Monday, April 26, 2021

tiny book reviews.2021.n8 -- the vanishing half by brit bennett


Of the New York Times list of five best works of fiction in 2020, this is the third I've reviewed. 

It's a popular book; it took some time for it to become available at my library.

I liked this book. It's sort of about being the thing you choose to be rather than the thing everyone around you would have you be, and about the hard consequences of those choices. But it is this on a profoundly deep level, centered around those elements of identity that are probably the most core--race, gender, sexuality, daughter, sister--and around which we experience the heaviest cultural inertia. It's about passing.

I liked the premise. I liked the characters. I liked how the story developed. 

I'm not sure I liked how the book ended. 

There seemed to be more in the story than what we got. Or there could have been more. I guess I felt, from the beginning, that I was going to be led through a John Irving-type saga of a narrative, only to have the back 3/4 of the story condensed into a few dozen pages. Like good food at a good restaurant that, in the end, doesn't really really fill you up. Characters that I wanted to know more about, that I wanted to see go on adventures to make their mark on the world (or have the world leave their mark on them), just sort of...didn't do that.

Tasty. Meaningful. Unsatisfying (which is to say, in my opinion, bordering on incomplete).

4 of 5 stars.

tiny book reviews.2021.n7 -- a spool of blue thread by anne tyler


Valerie's been trying to get me to read Anne Tyler for ages. I'm not sure why I haven't.

I needed something to read. I asked Valerie for an Anne Tyler book. This is what she gave me.

I don't really know what this book is about--a house, a family, a woman, a man, a child, ambition, class, migration, belonging... It's sort of about all of those things and not really any of those things. I'm not sure it's really about anything. But it's a lovely story. Anne Tyler--if this one book is anything to go by--is a stupendous storyteller. 

It's a light book. It's fun. There are laugh-out-loud moments. 

And, I guess, there are bits that one might consider moments of profundity--about the inevitable indignity of growing old, I think. About life cycles. But this is a light book. Which is to say not heavy. Tyler lays her profundity down like goose feathers rather than a lead blanket.

4 of 5 stars.

Monday, April 5, 2021

tiny book reviews.2021.n6 -- undaunted by john brennan

If you don't know, John Brennan was CIA Director during Obama's second term. He also worked in the White House during Obama's first term as Assistant to the President for Homeland Security. All of that after a full 25-year career with the CIA. 

This tiny book review comes in the form of four brief takeaways.

(1) The CIA is interesting, and reading about the experiences of a career CIA man was interesting. John Brennan's career in particular is interesting, but I imagine the memoir of any "company man" (or woman) would be similarly interesting.

(2) I enjoyed the insights Brennan's memoir provided regarding a host of geopolitical conflicts. He certainly prioritizes contemporary issues over historical ones, but, as it is a memoir, his career provides some historical context. Terrorism. Russia. Cyber security. China. North Korea. Middle East conflicts of many flavors. 

I love this stuff. More than once in reading the memoir I felt the familiar pangs of regret that I did not pursue a career with the State Department or similar.

(3) The country simply did not know how good it had it with President Barak Obama. The more I learn of Obama's presidency, the more I'm struck by the sense that he is, in every way, exactly the sort of person we should want as the country's chief executive. Smart. Thoughtful. Hard-working. Kind. Even ("no drama Obama"). Moral. Empathetic.

It's absolutely fine to hold differences of opinion regarding policy priorities and a vision for the country, but the personal attacks and questioning of his intentions during and after his presidency is just so dumb. He is a better person and was a better president than our country deserves.

(4) On the other hand, it might not be possible to find a person less qualified for the position than his successor, Donald Trump. I'm not sure there's much point to writing more. I guess I'll just say that Brennan's interactions with Trump once again highlight how pathetically ill-prepared and ill-suited he and his circle were for the presidency. 

I'm so glad that chapter has closed.

4 of 5 stars.