The Twenty-Three

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Patricia Henderson, forty-one, divorced, employed at the Weston Street Branch of the Promise Falls Public Library system as a computer librarian, was, on that Saturday morning of the long holiday weekend in May, among the first to die.

-Linwood Barclay, The Twenty-Three: A Promise Falls Novel

A Fine Line

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It was around the tenth of April. The air was cool and clean. A fragrant breeze, rare for this city, was blowing, and the sun splattered liquid light over us and the grey facade of the courthouse. Carmelo Tancredi and I were standing near the entrance, chatting.

-Gianrico Carofiglio, A Fine Line

Good Behavior

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Letty Dobesh, five weeks out of a nine-month bit for felony theft at Fluvanna Correctional Center, straightened the red wig over her short auburn hair, adjusted the oversize Jimmy Choo sunglasses she’d lifted out of a locker two days ago at the Asheville Racquet Club, and handed a twenty-spot to the cabbie.

-Blake Crouch, “The Pain of Others,” in Good Behavior: The Letty Dobesh Chronicles

The Unreal and the Real

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Mrs. Jerry Debree, the heroine of Grong Crossing, liked to look pretty. It was important to Jerry in his business contacts, of course, and also it made her feel more confident and kind of happy to know that her cellophane was recent and her eyelashes really well glued on and that the highlighter blush was bringing out her cheekbones like the nice girl at the counter had said.

-Ursula K. Le Guin, “The First Contact with the Gorgonids,” in The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin

Killers of the Flower Moon

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In April, millions of tiny flowers spread over the blackjack hills and vast prairies in the Osage territory of Oklahoma. There are Johnny-jump-ups and spring beauties and little bluets. The Osage writer John Joseph Mathews observed that the galaxy of petals makes it look as if the “gods had left confetti.” In May, when coyotes howl beneath an unnervingly large moon, taller plants, such as spiderworts and black-eyed Susans, begin to creep over the tinier blooms, stealing their light and water. The necks of the smaller flowers break and their petals flutter away, and before long they are buried underground. This is why the Ossage Indians refer to May as the time of the flower-killing moon.

-David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

Every Man A Menace

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Getting out of prison is like having a rotten tooth pulled from your mouth: it feels good to have it gone, but it’s hard not to keep touching at that hole.

-Patrick Hoffman, Every Man A Menace: A Novel

City of Dreams & Much More

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“From the Dutch to the British, featuring a concentration on the waves of Irish and German in the late 19th century, this thoroughgoing work offers a host of immigrant sagas that were integral to the creation of the New York City cauldron…An endlessly fascinating kaleidoscope of American history.” Here’s a review of City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York.

“Perhaps most revealing, [Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the retired Army three-star general who is set to become White House national security adviser after President-elect Trump takes the oath of office] seems quite comfortable with the prospect of a religious war. ‘This kind of war is not at all new. It created our world,’ he writes, citing the Protestant Reformation. ‘The world badly needs an Islamic Reformation, and we should not be surprised if violence is involved. It’s normal.’” Here’s a review of The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies.

“Veteran sports journalist [Paul] Dickson (Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick) returns with another excellent remembrance of a larger-than-life persona, legendary baseball manager Leo Durocher, whom he describes as ‘cocky and flamboyant.’”Here’s a review of Leo Durocher: Baseball’s Prodigal Son.

“[Frances] Wilson, who wrote an award-winning biography of Dorothy Wordsworth (the poet’s sister), makes [Thomas] De Quincey a character so immediate you half expect him to materialize. The book would explode in a cloud of fluttering, perfumed pages, and the diminutive (he stood at 4 foot 11 inches) writer would step forth, shake your hand, and hit you up for a loan.” Here’s a review of Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincy.

“In his captivating new book, The Revenge of Analog, the reporter David Sax provides an insightful and entertaining account of this phenomenon, creating a powerful counternarrative to the techno-utopian belief that we would live in an ever-improving, all-digital world. Mr. Sax argues that analog isn’t going anywhere, but is experiencing a bracing revival that is not just a case of nostalgia or hipster street cred, but something more complex.”

 

Trump and Me

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It is deeply unfair to say that Trump lies all the time. I would never suggest that he lies when he’s asleep. On the other hand, he famously gets by on only four hours a night. I suspect this might be less a function of requiring very little sleep than of Trump’s agitation at being unable to manipulate his unconscious. Four hours might be as much loss of control as he can tolerate. We’ll never know, and neither will Trump. He told one biographer, “I don’t like to analyze myself because I might not like what I see.” This indicates either extraordinary restraint and self-awareness or an utter lack thereof. Or both.

-Mark Singer, Trump and Me

Just Around Midnight & Much More

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“From Little Richard and Chuck Berry to the Dominoes, Ike Turner, and Howlin’ Wolf, rock and roll’s founding figures were African American, yet ‘rock’ as we know and hear it now is coded white. In [cultural historian Jack] Hamilton’s telling, rock’s long evolution from a raucous offshoot of black party music to a lavishly produced, aesthetically ambitious, and securely white art form ‘is a story of the forced marriage of musical and racial ideology.’” Here’s a review of Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination.

“Each of the 64 pieces collected here…is an evocative vignette of a bygone era: a soldier wounded in the first world war who now sells newspapers on the streets of Vienna, a dog riding on his back; two Gypsy girls with their skirts billowing in the winds, looking ‘like two wandering flags’; Russian émigrés, bringing with them ‘the wild aroma of their homeland, of dispossession, of blood and poverty, of their singular romantic destiny’; even the president of Albania makes an appearance. [Joseph Roth's] The Hotel Years is an instant classic.”

Bruce Sterling’s Pirate Utopia!

Says David Oshinsky (Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital):Most physicians at Bellevue and elsewhere believed in the miasma theory — that clouds of bad air caused all kinds of disease. They had no concept that an invisible organism could cause so much damage, and that was what germ theory was about. Bellevue physicians were really on the forefront, particularly the younger physicians, in pushing germ theory forward.”

Two cybergurus offer a ‘user’s manual to the twenty-first century.’ ‘Our technologies have outpaced our ability, as a society, to understand them,’ write MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito and veteran Wired writer Jeff Howe. ‘We need to catch up.’” Here’s a review of Whiplash: How to Survive Our Fast Future.

Where the Jews Aren’t

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The man who made Birobidzhan famous had the gift of knowing when to run. That he lived into his late sixties is testament to his outstanding survival instincts. On his sixty-eighth birthday, he was shot to death, a final victim of the century’s most productive executioner. He had been a writer who preferred to leave his stories ragged and open-ended, but his own life, which ended on what became known as the Night of the Murdered Poets, had a sinister rhyme and roundness to it.

-Masha Gessen, Where the Jews Aren’t: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region