Desmond, winner of The Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 2017, has written a concise, easy to read, well documented and cited book about how poverty can be practically eliminated in this country. Through statistics and reports he debunks some long held myths about poverty, welfare and the poor. He describes what our government can do, what big business can do, and, most importantly, what the upper middle and upper classes can do to alleviate those living at or below the poverty level. Desmond’s solutions seem logical, but involve adjustments and sacrifices from most of us. For those who feel we haven’t done enough for the lower class in this country, Poverty, by America is a must read.
The Candy House by Jennifer Egan 334 pages
A summary of The Candy House is next to impossible. It is a sequel (in a way) to A Visit from the Goon Squad with about fifteen stories-some very interrelated-some not so much. If it has a central character it is Bix Bouton, a brilliant Black man who has invented a cube called know your own conscious. Characters can not only save their own memories with this device, they can also share them with others. Although this makes The Candy House sound like science fiction, that is too easy a description for this multi-faceted book.
If you read A Visit from the Good Squad and enjoyed it, or at least appreciated it, you will want to read The Candy House. Although at times it was difficult to keep all of the characters straight, I found Jennifer Egan’s novel sometimes brilliant and always interesting.
Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton 421 pages
Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton’s third novel is part thriller and part cautionary tale. Birnam Wood(taken from Macbeth) is the name of a “guerrilla” gardening group in New Zealand that grows fruits and vegetables on lands that are not their. They also often use supplies that belong to others. Mina Bunting is the mastermind behind this concept. The American billionaire Robert Lemoine offers Mira thousand of dollars if the group will farm land that he has recently acquired. Tony, a self-made reporter who recently left Birnam Wood, thinks the proposal sounds fishy and believes Lemoine should not be trusted. He tries to uncover what is really going on.
This is another book that takes a while to get into but is worth the effort. Birnam Wood is not an easy read. There are several subplots that don’t come together right away, but for me the tense, frightening ending made the whole novel worthwhile.
I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai 448 pages
Bodie Kane, who has a true crime podcast, has been invited to teach two intersession classes at the boarding school in New Hampshire where she attended. When she arrives there, memories of her student days are forever popping into her head. She cannot stop obsessing about a roommate’s murder, and the fact that an innocent man might have spent the last twenty three years in prison.
After thoroughly appreciating The Great Believers, I was really looking forward to Rebecca Makai’s newest novel. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. It’s a book that can’t seem to decide if it’s a thriller, a me too novel of a coming of age read. Also, Bode’s narration is sometimes straight forward and other times a rant at the person she believes murdered her roommate. I found this format disruptive and a bit aggravating.
Age of Vice by Deepit Kapoor 544pages
The opening scene of Age of Vice takes place in New Delhi. A speeding Mercedes is involved in an accident that kills five homeless people who are sleeping on the sidewalk. Minutes after the accident, the drunk driver is led away from the damaged car and a servant replaces him. The loyal servant is sent to prison. And thus begins Kapoor’s can’t put down novel about India’s wealthy gangsters and the people who work for them. There is Sunny, son of one of the richest, meanest, most influential gangster in India, Neda, an investigative reporter who falls in love with Sunny, Ajay the devoted servant, as well many more intriguing, brutal characters.
Age of Vice is not high literature, but I read it every chance I got. It took me to a lavish, dangerous world I knew nothing about. However, like many page turners, Age of Vice’s ending was not as satisfying as the rest of the novel.
Rough Sleepers by Tracy Kidder 278 pages
Jim O’Connell seems like a person who is too good to be true, but he’s for real. After his medical residency he was talked into spending a year treating the homeless in Boston. For Jim, a year became a lifetime. With the help of other very compassionate individuals, he set up medical clinics for the homeless as well as apartments, shelters and a van that reaches out to those who will not or cannot come get any and all kinds of help. The work is exhausting, often ungratifying, but Jim and his team are so inspiring. The title of Kidder’s book is a term people in the know use to describe those homeless people who live out of doors.
Tracy Kidder also spends part of Rough Sleepers describing in detail a handful of homeless people. The reader sees rough sleepers as individuals with a history, not just a lump under a blanket. Like his excellent work of nonfiction, Mountains Beyond Mountains, Kidder proves that one person can make a difference.
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka 389 pages
Winner of The Man Booker Prize this year, Karunatilaka’s second novel takes place in Sri Lanka. Maali Almeida is a photojournalist, a gay man, and dead. His ghost is told that he must pass through seven moons before he can reach The Light. On his journey, we meet many characters, most either dead or corrupt, learn that he has taken photos that could lead to the downfall of some guilty officials, and come to understand how and why Maali was killed.
Kaunatilaka’s innovative novel is part historical fiction, part murder mystery and part fantasy. It describes Sri Lanka’s civil war vividly and violently. I’m usually put off by works that have ghosts in them, and in The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, there are ghosts galore.
Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us by Rachel Aviv 237 pages
Selected by The New York Times as one of the five best works of nonfiction in 2022, Strangers to Ourselves presents six case studies of individuals suffering from mental illness. One of the examples is the author herself, who was hospitalized for anorexia when she was six years old. These studies present people of different genders, races and socio-economic status, all with different severe forms of mental illness.
If you are interested in the subject matter, and I am, Strangers to Ourselves is an interesting, sometimes fascinating other times perplexing read.
We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland by Fintan O’Toole 570 pages
Part history, part memoir, Fintan O’Toole describes his story and that of Ireland’s from the year he was born, 1958, to the present. He depicts the country over the last 60 years politically, economically, spiritually, sociologically and morally. O’Toole’s life as an altar boy, a good student in a Catholic school, and an investigative reporter for the Irish Times help shed light on Ireland then and now.
If you are very pro Irish, you might want to be warned that We Don’t Know Ourselves describes a country, its political and religious leaders as well as its everyday citizens with all of their many blemishes. However, for anyone who has some interest in modern day Ireland We Don’t Know Ourselves is a work of nonfiction that should be read.
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus 386 pages
Elizabeth Zott has a Master’s degree in chemistry from UCLA and is working at a research institute in Commons, California. It is the early 60’s when women scientists were not just an oddity they were second class citizens. After leaving that job where she was underappreciated and treated poorly, she lands a job in television. Her show Suppers at Six is a cooking show where Elizabeth combines her knowledge of chemistry with her devotion to healthy meals.
Bonnie Gramus’s debut novel is an entertaining read that I think most women will enjoy. Elizabeth Zott is at least ten years ahead of the women’s movement which makes her a worthy protagonist. However, for me, she and her situation are too good to be true.