Tuesday, August 25, 2020
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
As we head into the final stretch of the summer, there’s still plenty of time to read a good book or two. So here’s some recommendations for you all to enjoy.
Stealing Home by Eric Nusbaum
A former sports editor at Vice and a resident of Los Angeles, Nusbaum details the dislocation of native communities and political machinations that led to the construction of Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine. Nusbaum keeps his focus on the activists who fought the stadium’s construction and the Mexican families who were displayed in order to provide a new home for the recently relocated Dodgers. He begins the book with disparate narratives that weave together in a story of the triumph of business and political machines over the people who made Los Angeles their home.
Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre
Ben Macintyre has carved out a career of retelling barely believable historical events with the skill of a thriller novelist. Mincemeat just might be the best of his books, telling the story of a daring operation undertaken by British intelligence during World War 2 to divert German attention away from the impending invasion of Sicily. The plan, cooked up by a small band of British officers, involved packing a dead body with intelligence documents and dropping it off the coast of Spain. There were numerous issues along the way—finding a body, producing documents to place on it, depositing it (via submarine) on the coast, and then making sure the documents made their way to the Germans. The daring plan helped change the course of World War 2.
Agent Running in the Field by John Le Carré
While Macintyre may be the master of true-life spy stories, Le Carré remains the master of fictional spies. In his latest novel, the 88 year old author spins another eminently readable and engrossing story about a disillusioned spy, his badminton partner, and a double-agent. The story is Le Carré at his most polemical—turning his literary skill full bore against the villains of the modern era—money grubbing oligarchs, their enablers in government, and the amoral post-Cold War West. While Agent Running in the Field is no Spy who Came in from the Cold or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy le Carré remains an essential voice for sanity in an insane world.
Rebel Cinderella by Adam Hochschild
Hochschild, a founder of Mother Jones magazine, has spent the second half of his career telling the stories of political and social activists who stood against injustice. Along the way, Hochschild has examined the Belgian Congo, the birth of radical abolitionism, the anti-war movement during World War 1, and Americans who fought for the Spanish republic in the Spanish-American War. Now, Hochschild has crafted a delightful biography of Rose Pastor Stokes, an immigrant cigar roller who married into one of the wealthiest families in America. Her rise was a literal Cinderella story, but Pastor Stokes remained unrepentant socialist and embarrassed her husband’s family with her activism. Hers was a remarkable life devoted to aiding the working class and reforming American society, regardless of the personal cost.
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
Tuesday, August 4, 2020
John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces is one of the great books of the modern Southern literature. Toole, died at his own hand in 1969, but thanks to the work of Walker Percy and Toole’s mother, Thelma, the book was published in 1980. Toole posthumously received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1981. Since then the book has become one of the most widely read fiction books about New Orleans and the South.
Set in the early 1960s in New Orleans, the novel’s main character is Ignatius J. Reilly, a slovenly 30 year old man, living with his mother, who is convinced the world is arrayed against him. Well-read but utterly delusional, Reilly wages a solitary crusade against modernity. He decries the perversity of modern movies all the while spending most of his time parked in a theater seat. He sees himself as a modern day Boethius—a martyred philosopher of the Medieval period—railing against injustice. Reilly’s pyloric valve is a modern day Cassandra, warning him of upcoming dangers in his life.
Reilly does not work or drive, instead relying on his mother for support. She indulges him on account of the death of his father 21 years in the past and because of Ignatius’s intelligence. Over the course of the novel, however, Mrs. Reilly falls in love and with the support of a new best friend conspires to have Ignatius committed to a mental institution.
According to literary critics, especially those of New Orleans, Confederacy of Dunces contains the richest depictions of the city and its dialects found in modern literature. Currently, there is a bronze statue of Reilly under the clock at the 800 block of Canal Street (the site of the Hyatt French Quarter hotel). The location was the former home of the D.H. Holmes department store and the novel’s opening scene. The statue depicts Reilly, clad in his hunting cap, flannel shirt, and scarf, studying the crowd outside the store for “signs of bad taste” while waiting for his mother.
Confederacy of Dunces is a modern classic and well-worth a read from anyone who will enjoy a good laugh at its central character.