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Book Reviews

The Zone of Interest

by Martin AmisZone-of-interest

I have tried my hand at writing satire from time to time, and inevitably a lot of people don't get it.

Maybe it's because I didn't do it very well.

Or maybe people just have a problem recognizing satire.

Given the popularitiy of The Daily Show and SNL, you'd think the genre would be pretty easy for readers to spot.

When I picked up "The Zone of Interest" before Christmas and started reading, I was struck by Martin Amis' writing, but I found myself, an experienced satirist, wondering, "Is this satire or not?"

It took a little, but soon became obvious. Yes, it was satire.

I guess part of the reason his traditional German-language publisher declined to print the German tranlation of "The Zone of Interest" was because it was satire and a lot of folks wouldn't realize it, and you wouldn't want to start hacking off Germans who are understandably sensitive about the Holocaust.

See, the book is a satire about a key German concentration camp during World War II.

Now I see that Amis does have a publisher, and the book is due out later this year.

I can't wait to see what kind of reception it receives.

I predict it will not be favorable, even though the book is terrific.


by James EllroyProduct Details

A 700-page book is ordinarily way too much for me to try to take on, but a patron told me that this one would be worth the effort.

He was right.

James Ellroy is a master at plot and character development, and he paces this book in such a way that you stay hooked all the way through.

Ellroy's style reminds me of Cormac McCarthy, but, unlike McCarthy, Ellison's prose is accessible. Almost every sentence is noun-verb-direct-object in form, which is distracting at first.

The story itself is fascinating and centers on the intrigue inside the police department in a Los Angeles gripped by fear in the days and weeks following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Imagine the chaos, and imagine the kinds of criminal activity that feed on chaos.

I know nothing about how Californians reacted to the attack and subsequent call for rounding up American Japanese failies, but Ellory's accounts certainly make sense, if "sense" is the right word.

I understand that this is the first in a series for Ellory. I will be watching for the sequel(s).

Where You Go Is Not Who You Are

by Frank BruniProduct Details

Frank Bruni is a columnist for The New York Times, and the subject of this book has been grist for numerous pieces he's written in his allotted space over the last several years.

It's a slim book, but what it has to say is important. This gist is this: If you apply yourself, work hard, engage with fellow students and professors and require yourself to take challenging courses, where you go to college doesn't really matter. You can learn anywhere what you need to learn to be successful.

Bruni writes that too many people are killing themselves trying to get into the Ivy League schools, spending outrageous sums, stressing out their kids, going way, way overboard on entrance essays, etc. Better to find a place where the kid could fit in socially and pursue a degree for the sake of learning, not getting ahead.

But, you might ask, don't you have to go to the Ivy League to get into that corner office in the Fortune 500?

Uh ... No.

Powerful myths are at work across the land, promulgated and sustained by the likes of U.S. News & World Report and its bogus college rankings system.

I completely buy what Bruni is saying. I went to a community college and a state college after that, and I wound up not just OK, but far beyond where I thought I'd be when I was a senior at Amarillo High School.


Red Notice

by Bill Browder

Bill Browder is a gutsy guy. And that is putting it mildly.Product Details

This book is the extension of his middle finger to Russian Czar Vlad Putin and his oligarch buddies.

Browder, you see, built up a highly successful fund based on Russian transactions, and then got crosswise with the guys who wanted his money as well as everyone else's.

"Red Notice" is the story of Browder's unlikely rise as a financial whiz kid, and then his spectacular and harrowing, nail-biting, even, fall when Putin decided to get him.

Browder bares his knuckles here, and the reader finishes this book worrying that he will wind up dead before long.

After all, that's what happens to people who get on Putin's list.

Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule

by Jennifer ChiaveriniProduct Details

Review by Polly Kotarba:

If you are a Civil War buff like me, you will truly enjoy this book and be motivated to read more books in this series. This book follows a familiar pattern established by the author. It is written from the female viewpoint during a time period when  women could not vote and had little to say about their destiny.

Cokie Roberts gave a speech at the Texas Library Association convention in April in which she particularly mentioned the influence of Julia Grant and Varina Davis during Civil War times. We have this in common!

I particularly loved the story of Mrs. Grant and her husband, "Ulys," because their marriage endured despite huge personality differences.

Madame Jule was Mrs. Grant's former slave and her story is also mesmerizing. My biggest regret was that I expected Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule to be reunited in a grand finale. That did not happen, which was disappointing to me personally but probably lends authenticity to the narrative.


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