11 September

Five Books I Need (And Really Want) To Finish

by Jon Katz

I guess you might call it an embarrassment of riches. I have five wonderful books I am eager to read, and I’ve read at least a chapter of each one, and I have to figure out how to make some more time for reading because every one of these books is compelling, even gripping.

I often read two or three books at a time, but not five. Two of these books are non-fiction, the rest terrific novels (at least so far) I can’t wait to read. I can’t read three novels at once, but I can handle two great non-fiction books at roughly the same time. This morning, I was up until 3 a.m. reading.

I wish I had a week-long vacation, I know how I’d spend the time.

Right now, I’m reading She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twomey, the two New York Times reporters who first broke the Harvey Weinstein story in 2017. The book is gripping – I’m halfway through and could not put it down, it tells the until now untold story of how sexual harassment against women in Hollywood and elsewhere was, like the Catholic Church and Jeffrey Epstein scandals, systems protected and enabled by the media, lawyers, prosecutors, agents, publicists and hired intimidators.

It took a village to be Harvey Weinstein and get away with it for so long, these two reporters have given us a powerful reason to value journalism and hope it stays above. It took a big newspaper with lots of money and terrific reporters and much courage and hard work to break a story that has transformed our understand of sexual harassment and how it is protected and perpetuated by powerful and arrogant men.

It” also a riveting study of some contemporary heroes, to which women will be forever in their debt, from Kantor and Twomey to movie stars and victims like Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow.

The ways in which these reporters got some frightened famous women to finally speak out is one of the great stories of our time.

I am beginning to understand from reading about these awful scandals that there is something genetically and biologically off with so many men, especially those in power. Weinstein appears as an almost pathological sexual dominator and predator of beautiful and talented young women.

He is a serial monster in every sense of the term, and bless these two brilliant reporters for finally nailing him to the wall, nobody in Hollywood thought it was ever possible.

Maleness is not just a cultural matter, it may also be as dangerous to the planet as climate change. I can’t recommend this book highly enough, it is just fascinating, every page.

Also: Trick Mirror, Reflections On Self-Delusion,  by Jia Tolentino, the brilliant young essayist at the New Yorker Magazine who writes about the modern worked wonderfully from the perspective of the young.

She has an amazing mind, and her own journey from an Evangelical family in Houston to The New Yorker is almost as interesting as her essays, which include essays on life on the Internet, Seven Scams,  Pure Heroines, the Cult Of The Difficult Woman, and the story of Ecstacy.

If you want to think, and sometimes be surprised,  this book will get you there.

It’s really tough to keep up with the technologically and culturally advanced young of 2019 if you’re not one of them.  Tolentino is taking me into the world, I love the way she writes and thinks, she has a truly original mind, and clear, crackling lyrical voice.

Then the novels: This Tender Island by William Kent Krueger, a beautiful story of abused and frighten children who flee their tormentors and set off in a canoe down the Mississippi to find a real home. It’s an epic and iconic American kind of story, beautifully written and from the heart. I’m 100 pages into it, and can’t wait to get back to it.

Out Of Darkness: Shining Light, by the African Novelist Petina Gappah, a novel inspired by the true story of the famed missionary Dr. David Livingstone, who was loved so much by the African villagers he served that they carried his body 1,500 miles through the jungle to get his body back to England for a proper burial.

This is the story of that journey, told by a  famous African novelist. This has to be a unique and fascinating perspective on a mythic tale from real life.

Livingstone seems to be one of the very few European missionaries the natives there loved, even worshipped. I haven’t started this book yet, so I can’t comment on it, but I have read a lot of wonderful reviews and the topic really captures my imagination.

Inland, a novel by Tea Obrecht (The Tiger’s Wife) set in the lawless, drought-ravaged Arizona territory in 1893. The story centers on the life of a frontier woman whose husband has gone off in search of water, and a young bandit fleeing the law. I got 80 pages into it, and I had to stop because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to stop. Searing and riveting were the words that came to mind.

The Tiger’s Wife was one of the most beautifully written books I can recall.

These books remind me that good books are very much alive, and I am lucky to have five of them I can’t wait to read. I’ll make the time.

2 Comments

  1. So looking forward to reading Krueger’s new book. Love his writing as well. I spoke with him at a writers’ chat a few years ago and recall how passionate he was about completing it. Kent’s a great guy and well respected around here.

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