Tuesday, May 31, 2022

EVEN GREATER MISTAKES: Stories, Charlie Jane Anders does the "doesn't get better than this" victory lap


Tor Books
$27.99 hardcover, available now

WINNER OF THE 2022 LOCUS AWARD—BEST COLLECTION! Watch the entire ceremony here.

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: In her short story collection, Even Greater Mistakes, Charlie Jane Anders upends genre cliches and revitalizes classic tropes with heartfelt and pants-wettingly funny social commentary....

The woman who can see all possible futures is dating the man who can see the one and only foreordained future.

A wildly popular slapstick filmmaker is drawn, against his better judgment, into working with a fascist militia, against a background of social collapse.

Two friends must embark on an Epic Quest To Capture The Weapon That Threatens The Galaxy, or else they’ll never achieve their dream of opening a restaurant.

The stories in this collection, by their very outrageousness, achieve a heightened realism unlike any other. Anders once again proves she is one of the strongest voices in modern science fiction, the writer called by Andrew Sean Greer, “this generation’s Le Guin.”


My Review
: This is a collection to dip into not slurp down greedily. I mean, where else do you find, "A whole book of short stories can be overwhelming, like imaginative speed dating." This isn't even in a story! It's in the opening act, the Introduction! She's not keepin' her powder dry, unlikely for a seasoned campaigner who's founded geeky websites; or she's just got that immense an arsenal and knows she doesn't need to pace herself.

The best thing I can say of this epitome of Author Charlie Jane Anders's career is that you are unlikely to become bored. A story about time travel that includes, as I've never seen any other place, the fact that the Earth is moving in space; the Sun is moving in space; and not one bit of that enables a careless time-traveler to land where they began. Another story about time travel, but for an extremely specific time, and how that affects a love affair. Love, in every guise you can imagine, underpins every story. Love unspoken, love requited, love rejected...love all over the shop. Seriously. Get some towels.

You'll note that I'm using the venerable tool called the Bryce Method to bring you the flavor of the tales.

As Good As New elicits one of Author Anders's fun personal revelations in its intro...LeVar Burton read this story aloud! I can see why...it's a deceptively simple story about a deceptively simple solution to world peace placed in the executive power of a decidedly not simple heroine. One who does not hesitate to think and plot and carefully consider where others have already gone wrong. A writer, in other words, who loves the craft more than the plaudits.
Marisol had...gone back to the pre-med books, staring at the exposed musculature and blood vessels as if they were costume designs for a skeleton theatre troupe.
Maybe she would have done more good as a playwright than a doctor, after all—clichés were like plaque in the arteries of the imagination, they clogged our sense of what was possible. Maybe if enough people had worked to demolish clichés, the world wouldn't have ended.
4.5 stars

Rat Catcher's Yellows runs the reader smack into the wall of early-life dementia. A mutated virus does it in her story—cytomegalovirus did it in mine. It was so awful reliving those dark, hopeless almost-the-end days thirty years gone that this is where I stopped reading the book my first trip through.
...Shary is forming relationships with these cats in their puffy-sleeve court outfits and lacy ruffs. In the real world, she can't remember where she lives, what year it is, who the president is, or how long she and I have been married.

But Shary wanted me back, and kept nudging me to man up and finish her life with her...because it really was, like my man's ending, a beginning for something new. 4.5 stars

If You Take My Meaning is, per Author Anders's explanatory note, a giant ball of spoilers for The City in the Middle of the Night, which I haven't read yet, so this is me skippity-skip-skipping to the next read! I'm sure I can swing back around to it after I've done the necessary reading.

The Time Travel Club confirms what I've always believed: the only way anything at all ever gets done is the desperation of belonging, of making one's own space in a crowded, empty cosmos, meeting social isolation in a group of one's fellows. It lifted my sadness into a higher orbit to read Lydia's group's happiness-building involvement in a fantasy world that barely approached reality until it became reality. Plus now I know the word "fauxropean" really exists. My joy is unbridled. 4.5 stars

Six Months, Three Days got an entire review to itself in 2013. Go look.

Love Might Be Too Strong a Word has such a great backstory...maybe threatening the story itself for pre-eminence in my heart. And getting a seven-fingered hand on your four-fingered knuckles does a completely scary number on my head.

Until, of course, the true alienness...the multimorphic species with complex reproductive anatomies and even more baroque sexual ethics...hit me. And the pronouns...! Gadzooks! The pronouns make "they/she/he" a doddle! The beautiful weirdness of the alien city, its voyage across space, the fanciful glories of forbidden romance between...castes? morphs?...in defiance of carefully engineered plans, then the Big Reveal gives the intended perspective and, well.... 5 stars

Fairy Werewolf vs Vampire Zombie brings one into range of one w-bomb and what I'd have to call a w-grenade. (Mostly because it makes sense in context to drop the w...but it's still That Unnatural Ocular Act.) Zombies, Fae, vampires, werefolk...all real. And all ready for a drink at the bar where the wolf-bit Faerie princess chooses the most creepy of Cabaret's creepy numbers, "Don't Tell Mama", to settle a magical duel. A magical karaoke duel. There's also brains for a hungry zombie, in a lovely balsamic vinaigrette. That's the kind of world we're in when Author Charlie Jane is at the helm. We're in Weirdsville, sure, but that does not mean we can't have nice things. 4 stars

Ghost Champagne is the weirdest story yet...a comedian with a seriously fucked-up life (not narrowing that down much, am I?) has a strange variation on Cotard's syndrome that helps (?) her cope with crippling depression. Her Evangelical mother's midlife crisis is recognizing she's a lesbian and marrying a woman her daughter's age. And that's where the normal part ends. While Cotard's gets its act together, she's got her groove as a drunken vomiting ghost whose body's now inhabited by the ghost that's been haunting her. Who happens to be the woman who's being haunted, only older. And dead. 4 stars

My Breath is a Rudder is as plain as the nose on your face: Getting older in a city full of Peter Pans is a bear. Not one soul knows or cares about the city you fell in love with and there's no one left to be yourself with. You're as creative as you ever were but that's now the fantasy you're creating for sale. Wonder why no one's biting....

San Francisco, land of my birth, holds little appeal for me. This story brilliantly encapsulates why: Even in the near future, the city believes its own hype. 3 stars

Power Couple has my very favorite Charlie Jane line of all time in it:
Much later, I discovered that his butt fit perfectly inside my cupped hands, the curve of his undercheek resting just right against my crinkled life lines, as if copping a feel was the whole reason I had palms in the first place.

Too much? Not enough! And then there's the story itself, how the World is not designed for people which is deliberate since people designed the World...so why isn't it better?

Because somebody likes the way it is, and that somebody ain't interested in what works for you. Which is why kludges seem like good ideas. 4 stars

Rock Manning Goes for Broke is the longest piece in the book, the revenant of a novel from the early 1990s that had story-stuff in it that was not about to let the eyelashes of its creator go...you'll see why, or possibly have seen why if you've read it in some anthology from the past. I understand...there's a lot in here...but I did not enjoy the violence. It starts from Rock getting slung off the roof by his daddy in the first paragraph. I get the joke...violence ramped up isn't violence anymore, it's a joke...but I'm past the point of my life where I think that joke's funny. In fact, I'm a little bit embarrassed I used to think it was. 3 stars

Because Change Was the Ocean is what will really happen after The Apocalypse. People left will have babies, grandkids, whatever their hard work and their fates allow; these will be the natives of a new normal; they'll decide what to do, how to do it, what happens next, and you know what? San Francisco will still summon the misfits, the wannabes, and the loudly Othered to its sacred hills.
After a few days on Bernal, I stopped even noticing the other islands on our horizon, let alone paying attention to my friends on social media talking about all the fancy new restaurants Fairbanks was getting. I was constantly having these intense, heartfelt moments with people in the Wrong Headed crew.

It still, after decades and centuries, calls its own home to be weird together. 4 stars

Captain Roger in Heaven made me squirm as a monster grew before my eyes.
That was the thing {he} had left art school understanding: people make complicated pieces of art to explain human behavior, when the real explanation is almost always stupidity.

It is. And stupidity alone, among all that the Universe contains, has no beginning and no end...we surrender ourselves to it in order to make something, some lack or some surfeit, make ourselves whole with/out that. Like that can ever come from outside. 5 STARS

Clover builds on a dangling thread of All the Birds in the Sky which I've read...and liked...so I read this with a little shiver of anticipation.

Forgetting that it's about a c-a-t. My most beloathèd mammal next to Humanity. I finished it without feeling anything I think a cat-lover would except maybe relieved. But for different reasons. 3 stars all of which are grudgingly granted.

This is Why We Can't Have Nasty Things made me cry like a baby without his bottle. It's "I Love This Bar" only queer. And about an entire city. My Manhattan...the 70s, the 80s...gone forever. And I still love it. 5 stars

A Temporary Embarrassment in Spacetime is silly comedic space-opera joyfulness.
"See what I mean? I may have only one cell, but it's a brain cell!" He whooped and did an impromptu dance in his seat. "Like I said: you're the stealthy one, I'm the flashy one."

You are everything, Author Charlie Jane. You can give me more, and I wants it, preciousssss. 5 stars

Don't Press Charges and I Won't Sue is the nightmare/fever dream/body horror of what 45 and the clowncar of deplorables who rode his back to more power than they ever should've had want to do to Others. It's body horror, so be aware of that. It's also nauseating and claustrophobic and just when you thought it couldn't get worse, it does: Your ex-best friend, the one you had to leave behind with your deadname, is the one doing the awfulness to you. Because it's a job. Not rage, not revenge.

Because. It's. A. Job. 4.5 stars

The Bookstore at the End of America proves that the best people on the planet are book people. Bar none. 5 stars

The Visitmothers is proof that, in the end, asking from the heart gets you nothing. Unless you're open to the newfangled idea that your happiness is achievable by making others happier and better and new all over again. Sweet, touching, and delightful. 4 stars

Monday, May 30, 2022

BOYS COME FIRST, indie publisher's first-ever novel...from a Black Queer debut novelist


Belt Publishing
$17.95 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Suddenly jobless and single after a devastating layoff and a breakup with his cheating ex, advertising copywriter Dominick Gibson flees his life in Hell's Kitchen to try and get back on track in his hometown of Detroit. He’s got one objective — exit the shallow dating pool ASAP and get married by thirty-five—and the deadline’s approaching fast.

Meanwhile, Dom's best friend, Troy Clements, an idealistic teacher who never left Michigan, finds himself at odds with all the men in his life: a troubled boyfriend he's desperate to hold onto, a perpetually dissatisfied father, and his other friend, Remy Patton. Remy, a rags-to-riches real estate agent known as “Mr. Detroit,” has his own problems—namely choosing between making it work with a long-distance lover or settling for a local Mr. Right Now who’s not quite Mr. Right. And when a high-stakes real estate deal threatens to blow up his friendship with Troy, the three men have to figure out how to navigate the pitfalls of friendship and a city that seems to be changing overnight.

Full of unforgettable characters, Boys Come First is about the trials and tribulations of real friendship, but also about the highlights and hiccups—late nights at the wine bar, awkward Grindr hookups, workplace microaggressions, situationships, frenemies, family drama, and of course, the group chat—that define Black, gay, millennial life in today’s Detroit.


My Review
: There's no such thing as "reverse racism." There's just racism, with shifting targets. Dom, Troy, and Remy all say, and feel, really racist things. And guess what: Unlike white people, these Black men have reasons to feel angry and frustrated and dispossessed. Their skin color marks them out as targets for lunatic racist white scum.

And guess what else? Black folks ain't perfect. These are three gay men, in a social milieu that really, really does NOT want their men to be gay. At all. So can you see what leads these loving, flawed, hurting, sadder-looking-for-wiser guys to be mouthy? It's like women of all colors rolling their eyes so hard they see their brains when men of any color start legislating what they can and can't do with their own bodies. There's a lot of anger built up at a lot of groups. Most with reason and justice on their side.

A lot of that anger is faced up to in this story of hurt, betrayal, and abuse. Dom and Troy, in their different ways, are reeling from domestic drama that is instantly relatable. Remy, not part of the kidhood bond shared by Dom and Troy, is probably the most personally insulated from domestic drama since he's in a "situationship," a neologism (it was to me, at least) I really like for a long-distance, still love-based, relationship. Not like I understand that from the inside or anything....

Remy's job as a real-estate hustler leads to a major fracture in his friendship with Troy and, to an extent, Dom, because his work is threatening to repurpose Troy's employer, a school, into gentrification's profitable arms. Detroit's decades of economic woes are a huge part of this story's rage-fuel. Would Dom have left Detroit for New York (and by extension met his cheating ex) had Detroit been capable of sustaining his ambitious need for a media market commensurate? Troy's domestic woes are fed, at least in part, by the economic struggles inherent in pursuing a teaching career. And here's Remy about to make a bundle of cash off the city's redevelopment....

I think the major take-away from this story is that there's no room for racism's corrosive effects in any society we need to support the creation of; and the other hate-isms, like homophobia and colorism, have to go in the dumpster too. When these Black, gay men face so much trouble from outside, it makes their work to fix the problems inside so very much harder. And that stops them not at all, doesn't even slow them down much, as they fight and fuck and work themselves up to fever pitch. These men, messy lives and sad hearts and powerful spirits in them all, make every day count. They don't, by the end of the story, waste what they've got anymre in wanting what they can't have.

But that does not mean they take second best. Not for long, anyway. It makes them great companions for a summer laze on the beach.

Just...maybe skip ahead over the smexytimes. Until you get home, anyway.

ALONE ON THE MOON: A Soviet Lunar Odyssey, alternate history of the Space Race!

ALONE ON THE MOON: A Soviet Lunar Odyssey (Altered Space, #5)

Tortoise Books
$17.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: May, 1970. A two-person Soviet crew approaches the moon, ready to accomplish the greatest feat in human history—provided they can overcome their own petty jealousies, and the unforgiving harshness of space.

Alone on the Moon chronicles a Soviet moon mission through the eyes of Boris Volynov, a backup who’s been pressed into service helping Alexei Leonov (a man he despises) attempt humanity’s first lunar landing. Thoroughly researched, it’s a detailed and plausible rendition of two larger-than-life personalities facing incredible challenges. It’s also a meditation on luck, trust, the nature of observation, and the burden of being chosen—plus the way our personal narratives can shape (or poison) our perceptions of the present. Do the stories we tell ourselves shape our fate, or can we write a new chapter? The answer awaits.

The titles in the Altered Space series are wholly separate narratives, but all deal with the mysteries of space and time, progress and circularity. Each one is an ensō of words in which orbits of spacecraft, moons, planets, and people allow us fresh perspectives on the cycles of our own lives.


My Review
: Remember Mary Robinette Kowal's Lady Astronaut of Mars series? Alternate space race with hugely accelerated stakes, a lot of international and interspecies cooperation? Like, even women going to the stars?!? Well, that tore it. I had to have more space-but-not-this-way stories.

So here I am reviewing the next most different take on the Space Race...a Soviet first-lunar-landing story! And I hated it!

More precisely, I hated the narrator: Bitter Boris the Bore. Banging on about how unlucky he is, how a Jew is always held back, how deeply he hates Alexei the Golden Boy...his nickname's fuckin' BLONDIE facryinoutloud!...and his tedious wife, the chilly withholding climber.

I'll never read this book again. But goddam what a story! What a sheer, pulse-pounding rocket ride of a story!

The whole burden of the refrain "unlucky" is simple: Don't be different. Don't stand out. Be there but never be noticeably better than anyone in power unless you're so good there's not a corner that they can sweep you into. Because they will. In other words, big organizations are all alike and whatever alphabet the nameplate's are printed in the behaviors are the same.

What happens to Boris is utterly terrifying. At every turn, his shot is blocked. His spot is taken. When he gets to do anything,it goes wrong. Not just people, then, but gawd hates him. And it's no wonder they do, he never met a joy he couldn't squelch or a happiness he couldn't chill to absolute zero. Even his son is being raised by this dark, unhappy cloud of a belief that nothing goes right because it's inevitable.


What this does for Blondie, the first man on the moon, is give him a partner in space who believes it's all going to shit anyway but he's going to check, recheck, then check the recheck so no one can say it was his fault. He calculates things Control has already fed into his computer. He's always got a finger on the cut-off switch so he can make the computers and the thrusters and the machinery of every sort obey his calculations. Which are, of course, correct. Blondie's always been the fair-haired boy and the lucky one so he's just indifferent to the details.

And do you know what? He should't've been *quite* so sanguine. I delight in that bit. I thrilled to the ways the inevitable problems that crop up got handled, solved, and Boris vindicated. There's a reveal at the end of the book that wasn't a surprise to me, there's a lot of technical stuff that will likely put off a casual reader, and there's the basic problem of feeling whined at for almost 300pp. But there was no damned way I was closing this book until I was sure the story ended...well.

And that's why it gets four whole stars.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

May 2022's Burgoine Reviews & Pearl Rule Reviews

Author 'Nathan Burgoine posted this simple, direct method of not getting paralyzed by the prospect of having to write reviews. The Three-Sentence Review is, as he notes, very helpful and also simple to achieve. I get completely unmanned at the idea of saying something trenchant about each book I read, when there often just isn't that much to say...now I can use this structure to say what I think is the most important idea I took away from the read and not try to dig for more.

Think about using it yourselves!


Firefly (Paul Samson series #1) by Henry Porter

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: From the refugee camps of Greece to the mountains of Macedonia, a thirteen year old boy is making his way to Germany and safety. Codenamed 'Firefly', he holds vital intelligence: unparalleled insight into a vicious ISIS terror cell, and details of their plans. But the terrorists are hot on his trail, determined he won't live to pass on the information.

When MI6 become aware of Firefly and what he knows, the race is on to find him. Paul Samson, ex-MI6 agent and now private eye, finds himself recruited to the cause. Fluent in Arabic thanks to his Lebanese heritage, Samson's job is to find Firefly, win his trust and get him to safety.

A devastatingly timely thriller following the refugee trail from Syria to Europe, Firefly is a sophisticated, breathtaking race against time from the acclaimed and award-winning author of Brandenburg and The Dying Light.


My Review
: Paul Samson, Arabophone Brit of Lebanese background, has a gambling problem that got him bounced from the intelligence job he loved. He's an adrenaline junky, so he wasn't unemployed for long; he's fluent in the language and conversant with the culture of one of the world's hotspots, so guess where his now-unofficial work takes him!

Naji is the teenaged son of a Syrian academic who, gentle soul that he was, believed he could help some dissident students of his be found in Assad's brutal regime. He later died from the aftereffects of being tortured. Naji, after this awakening, is quick to see through ISIL's façade of acceptance and gets his family to Turkey preparatory to making it to Germany.

With, because he's very intelligent but not very smart yet, damaging information he got because "he's just a kid" and the violent men paid no attention to him.
His head went under. Seawater filled his nose and mouth; his eyes opened and he saw the black depths of the ocean below him. A moment later something knocked his legs—maybe part of the wreckage, he couldn’t tell. All he knew was that he was going to die. Then it came again. This time there was a distinct shove on his buttocks and whatever it was that moved with such intent beneath him lifted him up so his head and shoulders came out of the water and he was able to grab a plastic toggle on the section of the rubber craft that was still inflated.

Not good for his chances of survival...but Paul Samson, now that British officialdom know Naji exists, is sent unofficially and deniably to make him safe and get him to the point he can give the information to them. Kid's a tyro...he leads everyone a merry chase. Author Porter writes a damn good story here, sets it in places I'm convinced he knows well enough to lead tours, but there's not much horsepower in his characters as people. Their motives are clear and powerful. They are also, unlike real people's and thus unlike the characters I most enjoy reading about, unmixed. Black-hearted people, white-hatted people...not a lot of nuance.

That said I read the book as fast as I could. I wanted this kid to win and I think anyone who needs something more or less unambiguous for a restful but still exciting (weird sentence...but that's how this book came across for me) or at least very action-packed story of implausibly lucky good guys needs this read.

A Kindle edition is $10.99 at this non-affiliate link.


One-Way Street (var. title Monodromos) by Marian Engel

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Said: Her first two books, Sarah Bastard's Notebook and The Honeyman Festival, demonstrated that Marian Engel is a Canadian novelist with a marvelous talent for portraying women. In One Way Street (formerly titled Monodromos), we meet another one of her heroines. Audrey Moore, intelligent Canadian, 36—facts which help her not at all during her solourn on a Greek island where she is staying with her estranged husband, a has-been concert pianist with sexual proclivities that do not include Audrey. Although she senses that life on the island will be a one-way street for her, the heroine becomes deeply involved in the island's characters and finally takes a Greek lover—to the disgust of an island crone who sits in Audrey's doorway loudly lamenting the young woman's sins to passersby. The tensions of Audrey's island life explode in a hilarious finale as she ends her stay with pilgrimage to a Greek monastery where the Bishop attempts her seduction. A tragi-comic masterpiece, One Way Street is an intensely readable novel about Canadians in an alien land.


My Review
: I read this book because Jo Walton liked it. Me? Well...it was okay. I certainly didn't hate it. I was slightly surprised that Author Marian Engel was married to Howard Engel, whose Benny Cooperman mysteries I read in the 1980s. They're not stylistically similar at all, in the manner of divorced spouses around the world I suppose.

This book failed me by being a "straight-woman-saves-gay-ex" narrative that portrays him as a hapless and manipulative ne'er-do-well. Now, in 2022, I am less horrified and more simply impatient with that kind of dumb-man stuff. But it not only colored but darkened my appreciation for Author Engel's lovely descriptive prose and perceptive aperçus.


The Barbary Figs by Rashid Boudjedra (tr. Andre Naffis-Sahely)

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Winner of the 2010 Arab Book Prize.

Two old friends and cousins find themselves side by side on the flight from Algiers to Constantine. There is a lot of history between them, as well as bad blood. The flight will last only an hour—an hour during which both their stories will be told, interspersed by anecdotes of Algeria's struggle to release itself from France's colonial grip. The title, The Barbary Figs, is a symbol of the "old" Algeria, since their grandfather used to grow them on his estate. The "new" Algeria is far less straightforward, and has produced far more bitter fruit.

My Review: Algeria was considered a part of France, not a mere colony, from 1830 to 1962. It was not like the country treated the Algerians as French people, for all they were officially citizens. After the war for independence was won, the country began the process of yeeting itself into a civil-warring mess.

Interrogating this process of disintegration is a life-long project for Author Boudjedra, born in 1941 and still with us as of this writing. He attempts to encapsulate his own life by trapping two estranged cousins, Omar and Rashid, on a one-hour flight from Algiers to Constantine, Algeria's second city. They reminisce, as we're all prone to do; they talk about love, sex, and death, and they don't shy away from the anger these conflicting needs and desires evoked then. The issue interfering with my full-on unmixed appreciation of the story is repetition, as it is in all life stories. Are we here again, the reader wonders wearily; as I am an old man with some young people in my life, I cringe a little in self-reflective recognition. Sorry, Rob, I'll try to rein this behavior in.

Most of all, though, I want others to know that this is a story of great resonance, that its title is its organizing metaphor for fecundity and sweetness in many colors and shapes that no longer appear with regularity in public markets. Author Boudjedra's long, fatwa-filled career as resister of the colonizers, then resister of the religious mobs, is summed up in this rumination on what the past offers and what it does not. I think he said it best and most succinctly in a letter from the 1990s quoted in the translator's Afterword:
All great literature has incorporated history as a fundamental element of the interrogation between the real and the human, operating in a more subjective mode than one would think in so far as it is the one fruitful and interesting mode of inquiry, becoming far more than just a reading of the past that is immediate, official, fossilized, academic, mechanistic and opportunistic, always co-opted, distorted, and travestied for the sake of the cause.

His eloquence and his fighting spirit shine through a translation that I can't say scintillates, though it is not pedestrian or plodding. I doubt it's inspired, though, as the source text won a literary prize. Albeit, I must say, one that appears to have vanished as of 2012....

Follow this non-affiliate Amazon link for your Kindle edition, or a tree book if you desire. Each starts at about $16.00.


The Red Mill: A Musical Comedy by Victor Herbert & Henry M. Blossom

Rating: 3.5* of five

Completely goofy 1907 play about Yankee con-men doing their thing in a tiny Dutch town. It's not anything special in plot terms. It's a musical, so it doesn't have to be. There's a raft of forgettably pleasant tunes telling its sentimental story. What makes it more than a single-star snooze is "Because You're You," a terrific and very ear-wormy meditation on loving someone just cause they's them.

There's a condensed performance of its highlights on The Railroad Hour with Gene Kelly, Gordon MacRae, and beautiful mellifluous soprano Lucille Norman as Gretchen, the Dutch love interest. Check it out, it's only 45min, plus it has a super-funny ad or two here.

"Because You're You," the tune I like, starts nine and a half minutes in.


This space is dedicated to Nancy Pearl's Rule of 50, or "the Pearl Rule" as I've always called it. After realizing five times in December 2021 alone that I'd already Pearl-Ruled a book I picked up on a whim, I realized how close my Half-heimer's is getting to the full-on article. Hence my decision to track my Pearls!

As she says:
People frequently ask me how many pages they should give a book before they give up on it. In response to that question, I came up with my “rule of fifty,” which is based on the shortness of time and the immensity of the world of books. If you’re fifty years of age or younger, give a book fifty pages before you decide to commit to reading it or give it up. If you’re over fifty, which is when time gets even shorter, subtract your age from 100—the result is the number of pages you should read before making your decision to stay with it or quit.

So this space will be each month's listing of Pearl-Ruled books. Earlier Pearl-Rule posts:






Children Who Remember Previous Lives: A Question of Reincarnation by Ian Stevenson

Pearl Ruled at 13%

The Publisher Says: This is the revised edition of Dr. Stevenson's 1987 book, summarizing for general readers almost forty years of experience in the study of children who claim to remember previous lives. For many Westerners the idea of reincarnation seems remote and bizarre; it is the author's intent to correct some common misconceptions. New material relating to birthmarks and birth defects, independent replication studies with a critique of criticisms, and recent developments in genetic study are included. The work gives an overview of the history of the belief in and evidence for reincarnation. Representative cases of children, research methods used, analyses of the cases and of variations due to different cultures, and the explanatory value of the idea of reincarnation for some unsolved problems in psychology and medicine are reviewed.

My Review: Two things you should know up front: I believe reincarnation, of some sort, is real; I have little faith in the direction of brain and neurological research as of 2022 answering the question, "what is your mind? what is the soul?" That does not require belief in some sort of supernatural bookkeeper whose Ledger tots up, infallibly and constantly, your personal record of naughty-vs-nice behaviors. It means there is nothing to explain why you're you in the structures of your brain and firings of your nerves. Science isn't looking into the subject because it's like the third rail in a drunken subway pissing contest: contact will be unpleasant and possibly fatal.

And while neurological research is crucial, leading to amazing insights into a host of issues, no one can yet tell us based on neurology or brain anatomy what your mind is. We need to develop the questions before science can apply its astonishingly powerful array of tools to discovering the answers. Not, at present, happening.

So I Pearl-Ruled this book not because it was trying to skip scientific steps and present unfounded answers but because it literally cannot, and does not claim to be able to, answer anything. That got old fast. I'm on board: My Jesus-freak mother was my source of early information about past-life memories. My oldest sister was apparently quite garrulously willing to talk about her bizarrely sophisticated memories of things she couldn't have known about (she remembered having sex as a man but had no idea what any of it was, for example) from age two until she was about four.

As those conversations were memorable to me, I wasn't in need of any persuasion to accept the possibility that these are actual memories of some strange sort. So just watching the evidence pile up was, frankly, tedious. I bailed because I was already on board not because I disagreed, in other words. I don't know if these case studies are the sort of material a skeptic would care about, and a fence-sitter would do well to take it in doses. It's not without value; it's just not designed to meet my need for deeper context.



The Nightingale Won't Let You Sleep by Steven Heighton

Rating: 2* of five

The Publisher Says: Elias Trifannis is desperate to belong somewhere. To make his dying ex-cop father happy, he joins the military - but in Afghanistan, by the time he realizes his last-minute bid for connection was a terrible mistake, it's too late and a tragedy has occurred.

In the aftermath, exhausted by nightmares, Elias is sent to Cyprus to recover, where he attempts to find comfort in the arms of Eylul, a beautiful Turkish journalist. But the lovers' reprieve ends in a moment of shocking brutality that drives Elias into Varosha, once a popular Greek-Cypriot resort town, abandoned since the Turkish invasion of 1974.

Hidden in the lush, overgrown ruins is a community of exiles and refugees living resourcefully but comfortably. Thanks to the cheerfully corrupt Colonel Kaya, who turns a blind eye, they live under the radar of the Turkish authorities.

As he begins to heal, Elias finds himself drawn to the enigmatic and secretive Kaiti while he learns at last to "simply belong." But just when it seems he has found sanctuary, events he himself set in motion have already begun to endanger it.

My Review: The author died last month of cancer. He was sixty.

This story opens with consensual (or as consensual as heterosex ever can be) sex turning into a shooting and a melodramatic follow-up crime committed by crazed-by-hate Turkish Muslim men in divided Cyprus.

I quit caring fairly quickly. This kind of crime isn't immediately interesting to me because it's using violence against a woman as an excuse to cause trouble for a man. And to be extremely clear, the violence isn't the sex. Which, yes, it was icky but it wasn't coerced or compelled. The violence was some Muslim men taking umbrage that a white guy was going to have sex with a Turkish secular woman.

Great. What the world needs now. However it was going to end, the beginning was pretty crappy by my lights and I don't need this. So Vale Author Heighton, we will not meet again.

PUNCH ME UP TO THE GODS, what a joy to read a man's look at himself in his own mirror


Mariner Books
$17.99 trade paper, available now



Listen to this interview with Author Broome!

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Punch Me Up to the Gods introduces a powerful new talent in Brian Broome, whose early years growing up in Ohio as a dark-skinned Black boy harboring crushes on other boys propel forward this gorgeous, aching, and unforgettable debut. Brian’s recounting of his experiences—in all their cringe-worthy, hilarious, and heartbreaking glory—reveal a perpetual outsider awkwardly squirming to find his way in.

Indiscriminate sex and escalating drug use help to soothe his hurt, young psyche, usually to uproarious and devastating effect. A no-nonsense mother and broken father play crucial roles in our misfit’s origin story. But it is Brian’s voice in the retelling that shows the true depth of vulnerability for young Black boys that is often quietly near to bursting at the seams.

Cleverly framed around Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem “We Real Cool,” the iconic and loving ode to Black boyhood, Punch Me Up to the Gods is at once playful, poignant, and wholly original. Broome’s writing brims with swagger and sensitivity, bringing an exquisite and fresh voice to ongoing cultural conversations about Blackness in America.


My Review
: I'll start with a fact: The author's a poet.
One of the reasons I took this trip is to prove to myself that I am allowed to take up space in the world. I used to believe that the space I occupied was conditional. That I had to please anyone and everyone around me in order to exist because I had made the horrible mistake of being different.
It is only through your own lived experience that you will learn that living on the outside of "normal" provides the perfect view for spotting insecure and flimsy principles camouflaging themselves as leadership or righteousness.
Black boys don't get a long boyhood. It ends where white fear begins, brought on by deepening voices, broadening backs, and coarsening hair in new places beneath our clothing. Then there's our skin, which provides little middle ground.

You won't get a whisper of a whine from me about Author Broome's beautiful phrase-making. He is up there in the poetic-prose rankings. He could, and most likely will, give James Baldwin a run for his epoch-making money in the poetic eloquence on the Essence of Blackness derby.

Yes, I said that and I meant it. Moreso than other writers on Blackness, Author Broome's dual Othering of being a Black gay man adds the ingredient so often missing in manifestoes like Heavy or Between the World and Me. Worthy reads, even necessary ones. Tears We Cannot Stop offers a more religious, sentimental slant on the subject of Black maleness, and is an equally necessary voice to attend to. But James Baldwin, in his significant for its being so overlooked essay Nothing Personal, brings his religious past and his queer present and his uncertainty about the future into focus in much the same way that Author Broome does: as fact, as solid ground, as new, everlasting source of Otherness among the Othered. There being fifty-plus years between the two books, there are differences of tone made possible by the progress that has happened. There is not, however, a difference of kind in the subject of these books: The authors are Othered Others and are not allowed to make a life that doesn't center their Othered Otherness in this, our glorious country.

Author Broome uses the framing device of a young Black boy being psychologically shredded by the father who, I do not doubt for an instant, loves him and wants him to become a superstar in this world. To that father, as he browbeats and abuses his probably-queer young son, that means beating the gay out of him. That's also what it meant to Author Broome's father, emasculated by the same round of deindustrialization that created so many billionaires, and to Baldwin's religious-nut stepfather. The truth is these men, these fathers, aren't alone in thinking that they as well as their sons would be happier if the boys were either straight or dead. A quick flick of one's eyes over the statistics on adolescent suicide and teen drug use...this last plays quite a role in Author Broome's life...teaches us the toxic price paid by father, son, acquiescent or indifferent mother in death and destroyed personhood and family.

I think the power of reading the author's memories of growing up the Othered Other really rests in this: However easy it might have been for him to give in and let his addiction to drugs drag him into death, he does not. He stands on the rocks of his father's failed life, his mother's rage at...well, everything, and the cruel bonds of racist hatefulness (the dance party scene broke me), and he creates beautiful phrases and uses them to limn horrifying images onto my grotesquely privileged brain.
I have no method to persuade you that the act of shoving your most tender feelings way down deep or trying somehow to numb them will only result in someone else having to pick up your pieces later.

That, I feel, pretty much sums up the value in reading this book.

I've rated it four stars because, in service of being brought out in tree-book form, it's been made a little longer than it might should've been. About two-thirds of the way through the read, I realized I was using my commonplace book more than my Kindle's highlights function. The rapturous feeling of reading the beautiful words was ever-present. The story's painfully survived outlines weren't new to me. I don't expect them to be at my age. But the frankness about his sexual, um, adventures let us say, isn't fresh or new. It's raw, honest, and there for a reason, but what I think happened is that the otherwise too-loose narratives (from repetition) weren't a powerful enough frame to offer those very, very acute and sharp-edged memories their most effective perspective.

It is a small detraction from a large, loomingly menacingly honest, account of a Black Gay man's life in a world that hates each of those identites and conditions. The combination?

Read this book to find out.

Friday, May 27, 2022

FREE: Two Years, Six Lives, and the Long Journey Home does not exaggerate or overstate its course

FREE: Two Years, Six Lives, and the Long Journey Home

Sourcebooks (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$26.99 hardcover, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: 95 percent of the millions of American men and women who go to prison eventually get out. What happens to them?

There's Arnoldo, who came of age inside a maximum security penitentiary, now free after nineteen years. Trevor and Catherine, who spent half of their young lives behind bars for terrible crimes committed when they were kids. Dave, inside the walls for 34 years, now about to reenter an unrecognizable world. Vicki, a five-time loser who had cycled in and out of prison for more than a third of her life. They are simultaneously joyful and overwhelmed at the prospect of freedom. Anxious, confused, sometimes terrified, and often ill-prepared to face the challenges of the free world, all are intent on reclaiming and remaking their lives.

What is the road they must travel from caged to free? How do they navigate their way home?

A gripping and empathetic work of immersion reportage, Free reveals what awaits them and the hundreds of thousands of others who are released from prison every year: the first rush of freedom followed quickly by institutionalized obstacles and logistical roadblocks, grinding bureaucracies, lack of resources, societal stigmas and damning self-perceptions, the sometimes overwhelming psychological challenges. Veteran reporter Lauren Kessler, both clear-eyed and compassionate, follows six people whose diverse stories paint an intimate portrait of struggle, persistence, and resilience.

The truth—the many truths—about life after lockup is more interesting, more nuanced, and both more troubling and more deeply triumphant than we know.


My Review
: I'm the sort of bleeding-heart liberal who wrote to prisoners in for long stretches back when my hands could still write. I had one guy parole to my address. He was one of the luckier ones...his dad's car was his, he had a nest egg from dad's death, and he made it okay through re-entry. (Explaining ATMs was the mind-blowing moment of complete freak-out for him...a few years later it was the cellphone that utterly destroyed his brain.) But he was very, very lucky and knew it.

Many more aren't. We, as a society, have made our laws such that anyone who went to prison was effectively unemployable and unusable after that. Now, having read my reviews of How Fascism Works and Racism, Not Race, do some threads come together in your privileged mind?

Not one iota of this is accidental. It is designed carefully to have the effects it does. And on whom it does. You who vote for GOP candidates are disproportionately to blame for this tragic, wasteful, and hideously costly disaster that unfolds out of sight. "Law and order" is second only to "horrified and heartbroken" in the right-wing litany of useless at best, and harmful at worst, mealy-mouthing.

What Author Kessler has done with her trademark facility is immerse herself into situations hitherto privately endured, suffered through, floundered deeper into. It's her gift. From the ridiculous (Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, & My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker, 2015) to poignant (Dancing with Rose: Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer's, 2007) to flat-out hilarious (My Teenage Werewolf: A Mother, a Daughter, a Journey Through the Thicket of Adolescence, 2010), she's been in the thick of stuff lots of us endure without guidance, and brought back either—or more often both—wisdom or insight. She does it again here, with the afterlife of prisoners as "free" people. I know you're shocked.

A big part of what led Author Kessler to this topic was her frequent writing classes taught to incarcerated people. It's a shocking, unfathomable truth that teaching people to reach into themselves and bring out stories...their own or made-up ones...is a giant benefit to them! Imagine such a thing! And now imagine how comparatively few prisons offer such a simple, inexpensive thing....

I digress. So Author Kessler knew firsthand what was going to happen before she decided to do her party trick and get into the nitty-gritty. When she does that, she brings the reader a volume of emotional reality that is hard to endure, but impossible to ignore. There are statistics. There is research and its concomitant eye-smartingly dull prose (that missing half-star making sense now?). But mostly, there's Arnoldo and Vicki and Leah and Sterling...there's a solid undertone in even the least scintillating passages that ties it to a person whose real life this is, and thus made this reader care deeply.

It's hard to reach in and grab one's tiny remaining blossom of empathy to pluck and give to troubled, law-breaking people. And that's why I keep trying. I don't want to, but I also don't want to live in that world. The one that has room only for Me and Those Like Me. Because that world's never done a good turn for this particular reader and writer, has conditionally accepted what I offered only to eject me from its benefits when I wasn't able to keep giving.

I'm hugely lucky, compared to the folks who're leaving prison. I have a lifeline they lack: The System works for old white men like me because it's meant to work for us. So I do this. I read their stories, I tell you about that reading, and say "you should read this, it's important that you know what's happening in your name."

Consider it said.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

RACISM, NOT RACE: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions & THE INCREDIBLE UNLIKELINESS OF BEING: Evolution and the Making of Us

RACISM, NOT RACE: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Columbia University Press (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$15.15 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: The science on race is clear. Common categories like "Black," "white," and "Asian" do not represent genetic differences among groups. But if race is a pernicious fiction according to natural science, it is all too significant in the day-to-day lives of racialized people across the globe. Inequities in health, wealth, and an array of other life outcomes cannot be explained without referring to "race"--but their true source is racism. What do we need to know about the pseudoscience of race in order to fight racism and fulfill human potential?

In this book, two distinguished scientists tackle common misconceptions about race, human biology, and racism. Using an accessible question-and-answer format, Joseph L. Graves Jr. and Alan H. Goodman explain the differences between social and biological notions of race. Although there are many meaningful human genetic variations, they do not map onto socially constructed racial categories. Drawing on evidence from both natural and social science, Graves and Goodman dismantle the malignant myth of gene-based racial difference. They demonstrate that the ideology of racism created races and show why the inequalities ascribed to race are in fact caused by racism.

Graves and Goodman provide persuasive and timely answers to key questions about race and racism for a moment when people of all backgrounds are striving for social justice. Racism, Not Race shows readers why antiracist principles are both just and backed by sound science.


My Review
: Author Graves is a biologist; Author Goodman is a biological anthropologist. These are scientists answering a series of questions that have, for over a century, pretended to be scientific excuses for the hate-based ideology of racism.

There is one race: Human. Homo sapiens is the genus and species of each and every one of us.

The format of this book is supremely simple. Its chapters, titled eg "Everything You Wanted to Know About Genetics and Race" and "Intelligence, Brains, and Behaviors" (bonus points for not forcing me to retrofit the series/Oxford comma, gents!), are organized around questions, eg "What do geneticists mean by the structure of human variation?" and "In the twentieth century, were Jews, Italians, and Irish thought to be separate races?" and "When doctors, epidemiologists, and other medical scientists say that race is a risk factor, what do they mean?" There is, at the very front of the Kindle book, a hyperlinked list of all the questions raised in this book. It could not be easier to use if it was an audiobook that read itself to you.

The Notes section, which (I realize and suspect the authors do, too) you aren't all that likely to read, is more than a simple list of people and projects cited; the authors also provide some editorial comments worth your time to follow the hyperlinks to see. There are quite a lot of them, but there's such a thing as telling too much (in fiction, called "spoilering" and apparently a thing I do a lot despite trying to think like a spoilerphobe).

I'll conclude with a ringing endorsement of this exercise in calm, logic- and fact-based debunking of enduring hate-based myths. The authors said it best of all:
Antiracism starts with understanding what race is and isn't. Antiracism is not just an ethical and scientifically correct position; it is necessary for our survival.



Heron Books
$5.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 3.75* of five

The Publisher Says: The presenter of the BBC's The Incredible Human Journey gives us a new and highly accessible look at our own bodies, allowing us to understand how we develop as an embryo, from a single egg into a complex body, and how our embryos contain echoes of our evolutionary past.

Bringing together the latest scientific discoveries, Professor Alice Roberts illustrates that evolution has made something which is far from perfect. Our bodies are a quirky mix of new and old, with strokes of genius alongside glitches and imperfections which are all inherited from distant ancestors. Our development and evolutionary past explains why, as embryos, we have what look like gills, and as adults we suffer from back pain.

This is a tale of discovery, not only exploring why and how we have developed as we have, but also looking at the history of our anatomical understanding. It combines the remarkable skills and qualifications Alice Roberts has as a doctor, anatomist, osteoarchaeologist and writer. Above all, she has a rare ability to make science accessible, relevant and interesting to mainstream audiences and readers.


My Review
: A narrative approach to a complex scientific study that's occupied Humanity for millennia is going to fall short in both rigor and scope. In that sense, Dr Roberts was doomed from the outset. What anyone who undertakes such an enterprise anyway chooses, then, is to fail in a particular way. In the case of Dr Roberts, an actual, practicing scientist, the choice was obvious: rigor, begone therefore to allow me the scope to speak directly to the audience for this book.

I'm quoting this bit from the chapter entitled "RIBS, LUNGS, AND HEARTS":
When I look at an archaeological skeleton, the first thing I do is lay out the bones in an anatomical arrangement, as though the individual were laying on {their} back, arms by the sides, palm uppermost. Then I make an inventory of the bones, before moving on to look at each bone more carefully, taking note of features that might help me to determine the age and sex of the individual, as well as any telltale signs of disease.

Ribs can be a real pain—they're often broken into short fragments—but after some patient work on this jigsaw puzzle, it's possible to put them in order. A human chest is shaped like a barrel that has been squashed front to back, and the shape of the individual ribs reflects their position.

Careful, clear, and just a bit humorous...you got the "pain" play on words, right?...but the next sections are peppered with "rectus abdominis muscles" and a list of hominin names like Homo rudolfiensis and Homo habilis and we're way out of most people's comfort zone. This explains, I hope, my mingy-seeming rating.

What this book is doing, that is presenting the astounding evolutionary development of the Homo sapiens writing and reading this review, is very valuable. In and of itself, the existence of this project is heartening and necessary. There is an audience for science stuff that wants to know a lot of the material in here. But there aren't that many of us. Dumbing down, as any scientist wishing to communicate with laypersons absolutely must do, is a process of selection and elision. Author Roberts (I typoed "Riberts" and thought long and hard about just leaving it to see if anyone noticed) chose well, for me at my level of interest and information. But what about everyone else?

Choices, in any event, were made and they were illustrated with interestingly detailed line drawings and they were developed to a deeper level than I would've advised she take them; but Professor Doctor Author Roberts is a skilled communicator and (if one is willing to put in the work) will reveal to her readers an astoundingly inspiring story of unlikely events that came up with the form and function of the Homo sapiens she wrote this fascinating, but dense, book to inform and educate.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

TWO NIGHTS IN LISBON, latest thriller from Pavone delivers a little too much


MCD Books
$28.00 hardcover, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: You think you know a person . . .

Ariel Pryce wakes up in Lisbon, alone. Her husband is gone—no warning, no note, not answering his phone. Something is wrong.

She starts with hotel security, then the police, then the American embassy, at each confronting questions she can’t fully answer: What exactly is John doing in Lisbon? Why would he drag her along on his business trip? Who would want to harm him? And why does Ariel know so little about her new—much younger—husband?

The clock is ticking. Ariel is increasingly frustrated and desperate, running out of time, and the one person in the world who can help is the one person she least wants to ask.

With sparkling prose and razor-sharp insights, bestselling author Chris Pavone delivers a stunning and sophisticated international thriller that will linger long after the surprising final page.


My Review
: Unreliable narrator tells unbelievable story with murky stakes attached to its outcome. And here I am giving it four stars.

Doesn't make sense, does it. Or does it....

What Author Pavone does is set the reader up for something from the get-go. Unlike many thriller writers, that "something" isn't glaringly obvious. What sets this thriller in motion is an older woman married to a handsome younger man. Who ups and disappears from their hotel room on an international trip.

Prepare the violins, right? Welllll...yes but not for her, as you'll see. Her fear at this catastrophe seems...performative...to the authorities who look at her late-middle-aged self, see the muffin she's so recently married, and all but say out loud, "well, little lady, what exactly can you expect? Men do stray...and he's been gone less than a day. Give him time to sober up and pay the, um, lady. He'll be back." But she's not having it.

Why is she not having it? It does, after all, make a grim kind of sense. Before their short marriage, she didn't know her husband well...he's a relative stranger, so why is it she's carrying on so?

Wheels within wheels, and here we are rollin' along beside Ariel...has that name, one the lady chose for herself, made its real force felt in you yet?...as the story's necessary force carries us along, stopping for some info-dumpy conversations/monologues/set pieces. It's not like there's any point where Author Pavone sticks it to us, the sad little readers wondering what the living hell possessed this hard-edged survivor to do something so stupid as this mishegas results from. And both parties are hard-edged survivors. So what's the situation underlying the story? It's a thriller! You *know* there is one.

The phrase "ripped-from-the-headlines" is a cliche to my generation of Movie of the Week veterans. It got a bad name for shoddy, indifferent storytelling. But it never needed to be that way, did it. What happens that makes the newspapers is a joyous rioting street party of story plots. Read this one and find out what the right dance partner can give.

I can't give the book all five stars because, despite the clarity of storytelling purpose that snaps into focus as the ending twists us up, there is a prolixity of speechifyin' that really grated on me. (I'm lookin' at you, Griffiths.) And the Epilogue is just a shade over the top I most wanted not to go over. But the story is a deeply, involvingly, satisfyingly real one, and I encourage y'all to read it.

Monday, May 23, 2022

HOW FASCISM WORKS: The Politics of Us and Them is just flat terrifying

HOW FASCISM WORKS: The Politics of Us and Them

Random House
$17.00 paperback, available now

Rating: 5* of five

The Publisher Says: NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW EDITORS’ CHOICE • With a new preface • Fascist politics are running rampant in America today—and spreading around the world. A Yale philosopher identifies the ten pillars of fascist politics, and charts their horrifying rise and deep history.

As the child of refugees of World War II Europe and a renowned philosopher and scholar of propaganda, Jason Stanley has a deep understanding of how democratic societies can be vulnerable to fascism: Nations don’t have to be fascist to suffer from fascist politics. In fact, fascism’s roots have been present in the United States for more than a century. Alarmed by the pervasive rise of fascist tactics both at home and around the globe, Stanley focuses here on the structures that unite them, laying out and analyzing the ten pillars of fascist politics—the language and beliefs that separate people into an “us” and a “them.” He knits together reflections on history, philosophy, sociology, and critical race theory with stories from contemporary Hungary, Poland, India, Myanmar, and the United States, among other nations. He makes clear the immense danger of underestimating the cumulative power of these tactics, which include exploiting a mythic version of a nation’s past; propaganda that twists the language of democratic ideals against themselves; anti-intellectualism directed against universities and experts; law and order politics predicated on the assumption that members of minority groups are criminals; and fierce attacks on labor groups and welfare. These mechanisms all build on one another, creating and reinforcing divisions and shaping a society vulnerable to the appeals of authoritarian leadership.


My Review
: The reason I want to review this right now is the 14 May Buffalo mass shooting and its root cause, the idiotic and racist replacement theory. It is a pernicious and evil set of beliefs demanding that white people remain in power forever because it's theirs by right, as Author Stanley explains. Colonialism and racism and fascism are in lock step, and their grip on the unintelligent, badly educated, and ill-informed is only strengthening.

I make no apologies for my opinions, or for expressing them in strong and probably insulting terms, as those who subscribe to these idiotic beliefs make no apologies for theirs or their own method of expressing them. I oppose these views. I oppose their open, uncontested expression. I oppose people who make their own need to control others, body, mind, and soul, their purpose for public action. And no, demanding that these True Believers NOT be allowed to dictate the continued lives, personal liberties, and rise to political power of those who are not them, is not at all the same thing.

This book is a compendium of pithily expressed, carefully researched, and very well-sourced conclusions that are not readily dismissable based on modern evidence. I cede the floor to Author Stanley:
Fascist politics does not necessarily lead to an explicitly fascist state, but it is dangerous nonetheless. Fascist politics includes many distinct strategies: the mythic past, propaganda, anti-intellectualism, unreality, hierarchy, victimhood, law and order, sexual anxiety, appeals to the heartland, and a dismantling of public welfare and unity.

On fascism's roots:
In book 8 of Plato’s Republic, Socrates argues that people are not naturally led to self-governance but rather seek a strong leader to follow. Democracy, by permitting freedom of speech, opens the door for a demagogue to exploit the people’s need for a strongman; the strongman will use this freedom to prey on the people’s resentments and fears. Once the strongman seizes power, he will end democracy, replacing it with tyranny. In short, book 8 of The Republic argues that democracy is a self-undermining system whose very ideals lead to its own demise. Fascists have always been well acquainted with this recipe for using democracy’s liberties against itself; Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels once declared, “This will always remain one of the best jokes of democracy, that it gave its deadly enemies the means by which it was destroyed.” Today is no different from the past. Again, we find the enemies of liberal democracy employing this strategy, pushing the freedom of speech to its limits and ultimately using it to subvert others’ speech.


In a 1922 speech at the Fascist Congress in Naples, Benito Mussolini declared: We have created our myth. The myth is a faith, a passion. It is not necessary for it to be a reality….Our myth is the nation, our myth is the greatness of the nation! And to this myth, this greatness, which we want to translate into a total reality, we subordinate everything. Here, Mussolini makes clear that the fascist mythic past is intentionally mythical. The function of the mythic past, in fascist politics, is to harness the emotion of nostalgia to the central tenets of fascist ideology—authoritarianism, hierarchy, purity, and struggle.

On racism's roots and branches:
“Check your privilege” is a call to whites to recognize the insulated social reality they navigate daily.


Hutu power movement was a fascist ethnic supremacist movement that arose in Rwanda in the years before the 1994 Rwandan genocide.


Nixon’s chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman: “You have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks,” Haldeman quoted Nixon as saying in a diary entry from April 1969. “The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”


Mussolini denounce{d} the world’s great cities, such as New York, for their teeming populations of nonwhites. In fascist ideology, the city is a place where members of the nation go to age and die, childless, surrounded by the vast hordes of despised others, breeding out of control, their children permanent burdens on the state.

See also my review of Cockroaches for extra and personal information about the racist roots of Rwanda's genocide. See my review of The Man Who Lived Underground for a prescient prefiguring of the Othering that racism relies on's horrific costs.

Author Stanley doesn't, I think I've shown, pull punches. He also sources his claims with admirable clarity. There are dozens of notes in each chapter; there are dozens of reputable scholars cited. In his Epilogue, Author Stanley considers the hazards and risks we're running simply by normalizing (or really continuing to normalize) the ongoing fascist politicizations we see around us now.
Pratap Mehta wrote: 'The targeting of enemies—minorities, liberals, secularists, leftists, urban naxals, intellectuals, assorted protestors—is not driven by a calculus of ordinary politics….When you legitimize yourself entirely by inventing enemies, the truth ceases to matter, normal restraints of civilization and decency cease to matter, the checks and balances of normal politics cease to matter.'


In fascist politics, women who do not fit traditional gender roles, nonwhites, homosexuals, immigrants, “decadent cosmopolitans,” those who do not have the dominant religion, are in their very existence violations of law and order. By describing black Americans as a threat to law and order, demagogues in the United States have been able to create a strong sense of white national identity that requires protection from the nonwhite “threat.”


The dangers of fascist politics come from the particular way in which it dehumanizes segments of the population. By excluding these groups, it limits the capacity for empathy among other citizens, leading to the justification of inhumane treatment, from repression of freedom, mass imprisonment, and expulsion to, in extreme cases, mass extermination.

What's happening now is not the Will of the People. It's not the inevitable outcome of "them" becoming a threat. This is proof of "...a growing body of social psychological evidence substantiates the phenomenon of dominant group feelings of victimization at the prospect of sharing power equally with members of minority groups. A great deal of recent attention has been paid in the United States to the fact that around 2050, the United States will become a 'majority-minority' country, meaning that whites will no longer be a majority of Americans," threatening “...the lengthy history of ranking Americans into a hierarchy of worth by race, the “deserving” versus the “undeserving.” And I feel confident I need not say directly that deserving = white for you to get the full, appalling picture. If you're up for more, there's On Tyranny, which I've reviewed; it's another, and shorter, work of synthesis and explication.

Where do we go from here? How do the majority of US citizens resist this ever-worsening attack on our bodies, our minds, our freedoms and rights?

First, VOTE. Second, read and learn from the folks farther along the trail through the thickets of trouble and outrage meant to scare and dishearten you. Nothing about the fascism threatening reason and freedom in the US is inevitable or unstoppable or, most importantly, right and correct. You've watched The Handmaid's Tale and read Christian Nation...you know what's at stake for women, and every single one of you knows a woman; also for QUILTBAG folks, and if you're reading this you know at least one of those (me). Act like this is an emergency.

Because it very much is.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

THE SUNSET GANG, old age ain't for sissies but it can be played for laughs

THE SUNSET GANG: Inspirational Short Stories That Reshape the Meaning of Aging

Stonehouse Publishing (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$4.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 3.75* of five

The Publisher Says: In America, where "old" is a dirty word, people over sixty-five are often shut out as if growing old were some kind of contagious disease. But you cannot shut the Sunset Gang out of your heart.

With time running short, these intrepid residents of Sunset Village in Florida continue to thirst for life and love.

"The Sunset Gang" is as lively, fun, and courageous a group as you'll find anywhere this side of the Last Reward. The fact that you'll find them at Sunset Village, a condominium retirement community in Florida - where an ambulance siren is the theme song and cycling at a stately pace is strenuous exercise - does not mean that they are ready to pack it all in. Not by a long shot.

Sex and romantic love keep Sunset Village bubbling with activity.

If you were to walk down one of its well-tended paths, you might spot Jenny and Bill sitting on a bench, acting like young lovers, and never suspect that they are married - to other people! And at the pool, Max Bernstein, with an expertise that comes from five decades of skirt chasing, is singling out attractive widows.

But the true beating heart of Sunset Village is the love of family and friends. Widowed Molly Berkowitz learns that although her son and daughter may be failures in the eyes of the world, they are well worth bragging about, and Isaac Kramer begins to feel truly at home when the gray-haired boys down at the Laundromat start calling him by his old neighborhood nickname, "Itch."

This short story series about aging in America that inspired the PBS American Playhouse TV trilogy produced by Linda Lavin and starring Uta Hagen, Harold Gould, Dori Brenner and Jerry Stiller, garnering Doris Roberts an Emmy nomination for 'Best Supporting Actress' in a mini-series.


My Review
: Waitaminnit waitaminnit whereinahell's the Bryce Method, you ask...I hear you, don't front! I'll tell you the truth: much as I say "blahblah isn't a novel, it's a récit or braided stories or a syncretism of Egyptian death-spells with upanishads or whatever," I am equally likely to say this is a novel when told it's stories.

Just that the chapters are a funny length.

For funny old Jewish people, that shouldn't be a problem. And honestly it isn't. This is a comfort read. I got lots and lots of laughs, and as I live in a building full of old Jewish folk, I was frequently trying not to read chunks of it aloud to...no one in particular (it says here). The late Warren Adler knew exactly what he was doing writing this entertaining chronicle of aging and its indignities hidden behind a very slippery figleaf. Laughing at people is frowned on, rightly so, in today's world. But laughing at yourself, and with your friends, is the way to stay sane in a world that won't listen to you, doesn't much want you, but still has your heart walking around in it.

That's everyone in here. While the author first published it in 1977, when a lot of the world's prejudices were different, the list of concerns of the Greatest-Generation cast of Jewish folks sounds exactly the way my neighbors sound. It's a little odd, when I think about it, that the immigrants raised in the 1930s on the Lower East Side and Brownsville who mostly populate the book are darn near clones of the Long Island facility I occupy. But I think it shows cultural continuity is very much a feature of Jewish identity. I know several of my friends here are children of Auschwitz and other camp survivors...only recently, early in COVID, did our last survivor resident die. (Vale Arthur, quit nagging Yhwh about what she needs to do better.)

Oh, okay. I can't resist the power of Tradition in this context. Bryce, your method lives!

Yiddish revs up the ol' libido when two assimilated folk reconnect with their mother tongue.

Itch reminds of the moment in Cranford when Judi Dench, as Miss Mattie, mourns her sister's death with the unbearably poignant musing, "Now there is no one left who will call me Matilda." A name is an identity, and as it disappears, one grows lonely for it and for what it stood for in one's life.

An Unexpected Visit reminds us all that there's a steady beat of time passing, and with its passing it's taking away forever the means of getting inside someone's head.

The Detective *chuckle* Pride goeth before a fall; Pride goeth before a fall. Different concepts, same outcome: No more pride and a lot of nasty vanity spread over top of everything.

God Made Me That Way, and pausing in one's day to thank her for it is a good idea since it means the right one will indeed come along.

The Braggart proves that empty gourds make the most noise.

The Demonstration limns the timelessness of battling hatred in her den.

The Angel of Mercy feels "The End" coming up over the horizon, and...it's okay.

Poor Herman proves that no matter how long true, spirit-deep friends are separated, they're really still the same friends.

The Home is a fate worse than death. It is...The End...but the curtain stays up. *shudder* Sooner I would die, thank you please.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

THE PLOT TO SEIZE THE WHITE HOUSE: The Shocking TRUE Story of the Conspiracy to Overthrow F.D.R., unnerving real history

THE PLOT TO SEIZE THE WHITE HOUSE: The Shocking TRUE Story of the Conspiracy to Overthrow F.D.R.

Arcade Publishing
$10.97 ebook editions, available now

$1.99 on Kindle! (non-affiliate Amazon link)

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Many people might not know that in 1933, a group of wealthy industrialists working closely with groups like the K.K.K. and the American Liberty League planned to overthrow the U.S. government and run F.D.R. out of office in a fascist coup. Readers will learn of their plan to turn unhappy war veterans into American brown shirts,” depose F.D.R., and stop the New Deal. They asked Medal of Honor recipient and Marine Major General Smedley Darlington Butler to work with them and become the first American Caesar.” Fortunately, Butler was a true patriot. Instead of working for the fascist coup, he revealed the plot to journalists and to Congress.

Archer writes a compelling account of a ploy that would have turned FDR into fascist puppet, threatened American democracy and changed the course of history. This book not only reveals the truth behind this shocking episode in history, but also tells the story of the man whose courage and bravery prevented it from happening.

Skyhorse Publishing, as well as our Arcade imprint, are proud to publish a broad range of books for readers interested in history—books about World War II, the Third Reich, Hitler and his henchmen, the JFK assassination, conspiracies, the American Civil War, the American Revolution, gladiators, Vikings, ancient Rome, medieval times, the old West, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.


My Review
: The wonder of History as a study is how much of what sounds new and apocalyptically nightmarish to you is, in fact, the latest of many iterations of the same bull. Humans seek patterns, and novelty; "this is unprecedented! and it's just like this thing that happened way back when!" sums it up.

Author Jules Archer (1915 – 2008) was a prolific popular writer on history for all ages. He grew up in New York City during times of great changes and the fomenting of radical opposition to the status quo. He saw, firsthand, the causes of the New Deal's legislation. He spent a lot of time in later life using the free college education that New Yorkers of sufficient academic achievements were at that time entitled to explaining the country, and history itself, to others.

This book was published first in 1973, in the soft, rotten middle of the Watergate hearings. The timing, and the subject, were chosen carefully. Remembering your history, younger-than-50s, you'll recall we as a country were in the throes of indicting and removing an actual criminal from the presidency, as well as losing a war in Asia. That war left the country with a lot of badly damaged men and no jobs for them when they returned to civilian life.

Any of this ringing some bells?

So Jules Archer, explainer extraordinaire (seriously, go look at his bibliography!), reached into his own past for an analogous passage of disastrously concatenated events and found World War I, the Bonus Army, and the very little spoken-of Businessmans' Coup of 1933. "We have been here before," said Archer, "and the country survived."

The hero of this piece is a man of whom I guarantee you have not heard. General Smedley Darlington Butler is one of those figures that appear all too seldom, the Man of Conscience whose principles are strong and whose moral compass, whether or not it's calibrated as is one's own, is clearly aligned with honor on every axis. The plotters of this heinous act of subversion as Archer details it chose exactly and precisely the wrong man to execute their plot. (Goddesses please accept our thanks that they didn't approach Douglas MacArthur!) He blew so many whistles and did so with such enormous credibility and evidence that the entire plot had to be abandoned.

Not to say the idea went away. We've seen that in our own time. This Peter Arno cartoon could've been drawn in 2010 and been about Obama, or 2020 and been about Biden:
After reading this book, your illusions about this unique moment in history being absolutely the awfulest, most scum-ridden, darkest passage in the US will perforce vanish. But you'll also, I hope, read it and think, "this isn't the first time?! Holy maloley, we'd better pay attention!" Because I'm entirely sure that was the aim of Jules Archer's project in writing many explanatory books about history over many decades.