Saturday, December 31, 2022

THE STRANGEST, or "Meursault for the Modern Cyberworld"...outstanding!


O/R Books
$17.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Michael Seidlinger has dared tackle one of the literary classics of the 20th century literature and reimagined it for the 21st: and in Albert Camus’ anti-hero Meursault, at once apathetic and violent, unable to connect with his fellow humans, Seidlinger exhumes a perfect metaphor for the Internet Generation. Zachary Weinham, anchorless in terms of morals and committed to nothing except commenting on comments and their comments etc., finds himself involved in the sinister machinations of Rios, someone he meets in a bar, and allows himself to be set up—whether out of apathy or a desire for self-destruction it’s hard to tell. A murder ensues. Shunned by his friends and associates, not sure of what he has gotten into, Zachary heads for confrontation with society—and his own moral values.


My Review
: Routine blog readers will recall Michael Seidlinger's name. The Fun We've Had was 2014's 6-stars-of-five read; Mother of a Machine Gun, a novella deconstructing Identity and Motherhood from a son's perspective; Falter Kingdom, Anybody Home?, all of them four star-plus reads for me. This book's appeal to me wasn't as immediate or as visceral as the other reads were. I'm somewhat trapped in Meursault's Otherness via Camus. Exploring his identity further didn't necessarily strike me as urgent, and there's nothing Michael Seidlinger creates that stops short of Urgency.

I've said of him before:
Every writer needs a trope. Seidlinger's is musical brevity. He'd be called a poet if he made less sense.
Seidlinger is what a mating between Djuna Barnes and Samuel Beckett would've produced: Illusionless in his pessimism, joyful in his schadenfreude, and both human and humane enough to wrap his bitter pills in pretty words.

I stand by those words, I believe them to be fair in their assessment of his talent and his presentation of it. So this book? It came out almost a decade ago and...I wasn't a fan, exactly, because...well...Meursault.

In my never-ending quest to tie up loose ends, since I can't tie Michael up but *can* finish reviewing the DRCs of his work that I have, I thought a real review of this book to end 2022 would feel condign.

When taking on classics, there are two ways to approach them from a positive energy field: Hommage or retelling. Leave it to a poet to say, "naaah," and enter into a dialogue with the piece. The Stranger, subject of Camus's astonishing and ever-fresh novella of Meursault's crime and punishment, is now about Zachary, The Strangest...the man, like Guy is to Bruno from Strangers on a Train, whose blankness is observing the surfaces of a mediated landscape with no concrete referents. Only what is outside The Strangest is real. This, of course, means he has no reality because his internal world is only the external world reflected on the shiny, frictionless surfaces of his many mirrors. Like a human Hubble Space Telescope, he has only the visible light of distant, unreachable reality to furnish meaning and encourage existence.

What makes that so dangerous is visible in the social-media obsessed, whipped to a froth "activism" and "radicalization" of many, many empty shells with AR-15s. Nothing outside can give a person a core, as Camus made plain in Meursault's completely avoidable descent into murder. And here, though it's framed by a modern concern unknown to the Camus of 1944, we're going down the same rabbit-hole. No core? Barely a shell! Constantly obsessed with fitting in, The Strangest isn't ever going to achieve that.

"For a line to exist, it would first have to be crossed."

You can't fit if you have no shape.

And that is the thing, in 2015, Michael Seidlinger saw and said that, to my slight embarrassment, I did not pay enough attention to. The way that Meursault would go along the hot and sandy beach in Algeria to get along was fundamentally different from The Strangest's endlessly, heatlessly reflective but never reflexive attempts to build Reality from the weak material of light. There is no real reason not to murder someone, a lot of someones in fact, if there is no texture or heft to the world for you. It's light, from a screen or from a geometric solid, it's only light and therefore has only the meaning your analysis gives it.

If light and its shadows are all you possess, there is no reason to obsess over life and fate and pain and grief. Death is only the light going out, only the local light covered or extinguished. Light still exists. Shadows and darkness aren't real.

Maybe one of the most chilling meditations I've read in 2022. I can't call it's cold and disconnected, so doesn't make the impact something so impartant should...but I can call it excellent. Highly recommended for serious thinkers about twenty-first century life and society.


It's time to get my 2023 house in order. 2022 saw me pass out 77 4.5* or higher reviews of 393 total, or 19%. Quite a good year indeed. I think the most amazing part of my reading year was the consistently good quality of my non-fiction reading, from Already Toast: Caregiving and Burnout in America and Today Hong Kong, Tomorrow the World: What China's Crackdown Reveals about Its Plans to End Freedom Everywhere through to Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism and High-Risk Homosexual. I read with a slack jaw and a wildly beating heart the beautifully unconventional Before All the World, not one single thing about that read has dimmed a notch in my memory's lantern. I became misty and sad and still uplifted when I read Natasha Pulley's gorgeously wrought The Kingdoms, alternate history that has the one and the only truthful and accurate to my own experience portrayal of non-consensual heterosexual sex where the woman is the rapist. It was stunning. It was freeing to read on a page that someone else knew. I am forever in her debt for this alone, and am always eager for more like 2022's The Half Life of Valery K. There's a peak reading year in those reads alone! HOWSOMEVER....
It's my annual six-stars-of-five read! Kibogo (my book review), a beautiful tale of colonial-era Catholicism meeting, battling, and suffering defeat at the hands of Kibogo, the Rwandan folk-religion's organizing spirit. It was a finalist for the National Book Award for Literature in Translation. It was the most unforgettable book I read in a year chock-a-block with wonderful reading. It explored the many ways colonialism tries to destroy the colonized, insidious personal invasions that are masked by pious mouthings and cold, cruel hearts crossdressing to seem unthreatening. And it still told a fine and exciting tale!

In 2022, I posted 370 reviews here, and 393 on my bookish social media sites. I don't think I can sustain such a pace at my time in life, but there's no sense setting meager goals is there. In 2023, my goals are:
  • To post 395 reviews of all sorts here
  • To post at least 120 Burgoines here and on my bookish social media sites of ARCs
          and/or DRCs from before 2022
  • To review at least 50% female or -presenting authors across genres
  • To post a review every day during #PrideMonth and #WomeninTranslationMonth
  • If I've learned nothing else in my *hack*ty-three years, it's to keep the goals from being the focus. It's the achievements I'm after, not the check-box ticking!

    Happy 2023 to all my readers, and to your friends and your families and your companion animals (unless they're cats) and your delivery providers and...everyone we've ever met in our entire lives, to misquote Maureen Stapleton.

    Friday, December 30, 2022

    A FRACTURED INFINITY, the depths and lengths a man will travel for his true love & OTHER NAMES FOR LOVE, Pakistani gay coming-of-age family saga


    Farrar, Straus & Giroux
    $26.00 hardcover, available now

    Rating: 4* of five

    The Publisher Says: A charged, hypnotic debut novel about a boy's life-changing summer in rural Pakistan: a story of fathers, sons, and the consequences of desire.

    At age sixteen, Fahad hopes to spend the summer with his mother in London. His father, Rafik, has other plans: hauling his son to Abad, the family's feudal estate in upcountry, Pakistan. Rafik wants to toughen up his sensitive boy, to teach him about power, duty, family—to make him a man. He enlists Ali, a local teenager, in this project, hoping his presence will prove instructive.

    Instead, over the course of one hot, indolent season, attraction blooms between the two boys, and Fahad finds himself seduced by the wildness of the land and its inhabitants: the people, who revere and revile his father in turn; cousin Mousey, who lives alone with a man he calls his manager; and most of all, Ali, who threatens to unearth all that is hidden.

    Decades later, Fahad is living abroad when he receives a call from his mother summoning him home. His return will force him to face the past. Taymour Soomro's Other Names for Love is a tale of masculinity, inheritance, and desire set against the backdrop of a country's troubled history, told with uncommon urgency and beauty.


    My Review
    : What there is to say about fathers and their gay sons...well, that's just an ocean of story without any limits that I'm aware of. Fathers and sons...disappointments...sadness and silence, rage and screaming...all and none and more. It's a relationship most sons have, even if sometimes it's a relationship with an absence or a cipher. It's always going to resonate with fathers because of the terror of being inadequate, as their own fathers were, and with sons for the same reason.

    This short, powerful read is the kind of take on the evergreen that leaves the reader not sure where his sympathies lie. Rafik is not really sure what the hell to do with Fahad; and equally, Fahad is not sure how to take Rafik's overbearing attempts to induct him into a life and lifestyle inimical to him. Not solely heterosexuality...the powerful political and economic family that Rafik comes from and wants to perpetuate.

    I don't suppose anyone reading this is surprised that this is the crux of the story.

    What transpires, and how we respond to it, is all down to the manner in which this eternal and evergreen tale is told. I wasn't always sure I liked the third-person narrator's abrupt shifts from Rafik's to Fahad's point of view. It's effective, in the sense that it conveys the broken relationship and poor communication between father and son. It's not always pleasant, though. It can feel jarring, and while I accept that was Author Soomro's intent, it's not always a positive service to the story.

    What the family saga, no matter how compact one makes it, always does is spread the emotional focus of a story. Mousey, Rafik's cousin and rival for control over their feudal family estate, is limned deftly in relatively few words. His presence is more air than flesh...and then Ali, the local of Rafik's family estate, the one whom he entrusts with manning-up his fey son, is from the moment he appears a fleshly figure, outlined in the light of young love and intense desire. And, like those things, as fleetingly there but always, always part of one's mind, heart, body.

    The beautiful as well as beastly problems of family, then, are our roadmap. And their inevitable end. There's no one gets out of this family alive, my father once said to me; I've never been sure if it was humor, threat, or sad truth he spoke. And so it is with all families. I'm totally sure the events of this novel...and its multivarious progenitors, from Lawrence's Sons and Lovers back to Balzac's Sarrasine...took place in slightly different form somewhere, sometime. The gift Author Soomro offers us is that he found the uniquely, specifically Pakistani iteration of this deviant's tale, and deftly turned it into the Platonic solid of the story.

    While the son never has a father he can relate to, he never gives his father any kind of solidity by denying him a future. A lot of what Rafik can't reconcile himself to is the way the world changes, has changed. It's a grandparent's trick, to turn that terror of loss into an anchor of immanence. Rafik and Fahad don't ever see the world through the same lenses. (Where did those glasses come from?) They, like real fathers and sons, never wonder "what can I do?" but bemoan "what could I have done?"

    A story of great affecting power, told elegantly, with honest sadness and truthful anger. Sounds like a great way to spend a winter's afternoon reading.



    Titan Books (non-affiliate Amazon link; any website that will not even allow you to search for its products without enabling cookies is not going to get redirects from me)
    $15.95 trade paper, available now

    Rating: 4* of five

    The Publisher Says: A thrilling race across the multiverse to save the infinite Earths—and the love of your life—from total destruction for fans of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, The Time Traveller's Wife and Rick and Morty.

    Film-maker Hayes Figueiredo is struggling to finish the documentary of his heart when handsome physicist Yusuf Hassan shows up, claiming Hayes is the key to understanding the Envisioner—a mysterious device that can predict the future.

    Hayes is taken to a top-secret research facility where he discovers his alternate self from an alternate universe created the Envisioner and sent it to his reality. Hayes studies footage of the other him, he discovers a self he doesn’t recognize, angry and obsessive, and footage of his husband.

    As Hayes finds himself falling for Yusuf, he studies the parallel universe and imagines the perfect life they will live together. But their lives are inextricably linked to the other reality, and when that couple's story ends in tragedy Hayes realises he must do anything he can to save Yusuf's life. Because there are infinite realities, but only one Yusuf.

    With the fate of countless realities and his heart in his hands, Hayes leads Yusuf on the run, tumbling through a kaleidoscope of universes trying to save it all. But even escaping into infinity, Hayes is running out of space—soon he will have to decide how much he’s willing to pay to save the love of his life.


    My Review
    : Likeable people can be reprehensible. Gay men who will do literally...literally...anything for the men they love can be villains. Because, you realize as Hayes perpetrates some truly terrible actions while retaining the same charm and winning ways as led you to invest in him from the beginning, the world doesn't have that many univalent monsters.

    What I love best about stories with flawed protagonists is how relatable they are. We're all flawed. And Hayes, he's flawed enough to make him a menace, what he be the engine of this exciting and action-heavy multiverse thriller. Being awakened to an undreamt-of reality, to be chucked into a world that one never once thought might be real, to have the shocking and sudden revelation that someone until now a stranger is, in fact, The One...that's just the first few pages! This script is gonna keep the butts in the seats with no popcirn trips for sure!

    Well...okay, that's a small exaggeration. It's not quite that action-packed but it sure as hell feels as though it is. The strangeness of a filmmaker being the one and only person who could resolve the problem of how to use, whether to believe, a fortune-telling device was, honestly, short-changed. It's a point raised, dealt with by saying, "yep that's how it is" and we're off to the races! In fact, there is a lot of the world-building that is treated in this "just the facts, ma'am" laconic way and then it's Gospel.

    You did notice the absence of a fifth you know (most of) why.

    The merry chase that Hayes and Yusuf, the inamorato, go on across the dimensions is like reading a spec script from a super-excitable young person with not clue one what "budget" means. What makes that fun is the budget is your mind's dopamine-reward system. What makes that sometimes wearing is the film metaphor is the spine of the is literally holding every scene in the story up, leading them together, and the casting of the characters is exactly that: Casting. It's going to be a rough ride for some. I am one. But the roughnss of the ride isn't a deal-breaker because the way this sled handles is *chef's kiss*

    Think of Boston. English people, think of Oxford. Got the picture set? Now...change the color of the streetlights and make the roofs green. That's the experience of traveling in Hayes's really is his, he (one of him) is the inventor of the device that enables all this traveling that we're here talking about. And that Hayes, whom the characters we're following most closely refer to as "Figueiredo" to be clear that they mean the evil SOB who wants (for perfectly understandable reasons) to blow the multiverse up one strand at a time, even he isn't a caricature. Insane. Lost to Humanity. But not ever a risible over-the-top cartoon villain.

    But those green-roofed mercury-vapor-lit alt-timelines are real, and he's made it impossible for "our" Hayes and Yusuf not to know, and deal with knowing, what it costs to stay alive in a truly random quantumverse. It changes a person to realize what carnage they've left in their wake through this one "wild and precious life" that Mary Oliver so beautifully committed poetry to describe. Now...think about this...there's a lot more than one, and you now know because you can't not know exactly what carnage you've left behind in it all.

    It's damned hard to believe this is Author Tavares's first novel. The economy with which he built the pyre of stakes for each strand of the multiverse...and the aplomb with which he lights the stakes into an inferno of loss and rage and gut-hollowing sadness...usually come to a later-career novelist. It takes time to build faith and willingness to go all in and all out at the looming obstacles armed only with one's talent. Yet here he is, attempting and succeeding first time out.

    So maybe a few details fell under the table. A last serving of your favorite dish disappeared and you don't have a dog to blame. Big fat deal! You're in great hands as a truth gets told you: Gay men love hard, care deeply, and fight dirty to protect their man.

    Even when it's not pretty.

    This is what I look for. It's what I want more of. And it's only his first novel! What a great way to celebrate a new year: Read a high-delivery first novel.

    A MINOR CHORUS, chorus yes but not a minor one & HUGS AND CUDDLES, the most amusingly inapt title of 2022


    W.W. Norton
    $15.95 trade paper, available now

    Rating: 4* of five


    The Publisher Says: A debut novel from a rising literary star that brings the modern queer and Indigenous experience into sharp relief.

    In the stark expanse of Northern Alberta, a queer Indigenous doctoral student steps away from his dissertation to write a novel, informed by a series of poignant encounters: a heart-to-heart with fellow doctoral student River over the mounting pressure placed on marginalized scholars; a meeting with Michael, a closeted man from his hometown whose vulnerability and loneliness punctuate the realities of queer life on the fringe. Woven throughout these conversations are memories of Jack, a cousin caught in the cycle of police violence, drugs, and survival. Jack’s life parallels the narrator’s own; the possibilities of escape and imprisonment are left to chance with colonialism stacking the odds. A Minor Chorus introduces a dazzling new literary voice whose vision and fearlessness shine much-needed light on the realities of Indigenous survival.


    My Review
    : When one reads the book description, there's very little doubt that most of us will be reading this as Billy-Ray Belcourt using the antique roman à clef to give us the keys to the kingdom. But that's never said anywhere. It's not part of the interviews I've read or listened to. I think, in fact, that's a quiet and much-thought-over means of demonstrating how identities are forced on us. Are forced by us, the readers of a novel, onto the author of the novel.

    Indigeniety is an indignity of an identity. "Indigenous" is a label of Otherness, much as is "Queer" or "Gay" or "Two-Spirit." Labels are the source of stories, though, and the world's words were invented to make stories so us gossipy apes could make Othering a thing. Assigned by others, Othering is a burden many of us bear and many of us bear multiple ways. We aren't, as it unfolds, allowed much in the way of access to the main character's self-ness; he's collecting data, having copious amounts of sex, and eliciting intimacy from people still carrying horrible scars from being abandoned as children, being addicted to substances, being belittled and having their characters besmirched for queerness or Indigeniety. Or both. No one in this mill-race of ideas and images is in sharp focus. It's that fact that ate a star off my rating...if I have only misty-edged portraits to look at instead of vibrant, violent even, alive people, I respond without the visceral burst of passion I seek in novel-reading as I read their stories.

    Author Belcourt being a tyro novelist, and his profession being a poet, this is completely understandable as a technique. It felt chosen, selected for its effect, not as though he simply didn't know how to do any different. That's why that fourth star is still there. I'm forgiving of first-novel mistakes or overreaches but I note them and grade my responses accordingly. I did not get that "oops" sensation from these memory-speaking characters, despite the fact that I wanted to know more about them. More was not to be offered. That is, as I realized, part of the point: What the reader wants is what the colonial master wants, more! more! always more! where Author Belcourt isn't offering it.

    There is, then, a subtlety of reflection in this examination of the gulfs between striving and surviving; between surviving and thriving. The novel's structure and style are offers of mirror time. See what this world's demands cost? The price that some must pay while most will never even realize it's exacted on their behalf?

    It's a delight of a read. It speaks its truth honestly and makes its voice honey-sweet.

    But it is here to tear the tape off your eyes and yank the sock from your mouth.


    (tr. Edgar Garbelotto)
    Two Lines Press
    $14.95 trade paper, available now

    Rating: 4* of five

    The Publisher Says: After abandoning his traditional life in a deteriorating Porto Alegre, the narrator of Hugs and Cuddles zealously recommits himself to a man he calls “the engineer”, a childhood friend with whom he shared a pivotal sexual encounter. Many years have passed since their prepubescent wrestling; everywhere around them is a nation in decline. Representatives of the Brazilian state—everyone from government officials to the impoverished—endlessly harass passers-by for donations to “the cause,” even as a mysterious plague rages. Never mind that. Our insatiable narrator, driven to discover his true self through increasingly transgressive sexual urges, is on an epic journey through the shadows of this dysfunctional yet polite society.

    The resulting novel is the late João Gilberto Noll’s most radical statement: A Book of Revelations-grade voyage to the end of gender and the outermost reaches of sexual and artistic expression. Nimbly translated from Portuguese by Edgar Garbelotto, Hugs and Cuddles is an unapologetically explicit fable of fluidity that takes readers from decaying city centers to the dark corridors of a mysterious submarine to a miserable hovel in the rainforest, where, at long last, our narrator finds peace.


    My Review
    : Remember when I reviewed Quiet Creature on the Corner back in 2016? It's the very first Noll story to appear in English. It contained non-consensual heterosex, and it gave me a definite dirty-old-man vibe. That is to say, the book's for a dirty old man not that I'm one!

    Buckle up for this tale, ye of little sexcapade tolerance.

    There is nothing for it but to say it: Noll's got the one-handed reader squarely in his sights from giddy-up to whoa. If you can think of a way to think about sex, it's in this book. I'm not at that stage of life anymore, but let me tell you it's a heavy breather's dream book.

    There is a salad dressing of family secrets, of loyalty given but not reciprocated, reciprocated but betrayed, of gender identities as traps and prisons and comforting hiding's a story that never settles into one groove. There are half a dozen grooves. They each matter, and in the end, each contains a clue to the preoccupations of Author Noll's writing: Honesty and clarity are only so useful in this life but a well-crafted line of bullshit can guide, sustain, and reward you.

    The style of the book should be no issue to those who read Milkman or Poguemahone. It's a long, divagating paragraph of startling complexity. Yet the burden of the lyric is simple, that being centered on sex as activity is only fun if you play with sex as biology defines it. The way in and the way out of a soul is the same as it is for a body.

    If the roman-fleuve formal technique were somehow packed tight into this book's sausage-casing of 240 pages, it would resemble the scope and the effect of the paragraph as we move from a submarine to a rural shack, from the kind of sex that lives in your memory to the kind you'd pay money to forget. There's not one page not steeped in sex, whether actual sexual activity or contemplating it.

    All of which, most curiously, is the opposite of erotically thrilling to me. I quickly discounted the erotic tone of the writer's discussion of personhood, belonging, and power dynamics. It became for me a kind of background, a soundtrack...the sounds!...and thus led me to the sad, wistful realization that Author Noll was always questing, Quixote-like, for the one greatest possible reward of sex: Connection. Giving your sexual energy to someone in return for their emotional vulnerability isn't routinely rewarded. It felt to me that, through this entire read, I was hearing a longing tone and a sad wistful sigh as another orgasm rocked the narrator.

    It is, in the end, a sad acknowledgment of the "eternal hell of libido" as the organzing principle of a life. Fascinating, strong meat yet savory in its easy-goes-down tartare preparation. Definitely a worthy addition to your shelf.

    Thursday, December 29, 2022

    THE GAY IMMIGRANTS PAGE: AN ANGEL IN SODOM: Henry Gerber and the Birth of the Gay Rights Movement & WHEN THEY TELL YOU TO BE GOOD: A Memoir


    Tin House
    $27.95 hardcover, available now

    Rating: 4.5* of five

    The Publisher Says: After immigrating from Jamaica to the United States, Prince Shakur’s family is rocked by the murder of Prince’s biological father in 1995. Behind the murder is a sordid family truth, scripted in the lines of a diary by an outlawed uncle hell-bent on avenging the murder of Prince’s father. As Shakur begins to unravel his family’s secrets, he must navigate the strenuous terrain of conquering one’s inner self while confronting the steeped complexities of the Afro-diaspora.

    When They Tell You to Be Good charts Prince Shakur’s political coming of age from closeted queer kid in a Jamaican family to radicalized adult traveler, writer, and anarchist in Obama and Trump’s America. Shakur journeys from France, the Philippines, South Korea, and more to discover the depths of the Black experience, and engages in deep political questions while participating in movements like Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock. By the end, Shakur reckons with his identity, his Jamaican family’s immigration to the US before his birth, and the intergenerational impacts of patriarchal and colonial violence.

    A profoundly composed narrative parallel in identity to that of George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue and Eddie S. Glaude Jr.’s Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, Shakur compels the reader to consume the political world of young, Black, queer, and radical millennials today.


    My Review
    : Introspection is part and parcel of getting old. But, and this is relatively new to my consciousness, that's because it's part and parcel of the Othering that US/capitalist society perpetuates, perpetrates even, daily. Old people are Othered, queer people are Othered, Black people, Asian people, female people: All are Othered by the depressing, repressive regime of normalizing cis-white male-straightness.

    I'm sure that condition suits some people, but it gives me the shuddering horrors. Sounds more like something Cthulhu uses to torment victims than a desirable identity.

    Author Shakur decides, early on, that "...if I was going to be lost and swallowed alive out in the world, then I’d at least get something for myself out of it," and he definitely makes good on that promise to himself. He is a generous soul and shares pieces of his journey to living authentically as an out, gay Jamaican-American man. He sees through structures at twenty-seven that took me another decade to understand as designed systems of repression, so of course I'm jealous as well as impressed. In about equal measure.

    His mother, the one who chose his father, doesn't really know what to do about her wild, ungovernable son. Of course she sees his dad in him and, as the man was murdered for being his own resistant, wild self, she's got to be scared witless for her baby boy. His gayness seems to her an unnecessary provocation of the people who already hate her son for being. Being Black, being Jamaican, just (when you boil away the froth) being is his unatonable sin, his unwittingly committed crime.

    The issues between mother and son don't stop; they are my own favorite moments in the book. After all, I'm old, and I'm thinking about the awful patterns of my own family that I've repeated ad infinitum. Reckoning with family damage will always command my attention. But Author Shakur, decades behind my age and out front of my life experience, is going through his travails for hisownself. That meant I got more of his politics than I, ideally, would've had. Not that I disagree with him! Just that I can already see where this truck is headed and am, therefore, not confident he'll get off voluntarily.
    I realized that taking our history seriously and the fact that we are a part of shaping it is important. If we don’t engage with and protect our history, it will be mutilated or erased.

    Very true, Author Shakur; but your mother's "don't be gay when you're here" is, in spite of being the antithesis of this truthful moment, excellent survival advice. While the two aren't from the same passage in the book, both represent the passage of Author Prince Shakur from angry kid to dangerously committed-to-action young adult.

    What makes this first-ever book from Editor Hanif Abdurraqib less than a five-star read for me is the very thing that makes it a pleasure to read: The digressive and conversational writing of a talented young man. A bit of pruning of dangling participants, mentioned once and never again; a few smoothings of filler description when talking about places he's been to set a scene for us; minor, and understandable lapses from a tyro team. (Authors aren't always the most helpful editors...they already know where their fellow creator is headed, where we-the-readers don't always.)

    I'll make a prediction: We will, if we are lucky, hear more from Author Prince Shakur. And it will get better and better. When it starts out this good, that's a wonderful future to look for.


    AN ANGEL IN SODOM: Henry Gerber and the Birth of the Gay Rights Movement

    Chicago Review Press
    $30.00 hardcover, available now

    Rating: 4.5* of five

    The Publisher Says: Henry Gerber was the father of American gay liberation.

    Born in 1892 in Germany, Henry Gerber was expelled from school as a boy and lost several jobs as a young man because of his homosexual activities. He emigrated to the United States and enlisted in the army for employment. After his release, he explored Chicago’s gay subculture: cruising Bughouse Square, getting arrested for “disorderly conduct,” and falling in love. He was institutionalized for being gay, branded an “enemy alien” at the end of World War I, and given a choice: to rejoin the army or be imprisoned in a federal penitentiary.

    Gerber re-enlisted and was sent to Germany in 1920. In Berlin, he discovered a vibrant gay rights movement, which made him vow to advocate for the rights of gay men at home. He founded the Society for Human Rights, the first legally recognized US gay-rights organization, on December 10, 1924.

    When police caught wind of it, he and two members were arrested. He lost his job, went to court three times, and went bankrupt. Released, he moved to New York, disheartened.

    Later in life, he joined the DC chapter of the Mattachine Society, a gay-rights advocacy group founded by Harry Hay who had heard of Gerber’s group, leading him to found Mattachine.

    An Angel in Sodom is the first and long overdue biography of the founder of the first US gay rights organization.


    My Review
    : A lifelong member of one or another sexual minority, I'm here to tell you that I've never once heard of Henry Gerber. Magnus Hirschfeld, the German sexologist and early campaigner for gay equality, I'm familiar with, I've even seen movies about him; Henry Gerber is terra incognita. And he lived in my own country!

    This is why visibility matters, laddies and gentlewomen. This is why we need Jim Elledge and Hugh Ryan and Peter Staley and thousands of others who were there when things changed, whose voices are lifting the stories "They" would prefer to forget exist and are taking every action to be sure do not reach any wider an audience than "They" can prevent.

    The publisher's synopsis above does a good recap of the outlines of the story being told here. I can add to it a few ideas I came away from the read sure I'd felt because I read Gerber's story: Some of us are born cranky and contrarian, prickly and often unpleasant to interact with. That was Josef Dettlef, as he was when he came to Chicago in 1913. He never changed...very few of us do.

    The Germany he grew up in, not a privileged childhood by any means but not starving either, had a nascent gay-rights movement (follow the Hirschfeld link above) and was flirting with an unthinkable thought: Transgender people should be treated as the gender they identify, not simply in accordance to the sex organs the genetic lottery assigned them. The ethos, then, in young Dettlef's life wasn't like the one he found when he emigrated to Chicago (with a younger sister in tow) to find his future in Amerika. To be sure, Dettlef wasn't about to stop having sex with other men. Like every city everywhere ever, Chicago had such people in it who were amenable (often, for a price, the most surprising people become amenable to sex outside the ordinary) to handsome young Josef's advances.

    What happens next is no surprise to any twenty-first century US citizen: entrapment and arrest, a stay in a mental institution being "cured". But young Josef, in World War One America, had a skill the US Armed Forces needed...he spoke fluent German. He was offered a fresh start if he'd go forth and sin no more, while working for a forces newspaper. What a mistake, a glorious, beautiful error of judgment that exposed Henry (as he now was) to organized, science-based, and well-led gay rights groups. A model, then, for Henry's future plans in Chicago where he returned in 1923.

    I will say that, knowing what is to come, I felt desperately sad as Henry's legally constituted Society for Human Rights met its inevitable end at the hands of our very own Federal Government. Such a woke organization, what? Henry's energies being vast, he continued to work for the betterment of QUILTBAG people everywhere through multiple channels, including encouraging Robert Scully to finish A SCARLET PANSY, and during times when the risks were mortal. (One of his organizations, "Contacts," was one my own gay uncle belonged to in the 1930s!) It was part of Henry Gerber's life-long quest to make himself normal...not by changing himself, but by changing society.

    What made this book so delightful to read was an accident of history. Henry Gerber would've faded into dust by now, dying as he did in 1972 before the American Psychiatric Association struck homosexuality off its list of mental disorders, but for a lovely surprise. His friend Manuel boyFrank started, and maintained, a correspondence with Henry Gerber that ranged over the rest of each of their lives. Since he kept all Henry's letters, we have the words of the man himself to tell us of his efforts, his feelings about them, and his life-long loneliness. (Cranky, spiky people often end up alone.)

    That accident has delivered the twenty-first century a trove of real-life, real-time even, materials that aren't mediated in the way of most historical figures' life stories. There is, and make no mistake it is in this book!, a paper trail of some breadth behind Henry Gerber. It alone would give us none of the richness and texture of Author Jim Elledge's book. While that is greatly to the credit of the story-teller's art, it also tends to lead him into speculative reconstructions of things not necessarily on the source material's pages. This isn't a crime, however, and while I myownself would prefer not to have that much of it, the picture of Henry Gerber's life is deep and beautifully colored. It acts as a strong base and as a wide frame around gay life a century ago, when we weren't supposed to be here among you at all.

    Wednesday, December 28, 2022

    THE DEADLY DREAMS PAGE: NO ONE LEFT TO COME LOOKING FOR YOU, chasing dreams goes bad & AFTER THE LIGHTS GO OUT, chasing the bad dreams


    Soho Press
    $26.00 hardcover, available now

    Rating: 4.5* of five

    The Publisher Says: A harrowing and spellbinding story about family, the complications of mixed-race relationships, misplaced loyalties, and the price athletes pay to entertain—from the critically acclaimed author of Three-Fifths

    Xavier "Scarecrow" Wallace, a mixed-race MMA fighter on the wrong side of thirty, is facing the fight of his life. Xavier is losing his battle with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), or pugilistic dementia—a struggle he can no longer deny. Through the fog of memory loss, migraines, and paranoia, Xavier does his best to keep in shape while he waits for the call that will reinstate him after a year-long suspension.

    Until then, he watches his diet and trains every day at the Philadelphia gym owned by his cousin-cum-manager, Shot, a retired champion boxer to whom Xavier owes an unpayable debt. Xavier makes ends meet by teaching youth classes at Shot’s gym and by living rent-free in the house of his white father, whom Xavier has been forced to commit to a nursing home because of the progress of his end-stage Alzheimer’s. Dementia has revealed a shocking truth about Sam Wallace, and Xavier finally gains insight into why his Black mother left the family when Xavier was young.

    As Xavier battles his aging body and his failing brain, each day is filled with challenges and setbacks. Then Xavier is offered a chance at redemption: a last-minute comeback fight in the largest MMA promotion. If he can get himself back in the game, he’ll be able to clear his name and begin to pay off Shot. But with his memory in shreds and his life crumbling around him, can Xavier hold onto the focus he needs to survive? After the Lights Go Out is a haunting, unflinching look at the aftermath of a career in MMA—as Xavier forgets everything around him, you'll want to remember every single word.


    My Review
    : This is one rough ride of a book. There are people whose road through life is not paved, has many potholes, throws up gravel and clouds of caliche dust as their bald-tired forty-year-old chassis bounces and shakes over to one ditch, down into another. And that is who we're with here. Xavier is not, was never, expecting a limo ride, not even waiting for a cab ride...he's still rollin' but the roll is slow and it's not getting faster.

    The bad marriage he came from was made worse by its permanent poison-gift to him. His mother was Black and father white, so he knows something a lot of people don't have to: Not belonging to either side in a war isn't being neutral. That's a gift only those with a clear side, one that can't be denied, are given. He's mixed. He's mixed up, he's mixed it up in fights his whole life. No one wanted him on their team so he used what strength and speed he could find to go one-on-one with other rage-filled testosterone-poisoned Others.

    Now nearing forty, he's sure he's got no future. So is everyone else but they never thought he had a present. His efforts to get one more headline bout in Mixed Martial Arts are, as we meet him, wavering in and out of existence in front of eyes that don't connect to his brain right anymore. The voices he hears clearest are the ones in his battered head, they aren't competing with tinnitus. At least they aren't the ones telling him things he doesn't want to hear...his father, foundering under Alzheimer's disease's heavy burdens, doesn't remember him but does remember how to hate, his chances to fight again, more, are steadily melting away and there's nothing else he can do to make a living.

    The life of someone always on the margins is, realistically, never going to turn into a happily ever after. Xavier never once thought it would. He chooses his own adventure, like he always has, right up to the last bitter dreg from the cup.

    Author Vercher tells this deeply moving, unbearably honest story in direct, immediate prose. He selects the small images...a texting app's continuation icon of dots keeping him on tenterhooks about his future, the feeling of hanging his hand out the window while driving his dad's old car bringing back the times he did the same thing as a kid...that make Xavier real. That keep him, however fleetingly, locked in to the present moment. They work very well, are sharp but still small enough to make them fit right on everyone.

    What isn't quite as smooth is the passages where Xavier is learning his mother and father, very late in life from my point of view, are fully human people. What Author Vercher does to make Xavier aware of his mother's full humanity was a scene both a little long as well as underdeveloped. It needed not to feel rushed as Xavier learns Evelyn was a very different person than the mother he had. The issues around dementia were handled very well, in my experienced opinion. When Xavier realizes that disinhibition is part of the course of dementia, it rocks his world. It did not need to be played out in the over-the-top manner that it was. Honestly, the choice to make Xavier's pathology so very foregrounded wore on my patience at times. Every reader has their own crotchets...these are mine.

    Perfection not being of this Earth, I can honestly say that your Yule gift cards, spent on this deep and emotionally honest journey, will not be wasted. This second novel tells me that Author Vercher is a gift to the readers who want to get into a story and come out changed.

    Bravo, good sir.



    Simon & Schuster
    $26.99 hardcover, available now

    Rating: 4.5* of five

    The Publisher Says: A darkly comic mystery by the author of Hark and The Ask set in the vibrant music scene of early 1990s New York City.

    Manhattan’s East Village, 1993. Dive bars, DIY music venues, shady weirdos, and hard drugs are plentiful. Crime is high but rent is low, luring hopeful, creative kids from sleepy suburbs around the country.

    One of these is Jack S., a young New Jersey rock musician. Just a few days before his band’s biggest gig, their lead singer goes missing with Jack’s prized bass, presumably to hock it to feed his junk habit. Jack’s search for his buddy uncovers a sinister entanglement of crimes tied to local real estate barons looking to remake New York City—and who might also be connected to the recent death of Jack’s punk rock mentor. Along the way, Jack encounters a cast of colorful characters, including a bewitching, quick-witted scenester who favors dressing in a nurse’s outfit, a monstrous hired killer with a devotion to both figure skating and edged weapons, a deranged if prophetic postwar novelist, and a tough-talking cop who fancies himself a retro-cool icon of the homicide squad but is harboring a surprising secret.

    No One Left to Come Looking for You is a page-turning suspense novel that also serves as a love letter to a bygone era of New York City where young artists could still afford to chase their dreams.


    My Review
    : Coming home to my era of Manhattan living in this story was a pleasure. It has Author Lipsyte's requisite snarky, biting wit. It felt like I was back in the after-hours club post-Save the Robots listening to the coke-fueled motormouthing. Oh my...I've said too much.

    But it's true, this is the way it felt, and looked, and even smelled.

    What I think makes this a good read, then, is its way of being in harmony with my own memories. It's an evocation of a vanished time and place. So how will it hit someone whose memories aren't like mine?

    Right on the funny bone.
    Later, we go get a drink at the Jew-Hater's bar.

    The merry old pogromist, with his lovely shock of alabaster hair and craggy fascist visage, pours us free shots with our beers. Maybe he means to lubricate his audience.

    "The Yids, they cut the penis," he says, casual, as though relaying news of an off-season baseball trade. ... "God makes people perfect. The penis, perfect. Why cut it up? Only the Yid thinks of that."

    The bland face of evil, played for a few yuks...if you're going to work as this book's audience, you'll need to see that as humor. Offensive and crass and humorous.

    Otherwise this isn't a story I think you'll get into. And you'll need to want to get into it...the blizzard at the end of the book needs to feel like we felt then, a suspended moment of possibility, a confusing intersection of many corners all hidden behind drifts and shockingly cold winds forcing your face away from the way you started out wanting to go. That moment in the narrator's life was one where there were many ways to go. He went too far away from the one he thought he wanted and it took a blizzard to show him where he had to be.

    Author Lipsyte won't be going back to the days of wine and roses, as the old saying has it; he's fifty-four now, and this story just couldn't come from anyone not fifty-four. My viewpoint, ten years ahead of him, was different enough to make this fun trip to a time I loved familiar enough. I wouldn't have seen it from this angle but it was still speaking to me.

    Over forty-five? Give this a read today. What else is that gift card for if not to try to time travel?

    Monday, December 26, 2022

    THE DEATH PAGE: ALL THE LIVING AND THE DEAD: from Embalmers to Executioners, an Exploration of the People Who Have Made Death Their Life's Work & THIS PARTY'S DEAD: : Grief, Joy and Spilled Rum at the World’s Death Festivals

    THIS PARTY'S DEAD: : Grief, Joy and Spilled Rum at the World’s Death Festivals

    Unbound Books
    $25.00 hardcover, available now

    Rating: 4.5* of five

    The Publisher Says: What if we responded to death... by throwing a party?

    By the time Erica Buist’s father-in-law Chris was discovered, upstairs in his bed, his book resting on his chest, he had been dead for over a week. She searched for answers (the artery-clogging cheeses in his fridge?) and tried to reason with herself (does daughter-in-law even feature in the grief hierarchy?) and eventually landed on an inevitable, uncomfortable truth: everybody dies.

    With Mexico’s Day of the Dead festivities as a starting point, Erica decided to confront death head-on by visiting seven death festivals around the world—one for every day they didn’t find Chris. From Mexico to Nepal, Sicily, Thailand, Madagascar, Japan and finally Indonesia—with a stopover in New Orleans, where the dead outnumber the living ten to one—Erica searched for the answers to both fundamental and unexpected questions around death anxiety.

    This Party’s Dead is the account of her journey to understand how other cultures deal with mortal terror, how they move past the knowledge that they’re going to die in order to live happily day-to-day, how they celebrate rather than shy away from the topic of death – and how when this openness and acceptance are passed down through the generations, death suddenly doesn’t seem so scary after all.


    My Review
    : I grew up in the Southwest. It's part of my mental furniture to know what calaveras are and to appreciate that marigolds are the right floral tributes on Día de los Muertos. Skeletons, and skulls, are endlessly fascinating. An old artist-friend of mine created one of my most treasured possessions, sadly destroyed in a move, of a drawing she entitled "Martinis on My Horizon" with stylish skeletons quaffing the elixir of the goddesses, the gin martini.

    I am, in other words, the exact reader Author Buist aimed at. She shot; she scored.

    I found her grief for the death of her friend Chris, father of her future husband, entirely ordinary. He sounds to me like someone it would very much hurt to lose. And, since humankind can't physiologically stay in protracted peak states like grieving, what better way to cope with the pain than toss a party? The author's dedicatory "Love is not a reward, and death is not a punishment. If you thought they were, this book is for you," made me legs twitch with the fight-or-flight response. It's that true, it's that deep.

    What made me glad that I got the book from the publisher via Edelweiss+ is the timelessness of grief and grieving. Every generation of humans feels it, which is why we have so many grave goods for archaeologists to plunder and ponder; many of our animal cohabitants seem to as well, eg elephants and crows; life being, then not being, inside someone we know and love is just flat weird. My old friend D'Anne died just before Christmas. I'd known her for fifty-three years. All the things that meant something to her in relation to me are now only in my mind. It's...strange.

    And I hope her current husband is planning a bash! She'd've loved that. It's a great way to remember someone. As witness some of the author's rowdier experiences of parties where the guest of honor isn't breathing anymore. Offering the dead many of life's little luxuries has an old and distinguished history. The Japanese and Chinese, in today's cultural landscape, are the masters of the offerings with many things like paper iPhones burnt for the departed's use in the afterlife. Mexico's Day of the Dead isn't quite that au courant but it's got the best material culture, the calaveras de azúcar offered to the ancestors:
    ...and the modern innovation of the Día de los Muertos parade that the James Bond film Spectre made popular before COVID killed it, too.
    So as I said, the author found her dream reader here. Why, then, didn't I rate the read more highly? I enjoyed it. I was educated by it, as painlessly as I think is possible. But the very thing that made it a painless read, a lovely glass of juice with a hefty glug of 151 rum in it (as the author discovers in New Orleans, visiting the Museum of Death and quaffing a Hurricane at Pat O'Brien's for afters), makes it feel more like it's about Author Buist on a weird kind of very amusing dark tourism trip. (I myownself vote that we start normalizing "thanatourism" for this; it's not necessarily dark!), is the thing that wore thin: It's about her. Her grief, her loss. Learning about other cultures was her way of coping, of giving her husband support in his own grieving process.

    I know that's what it said on the tin. I know that's the explicit purpose for the book's existence. I support the author's quest and am glad I made her acquaintance, happy that her journey was rewarded as richly as it was in ways familiar and unfamiliar as her friends and her bosses and her husband made room for it all.

    But I can't help my feeling of slight "I'm done now"ness. Her job, ably performed, merits the full four stars. Her amusing and emotionally resonant narrative voice merit the other half-star. But the tone, in the end, brought my personal enjoyment down from all the stars to almost all of them.

    Still very much a book I'd urge you to make room for on your shelf.


    ALL THE LIVING AND THE DEAD: from Embalmers to Executioners, an Exploration of the People Who Have Made Death Their Life's Work

    St. Martin's Press
    $29.99 hardcover, available now

    Rating: 4.5* of five

    The Publisher Says: A deeply compelling exploration of the death industry and the people—morticians, detectives, crime scene cleaners, embalmers, executioners—who work in it and what led them there.

    We are surrounded by death. It is in our news, our nursery rhymes, our true-crime podcasts. Yet from a young age, we are told that death is something to be feared. How are we supposed to know what we’re so afraid of, when we are never given the chance to look?

    Fueled by a childhood fascination with death, journalist Hayley Campbell searches for answers in the people who make a living by working with the dead. Along the way, she encounters mass fatality investigators, embalmers, and a former executioner who is responsible for ending sixty-two lives. She meets gravediggers who have already dug their own graves, visits a cryonics facility in Michigan, goes for late-night Chinese with a homicide detective, and questions a man whose job it is to make crime scenes disappear.

    Through Campbell’s incisive and candid interviews with these people who see death every day, she asks: Why would someone choose this kind of life? Does it change you as a person? And are we missing something vital by letting death remain hidden? A dazzling work of cultural criticism, All the Living and the Dead weaves together reportage with memoir, history, and philosophy, to offer readers a fascinating look into the psychology of Western death.


    My Review
    : A book with a truly tragic genesis, the author losing a baby at birth; but it led her to look for her grief to be assuaged in discovering the connective tissue in our society's death industry. She made a terrible tragedy into a very interesting study and came away with the kind of book that many of us read with squeamishness as we're utterly disconnected from death.

    No one doesn't think about death, and dying; and, as we've professionalized and medicalized every part of the process, we're going to the bookshelf for our answers. Luckily there are those among us who like learning things and then explaining them. (As long as they're not men, they're lauded for it.) Author Hayley Campbell did a major research project in this book's genesis. It comes across more in the endnotes...they're extensive. I realize I'm very much in the minority here, but I prefer endnotes with spiffy little superscript numbers that, in ebooks, function as hyperlinks; I'm perfectly willing to navigate away from the page when I want to know something's source. But la, the wishes and the wants of one not the author, or the editor, are mere wing-flappings of the tiniest of midges. (I'm waxing lyrical. Send help!) Encountering, for example, the saline hydrocremation process was something I wanted to know more about right then and there...but you can bet your sweet bippy I've bookmarked the UK WIRED Magazine story for future discovery.

    A less delightful thing that somewhat tarnished my reading experience, and is the source of the missing half-star on the rating about, was the lived experience of her tragic loss of a baby. It was very, very present in the text. It is a loss second to none in the world for painful permanence. As such it felt, to be honest, overused as a rhetorical device. This is a subjective measure, and I freely acknowledge that a recently bereaved parent might find this inclusion unobtrusive, or positively helpful. I did not.

    The other side of that coin, however, was my discovery that there are certain souls, who if there is a god deserve a total and complete remission from their sins, who specialize in bereavement midwifery. How very, very beautiful a soul those people must possess. How vast their reserves of kindness and empathy must be. And how deeply glad I am that they do this job.

    Executioners, on the utterly other hand, aren't people I think should be employed. I have this wacky idea that killing people is wrong. Killing them as a profession is not one iota different in my own eyes to being a serial killer. And that, mes vieux, is that. (The executioner interview was interesting, I will admit, but changed my opinion not one jot.)

    While I'm sure others might feel triggered at a frank discussion of the process of one's body's cessation of function, it fascinated me. It is a sad truth that most people in today's Western, privileged society have little or nothing to do with their dying fellow beings. They're the ones most in need of this book's honesty. I fear they won't pick it up and I truly advise you, should you be so unfortunate as to face your own mortality in an imminent way, to read and gift this fascinating story of what dealing with death truly entails.

    I will always advocate for the "it's better to know than to wonder and fear" end of the information-reading spectrum. Author Hayley makes the process of educating yourself about the aftermath of dying as painless and as compelling as is, for example, one of the mysteries or thrillers that so many of us devour.

    Friday, December 23, 2022

    December 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 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!


    A New World by Steven Popkes

    Rating: 4.5* of five

    The Publisher Says: On his first voyage seeking the Far East, Columbus finds a new world occupied by intelligent dinosaurs.

    The expedition does not go as planned.

    Steven Popkes lives in Massachusetts on two acres where he and his wife raise bananas, persimmons and turtles.

    He works in aerospace making sure rockets continue to go where they are pointed. He insists he is not a rocket scientist.

    He is a rocket engineer.


    My Review
    : A shortish read, novella length, about the very best possible outcome of Almirante Cristóbal Colón's disastrous voyage to the New World: An enemy worthy and capable of resisting the scumdog religious nuts instead of normal people susceptible to diseases the evil bastards miasmically transmitted to them.

    It's a lovely thought.

    Told from several points of view in its fewer-than-100 pages, it doesn't linger on details or travel down intriguing side paths. That's understandable but regrettable. The presence of a Marrano on the voyage is, I think, allohistorical...but I can't prove that. I enjoyed the different outcome of first contact...not everything going the Spaniards' way...and relished very deeply the hints of complexity in the New World's radically new social structure. I think this is plausible since the asteroid hit the Yucatán in our own timeline by accident; as little as ten minutes earlier or later, the entire history of the planet would certainly have been different.

    Would dinosaurs have survived? Would humans have evolved if they had? Sure, why not, this is a story! And a fun one, perfect for #Booksgiving. To yourself, or to others.


    Why Bad Governments Happen to Good People by Danny Katch

    Rating: 3.5* of five

    The Publisher Says: The election of Donald Trump has sent U.S. and the world into uncharted waters, with a bigoted, petty man-child at the head of the planet’s most powerful empire. Danny Katch indicts the hollowness of U.S. political system which led to Trump’s rise and puts forward a vision for a real alternative, a democracy that works for the people.


    My Review
    : I'm decidedly a leftist in my political stances. I would never, ever, ever vote for 45...not even for his execution.

    I'm in sympathy with this book, then. Why would I only give it three-and-a-half stars? Because it's a humorous look at how the oligarchy got to control the political landscape...Obama would've been a Rockefeller Republican in the rational politics of my youth...that's short on ideas for what to do to replace the consensus.

    Taking shit away from people is satisfying on a personal, vengeful level..."look! LOOK what your gullibility and stupidity have cost actual, real human beings!"...but look to the Soviet revolution for what happens when all you do is take away things with no plan for what to replace them with. Stalin. Putin. All the awful abusive cruelties and murderous outrages those men got away with by stepping into a void and saying, "obey me and I will protect you."

    We got 45. And deserved him. The issue I take with this book isn't that it's wrong, it's that it's naïve and almost willfully unrealistic about what it will take to change the course of modern politics.

    Explaining the problem ain't anything like enough anymore. The entrenched scream machine bellowing idiotic ideas into otherwise thoughtless heads isn't going to crank down on its own. It needs to be made unprofitable. And it needs to have a palatable-to-decent-people alternative to shove Them towards or it will fail and that catastrophe is what we're living through.

    Real change for the better, please. No more cleverly insulting analyses, please.

    A Kindle copy will only set you back $1.99 if you need a laugh at the yokels. (non-affiliate Amazon link)


    The Conscience Economy: How a Mass Movement for Good Is Great for Business by Steven Overman

    Rating: 3* of five

    The Publisher Says: A generation of people around the world, from Boston to Bangkok, from New York to New Delhi, are making everyday choices in ways that defy traditional logic. They are judging where and how their clothes were made, not just how they fit. They are thinking global but buying local. They are spending their money and their time, forming loyalties, casting votes and even enjoying entertainment based increasingly upon their desire to make a positive impact on others and the world around them. This new generation believes they can and must make the world better, and they expect business and government to get with the program.

    The implications of the Conscience Economy are not “soft.” Ignore it, and your consumer or voter base will rebel, using a host of free tools and cheap connectivity to spread their rejection to peers around the world in real time. Leverage it, and Conscience Culture is a wellspring of financial upside.

    The Conscience Economy is the must-read guide to this unprecedented shift in human motivation and behavior. Author Steven Overman, Chief Marketing Officer for Kodak, provides context, inspiration and some basic tools to help readers reframe how they evolve and grow whatever it is they lead—whether it’s a community, a business, a product, or a marketing campaign. From the boardroom to the startup loft, from the State Department to the pulsing marketplaces of the developing world, The Conscience Economy will help international leaders, influencers, investors and decision-makers to manage, innovate and thrive in a new world where “doing good” matters as much as “doing well.”


    My Review
    : Exactly what it says on the tin. A corporate exec is talking to his fellows in front of us, making the point that there's lotsa money out there chasing Doing Good projects and products. This is news we don't hear that the very real progress made on slowing down climate change in under a decade...that we could *just*maybe* not lose everything as Earth shrugs her shoulders to dislodge the fleas and ticks that we resemble.

    Lower rating for using the corpocratic speechifyin' tone mixed with self-aggrandizement, but not the citations and suchlike gubbins one would expect to back it up.

    Rentable for three weeks for $8.26, which ain't no bargain but beats $31.95 to buy it. (non-affiliate Amazon link)


    It's Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics by David Faris

    Rating: 3.5* of five

    The Publisher Says: It's time for Democrats to strike while the iron is hot...

    The American electoral system is clearly falling apart--more than one recent presidential race has resulted in the clear winner of the popular vote losing the electoral college vote, and Trump's refusal to concede in 2020 broke with all least for now. Practical solutions need to be implemented as soon as possible. And so in It's Time to Fight Dirty, political scientist David Faris outlines accessible, actionable strategies for American institutional reform which don't require a constitutional amendment, and would have a lasting impact on our future.

    With equal amounts of playful irreverence and persuasive reasoning, Faris describes how the Constitution's deep democratic flaws constantly put progressives at a disadvantage, and lays out strategies for "fighting dirty" though obstructionism and procedural warfare: establishing statehood for DC and Puerto Rico; breaking California into several states; creating a larger House of Representatives; passing a new voting rights act; and expanding the Supreme Court.

    The Constitution may be the world's most difficult document to amend, but Faris argues that many of America's democratic failures can be fixed within its rigid confines—and, at a time when the stakes have never been higher, he outlines a path for long-term, progressive change in the United States so that the electoral gains of 2020 aren't lost again.


    My Review
    : Too late. Even with the clear and ringing message of 2022's midterms in their ears, the Democrats...comme d'habitude...aren't taking action to protect, and extend, voting-rights legislation or moving to curb the lunatic right-wing majority on the Supreme Court's power.

    So Faris's arguments are hot air blowing in the wind. He's correct. His prescriptions would work. But laddies and gentlewomen, there's no political will to do the sensible, morally correct thing among the oinking grafthogs battening on the dark-money dollars of contemptible scum.

    A Kindlebook costs $9.99. (non-affiliate Amazon link)


    The Téuta's Child by S. G. Ullman

    Rating: 4* of five

    The Publisher Says: Once upon a time in the Téuta, the ground shook. The cliff fell, and boulders came tumbling down, crushing everything and everyone in their path. The surviving villagers blamed Welo, the nightmare giant, for the disaster.

    When little blind Kaikos notices mysterious spiritual activity on the ground, she must keep it a secret. The villagers will not hesitate to sacrifice Welo's cursed granddaughter if it stops the earth from shaking again.

    With the fragile line between love and hate erased by fear, Kaikos must brave growing darkness to survive.

    The Téuta's Child is a gripping tale of loss and redemption, set in neolithic times.


    My Review
    : I think you need to be in the proper mood for this story to work its magic on you. This week of all weeks of the year, it's the time to read about the fates of those Different and what simply living their lives can demand of them.

    It's not like there's a lack of evidence that we're responding the same ways now as we did then.

    Author Ullman tells his tale at a deliberate pace. There's not a single moment that he shorts its proper attention. And that is, in this story, a strength. He's making a world for us that isn't like the one outside. The people, now...they're always just people. But in response to stresses and pressures that we don't really experience the same way in the modern world, they use the same tools out of the same toolbox that we do.

    This isn't a knock on the author's choices, it's a compliment...I'm noting for you the best thing a read can do: Make the Other into a familiar figure by taking us, the readers, outside our little compartments of mind. Among the pleasures of fiction is this one, this shock of the novel tempered into explorations of the nature of novelty. I recommend this for a long, comfortable reading in the Solstice's cold days.

    At $5.99, a Kindle edition won't break the bank (non-affiliate Amazon link).


    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 will be linked below the current month's crop.


    All Are Welcome by Liz Parker

    PEARL RULED: 18%

    Rating: 2.5* of five

    The Publisher Says: A darkly funny novel from a fresh new voice in fiction about brides, lovers, friends, and family, and all the secrets that come with them.

    Tiny McAllister never thought she’d get married. Not because she didn’t want to, but because she didn’t think girls from Connecticut married other girls. Yet here she is with Caroline, the love of her life, at their destination wedding on the Bermuda coast. In attendance—their respective families and a few choice friends. The conflict-phobic Tiny hopes for a beautiful weekend with her bride-to-be. But as the weekend unfolds, it starts to feel like there’s a skeleton in every closet of the resort.

    From Tiny’s family members, who find the world is changing at an uncomfortable speed, to Caroline’s parents, who are engaged in conspiratorial whispers, to their friends, who packed secrets of their own—nobody seems entirely forthcoming. Not to mention the conspicuous no-show and a tempting visit from the past. What the celebration really needs now is a monsoon to help stir up all the long-held secrets, simmering discontent, and hidden agendas.

    All Tiny wanted was to get married, but if she can make it through this squall of a wedding, she might just leave with more than a wife.


    My Review
    : Ineffectual Dick musing, "If Robbie didn't come home, it meant Dick couldn't disappoint him," drove the final nail in the coffin of my increasingly decaying readerly corpse. I was ready for this to be dark, and funny; instead it was sad, and sarcastic.

    This had the ideas of an episode of Schitt's Creek, which was blessed with an amazing alchemical miracle of writers and actors and producers and directors. This is the story that didn't make the cut, got flensed in the writer's room and worked over by the showrunner, and now washes up here in front of me, homophobia and clueless rich privileged assholes *galore* sitting in the same seats.

    If I'd paid for it, I'd be spittin' mad. As it is, I won't get those eyeblinks back but it was at the very least a cashless transaction. I don't recommend it to you.


    End of the Roadie (A Mystery for D.I. Costello #3) by Elizabeth Flynn

    PEARL RULED: 30%

    Rating: 2* of five

    The Publisher Says: Brendan Phelan, rock star, is playing in a stage show that includes guns and whips. As it reaches its climax, a shot rings out—but it's not part of the show. The body of Oliver Joplin, one of the road crew, lies lifeless outside the stage door. Detective Inspector Angela Costello and her team investigate, but they quickly discover that several stage hands, and Phelan himself, are adept with firearms—and that Joplin was widely disliked and distrusted. So why had Phelan kept him on, despite the reservations of his crew? Joplin's emails reveal the presence of a shadowy figure stalking the dead man. Who might profit from Joplin's death?

    Little by little, Costello unpicks the web of lies. But unless one key person opens up, she can't crack the case. And that is not going to happen.


    My Review
    : When the production manager of the rock star's road show takes six lines to say "the star added the dead guy to the staff, not me, I hated the bastard," I realized I wasn't going to finish this story.

    Gay is hilarious, you see, thinking a famous rock star might be gay can cause a room full of his sycophants to clutch their sides in laughter, and the fact that he's accused of having sex with a fourteen-year-old girl elicits a flurry of justifications like "plenty of girls that age are sexually active" (with middle-aged men? that's a problem, folks) and "how was he to know?" (maybe keep it zipped while on the road? just spitballin' some thoughts here).

    The sleuth and her team follow procedures, I suppose, but I couldn't tell you what those were. I'm spoiled by Ann Cleeves and her ilk in this regard: The say what the procedures are. Anyway. It comes down to "I do not like this book or the characters in it so I am exercising my readerly right to bugger off now."

    I do not recommend this read to you.


    The Steam Man of the Prairies by Edward S. Ellis

    PEARL RULED: 51%

    Rating: 2.5* of five

    The Publisher Says: One of the earliest examples of steampunk literature, this 1868 tale was also among the first American science-fiction novels and the very first literary instance of a mechanical man.

    Extremely popular and much imitated in its day, the story concerns a teenage inventor who constructs an automaton to help him explore the American prairie.


    My Review
    : "...and with not a single Indian in sight!" reads the cliff-hanger to chapter 11 of this early science fiction story. It was then that my last nerve, frayed by racism and the passage of 150-plus years, snapped.

    I can't do it. I can overlook and explain away with the best of 'em if I'm gettin' somethin' for it. I was not only not gettin' nothin' for it, I was puttin' in a damn sight more effort than I care to put in for a pleasure this attenuated. I tried three separate times, before and during the pandemic, and now ~after(?) it. I think that's more than fair, and I've never made it past this point.