Books: reading and grieving

by anneMoore on May 14, 2018

We read to learn, we read for pleasure, we read to escape. I found it hard to read anything other than newspapers in the days after my mother’s death. After a week or so, while I was still out in sunny hot Scottsdale, I got back to books. Here’s some I enjoyed: they took me away from my grief for a bit, they made me think. 

My favorite read last year was Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (2017) so I picked up one of his earlier novels, The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007). Now I’m going to read all his work, because his storytelling is engaging and his topics are universal: his well drawn characters embody the world’s troubles. In Exit West, a young couple’s nightmarish emigration journey is at the same time magical, because each time they leave a place it’s through a door. There’s no magic realism in the earlier work: The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a story of disillusion. Changez is a Princeton graduate snapped up by a New York valuation firm; he’s in love with Erica, a beautiful but troubled girl with a social ease in the city. After 9/11, Changez’s world view shifts; he gives up on the West and returns to his family in Lahore, becoming the book’s title. 

II have a love-hate relationship with novels by Ian McEwan. Loved Nutshell (2016) loved The Children Act (2015) loved Solar (2011). Threw Atonement (2003) across the room: there’s no atoning that act! Didn’t like the excerpt of On Chesil Beach (2008) I read in The New Yorker, found the terror in Saturday (2006) not believable. But McEwan is always worth a try, and often wickedly funny (see: Solar.) I opened up his Enduring Love (1998) — and right away fell for his characters and their plight. Joe Rose, a science journalist, is picnicking with wife Clarissa, a scholar, when a hot air balloon holding a boy comes loose. Men, including Rose, rush to hold down the balloon, but it sails off, with the boy in the basket and one dangling man, who falls to his death. From that incident, Rose becomes linked to Jed Parry, one of the men from the ballon tragedy. Parry declares his love for Rose, he stalks Rose. Parry’s insistent — enduring — love drives Rose and his wife apart, and causes Rose to question his profession, his faith, his sanity. Is Parry real? Imagined? This one is filed in my McEwan “love” stack. 

It was kismet to be reading The New Farm, by Brent Preston while living with my sister for three weeks; she insists on organic only, grass-fed food and drink. That’s Preston’s story: in 2003, he and his wife and two small children chuck city life in Toronto to create a hundred-acre organic farm in Ontario. The book is their journey, and it’s well worth a read. How do you learn to farm? How to sell? How to scale? What works, what fails? How do you make organics affordable to all? Will their marriage survive? This is both an intimate story — one farm, one family — and a global salvo to get chemicals out of our food system. 

For years I’d been following the news about an on online marketplace for illegal anything — drugs, cash, poison, guns, fake passports — and the search for its architect and operator. American Kingpin, by Nick Bolton, is the story of that person and the empire he built: Ross Ulbricht, aka the Dread Pirate Roberts, believed in libertarianism and decided to create a marketplace for the unregulated sale of anything. It grew big, fast —$1.2 billion in sales — which set off a two-year hunt by a variety of federal agents. This is a smart, thrilling, thorough, un-put-downable read. I even gobbled up the endnotes.

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