A few notes on the books I’ve been reading:
■ Purge (Sofi Oksanen; 2008. Fiction.)
The sometimes annoying device of toggling time (in this case, the present and the years leading up to during the Soviet occupation of Estonia) and point-of-view is, in this tense novel, effectively employed.
■ The Shawl (Cynthia Ozick; 1990. Fiction.)
“My niece Stella,” Rosa slowly gave out, “says that in America cats have nine lives, but we — we’re less than cats, so we got three.” She saw that Persky did not follow. She said, “The life after is now. The life before is our real life, at home, where we was born.”
“This was Hitler.”
“Poor Lublin,” Persky said.
“You wasn’t there. From the movies you know it.” She recognized that she had shamed him; she had long ago discovered this power to shame. “After, after, that’s all Stella cares. For me there’s one time only; there’s no after.”
Persky speculated. “You want everything the way it was before.”
“No, no, no,” Rosa said. “It can’t be. I don’t believe in Stella’s cats. Before is a dream. After is joke. Only during stays. And to call it a life is a lie.”
■ The Book of Jonas (Stephen Dau; 2012. Fiction.)
Unasked, a bookseller pressed this book on me a few years ago, and for some reason, I had thought it was a “feel-good story” about the relationship a soldier and a young person he rescued during a combat mission. This is not that. At. All. To me, the novel read as a meditation on the nature of otherness, on how alone each of us really is. Yes, it concerns war and its senselessness, but it also explores family and loss and grief and isolation, both social and cultural. Highly recommended.
■ The Bunker, Volume 3 (Joshua Hale Fialkov; 2015. Graphic fiction.)
I have a love-hate relationship with the artwork in this series, but the story has hooked me completely, to the point that I cannot believe I haven’t seen news of its screen, large or small, adaptation.
■ The Squirrel Mother (Megan Kelso; 2006. Graphic fiction.)
Obstinately and, to this reader, pointlessly obscure.
■ The Silence of Our Friends (Mark Long; 2012. Graphic fiction.)
Long, whose father was a television reporter during the time of Silence‘s events, draws on childhood recollections to describe the civil unrest in Texas in the 1960s. Well-told story and exceptional artwork.
■ Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (Cal Newport; 2016. Non-fiction.)
That Newport’s suggestions (including “Quit social media”) are obvious goes without saying, but his earnest admonitions may prove helpful to those who are re-evaluating their pursuits.
■ When Breath Becomes Air (Paul Kalanithi; 2016. Non-fiction.)
For me, Breath is a sentimental companion to Being Mortal, which I read late last year. Moving. Worthwhile. Yet… if you have time for only one, choose Being Mortal. The essence of Breath can be found in Kalanithi’s essay “Before I go” (Stanford Medicine, Spring 2015).