Thursday, February 1, 2018

In the Bleak Midwinter: The Best Books I Read in January

January was not a great reading month--in part because I was so busy with work that I mostly read mindless fair and in part because I listened to a 36-hour book, which sucked up a lot of the reading time I did have. Thus, the "best books" list is a bit slim this month.

The Best Books I Read This Month

Conscience of a Conservative, by Jeff Flake. There's a lot of space on the political spectrum between Jeff Flake and me. I disagree with him on most issues and cringe at his oft-expressed admiration for Barry Goldwater. But I do agree with his analysis of the destructiveness of our current political climate and his call for a return to debating ideas and fighting for principles. While the book has been billed as an attack on Trump--and it certainly is that--it is also broader, pointing out the contributions of both parties to the polarization and dysfunction that characterize government today. Even if you, like me, are a progressive/liberal/lefty, it's a worthwhile read.

Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid. A highly regarded book of 2017, Exit West is the story of two young lovers fleeing a war-torn country. Sound like any other refugee story? Not so much, as fantastical and dystopic features and wonderful writing give the story a deeper resonance. I'm not describing this well--it's hard to describe--but it's interesting and strange and recommended.

Black Man, White House, by D.L. Hughley and Michael Malice. This is not a book I would have picked up, except that I was having trouble finding any interesting audio books on Overdrive and this was available. Presented as a set of fake oral history comments about the Obama campaign and presidency, with (fake) Michelle Obama providing the narrative thread (President Obama himself gets only one line), it is laugh-out-loud funny. Like most satires, it sometimes misfires, but if you can't laugh at Dick Cheney and Rahm Emanuel (two of my least favorite politicians of the past 20 years), I feel bad for you. I don't know if it would be as amusing in print, but the audio book is very entertaining.

Also Read

Water Signs, by Janet Dawson. Mediocre mystery but I was interested to learn that the publisher, Perseverance Press, is completely dedicated to mid-list mystery authors dropped by larger houses. Interesting mission!
The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead. A weird book about elevator inspectors and race. I admire the creativity but didn't really love the book.
I Almost Forgot about You, by Terry McMillan. I think McMillan peaked with Waiting to Exhale.
No One Is Coming to Save Us, by Stephanie Powell Watts. This book has been called Great Gatsby set amid African Americans in the South . . . but I do not get it at all.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, by Arundahti Roy. I did not care for this book (and I feel bad about that).
Host, by Robin Cook. I hadn't read a Robin Cook book for at least a decade, but they haven't changed at all--nefarious doings in drug companies and hospitals. Plus this one has a slightly weird racial vibe between the best friends who uncover the wrongdoing.
Where They Found Her, by Kimberley McCreight. Bad mothers in various guises--ugh! By the end, we learn the dads are bad, too, but it doesn't redeem the book.
All the Missing Girls, by Meagan Miranda. I thought this sounded interesting because part of it is told in reverse chronological order. Not really.
4 3 2 1, by Paul Auster. This is the 36-hour book--I listened to the whole thing and it held my interest. But it's too long--even given the fact that it's really four books in one, since it presents four different versions of the life of Archie Ferguson. However, it's not the best of what I call "Sliding Doors" books; for a better review than I could write, see the review in the New Yorker, which was spot on (

Favorite Passages

Decency on this occasion won out, and bravery, for courage is demanded not to attack when afraid.

Mohsin Hamid, Exit West

If principle is only defended when there's nothing at stake, then it is probably not much of a principle after all.

Jeff Flake, The Conscience of a Conservative

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