Category Archives: Books

God Has A Tiger By The Tail, Reading List

Here are three recent books, any one of which might give you nightmares. They’re a follow-up on my first post of 2016, “God Has A Tiger By The Tail.”

  • “Flash Points: The Emerging Crisis in Europe,” by George Friedman, published 2015.
  • “Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath,” by Ted Koppel, published 2015.
  • “This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. The Climate,” by Naomi Klein, which was included in the New York Times Book Review list of 100 Notable Books of 2014.

The subtitles above are self-explanatory. The authors need no introduction. Continue reading

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No Time For Boring Books

Once I started reading a book, I didn’t want to quit. I wanted to see it through to the end.

Not anymore! Not at age 67.

In recent years, I’ve set aside books half-read. I know there’s a good possibility I might be missing something worthwhile toward the end, but . . .

I’ve reached the point where time waits for no book.

Recently, I’ve come to have limited patience even with a favorite author, when a new book doesn’t measure up to standards.

For example: I enjoyed “The Good Luck Of Right Now” and “The Silver Linings Playbook,” two novels with surprising stories, unique characters and positive messages. Both “Good Luck” and “Silver Linings” are by Matthew Quick.

But I lost interest in his new novel, “Love May Fail.” This one also has interesting characters and a compelling storyline. But it felt like Quick  was reusing a tried and true formula that worked so well when it was fresh in the two earlier books. Been there, done that. Boring.

Since I didn’t read it all the way through, I can’t pass judgment on “Love May Fail.” I’m painfully aware that I’m possibly missing something great in the second half of the book.

Too late now. “Flash Points, The Emerging Crisis in Europe,” by George Friedman, has captured my attention.

— John Hayden

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Promising Books By Ta-Nehisi Coates, Thomas Piketty, And Anne Tyler

NEHISI COATES (via Wikipedia)

TA-NEHISI COATES (via Wikipedia)

The world is full of troubles, no doubt about it. I cannot sugarcoat the facts to turn bad news into good. I think nearly every great religion holds to a basic premise that good will triumph over evil in the end. What we can do is point out some of the positive thoughts and actions along the way. With luck, the accretion of positive thoughts and actions will lead us in the right direction.

Good books are harbingers of hope and progress. My reading list never lacks for worthy books, and more are published constantly. I’ll never catch up. Here are three that I urgently need to read.

I   “Between The World And Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, is the most recent addition to the reading list, thanks to a review by Carlos Lozada in the Outlook section of Sunday’s Washington Post. Coates is America’s “foremost intellectual,” and also “liberal America’s conscience on race,” according to Lozada. If you’re interested in understanding America’s struggles with “racism, white privilege, institutional violence and structural inequality,” this would appear to be the book to read. The Washington Post book review is here.

II   “Capital In The Twenty-First Century,” by Thomas Piketty, the renowned French economist. It’s a treatise on wealth concentration and distribution over the past 250 years. The author proposes a progressive global tax on wealth, according to Wikipedia. The Economist review in four paragraphs.

III   “A Spool Of Blue Thread,” by Anne Tyler, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist. “Blue Thread” is a study of a fictional Baltimore family. I think I can promise that this one will be easier going and more comforting than Piketty’s “Capital,” but it’s sure to be a good read. I’ve read all of Tyler’s previous novels, and they all provide more psychological insight than your average novel. Tyler is one of America’s greatest contemporary novelists. The NPR book review is here.

By coincidence, for my Maryland readers, both Coates and Tyler are Baltimoreans.

I can’t personally recommend books that I haven’t yet read. I’m trusting that all three will live up to their advance press. If anyone here has read one of the books, your thoughts are welcome. If you haven’t read a book this year, your thoughts are still welcome.

(Note: Ta-Nehisi Coates is the correct spelling of the author’s name. I apologize for getting it wrong in the original posting.)

— John Hayden

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Can You Walk Ten Thousand Steps A Day, Every Day?

I’ve been hearing the latest health edict for quite a while.

“Sitting is the new smoking!”

The human body was made to move, not sit. Get up and walk. Just do it.

OK, I sprang for a book. “This Is Your Do-Over: The 7 Secrets to Losing Weight, Living Longer, and Getting a Second Chance at the Life You Want,” by Michael F. Roizen, M.D. It’s 358 pages hardback, including index and a forward by Dr. Oz. Yep, that Dr. Oz. Continue reading

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Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, a book review

“STATE OF WONDER,” is a 21st century fairy tale. The Ann Patchett novel explores, among many things, the potential for human excellence, the power and consequence of romantic love, the implications of paternal presence and absence. Perhaps most importantly, the story reveals our willingness to deceive, disappoint, and betray one another. But also our ability to persevere and survive.

Read State of Wonder twice. It’s that good. I missed most of the message on first reading. I’m planning to give it a third go, a few years hence. I can’t wait to see how the story stands the test of time. After two readings, I think it has “classic” stamped all over it.

State of WonderOne reader called State of Wonder “A life-changing experience.” For anyone paying attention, it is a life-informing experience, at least.

As a story, State of Wonder is a tale of grand adventure, bordering on science fiction, in a faraway and dangerous place.

The journey takes us from frozen Minnesota to steaming Amazon jungle. It’s the archetypical plot of ancient and modern literature. To wit: The hero leaves home; the hero returns home.

First the hero, Dr. Anders Eckman, departs on a great quest, which includes birdwatching and searching for a disappeared mad scientist. Dr. Eckman contracts a tropical fever and perishes.

Now comes the heroine, Dr. Marina Singh, an unwilling volunteer on a mission. The heroine departs partly because she’s guilt-tripped into it, and partly because she’s in love with the anti-hero, a CEO named Mr. Fox. He stays home, at least for now. What a man! Mr. Fox must remain behind to keep the ship from sinking. In this case, the ship is a corporation. But never mind.

Is the brilliant (mad?) scientist, Dr. Annick Swenson, seemingly lost in the jungle without even a telephone, the true heroine? Or is she the villain? Whatever, Dr. Swenson understands the hard truth, when it finally slaps her in the face.

I don’t know another story to match this,” says she.

Correct. There is no story to match this, at least not since Homer. Or maybe Adam and Eve. Forgive my hyperbole.

The icy Dr. Swenson inspires unwavering loyalty, admiration, and fear. She’s a central character here, but not THE central character.

The central character is our overeducated and slightly naive heroine, Dr. Singh.  All the leading characters seem to be doctors, if you don’t count the endearing little boy, named Easter, who happens to be deaf.

Marina Singh is a humble but daring protagonist. She wanders alone in a sweltering, alien city, braving deadly insects and malaria day and night. She travels by small boat down unknown tropical rivers, deep into the dense Amazon jungle.

Our heroine is fearful, but overcomes all fears. She battles a fire-breathing dragon. And slays it with a machete.

(Time out for truth in book reviewing: OK, it’s NOT a fire-breathing dragon. It’s ONLY a poison-spitting boa constrictor, powerful enough to squeeze the life out of a child, and possibly also devour a grown man. This snake is a creature of mythic proportions, a perfectly good stand-in for the archetypical dragon.)

Dr. Marina Singh performs life-and-death surgeries under primitive conditions. She ingests the bark of the tree of eternal fertility, but eschews the hallucinogenic blue mushrooms.

Most importantly, Marina discovers a great truth (I’m not giving it away!) and uncovers a great deception (read the book!).

After all these labors, Marina finds and rescues our original lost hero (Dr. Birdwatcher) and returns him home at last to his family in Minnesota, where it is now springtime.

Ann Patchett has written five other novels and a couple of non-fiction memoirs. She’s only of a certain age, so probably she will write many more books. State of Wonder is, I believe, her masterwork. My review of Ann Patchett’s novel “Run” is here.

I’m tempted to nominate State of Wonder to be a Great American Novel, except that most of the story takes place in the Amazon jungle.

Tell me, have you read State of Wonder? Or Run? What did you think of Ann Patchett’s work?

— John Hayden

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Amazon, Books, And Publishing, Read All About It

If you love books, please do not read “CHEAP WORDS: Amazon is good for customers. But is it good for books?”

books headerDon’t read it, because it will break your heart. If you love economic competition or American culture, the article about Amazon.com will also break your heart. If you’re an aspiring author, writing your e-book to sell via Kindle, Nook, or Apple, you probably have a conflicted love-hate relationship with Amazon.

For the fearless reader, the scary, in-depth report by George Packer about Amazon.com may be found in the Feb. 17, 2014, issue of The New Yorker, filed under “Reporter At Large.” Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

On the positive side, if you own stock in Amazon, Mr. Packer’s comprehensive report might make you fall in love all over again:

“The combination of ceaseless innovation and low-wage drudgery makes Amazon the epitome of a successful New Economy company.”

You could credit Amazon with creating jobs. But in the not-too-distant future, most of those warehouse picking and shipping workers will likely be replaced by robots. And whether we believe it or not, in the long run Amazon just might deliver books, and other merchandise, by drone. (Books are now a small part of the company’s business. Amazon is a digital general store, selling nearly everything under the sun.)

Wikicommons photo

Wikicommons photo

I’m not going to give away the whole Amazon love-hate story, which is too long for most of us to read on a computer screen. I printed it out, and it came to 25 letter-sized pages. It’s a must-read for everyone who’s interested in books and/or the publishing industry, so long as you can handle the heartbreak. I’ll give you a taste of Mr. Packer’s judgement:

“Lately, digital titles have leveled off at about thirty per cent of book sales. Whatever the temporary fluctuations in publishers’ profits, the long-term outlook is discouraging. This is partly because Americans don’t read as many books as they used to — they are too busy doing other things with their devices — but also because of the relentless downward pressure on prices that Amazon enforces. The digital market is awash with millions of barely edited titles, most of it dreck, while readers are being conditioned to think that books are worth as little as a sandwich.”

And now I’ll localize the story a bit, which is an editor’s oldest trick on a slow news day. Here in the metro Washington, D.C. area, the newspaper many of us rely on for our news, The Washington Post, has been purchased by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Will the sale lead to the newspaper’s salvation or its continued demise?

— John Hayden

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Doctorow’s ‘Andrew’s Brain’ (But On Second Thought . . .)

Got the hot new book, published this month, ink’s still wet. E.L. Doctorow’s “Andrew’s Brain.”

It’s a pretty weird book. At least it’s not long. Even as a short novel, I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish it.

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Michael Connelly’s “Gods Of Guilt” (Mickey Haller Channeling Perry Mason)

Gods of Guilt

I’ve just finished Michael Connelly’s newest novel, “The Gods Of Guilt,” and the final  pages of tense testimony left me shocked, drained and gasping for breath.

“The Gods of Guilt” is courtroom high drama with the explosive tension of a crashing airplane. I haven’t read all of Connelly’s 26 novels, but this has to be one of his best. The ink is still wet on the book, published only two months ago, but the verdict is in.

Michael Connelly, call your accountant. If you’re not already a rich man, “The Gods Of Guilt,” and the movie that will surely follow, will make you one.

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Intriguing Book Blurb Award

“Easy Rawlins still escapes, like the protagonists of Chandler, Hammett, Jim Thompson, or Chester Himes . . . With Easy Rawlins’ desperate and unflinching vision, Walter Mosley has revitalized two genres, the hard-boiled novel and the American behaviorist novel.”

That’s the back cover blurb touting Walter Mosley’s latest mystery novel, “Little Green.” It wins the first (and maybe last) “Intriguing Book Blurb Award”  from your full-service blog, Work In Progress.

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January 10, 2014 · 3:15 pm

Lawyer Fiction: John Grisham and Michael Connelly, Part 2

books headerWriting without an outline is like walking a tightrope without a net. Dangerous! I should know better.

But the truth is, I nearly always write without an outline. It’s more exciting that way. When I start a story, I think I know where I’m going. I often end up someplace else entirely. (Kids, don’t try writing without an outline in English class; it makes the teacher crazy.)

On New Year’s Eve, I set out to compare authors John Grisham and Michael Connelly.  Turns out the two men and their careers are as similar as Coke and Pepsi. But when you open the covers of their books, there’s a definite contrast, like salt and pepper. If you’d like to read Part 1 of this extended post first, click here.

Grisham and Connelly are writers of the same generation, both productive enough to wear out a reader, but good enough to keep customers coming back for more.

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