Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

Razorblade Tears

S.A. Crosby  |  Fiction

2021, 319 pages

Sometimes you’re just not in the mood, you know.  The murder was too brutal, the language too savage, the characters too dark. A review on NPR calls Razorblade Tears a “visceral full-body experience.”  The story line … two gritty fathers attempt to discover the murderer of their two sons, who were married to each other … sounds compelling.  I just don’t have the heart for this bleak of a novel right now.

October, 2021

 

 

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While Justice Sleeps

Stacey Abrams

Fiction 2021 | 384 pages

four-hearts

Avery Keene is a law clerk for the legendary Supreme Court Justice Howard Wynn, who, in a series of moves that surprised and floored most everyone in the know in Washington DC, he put himself into a coma and left directions appointing Avery as his guardian.  And then this 26-year old brilliant woman begins to unravel the series of chess-relevant clues that Wynn left her, about why he was in a coma; about an international bio-genetics conspiracy; and about an engineered genetics-based drug intended to kill Muslims and which actually killed prisoners in tests, implicating Homeland Security and the U.S. President. This is a legal and political thriller, and thrilling it was!

A fast, compelling read, Ms. Keene and her small entourage of co-discoverers are well-developed characters.  Abrams is a surprisingly potent novelist. Yes, this is the Stacey Abrams who is a political powerhouse in Georgia.  This is not her first novel!

The series of clues were often convoluted and difficult to decipher.  And confusing.  But our main character makes sense if it all, understanding symbolism and metaphor, searching for facts and truth, and being exceptionally strong in character and compassion.

A great read (with an appropriate double-meaning title) on a beautiful autumn weekend. I recommend While Justice Sleeps.

October 2021

 

The Righteous Mind

Jonathon Haidt

Nonfiction 2012 | 419 pages (includes 101 pages of notes, etc.)

four-hearts

An astounding read!  This book answers the simple but essential question: Why don't we all get along?  Published in 2012, it does not address the Trump era specifically, but the knowledge and insight hold today.  The confounding mystery of how good people can be SO divided as we are today in our political world is finally explained.  What Haidt has to say is very revealing.  We are divided by our different moral compasses ... moral foundations, he calls them.  And none are bad.  No one is foolish or idiotic.  And, in fact, the right, which has a broader moral compass than the left (conservatives subscribe to more morals) is much better at navigating these differences than the left, who are more tightly focused on just a few moral principles.

In The Righteous Mind, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains why liberals, conservatives, and libertarians all have different understandings of right and wrong. (He also applies his works to the religious and non-religious.) We have different moral frameworks.  He argues that moral judgments are emotional, not logical—they are based on stories that evolve in our lives, rather than reason. Consequently, liberals and conservatives lack a common language, and reason-based arguments about morality are ineffective, leading to political polarization.

The Righteous Mind builds this argument on three basic principles:

  • Morality is more intuitive than rational.
  • Morality is about more than fairness and harm.
  • Morality “binds and blinds” us.

No surprise ... I read a few reviews, most of which are either five star or one star!  You will love or hate this book.   Whatever you think of his proposal, Haidt gives us a framework for looking at why we differ so much, and for, perhaps, being less judgmental about those who seem to reach some very different conclusions.

My only criticism of the book is that Haidt labels theories and ideas by the name of the professor or clinician who has researched and published.  So, the theories bear names like “Kant, Shweder, and Durkheim.”  For a lay person like myself, not familiar with these professorial researchers, I would have comprehended what he was saying if he labeled the theories descriptively and didn’t call them by the researcher’s name.  I could not remember who said what about what.

For the first 100 pages or so, I was in the place of “Huh.  I am smart, but I am not sure I understand what he is saying.”  But I was definitely intrigued.  And so I kept going, and he really did make sense of it all for me.

I think this book is REQUIRED reading, not just a recommendation.  Many thanks to wonderful artist and watercolor teacher Suze Woolf (I have two of her paintings over my guest bed) for this inspired read.  (https://www.suzewoolf-fineart.com/)

(p.s.  I was delighted to learn how the terms "left" and "right" came about! See pg 277)

September 2021

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Mark Manson

Nonfiction 2016 | 212 pages

four-hearts

What a surprise this book is!  Yes, it is hilarious, especially in the early pages.  And yes, you must become comfortable with the word “fuck” because you will read it or hear it A LOT.  But what totally surprised me is how much wisdom Mark Manson shares.  This short read is chock full of insights, fresh perspectives, and thought-provoking questions about how we choose our values and live our lives.  I will not tell you what you will learn from The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, because it feels like Manson is speaking to us individually, one to one.  You will learn from this book what you need to learn, assuming you are open to hearing his perspectives and wisdom.  And he makes it quite easy to do just that, with short sentences and humor.  I unequivocally recommend this read!

September 2021

The Splendid and the Vile

Erik Larson

Nonfiction, 2020 | 585 pages

(80 pages are sources, bibliography, and the index)

two-hearts

ADDENDUM:  I just returned from book club, where I gained a much better appreciation for this book.  So, while my review and rating stay the same, I might suggest you take my two hearts with a grain of salt.  The other women enjoyed The Splendid and the Vile and learned a lot ... and I learned more than I had realized!

 

I like the writing of Erik Larson, and this is another of his extremely well-researched and well-written books.

The story Larson tells is one year of Winston Churchill’s life, from the day he became Prime Minister during WWII, May 10, 1940, to May 10, 1941.  Unfortunately, I found it boring.  Not only is it about history, but it is about war (to me, unappealing at best; irksome at worse).

We read about Churchill the man, and the book is sprinkled, not very judiciously, with tidbits about his children and Churchill’s wife, Clementine.  Mostly, however, we learn about Churchill’s relationships with his advisers, his strategy to engage the US, war strategy, the Blitz (important and comparatively interesting), fighters, bombers, incendiaries, explosions, war-time production, and massive destruction and death.  (The epilogue, nevertheless, provides solid conclusions of the individual players.)

This is a book club read so I managed to complete it.  I cannot recommend it, though. (My apologies, Marian).

September 2021

 

The Splendid and the Vile

Erik Larson

Nonfiction, 2020 | 585 pages

(80 pages are sources, bibliography, and the index)

two-hearts

I like the writing of Erik Larson, and this is another of his extremely well-researched and well-written books.

The story Larson tells is one year of Winston Churchill’s life, from the day he became Prime Minister during WWII, May 10, 1940, to May 10, 1941.  Unfortunately, I found it boring.  Not only is it about history, but it is about war (to me, unappealing at best; irksome at worse).

We read about Churchill the man, and the book is sprinkled, not very judiciously, with tidbits about his children and Churchill’s wife, Clementine.  Mostly, however, we learn about Churchill’s relationships with his advisers, his strategy to engage the US, war strategy, the Blitz (important and comparatively interesting), fighters, bombers, incendiaries, explosions, war-time production, and massive destruction and death.  (The epilogue, nevertheless, provides solid conclusions of the individual players.)

This is a book club read so I managed to complete it.  I cannot recommend it, though. (My apologies, Marian).

Septmeber 2021

 

Fifty Shades of Grey

EL James | Fiction, 2011

514 pages

three-hearts

On a whim, I reread Fifty Shades of Grey.  This book is not for everyone, I know!  I quite enjoy the eroticism, the explicit sex, the romance, and the naïve, sensual, and highly intelligent main character, Anastasia Steele.  Yes, you know what it is about ...  a young woman who is introduced to BDSM by the exceptionally rich and handsome Christian Grey.

While I find the eroticism delightful, there are two additional aspects of the book that make it enjoyable for me.  First, the e-mail interchanges between Ana and Christian are remarkably clever.  Read the titles and signatures of each email they send!  Also, EL James’ ability to push me out of my safe and sheltered box, and explore an aspect of the world, of life, I will know only by reading about it.  This edge-pushing makes me more tolerant of life choices I do not understand or would not choose for myself.

I cannot recommend this book, readers, one way or the other.  You must decide for yourself.  (BTW, no, I haven’t seen the movie.  I generally don’t like to see a movie after I have read a book, because the book is always richer and more complex).

August 2021

susan, linda, nina & cokie

Lisa Napoli

Nonfiction 2021 | 340 pages

four-hearts

It was August 1971 when I drove away from my parent’s home in suburban Detroit, maneuvering my Chevy Vega, which was packed to the hilt with clothes, records, books, pens, notebooks, and probably chocolate chip cookies, for the hour drive to Ann Arbor.  Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan was my ticket into my real life. That same evening, I participated in a candlelight protest against the war in Vietnam.  On the drive to A2, I discovered NPR for the very first time.  50 years later, almost to the day, NPR remains my primary source of news.  I was so excited when susan, linda, nina, & cokie was published; a tribute to the founding mothers of NPR.

This book takes place almost exclusively in the 70s and before, as we learn about how these women broke into the broadcasting industry, the fascinating stories of their education, their lineage, and how they came together as colleagues.  Inextricably woven with the creation, challenges, and growth of NPR, Napoli’s book also catalogs the development of public broadcasting in general and NPR specifically.

Delightful footnotes will lead you to audio and video clips from the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964; to the first All Things Considered theme song; to the first on-air original NPR broadcast, May 3, 1971, on the March on Washington Vietnam War protest; and ultimately to Cokie’s funeral mass.

I love this book and will be recommending it to my book club.

August 2021

The Other Black Girl

Zakiya Dalila Harris

Fiction, 2021 | 368 pages

two-hearts

I don’t appreciate it when an author writes a second story line and doesn’t ground it … keeps you guessing well into the second half of the book who s/he is writing about in the smaller story she is interweaving into the larger story.  To me, this “clever” author trick makes me feel duped.  I don’t know where to hang the information I am receiving from the sub-plot.

So, let’s go the main plot.  Nella, a young Black woman, is an editorial assistant at Wagner, a major publishing house in New York City, and a second young Black woman, Hazel, is hired on.  What happens in their relationship?  Friends?  Enemies?  Are they out to help each other succeed or fail?  Or, perhaps, does the relationship grow beyond the workplace, and effect their personal lives and fears?  And why does Nella begin to receive anonymous notes, the first of which says “LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.”

Part mystery, part literature, part apparent tongue-in-cheek, especially about the care and styling of Black hair, Harris does a good job of developing Nella’s character.  You can understand her, root for her, feel her pain and her challenges and her joys.  Nella is the saving grace of this book, because otherwise it feels wooden and without depth.

I also felt talked down to.  If you really have read nothing about being Black in this country (and are not yourself Black), especially since the murder of George Floyd, you may find Harris’ writing enlightening.  If you HAVE been socially aware and conscious of injustice, you may find her descriptions of the experiences of these Black women to be a bit condescending.  I did.

Spoiler alert:  And ultimately, in the denouement, you will read that this book is actually about the betrayal of Black people by Black people.  I cannot imagine who would find pleasure in reading this bizarre concoction.  I cannot in good conscience recommend this book, whether you are white, Black, or a mystery reader.  (Sorry, Scott Simon).

August 2021

 

The Physics of God

Joseph Selfie | Nonfiction, 2018

207 pages

three-hearts

Reading The Physics of God, I learned that meditation moves our brains from alpha-waves to theta-waves, which activate imagination, creativity, planning, concentration, morals, manners, and the opportunity for transcendence; offering a much richer space than I realized possible in my meditation practice.

AND, The Physics of God raises a myriad of questions …. and confirmation of truths I find difficult to comprehend.  At the core, there is considerable evidence that an object does not truly exist until it is perceived by consciousness.

In the 20th century, many physicists came to the conclusion that consciousness was the underlying foundation of reality, substantiated and coalesced as the "intelligent-observer paradox".  Intelligent Consciousness creates matter.  This, of course, is very challenging to truly grasp.  This is an argument for a God of some sort …. a Divine Intelligent Consciousness.  Read this short, clear book to gain a deeper level of understanding than I can begin to explore here.

And, still, I am left with a sense of “so what?”  How does this knowledge impact my life, or those around me?  It is interesting, yes.  And to what end?  What insight?  What manifestation?  Selbie argues that only science and religion together explain “Reality.”  I would love to hear your thoughts and questions after you have read this decidedly mind-expanding and thought-provoking book.

August 2021