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Churchill and Orwell by Thomas E Ricks
May 30
Orwell and Churchill: The Fight for Freedom by Thomas E. Ricks

Orwell and Churchill: The Fight for Freedom by Thomas E. Ricks is an intelligent and gripping dual biography of arguably the most important writer and politician in the twentieth century.

Ricks alternates chapters that parallel the two men:

Orwell and Churchill were opposites in many ways: Orwell was a man of the Left, Churchill was a member of the Tory party.

Orwell was one of the first to warn about Stalin and Communism and often criticized the Left when he thought they were wrong. Churchill began as a Conservative in the House of Commons then crossed over to become a Liberal, “supporting a minimum wage, unemployment, eight-hour work day, and public health insurance.”

Orwell knew what it was like to be down and out; he tramped with the homeless and experienced extreme poverty. Churchill rejoined the Conservatives and remained a “pariah in his own party for some time.”

Both men were almost killed in the 1930s: Orwell while fighting for the Left in the Spanish Civil War when he was shot in the neck that missed an artery by millimeters. After he recuperated he found that Stalin had turned on the Left and Orwell barely made it out of Spain alive.

Churchill was captured in the Boer War in South Africa and made a daring escape that made him a hero in England. But it wasn’t in the battlefield where he almost died, but on the streets of New York when he was hit by a car and received serious injuries.

Orwell was not an important or well-known figure during his lifetime. Churchill was, of course, one of the most recognizable men in the world while Prime Minister.

Both men were fighters. It was Churchill’s indomitable personality in England’s darkest hour, when he rallied the country’s spirits and courage. Orwell shared his fierce resistance and volunteered to go to the front in the Spanish Civil War, but it is in the written word where posthumously he received acclaim.

Orwell and Churchill never met, but Churchill did read 1984 twice and evidently said it was “extraordinary.” Orwell praised Churchill in his diaries and essays and believed “he was the right man for the job at the right time.”

Neither men were perfect, and Ricks focuses on Churchill’s personal issues and foibles more than he does Orwell’s, but Churchill and Orwell were the most powerful and enduring voices to help defeat Fascism and resist totalitarianism.

According to Ricks, what binds these two together the most is their dedication to getting to the truth. Orwell is now lauded as the ultimate truth teller with the ability to face unpleasant facts. Facing unpleasant facts was also one of Churchill’s greatest gift.

Ricks has eloquently documented one of the most important periods in the twentieth century. I’d like to think the majority of the United States leaders are familiar with Churchill’s and Orwell’s brutal honesty and the generation that led to the creation of NATO in 1949 that has kept the peace for more than sixty-five years, but it sure doesn’t seem like it for many on the Right. It’s obvious Trump has no clue. I think everyone should read this book.

Learn more or purchase Orwell and Churchill: The Fight for Freedom by Thomas E. Ricks.

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
May 20
The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

This fictional diary and journal by the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa is one of Nobel Prize-winning Jose Saramago’s and Patti Smith’s favorite books. I see why. The dazzling prose, poetry, intelligence, and intimate vignettes by the author or his brilliant, reclusive alternative ego’s inner and external experiences is an incredible read.

I recommend reading this book the same as I suggest reading Proust, i.e., the writing is so rich that it’s best to read no more than six or seven pages a day.

Learn more or purchase The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa.

Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio, Steven L. Davis
May 19
Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis

I learned a great deal about the extremism that exploded in Dallas after John F. Kennedy was elected president. Dallas was ground zero for Kennedy hatred in 1963; it was led by the John Birch Society; a rabid military nut, General Edwin Walker; the publisher of the Dallas Morning News, Ted Dealey; the Texas oil man, H.L. Hunt; and many others.

It was also a city that attracted a strip club owner, Jack Ruby, and, of course, Lee Harvey Oswald.

This fine piece of journalism and research is a well-written and fast-paced read. It focuses on the insanity of the forces on the right, but there were good people, too, including Stanley Marcus, founder of Neiman Marcus, who warned LBJ that JFK should not visit Dallas because of the right-wing radicals rampant in the city.

Learn more or purchase Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis.

Venice, An Interior by Javier Marías
May 14
Venice, An Interior by Javier Marías

Venice, An Interior by the brilliant Spanish writer Javier Marías is a gorgeous and intimate portrait of the hidden Venice. Marías takes the reader into “the floating city” of the residents as well as venetian subcultures and islands that the typically visitor would have a hard time navigating and likely never discover.

Marías touched on the tragedy of cruise ships and the massive tourism trade that is dominating one of the great cities of the world, but this is a love story between a terrific artist and an enchanting, singular city. Even if you’re not planning to travel to Venice, you will be captivated by this book.

Learn more or purchase Venice, An Interior by Javier Marías.

The Invention of Morel by Bioy Casares
May 14
The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares

The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares is one of Jorge Luis Borges’, Octavio Paz’s, and Roberto Bolano’s favorite books. Borges’ praised it a masterpiece of plotting and compared it to Kafka’s The Trial. Octavio Paz called it perfect.

What attracted me was the utter strangeness of the story. I had no idea what was going on for some time and was in suspense until the end. I loved the story, though it got a little repetitive, even for short novel. I did appreciate the inventiveness and creativity. It’s a cult classic ahead of its time.

Learn more or purchase The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares.

exit west Mohsim Hamid
March 30
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

The premise of this story is terrific, but I was surprised the narrative was so boring after the buzz and positive reviews Exit West has received. The characters are uninteresting and there’s almost no dialogue. And Hamid would have flunked a show don’t tell writing test.

However, there are other opinions:

“This is the best writing of Hamid’s career… Readers will find themselves going back and savoring each paragraph several times before moving on. He’s that good. … Breathtaking.” —NPR.org

Learn more or purchase Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
March 27
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I listened to this rich retelling of these fascinating Norse myths. I’m glad I did; Neil Gaiman’s performance made this an even more enthralling experience.

Gaiman’s short, bewitching and readable or listenable stories about Odin, Thor, Loki and other Norse Gods (and dwarfs, trolls and giants) breath life into these timeless tales.

“Neil Gaiman’s retelling of Norse myths is destined to become a classic for both his sure-footed stories and his captivating performance…. The tales seem timeless, and Gaiman’s melodic narration so strongly echoes the oral tradition of myths that it’s as if the narrator has stepped out of the stories themselves.” – Audiofile

Learn more or purchase Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman.

Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson
March 26
Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson

This blueprint for new ideas and innovation is one of Bill Gates’s favorite books. It’s an impressive read that will help unleash your creativity and give you a new way of seeing and interacting in the world.

“From the Renaissance to satellites, medical breakthroughs to social media, Charles Darwin to Marconi, Steven Johnson shows how, by recognizing where and how patterns of creativity occur, we can all discover the secrets of inspiration.”

Learn more or purchase Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
February 17
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

“This harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to awake.”

Weird, confusing, brilliant, absorbing, creative = Philip K. Dick.

Learn more or purchase The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick.

Plot against America by Philip Roth
February 17
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

A sad day when The Plot Against America by Philip Roth reflects our contemporary political situation. A prescient novel by a fine writer.

“Roth has written a magnificent novel, arguably his best work in a long time. It is tempting to equate his scenario with current events, but resist, resist. Of course it is a cautionary tale, but, beyond that, it is a contribution to American letters by a man working at the top of his powers.”

Learn more or purchase The Plot Against America by Philip Roth.

 

If Venice Dies by Salvatore Settis,
January 20
If Venice Dies by Salvatore Settis

This is a magnificent read and a warning shot across the bow concerning any historic city.

The barbarians are at the gates of Venice, and they are the tourists. There are 140 tourists to one Venetian. And the Venetian population has been cut in half as they escape to the mainland.

There’s only one business in Venice and that’s tourism. Hotels are being built everywhere. They are considering skyscrapers, too. Monster ships are parking in the Adriatic and disrupting the sea and unloading masses of consumers into the noble city. The old Venice is being sold off and turned into a theme park. City officials have appraised its landmarks as if it were commercial real estate.

What’s most important is Venice is forgetting who she is and what she represented and represents. This is a passionate plea to save Venice’s soul from consumerism and greed.

Learn more or purchase If Venice Dies by Salvatore Settis.

 

Hitler: Ascent Volker Ullrich
November 9
Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939 by Volker Ullrich

Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939 by Volker Ullrich is a well-researched and well-written biography.

Ullrich’s task of bringing this to life is challenging for one reason: Hitler is not interesting. There’s almost nothing about Hitler the person that’s compelling.

Orwell wrote that Hitler was a “criminal lunatic.” That’s the consistent theme of this book and Hitler never diverts from being a criminal lunatic. And not even an interesting lunatic.

However, this is a detailed and fascinating portrait of Hitler’s rise to power.

Learn more or purchase Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939 by Volker Ullrich

 

Voyeurs Motel by Gay Talese
July 20
The Voyeur’s Motel by Gay Talese

I wonder why Gay Talese got involved in this sordid story? Talese is the reason I decided to read this supposedly true tale of a motel owner who spied on his guests for decades.

There’s some evidence that the motel owner voyeur’s tale is unreliable. In fact, I felt that throughout the narrative.

This is one of the most talked about books of 2016. It is interesting at times in a sleazy sort of way. I’m sorry I read this.

 

 

henning mankell quicksand
June 4
Quicksand by Henning Mankell

Quicksand by Henning Mankell is a sublime and extraordinary read.

Only a person with rich, adventurous and diverse experiences, a person who has traveled widely, a person with the time to think  and read deeply about the world could have written this hybrid of essay and memoir.

The stories are comprised of sixty-seven short vignettes that are both profound and revealing. Mankell covers ancient cave paintings, running off to Paris at sixteen, reading books to understand where came from in Greece, Pina Bausch, a church buried in sand, Africanizing Aristophanes in war-torn Mozambique, nuclear waste and I could go on and on.

Mankell wrote Quicksand after being diagnosed with cancer. Sometimes it takes a person who is dying to write about life and being human. His great soul shines throughout this wonderful gift to the world.

Learn more or purchase Quicksand by Henning Mankell.