. Mary and I attended the opening of the Legacy Museum. Stevenson has won consequential cases to protect youth from life imprisonment. I admire him and his organization’s work (Equal Justice Initiative).
Let me know if you are willing to let me share these in a post. If so, tell me how I should write your credits. If not, I thank you for these comments. Hope all is well with you Larry. Susan