Books: Recent Reads

by anneMoore on March 27, 2018

Hola! It’s been awhile since I posted. I’ve been reading, as always, but I’ve also been traveling and haven’t had the chance, ’til now, to sit down and share my thoughts. As a reminder, I review books I’ve enjoyed. Here goes:

Janesville, An American Story. (2017) By Amy Goldstein. If you liked and learned something about American economic despair from J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, this is a read for you. Goldstein is a longtime journalist at the Washington Post and a Pulitzer Prize winner for national reporting. In this marvelous book, she turns her eye to a region of southeast Wisconsin where factory workers (General Motors and its auto parts suppliers, also the Parker Pen Co.) suffer mightily when those plants close. Goldstein gives us the big picture — the 2008 economic crisis — and takes us into the homes and lives of once comfortably middle-class people now out of work; we see them retrain, find work out of town, go to college, accept donated groceries. To pay the mortgage, teenagers quit sports and clubs to work after school and on weekends. These people aren’t bitter: they’re stunned at how swiftly their lives change, going from high-paying ($28 per hour) factory jobs to $12 hour retail jobs they’re grateful to get. This is a smart page turner, thanks to Goldstein’s storytelling.

Asymmetry, by Lisa Halliday. This is the best novel I’ve read in a long time. (Her first: incredible!) It’s two novellas, Folly and Madness, both set in the early days of the Iraq War. First, a pretty bookish woman in Manhattan, in her 20’s, is pursued by and falls in love with a Philip Roth-like famous writer in his 70’s. Theirs is not a creepy relationship; it’s delightful and wise. The two share a love of foods, baseball, sex, literature. Also jokes. “You’re velcome.” She brings him jam (which he pays for), he buys her an air conditioner and pays off her college debt. When he invites her to his summer home, she must assume an alias. Yes, theirs is an imbalanced relationship — that’s what Halliday explores, with grace and humor. I didn’t want their story to end. Second is the story of Amar, an economist raised in Brooklyn, detained at Heathrow as he tries to return to Iraq to visit his brother Sami, a physician who had decided his work is more valuable in Kurdistan. Hours pass as Amar is held; we learn of his family and the heartbreaking reality of staying in Iraq.

Frankenstein in Baghdad, by Ahmed Saadawi, translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright. 2014 Winner, International Prize for Arabic Fiction and France’s Grand Prize for Fantasy. In U.S. occupied Baghdad, a scavenger picks up blown-to-pieces body parts and stitches them into a being. A neighbor clings to her home, believing her long-lost son will come home. When the creature is complete, and comes to life, the neighbor houses and clothes him. The creature metes revenge on those who killed a part of him; once accomplished, that body part dies off. The creature needs new body parts — and begins to kill to keep himself alive. The city is terrorized anew; is the creature real or imagined? A great read about everyday life in Baghdad.

Other books I read and liked: Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, Inside the Trump White House. Okay, I loved this one. Wolff has a singular way of telling a story we already know. It’s delicious. Another I liked is Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists, about four siblings whose fates may be determined by their death dates, which they learn from a neighborhood psychic. I loved two of the four life stories (gay Simon who flees his family for San Fransisco and Klara, who becomes a Las Vegas magician); the other two were not as lovable. Still, this is a beautifully written and engrossing read. Finally, a shout out for Paul Bowles’ 1952 novel Let it Come Down, which perfectly captures a young New York man’s post-war ennui, mishaps, misbehavior, obsessions and death wish in Tangier. Mmmm.

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