Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

Beyond Your Bubble

Tania Israel  |  Nonfiction

2020, 175 pages

Oh, I am so disappointed.  I was hoping this book would tell me how to find people to engage in dialogue with, beyond my liberal/progressive bubble.  Instead, it teaches how to be in dialogue ... how to listen, to talk, to manage emotions, and to understand others.  Absolutely useful and important skills!  Just not what I was seeking.   All that is useful to me is a list of three resources in the “additional resources” section at the end.

Posted 12/20




The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist

Adrian Tomine |  Biographical, 2020

162 pages


Longtime Dusty Shelves readers know my fatal flaw.  I don’t often find the written word funny.  A few reviewer's comments on this book: “painfully honest and often hilarious” and “deeply aware, darkly funny ...”

I did not find a single pane of this graphic novel funny.  I just found it depressing.  And sad.  Amen.  The end.  No recommendation from me!

NYT 100 Best Books of 2020.  (Again, NYT disappoints).



A Burning

Megha Majumdar | Fiction,  2020

293 pages


I wouldn’t quite deem A Burning “electrifying” or “all-consuming,” words used by some reviewers.  I would call it a good story.  Good, but not great.

This is the tale of three people in modern day India:  Jivan, a young Muslin woman, is falsely accused of a horrific crime and thrown in jail; PT Sir, a gym teacher at the local school seems to lose touch with his moral compass, bit by bit, page by page; Lovely, a hijra, is an appealing and endearing young woman(?), an impoverished beggar, who aspires to be an actress, and around whom the emotional story evolves.

Majumdar’s character development, in this, her debut novel, is astounding.  These three figures are unique, strong, and distinguishable in their differences and depth.  I very much enjoyed getting to know each of them.

As I mentioned in my opening statement, I did like the story and learning about the injustices ever-present in India; I simply did not find it a page-turner.  It is a rather quick read, and I recommend it.  I look forward to your comments and thoughts and reactions, especially from those of you who may love this book dearly...


The Adventurer’s Son

Roman Dial | Nonfiction, 2020

355 pages


This book is a sleeper, in my opinion; at least for those of who revel in true outdoor adventures.  It was recommended by my library in their “Armchair Travel” newsletter. And it deserves greater visibility.

Cody Roman Dial disappears in the back-country of Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica, known as “the most biologically intense place on earth.”  This park is so wild, it is illegal to enter it without a guide. Yes, our heroes break the law.  This is the story, written by his father, of a father’s search for his son, filled with adventure and mystery, after Cody misses his “out date,” July 15, 2014.

But first, for almost half of the book, we watch Roman Dial and his wife Peggy raise Cody and his younger sister Jazz.  Ice climbing, pack rafting, obsessed with animals and flora, adventure finders, mountain climbing, camping, skiing, hiking long distances are just some of what the Dial family explores together.  There is such a huge, shared love for the natural world, it will take your breath away.

This is a slow read, to be savored.  I became lost in the physical descriptions of places the Dials traveled that bear no resemblance to the United States geography I know well. Borneo, the northwest corner of Australia, Gunung Palung, Guatemala, Mexico, Tasmania, Bhutan, and many locales such as the Brooks Range, Usibelli, and Umnak Island in their home state of Alaska.  I was enthralled with the descriptions of animals and plants I could not even picture, they were so different from what we encounter locally.

Dial is not an author ... he tells a realistic and beautiful story.  This isn’t the best writing I have read, and perhaps his penchant for descriptions may derail a reader or two.  As a non-scientist, however, I found none of his writing above my head or off-putting.  Simply, it was fascinating.

Do I rate this three hearts or four?  I would only go with three because I know not all my blog readers are as enamored of wilderness adventures as I am.  However, that would do The Adventurer’s Son a disservice.  I will stay with a solid four hearts and recommend this book with enthusiasm.


There There

Tommy Orange | Fiction, 2019

304 pages


There There astounded me.  It rearranges what you might think about Urban Native Americans and their lives, identities or lack of identities, passions, families, loves.  Twelve independent people make their way to a powwow in the town where they all live, Oakland, California.  They have vastly different reasons for being there, and different expectations.  And yet in so many ways, their lives overlap.

Orange’s character development is magnificent.  I feel as though I know some of these characters intimately ... and yet, I know them not at all, for their experiences are so counter to my experiences.

“You were white, you were brown, you were red, you were dust.”  I don’t fully understand this statement, and yet, it feels quite important.  I was surprised to learn about how different people saw themselves, as more or less Indian, depending in large part on how their parents/caregivers viewed being Native.  Some wanted it hidden, discouraged, ignored.  Some wanted it understood and embraced.  Some didn’t care one way or the other.  All dealt with their Indianness.  “Indianing” by the way, is a word that Orange coined – (defined in my own words ) as taking on attributes or culture or attitudes or clothes or gestures to appear Indian, for yourself or for others.  How “much” are you Indian?

Interestingly, while most of the profiles are written in first person, some are third, and a few even in second person.  Fascinating mix.  I wonder how he decided?  When you read this, pay special attention to the “prologue” and the “interlude.”  They inform the story significantly.

Another superb debut novel.  There There is a book I could read again.  I do hope you read and enjoy it.  And please write your thoughts here.


Save Me the Plums

Ruth Reichl | Nonfiction Memoir,  2019

288 pages


LA Times food critic Ruth Reichl catapults into the opulent, gastronomically eloquent, ostentatious world of billionaires, Gourmet magazine and its owner, Condé Nast.

It is astounding to read of her experiences entering this whole new world and working to find her place.  And then, as the book progresses, we are witnesses as she shakes up the staid Gourmet magazine and it becomes more radical and more relevant.  This is a respite from the last few books I read, which were ponderous and serious (Me and White Supremacy and An Indigenous Peoples’ Guide to American History).  Save Me the Plums is light and easy to read.

However, its gift is also its demise.  It is too light. Reichl, surprisingly for a memoir author, is not transparent or reflective.  She tells us what occurs, but she doesn’t tell us how she feels about it or what she is thinking.  One example is when she receives pressure in this new New York world of hers, to buy a $6500 dress.  She eventually decides, which we learn about, but we don’t read of her internal conflict, or her values, or her feelings, or even her decision-making process.  She is either a poor writer or a shallow writer, and I am inclined toward the latter because her descriptions of food and their tastes and textures are positively mouth-wateringly yummy.  Her lack of real authenticity and depth moved this book from four hearts to three for me.

She also repeats a perspective that has shown up in a few books I have read recently. Authors sometimes enter the corporate world and write about it as if they are the first to discover and reveal the machinations of big business.  What she writes of is neither new nor news.  It is boring if you have spent 40 years of your career interacting with big corporations, and I find the surprise and fascination of these authors to be naïve.

Read Save Me the Plums for the fun, the grandiosity, and the almost tactile delight of exploring new foods.  But don’t read it for insight into a food celebrity or you will be disappointed.

From “Booked in Bend” book club list for 2020.



Me and White Supremacy

Layla F. Saad | Nonfiction, 2020

256 pages


For 28 days, addressing 28 topics associated with white supremacy, such as power, relationships, and white silence, Me and White Supremacy follows this pattern: “What is <topic>? “How does it show up?” and “Why do you need to look at it?” Then she presents “Reflection time journal prompts” intended to guide you through the 28 days of this workbook, keeping a journal as you proceed.

At first I was very frustrated with this book.  For the first few days, the introspective questions she asked were too obvious; too simple.  They were about behaviors or attitudes I left behind in college. I wanted juicier, more insightful questions that would make me ponder and think and reflect and re-examine my attitudes and actions.

Be careful what you ask for.  As I progressed in the book, the questions did get tougher and inspire more self-examination.  About day 19, everything shifted for me. Chapter 19 is about “optical allyship.”  In my own words, “optical allyship” is about saying the right things, and believing the right things, but not ever doing the very hard work to break the systems of power that oppress.  It is to be visible as an ally, but only in tone, voice, attitude, and not action.

I realized that I have been more than an optical ally to the LGBTQ+ community.  I have marched.  I have worked to change corporate policies and practices.  I collected signatures in freezing temperatures for a ballot measure to create marriage equality in Oregon.  I have coached leaders in the LGBTQ+ movement.  I have had numerous meaningful conversations.  And I have examined my own sexual orientation and its relationship to being in community with others.  Now, I am not intending to say this is sufficient work nor am I lauding what bits I have done. My point is, as haven’t done anything, taken any significant action, to be proud of in support of BIPOC.  I have been merely an optical ally.  Wow.

I have seen a model of resources for White people that identifies six stages of growth and development of White privilege consciousness.  This book is recommended in stage three.  The next book on my list for this topic is How to be an Anti-Racist, which is a stage four resource.

What can I say?  Of course I recommend this book, at least to my White readers.  Know that it will take you a while to read and journal your way through this small book.  You can scroll through my blog to see some other books on this topic, but there are many, many more resources than what I have read.  I have been inspired since the events of this summer ... I hope some of you are, too. There is work to be done.   Please let us know here on Dusty Shelves what you discover!



Salt Houses

Hala Alyan | Fiction, 2017

310 pages


I must give Salt Houses four hearts.  I can’t be critical of it; it has many good reviews.  My life was in chaos in the last ten days or so, between work, volunteering, and relationships.  I could not focus on this book, and so I just pushed my way through, because I wanted to finish it for my Decolonization book club.  Whenever I did connect with it, however, I found the relationships and the characters multidimensional, complex, and real.   Spanning March 1963 to 2014, it is the moving story of a single family, living In Nablus and uprooted by the Six-Day War in 1967. Eventually, parts of the family live in Kuwait, Boston, Paris, Beirut, Amman, and Jaffa.  It is criminal that the publisher did not include a map in this book.  It would have helped readers to better understand the implications of the moves they chose to make or were forced to make.  However, I am grateful for the family tree.  Along with the Yacoub family’s reactions to war and unsettled lands, we witness the rise of feminism and the influence of American culture as we read about the generations.  The author refers to herself as Palestinian-American.

Have you read Salt Houses?  What comments do you have?


Montana 1948

Larry Watson | Fiction, 1993

175 pages


“From the summer of my twelfth year I carry a season of images more vivid and lasting than any others of my boyhood and indelible beyond all attempts the years make to erase or fade them …”  This is the opening of Montana 1948.  But don’t begin to think that this novel is about a 12-year old boy in Montana and his coming of age by fishing and kicking a ball around in the street during a long summer. No, his story is exceedingly more powerful.  This is David’s tale of what happens when, at a very impressionable age, he is confronted with unthinkable crimes, tragedy, grief, loyalty, love, and angst in his protected world of rural white people and American Indians, living side by side, and recovering from the trials of WW2.

Watson’s writing is simple, clear, and captivating.  Prepare yourself ... this short book will entice you to read cover-to-cover in one sitting.

Once again, my friend Teresa knows exactly what books to loan me.  Thank you, Teresa.



What You are Going Through

Sigrid Nunez | Fiction, 2020

224 pages


From the back cover: “A woman describes a series of encounters she has with various people in the ordinary course of her life.  Some, like the old friend she goes to visit at a cancer clinic, are people she knows well; others are total strangers.  In each of them, she finds a common need: the urge to talk about themselves and have an audience to their experiences.”

Nunez demonstrates how to listen and for that alone I am very grateful for this book.  The back cover is accurate, but insufficient.  The story actually is driven mostly by her relationship with the friend who has cancer and who asks her to help her die.  It sounds like a grim tale, but it is not.  How much they laugh in the final days!

I was amazed to read the author’s and her characters’ feelings about death, cancer, untold stories, kittens, and overpopulation.  She shared some of my own feelings ... some I thought only I had ever felt!

This book kept crossing my radar screen.  An NPR review, Time magazine, other references to it. I was surprised to learn it was a novel; I thought it was nonfiction. What You are Going Through is short and will give you pause.  I quite liked it and I just requested at the library her earlier book, The Friend.