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My Four-Star Books in 2015

Jan 31, 2016
I rate the books I read (I usually finish about 64 a year). Three stars is Recommended; four stars is Highly Recommended. Here are my 26 Four-Star (and one rare Five-Star) books from 2015 (the most since 2011). This was the year I discovered Mary McGarry Morris, a great teller of tales. Bold-faced items are standouts:

Masters of Atlantis, Charles Portis
The blazing world, Siri Hustvedt
Closing time, Joe Queenan
Just mercy, Bryan Stevenson
History of the rain, Niall Williams
And so it goes, Charles J. Shields
Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
How to build a girl, Caitlin Moran
The collected short fiction of Bruce Jay Friedman
How it all began, Penelope Lively
Preparation for the next life, Atticus Lish
An army at dawn, Rick Atkinson
England and other stories, Graham Swift
The trees, Conrad Richter
Songs in ordinary time, Mary McGarry Morris
Euphoria, Lily King
American rust, Philipp Meyer
Vanished, Mary McGarry Morris
Bunker Hill, Nathaniel Philbrick
A dangerous woman, Mary McGarry Morris
Pride and prejudice, Jane Austen (A rare five stars)
A hole in the universe, Mary McGarry Morris
Honeydew, Edith Pearlman
10:04, Ben Lerner
The god delusion, Richard Dawkins
Mislaid, Nell Zink
Persuasion, Jane Austen

tags: Books and Libraries

Sermon on the Slope

Jan 01, 2016
We all are angry. We all are vindictive. We all are envious.

None of us of sound mind and body is free of the inclination, all too often, to feel and express the most deplorable, dispiriting, and destructive of human emotions. And the fact that we all are also capable of compassion and the many varieties of love does not compensate for that fact, unless we consciously reject the destructive in favor of the life-affirming attitudes and emotions.

It is especially important that we do this in the political arena. The Republican field in the 2016 presidential race is filled with individuals who are adept at arousing our least admirable and most destructive emotions. The more adept they are, the higher they rank in the polls, with Donald Trump—part demagogue, part buffoon—today leading the pack.

These people, whichever of them becomes the party’s nominee, would have us renege on the social contract we have with ourselves.

They would increase the income inequality that already today is marked by the largest gap in history and a disappearing middle class.

They would consign to the capitalist system large swaths of public life—education, retirement, infrastructure—that depend upon cooperation and not competition or the profit motive to succeed.

They would marginalize and criminalize large sectors of our population while protecting the privileges and power of a tiny band of the super-rich.

They would enter upon dangerous military adventures that have already siphoned trillions from our coffers in pursuit of losing battles and in support of corrupt dictatorships that tyrannize and murder their own people.

Unfortunately, on the Democratic side, though the picture is not so dire, neither can it be considered very hopeful. Hillary Clinton is the epitome of a “business as usual” candidate, and only at our great peril can we carry on as we have for the past 35 years. And even Bernie Sanders, with his “political revolution” fails to adequately address questions of militarism, domestic unrest, environmental catastrophe, and—surprisingly since this is his defining issue—income inequality (see my Open Letter to Bernie Sanders in September 2015).

We must set aside our anger, our vindictiveness, our envy, and our fears. We are better than this. We are stronger than this. We are a caring, liberty-loving, rambunctious, ingenious, and generous people. And our happiness depends on promoting the happiness of others. The fact that we have not attended to this business for a generation or two is responsible for the sorry state we find ourselves in at this start of a new year.

tags: ATN | Politics

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