Tears We Cannot Stop (A Sermon to White America) by Michael Eric Dyson

tears   Unnerving, unsettling, a message we all need to hear…   *****

What does it mean to be black in America? Dyson answers this question in dramatic fashion. Using the clever setup of a sermon, complete with all the parts of a good Baptist message, he relentlessly lays out the harsh reality of being black in this country.

This is a hard book to read, at least if you are white. It made me realize how little I know of the black experience, even though I thought I had a fair amount of knowledge. It made me want to argue with the author on several points, only to find as I read more, I was wrong. I felt, at first, Dyson was too angry in his writing, only to come to realize justifiably so.

At times the message seems repetitious, but then maybe it needs to be for the reader to fully grasp the severity of it. There is a quote from Stephen King on the cover that says, “If you’re white, Dyson tells you what you need to know – what this white man needed to know at least.” I would add my name to that list.

As I read, I kept asking myself, “Okay, if this is the problem, what am I supposed to do about it?” Dyson answers that question in the section labeled Benediction. Giving the reader concrete steps any of us can follow, which takes this from being just a rant on white privilege to a call to erase the divide between black and white.

What does it mean to be black in America? The question alone makes this a must read.

This one gets five stars.

Letters To A Young Muslim by Omar Saif Ghobash

letters  A book by any other name would still be a must read….   *****

This book could as easily have been titled, with a few adjustments, “Letters To A Young Christian”, or even “Letters To A Young Person”.  While the focus is on what it means to be a Muslim, the advice given is advice all of us should listen to.

Ghobash documents his coming of age, and how he began to question the things around him. Rather than succumbing to what he was hearing from “the establishment”, he opened himself to other ideas and took on a larger world view of not only Islam, but of life.

The letters help to correct the misconceptions many have of the Muslim community.  The stereotypical Muslim is no more accurate than fundamentalist Christians representing Christianity. Ghobash’s discussion on the role of women in society is a good example of this. His thoughts on how Muslims view the divisions within their community, and how they view the West, are eye opening.

While promoting education, discussion, sharing ideas, listening to others, respecting others, questioning, as ideals for a young Muslim, these are the things all of us could aspire to. I did find it interesting that Ghobash states the reason Muslims do not honor the Bible is because of the inaccuracies in it. For him, the Quran is the sacred, infallible text. Scholarship  questions that bias.

This book was a surprise in that it contains so much great advice on life, not just religion. I am going to reread it, more slowly the second time, and ruminate over the thoughts presented.

This one gets five stars, and is a must read.

 

Rather Be The Devil by Ian Rankin

ratherbethedevil  Rebus retired, maybe time for the series also…  ***

Being an Ian Rankin fan, I was excited to be in Australia and purchase this book before it was available in the States.  Unfortunately, it was somewhat of a disappointment.

Following John Rebus as he uncovers a mystery is usually worth the read. His conflict with superiors and his odd relationship with the gangster, Big  Ger Cafferty, normally make Rankin’s novels page turners. This one falls short on both counts.

The lack of conflict made the reading tedious and the unraveling of the story was not gripping. The ending seemed rushed after all the pages used to set it up, and I closed the book unsatisfied.

Maybe Rankin should retire this series and start a fresh one.  This one gets three stars.

 

Audacity by Jonathan Chait

audacityRegardless of one’s political views, this is a must read….     ****

Yes, Jonathan Chait writes about the Obama presidency and his successes. But he also writes about Obama’s failures. Whether the successes are failures may be a matter of debate, but Chait gives a balanced account for his reasoning. Setting politics aside, for me, there are two reasons everyone should read this book.

The first is admittedly about exactly what Obama accomplished in eight years as President. Even I, as a fan, was not aware of all the things Obama was able to do, some of which, as Chait states, will prevail. I do disagree with the author in that some of what he feels will last, may not under the current political state.

The second reason is more important, in my mind at least. Chait pulls back the curtain on just how bogged down our political system is and how party lines have made progress virtually impossible.  I know Democrats and Republicans are at odds but to see just how bad it has become is truly sad. Chait shows how division is not new but how wide the gap has become. It wasn’t that long ago that if a proposal was good for the country, a compromise could be reached between parties to see it implemented. Now, regardless of the benefit of an idea, if it is put forward by one party, the other is automatically against it. This applies to both sides. The Republicans acted this way under Obama, and now the Democrats are doing the same thing.

This is a book that hopefully will make people think, discuss, and act.

This one gets four stars.

 

 

 

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

bornacrime

Hoping for a sequel…..  ****

Trevor Noah has been a great replacement for Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. He is intelligent, quick, funny, and talented. This book gives a look into the incredible story of Noah growing up in South Africa.

The stories are an eye opener as to what it was like living under Apartheid, having a black mother and a white father, and having one amazing mother.  Using humor, Trevor documents the hardships, struggles, and prejudice that forged him into who he is today.

Some of the stories are described in lengthy detail, some are too long, and some details are repeated unnecessarily. My only objection is that I was hoping to read more of how he became the comedian he is today. Maybe that will be in the next book.

At a time when this nation is facing a resurgence of racism, bigotry, and hatred, this story is even more important for everyone to read. It shows just what can happen when those attitudes are carried to the extreme.

This one gets four stars, and is a must read.

Night School by Lee Child

night-school-hc

 

Lesson learned…..   *

After reading and reviewing  Make Me by Lee Child, I had promised myself it would be the last Reacher novel I would read.  When I heard about Night School and the story being about Reacher when he was still in the Army, I decided to give it a try.  Surely it would be different. Unfortunately, I should have kept my promise.

This book definitely qualifies as Child’s worse to date. There may be one as bad coming in the future, but this reviewer will not be reading it.

Child wrote this at a second-grade level. Short sentences, minimum description, and repetition. If you eliminate the repetitive prose, this would be a novella. It reads almost as bad as, “See Dick run, see Jane run too”. Maybe he was just honoring his pen name, Child.

Child also moves the reader from one scene to the next by ending with a date or time, then starting the next section with the date or time in the next location.  This is fine once or twice, but is overdone to the point of absurdity.

Night School has all the elements of the formula used in previous Reacher novels. Reacher fights four guys, then later eight guys. He makes love to one of the central characters. He is able to figure things out more quickly than those around him. And of course he bucks authority.

There are too many plot holes to mention here but the worst was the idea that the government could lose track of ten items that become the central part of the book. I won’t spoil it by saying what they are but just know by the time you get to that part the bad writing has already spoiled it.

If I were reviewing this for lazy, bad writing it would get five stars, but since that is not the criteria, it gets one star, and that is being kind.

 

 

The Alienist by Caleb Carr

thealienist

 

Classical detection at its best…..   ****

To my chagrin, I have to admit I had never heard of Caleb Carr until I read reviews of his Surrender, New York. Several compared his newest novel to The Alienist, which prompted me to want to read it first.

The Alienest is a very interesting read. Written in 1994, it is set in 1896. This is important because it was easy to forget that I was not reading a book written in the 1890’s. That is how well-written this book is. I was transported back in time, not only from the descriptions, but also by Carr’s writing style.  This book is like reading one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, the style and language are similar.

The story revolves around a team formed to discover who is killing young boys. In this sense, this is a classic detective story. The hook is that all the forensic science we are accustomed to in a novel, was just being discovered and was not as accepted as it is today.

The team assembled to solve the “whodunit”, consists of a psychiatrist, a journalist, two police detectives, and a female secretary from the police department. They’re all working off the books, reporting to the police commissioner, who happens to be Theodore Roosevelt.

Combining loosely historical facts, a Sherlock Holmes type of character, a little of Jeffrey Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme, a bit of Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware, some of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter, and shades of Carolyne Keene’s Nancy Drew, Caleb Carr has written a great read.

The book was a page turner, not because of mystery or suspense, but because I wanted to follow the logic and actions of the characters. The climax and discovery of the killer were anti-climatic. The end seemed rushed compared to the depth of detail in the rest of the book.

This one gets four stars, and I now can read Surrender, New York with a more critical eye..