Books Read in November

“A Visit from the Goon Squad” a novel by Jennifer Egan

It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel.

This novel centers around Bennie Salazar, a former punk rocker turned aging record exec and his assistant, Sasha who is dealing with her compulsion to steal. From their stories we spin into the past and future of not only Bennie and Sasha but also other characters who have entered into and passed through their lives at one time or another. Egan is a master of POV. These narratives utiliize everything from third person, first person and second person, to some with an omniscient voice able to see into the future. The most touching and original story is structured in the format of a Powerpoint presentation. Really. You have to read it.

“How to Be Alone” essays by Jonathan Franzen

My third novel, The Corrections, which I’d worked on for many years, was published a week before the World Trade Center fell.

Franzen turns his critical, thoughtful and utterly curious eye to a wide range of topics in this collection. We are exposed to the inner workings of a prison in one essay while in another he exposes the severe dysfunction of the Chicago USPS. He struggles with massive consumerism and the invasion of technology into our lives and reveals in  a moving piece his father’s battle with Alzheimer’s. For those who know of his brief and controversial stint as an Oprah author for “The Corrections,” you’ll want to read the essay where he describes exactly how he perceives what happened, not what you think you know.

“How to Buy a Love of Reading” a novel by Tanya Egan Gibson

The idea came to Carley’s father amid the whir of a hundred handheld sanders at Bunny Gardner’s Sweet Sixteen, an event that had bust into life with the birthday girl’s parents whipping a satin drape off their pedestaled daughter at the center of the Glen Club ballroom, where she held a pose she would alter tell her classmates was “Winged Victory, except not headless” through applause people would say she milked a bit too long before stepping down.

The “idea” her father had was to hire someone to write a book exactly to Carley’s specifications, in the hopes of instilling a love of reading in his daughter who had been showing complete apathy for whole reading endeavor, according to her teacher. This story is a delightful romp for bibliophiles but Gibson manages to plunge us beyond this intriguing premise into a world where not only are books color coordinated to home decor and a love of reading can be bought and paid for but also where the bonds of friendship are tested again and again, where unbearable isolation lurks in unlikely people, where betrayal is a staple and where the power of story is realized.

“Notes from the edge Times” essays by Daniel Pinchbeck

Recently, a $250 million film linked the year 2012 with a mass wipeout of humanity from earth crust displacement and super-volcano spew.

I read these compact essays with (as Pinchbeck describes) an open yet skeptical mind. More open as he discusses the financial meltdown and the need for a new way of thinking about money, more skeptical when he veers into thoughts on aliens.

On money: “We tend to forget that money is a social agreement, not a natural thing. If basic trust in our institutions evaporates, money, in its current form will become worthless.”

On capitalism: “One problem with capitalism is that it is not self-sufficient, but depends on the constant availability of new markets, forcing expansion by creating ever-increasing amounts of debt.”  This left me with the visual of a snake swallowing its tail.

After I finished reading this thought-provoking book a slight spiritual malaise clung to me. The problems we face financially, politically, globally, environmentally seem overwhelming. The political gridlock pushes me from overwhelm to outright despair at times. Then I remember Gandi’s advice to be the change you wish to see in the world comes to me and I can breathe again. I remember that I can tend to my little corner of the world and that those good intentions and actions will ripple out into the world.


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