December 19, 2017

At least there is one piece of good news in 2017 – independent brick and mortar book stores are back, and so are books! People are reading books! Hallelujah!

More good news – 2017 saw many excellent books that help us think, confront us with the terrible risks we face, get us lost in other worlds, empathize, learn, or just plain enjoy. Purchase one of these wonderful books as a present and your loved one will swoon.

After that intro I can’t go straight to the scary stuff so instead rush out and buy a copy of Amor Towle’s A Gentleman in Moscow. Count Alexander Rostov is adjudged an enemy of the people by a Bolshevik tribunal and held under house arrest for thirty years in the Hotel Metropol. Rostov is one of the most unforgettable characters in recent literature – he maintains his dignity throughout every trial; the reader sees the value of a mannered life. The writing is superb. You’ll develop a fondness for aristocracy.

The fictionalized Abraham Lincoln is featured in George Saunders Lincoln in the Bardo but he’s one of a large cast of fascinating characters, almost all of whom happen to be dead. One of them sadly is Lincoln’s son Willie, who died in February 1862. Willie and the others inhabit a supernatural place separate from the living but not quite passed on to finality. The cast of characters contends for Willie. His heartbroken father returns to the crypt to hold his son’s body. Read every page, slowly, but read the final page most slowly of all.

One wouldn’t think that producing a slender volume like On Tyranny would land a professor on best seller lists, but academic interest met the times for Timothy Snyder. Snyder is a historian of the Holocaust who has studied twentieth century authoritarianism. He sees clear warning signs in 2017 America, and offers some steps each of us can take to save our democracy. I’ve already become active in some of them and so should all of us.

Last year I urged readers to take up Jane Mayer’s Dark Money: the Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. This year we have an indispensable companion to Mayer’s book, Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. MacLean undertakes an intellectual history of the work of Nobel winning economist James Buchanan, who also served as a political strategist for right wing libertarian movements (including Pinochet’s Chile). MacLean shows that Buchanan, who died in 2013, provided the ideas essential to Charles Koch’s assault on democracy. If you want to understand the Republican tax bill, read Democracy in Chains. If you want to understand why the billionaires' behind Massachusetts Question 2 of 2016 went to such lengths to keep their identities secret, read Democracy in Chains.

If you click on the links above you’ll find none of them are to a certain online seller of commodities. Don’t buy from them. Instead, patronize your local independent bookseller. Take some of my suggestions or better yet, just browse and you’ll find wonderful books on topics you’d never before considered. That’s how I found Andrew Greer’s Less, a Novel. Or support a local author you’ve enjoyed before; that’s how I found Tom Perrotta’s Mrs. Fletcher. Or a not-local author you respect; that’s how I found Robert Wright’s Why Buddhism is True.

I’m hoping Santa brings me the new Muhammad Ali biography by Jonathon Eig, Ali: A Life. I mentioned this to my wife recently while we were visiting a bookstore and she knows Santa personally.

When you give a book you reveal yourself as the classy, caring type you really are. Books are our friends so your loved one will gain a new friend. What better gift could you give than a real, authentic, book?

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