On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

ontyranny The second book every American should read…..   *****

The first “book” every American should read is the Constitution of the United States, the second would be Snyder’s On Tyranny. Fortunately, they both come in pocket size so are easy to carry around. Under the current political climate, this isn’t a bad idea.

The book begins with a quote from Leszek Kolakowski, “In politics, being deceived is no excuse.” With the current flood of “fake news”, that quote alone is worth the price of the book. But that is just the beginning of the lessons this treatise offers.

Snyder sets the tone in the prologue with these statements: “Americans today are no wiser than Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the twentieth century. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.” He then proceeds to give twenty lessons on just how to accomplish this.

Each lesson has an action item, an example of how it applies to the past, and what each of us can now do to prevent our future from becoming something other than democratic.

There is so much meat in this little book it needs to be read several times. Passages should be marked and committed to memory. The lessons here should be filters through which we view what is happening around us today.

Perhaps one of the best quotes comes at the end of lesson nineteen: “A nationalist will say that ‘it can’t happen here’, which is the first step toward disaster. A patriot says that it could happen here, but that we will stop it.”

Regardless of one’s political stance, this is a book for all Americans to read and digest.

This one gets a strong five stars.

 

Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

Gwendy's Stephen King actually put his name to this?……….    *

I am a Scotch drinker. I drink it neat. Neat means no water, no ice, nothing to dilute the nectar of the gods.  I have read all of Stephen King’s novels and short stories. I love his writing, except for Duma Key.  He is the god of horror.  So why would he dilute his great writing with someone else, in this case, Richard Chizmar, and produce what can only be labeled as an elongated short story not worthy of attaching his name?

This “novella” is a composite of The Monkey’s Paw (which, at least, King does admit in the story), The Black Box from the New Twilight Zone, with a hint of Carrie. King adds the character Mr. Farris who seems like he just stepped out of the Dark Tower series.

This story is listed as Horror/ Occult and Suspense. It should have been listed under Teen and Young Adult Fiction. It is a coming of age story with a bit of paranormal thrown in. The plot is weak, and the level of writing is juvenile. The ending is all roses and daffodils. The main character, Gwendy, is destined to become a famous writer. Really?

I can understand Stephen King wanting to help lesser known writers like Richard Chizmar. But this story does a disservice to both of you.

This one gets one star.

 

Bits and Pieces by Noa Aliha

41FI310qJHL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_

 

An amazing reflection from a young voice…  *****

There are many different types of poetry. Some that express a political thought, or a reflection on nature, or an observation of people or places. Then there is the poet that lays bare their soul, laying out their inner most thoughts and struggles. Noa Aliha is of this last category.
With a refreshing honesty and candor she expresses through her poems the feelings, the search for meaning, and the frustration of her life. While written from a female viewpoint, there is much all of us can learn and relate to in her work. Her words are at times melodic and each piece allows us into just a bit more of her thoughts.
This is a must read for any one who loves poems. This one gets five stars
.

The Secret Place: A Novel by Tanya French

51-XKseB0bL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

An excellent read…..   ****

One of my favorite authors is John Connolly. Tanya French reminds me of his style, both are more literary than the likes of Child, Deaver, or Michael Connelly. Thus, this was an excellent read.

The story is intricate and moves back and forth in time in alternating chapters. A student was killed a year ago and as the detectives seek to solve this cold case, every other chapter tells the story of what actually happened as it was unfolding before the murder. Once into the rhythm of the back and forth, I settled into this page turner.

French does an excellent job of writing from the point of view of not only the detectives, but also from the minds of the young girls central to the story. While the reader knows from the beginning who was killed, the revelation of the murderer does come as a bit of a surprise.

My only negative comment is at times French over writes. There is a bit too much description in some parts. This was my first of her novels I have read, and will definitely be reading the rest.

This one gets four stars.

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

tedchiang    Stories to make you think…..   *****

After viewing the film, Arrival, I wanted to read the short story on which it was based. This led me to discover Ted Chiang. This collection of short stories is well written, thought provoking, and in true sci-fi fashion, deals with today’s social issues in a futuristic setting.

Story of Your Life was the catalyst for the film, and as I expected, gave me a better understanding of the message buried in the movie under the “added” Hollywood touches.

Two of the short stories deal with religion. Tower of Babylon is an interesting and unique view of what it might have been like to build the tower of Babel. Hell Is the Absence of God is a theological diatribe on what it may mean to be separated from God, and as such seemed out of place in this fiction collection.

I found the most interesting story to be Liking What You See: A Documentary. The story deals with beauty and how it affects our thinking and actions. Set in a future where it is possible to turn off the ability to distinguish beauty, Chiang imagines how that would make life different.

These stories are not only entertaining but as I mentioned, are thought provoking.

This one gets five stars.

Jolie Is Somewhere (Madame Budska Book 2) by Alana Cash

jolie   Not my cup of tea….   **

Having read Saints In the Shadows (book 1), I was looking forward to book 2. Book 1 was gripping and hard to put down, this one not so much.

Alana Cash is a good writer. Her descriptions pull you into the story and make you feel you are standing with the characters watching the events unfold. The problem in this book, is that the story doesn’t really go anywhere. I kept reading, hoping for a twist or turn or even a hint of the brilliance I had found in book 1.

This is a story of redemption, of betrayal, of human kindness, of how we look at life. While these are good themes for a novel, Cash doesn’t do justice to them. Even the metaphysical aspects, the category for which it is written, fall short.

Both book 1 and 2 suffer from poor editing and distracting typos. Book 2 even more so.

This one gets two stars

 

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.