Category Archives: Paperback
Recently I finished a great book, The Postmortal by Drew Magary. In this story the wish of never having to grow old and die is granted when a scientist trying to find the genetic code of redheads so that they can have different colored hair, accidentally discovered the death-gene, which is the gene that causes aging. Part of this accident is that he also discovers how to turn off the gene with the help of a bioengineered virus. What happens next is what could happen if people did not have to worry about growing old and dying.
Divorce rates sky rocket with the idea that until death parts us suddenly suddenly seems like too much to ask; teenagers stop thinking about going to college and starting a career with the idea that they have forever and a day to think about it; and people travel to Las Vegas, which of course has created a whole marketing scheme in creating the fountain of youth weekend getaway complete with a holy grail cup from which to drink alcohol.
But the reality is that people aren’t built to live forever. Bad memories pile up; boredom settles in as people grow tired of going out with their forever-twenty-some friends every weekend for 40 years; then some people wish for a death that will not find them. As you can imagine there are other problems that come with a world whose population never dies and continues to grow to 20 billion people. Yes, the heros never die, but the villains live forever.
Towards the end of the book I had a sudden reminder of George Orwell’s 1984. Like 1984 and other dystopian novels this book demonstrates how a world built to give everything to everyone ultimately betters the lives of a few while destroying the lives of many.
It is a highly entertaining book and written in a way that works in the generation of the blog looking to the new future with smart phones and battery operated cars. What is also fun is that this is the first dystopian novel that I am away of that takes place in and around Maryland. If this ever comes true I am staying away from Bowie.
Tells us what your favorite dystopian books are. Any of these top 12?
The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World’s MOst Perplexing Cold Cases
Despite journalist Capuzzo’s obvious reverence for the crime fighters he profiles, his account of the formation of the legendary Vidocq Society is as scattered as many of the cold case files they wade through. Based in Philadelphia, the Vidocq Society was the brainchild of three wildly different men brought together by their desire to speak for the dead: freewheeling exboxer turned forensic sculptor Frank Bender; FBI and U.S. Customs agent William Fleisher; and pre-eminent forensic psychologist and profiler Richard Walter. What began as an informal meeting of colleagues in 1990 evolved into an expansive international think tank of sorts modeled and named after France’s famed criminal-turned-sleuth Eugène Vidocq, a model for Sherlock Holmes. The cases—ranging from Philadelphia’s long-festering “Boy in the Box” murder to the “Butcher of Cleveland,” a serial killer who taunted Elliot Ness in the 1930s—are fascinating, but Capuzzo (Close to Shore) loses much of his narrative momentum by abruptly shifting between the founding members’ individual backstories and homicides the society investigates. Yet there is no denying that the 82 “VSMs”(Vidocq Society Member) do an immeasurable service in the name of justice.
Colonelt Roosevelt: Theodore Roosevelt Goes to War, 1897-1898
H. Paul Jeffers
The man who likened himself to a “”bull moose,”” says Jeffers in this sturdy second installment (after Commissioner Roosevelt, 1994) of his multivolume popular biography of the 26th president, intended to be elected chief executive in 1904. As it happened, the assassination of William McKinley carried Roosevelt into the White House in 1901. But if Roosevelt’s schedule was off, Jeffers convincingly explains, his aim wasn’t. Roosevelt emerged from the Spanish-American War with the White House right in his sights. Jeffers is most effective in describing Roosevelt’s role in organizing and leading the Rough Riders, but he exaggerates his subject’s role in the origin of the war that made this cavalry division famous. Relying heavily on Roosevelt’s own accounts, he misses the fact that, as Secretary of the Navy, Roosevelt was widely regarded in the McKinley administration as a loose cannon, respected for his energy but not for his ideas. Still, this is a handsome narrative of a crucial period in the career of one of our country’s most colorful politicians.
Everyone Loves You When You Are Dead
Journalist Strauss, who has coauthored books with the band members of Mötley Crüe (The Dirt) and porn superstar Jenna Jameson (How to Make Love Like a Porn Star) now offers a terrific look at the dysfunctional livelihoods of stardom, a theme based on his many interviews for various publications. Strauss went back to his original interview tapes and notes in search of moments—mostly unpublished—that reveal “the truth or essence of each person, story, or experience.” He liberally and ingeniously cuts back and forth between scenes, such as pairing the youthful, arrogant claims of Oasis that the band could have been the Beatles in the 1960s with the tortured feeling of the Who’s aging leader Pete Townshend (“All we can do in the future is look back”). In other instances, he shows the self-doubt shared by Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner and actor Orlando Bloom. But the best moments come when Strauss has earned such trust of his subjects that he becomes part of some very weird scenes, all of which are presented in all their often hilarious detail: shooting guns with Ludacris, getting kidnapped by Courtney Love, making Lady Gaga cry, and shopping for Pampers with Snoop Dogg.
The Hare with Amber Eyes
Edmund de Waal
In this family history, de Waal, a potter and curator of ceramics at the Victoria & Albert Museum, describes the experiences of his family, the Ephrussis, during the turmoil of the 20th century. Grain merchants in Odessa, various family members migrated to Vienna and Paris, becoming successful bankers. Secular Jews, they sought assimilation in a period of virulent anti-Semitism. In Paris, Charles Ephrussi purchased a large collection of Japanese netsuke, tiny hand-carved figures including a hare with amber eyes. The collection passed to Viktor Ephrussi in Vienna and became the family’s greatest legacy. Loyal citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Vienna Ephrussis were devastated by the outcome of WWI and were later driven from their home by the imposition of Nazi rule over Austria. After WWII, they discovered that their maid, Anna, had preserved the netsuke collection, which Ignace Ephrussi inherited, and he settled in postwar Japan. Today, the netsuke reside with de Waal (descended from the family’s Vienna branch) and serve as the embodiment of his family history. A somewhat rambling narrative with special appeal to art historians, this account is nonetheless rich in drama and valuable anecdote. 20 b&w illus.
Loon: A Marine Story
McLean’s debut is a perceptive memoir of the Vietnam war that is unique for the author’s background: McLean joined the Marine Corps after graduating from Phillips Academy, where George W. Bush was a classmate. Making excellent use of more than a hundred letters he wrote home from the war zone from November 1967 to July 1968, McLean reconstructs his time in the Marines with a sharp eye for detail and very readable—at times almost poetic—prose. McLean underwent a hellish tour of duty and in the fall of 1968 became the first Vietnam veteran to enter Harvard. He uses a good deal of reconstructed dialogue to tell his war story, a technique that in lesser hands only cheapens a memoir. But virtually all of McLean’s dialogue rings true, as does nearly everything else in the book. That includes this passage in which McLean remembers his baptism under fire a few days after he arrived in Vietnam: “It had been eerie, frightening, invigorating, chaotic, and surreal. Welcome to combat. It was not like the movies.”
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper’s wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man’s turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners’ plans to give him a “necktie party” (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by “the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn’t operate in his own home town.” Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson’s magnificent, extensively researched study of the “great migration,” the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an “uncertain existence” in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.
Recently in the world of new paperbacks . . .
The Doctor and the Diva
by: Adrienne McDonnell
In her book-club friendly debut, McDonnell weaves the intriguing tale of an early 20th-century opera singer torn between her career and motherhood. Erika von Kessler, a mezzo-soprano of some regard, and her husband, Peter Myrick, have been trying without success to conceive a child for all six years of their marriage. They seek out the expertise of Dr. Ravell, a Boston obstetrician renowned for his fertility successes. Ravell, mesmerized by Erika’s beauty and talent, vows to do anything to help the couple realize their dream of children, even if it means deceiving them, which, of course, it does. Meanwhile, Erika isn’t so sure about her desire for motherhood and secretly makes plans to leave her husband and pursue fame in Italy. McDonnell bases the story on her family history and expertly incorporates surprising facts about the history of fertility research into a twisting tale of miscommunication, love, and unrealized dreams.
Girl in Translation
A resolute yet naïve Chinese girl confronts poverty and culture shock with equal zeal when she and her mother immigrate to Brooklyn in Kwok’s affecting coming-of-age debut. Ah-Kim Chang, or Kimberly as she is known in the U.S., had been a promising student in Hong Kong when her father died. Now she and her mother are indebted to Kimberly’s Aunt Paula, who funded their trip from Hong Kong, so they dutifully work for her in a Chinatown clothing factory where they earn barely enough to keep them alive. Despite this, and living in a condemned apartment that is without heat and full of roaches, Kimberly excels at school, perfects her English, and is eventually admitted to an elite, private high school. An obvious outsider, without money for new clothes or undergarments, she deals with added social pressures, only to be comforted by an understanding best friend, Annette, who lends her makeup and hands out American advice. A love interest at the factory leads to a surprising plot line, but it is the portrayal of Kimberly’s relationship with her mother that makes this more than just another immigrant story.
The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey
Mosley (Known to Evil) plays out an intriguing premise in his powerful latest: a man is given a second shot at life, but at the price of a hastened death. Ptolemy Grey is a 91-year-old man, suffering from dementia and living as a recluse in his Los Angeles apartment. With one foot in the past and the other in the grave, Ptolemy begins to open up when Robyn Small, a 17-year-old family friend, appears and helps clean up his apartment and straighten out his life. A reinvigorated Ptolemy volunteers for an experimental medical program that will restore his mind, but at hazardous cost: he won’t live to see 92. With the clock ticking, Ptolemy uses his rejuvenated mental abilities to delve into the mystery of the recent drive-by shooting death of his great-nephew, Reggie, and to render justice the only way he knows how, goaded and guided by the memory of his murdered childhood mentor, Coydog McCann. Though the details of the experimental procedure are less than convincing, Mosley’s depiction of the indignities of old age is heartbreaking, and Ptolemy’s grace and decency make for a wonderful character and a moving novel.
The Taste of Salt
In her haunting fourth novel, Southgate (Third Girl from the Left) examines the complicated issues of race, family, love, and addiction. Josie Henderson is a widely respected scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts and prides herself on being the only senior-level African-American marine biologist there. Henderson loves her job and has a husband, Daniel, who adores her, but she can’t shake her past of growing up with an alcoholic father. The story spins out, told through Josie’s eyes and those of her brother, Tick, father, mother and husband after Josie goes back to her hometown of Cleveland to pick Tick up from his second stint in rehab. Southgate’s arresting, fluid prose and authentic dialogue come together in a resonating study of relationships, where selfish tendencies among the various characters are revealed, as are their feelings of regret. A fascinating story that shows how the mistakes people make affect all those around them.
The Strangers on Montagu Street
White’s third Tradd Street paranormal (after 2009’s The Girl on Legare Street) delivers powerful emotions, weird old Charleston architecture, and a hint of mystery as psychic realtor Melanie Middleton and her boyfriend, bestselling author Jack Trenholm, navigate their treacherous relationship. Nola, Jack’s 13-year-old daughter, adds an extra challenge by arriving on his doorstep from California after her drug-addicted songwriter mother’s suicide, with her mother’s guitar in hand and her mother’s comforting but restless spirit in tow. When sullen Nola becomes haunted by evil spirits living in a beautiful antique dollhouse that Jack’s mother gives her, tracking down the story of the house on which the miniature home is modeled becomes a priority. Charming and complex living characters, combined with unsettled ghosts that balance uncanny creepiness with very human motivations, keep this story warm, real, and exciting.
Whiter Than Snow
In this stilted, disjointed smalltown disaster drama, a 1920 Colorado avalanche traps nine children in a snow drift, turning their close-knit community upside-down in the process. As the children’s families learn of their predicament, the complicated backstories that bind the members of sleepy Swandyke come to light; in the present, the developing tragedy, including multiple deaths, transforms the community through sorrow, forgiveness, and redemption. Unfortunately, novelist Dallas (Prayers for Sale ) isn’t up to the challenge of multiple plot threads, a large cast of characters, or the heavily loaded children-in-distress material; exaggerated caricature, stiff dialogue, and poorly integrated character history make for awkward, disappointing melodrama.