Laura & Emma

When I went to grab the image of this book for the review, I discovered a blurb for the book from Jonathan Franzen that makes me question whether he read the book, since he called it “a moving and intricately braided story of two mothers.” Mostly it’s a story about Laura, a WASPy New Yorker (7th generation) coasting through life on her family’s money who decides to keep the pregnancy she has with a one-night stand (the burglar who pretended to be her brother Nicholas’s friend from boarding school), and Emma, the daughter. Enjoyed the complex portrait of a woman who doesn’t need the same kind of relationships that everyone else seems to have (husband, or boyfriend, or even girlfriend). The other mother that Franzen references is Laura’s childhood friend Margaret, who can’t get pregnant and thus adopts, but at the end has a surprise mid-40s pregnancy. Margaret and Charlotte (her daughter) are fringe elements to Laura’s story, not substantial parts of a braided story. I appreciated the ending, Laura locked out on her snowy penthouse balcony spreading her mother’s ashes after many years, deciding to finally raise her voice and get her downstairs neighbor to let her in (after he kept the chairs he borrowed from her for many months).

Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, its Chaotic Founding, its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-class Metropolis

Who would want to read a book about Oklahoma City? Turns out, when well-written, a lot of people. Thoroughly enjoyed this work of Sam Anderson weaving the improbable tale of their NBA team (the Thunder) in amidst historical facts that blow your mind. The city itself was formed on a single day, in the Land Run, where people just grabbed a plot of land and claimed it. The bugles were sounded at noon on April 23, 1889 and a free for all began. Other colorful characters emerge in the story, like following Wayne from The Flaming Lips around (painting rainbows in the street), remembering civil rights legend Clara Luper who staged sit-ins months before the famous ones to claim the right to be served at the same establishments as whites, tracking tornadoes and other major storms with Gary England (famed meteorologist). Great interesting stuff here.

The Last Black Unicorn

Tiffany Haddish is a delight, and this memoir layers on more details about her upbringing—foster care due to her mother’s mental instability caused by her stepfather cutting the brakes in the car (he bought life insurance policies on all the family and planned to cash out), working Bar Mitzvahs as a teenager to pump up the crowd, living out of her car until Kevin Hart loaned her enough money for a hotel room and then helped her find an apartment, her crazy marriage/divorce/remarriage/redivorce to the same abusive man, working for an airline and dating her coworker who lived in a group home for handicapped, using a Groupon to take Will Smith and Jada on a swamp tour. Great stories, helped into book form by Tucker Max by way of his company, Book in a Box?

Murder on the Orient Express

Agatha Christie’s best known book is a bit of a yawn, actually. Hercule Poirot accidentally stumbles onto a murder orchestrated by twelve people who all had connections to a family that was killed/devastated by a murderer who was set free. The twelve of them conspired to each stab the victim so they wouldn’t know who produced the vital blow.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed

Really enjoyed this well-written book from the perspective of a therapist dealing with her own issues plus a look into her practice with three sample clients—the jerk who pushes everyone away, the dying woman, and the 69 year old depressed woman who vows to turn her life around by age 70 or kill herself (spoiler: she lives!). Gottlieb’s first career was in writing for movies and television, but she got interested in medicine working on the show ER. She eventually goes to med school but supports herself with journalism. Finally, she becomes a psychologist and starts helping people WHILE enjoying their stories, a perfect blend of creativity and health. Along the way her soon-to-be-husband dumps her because she has a young son and he doesn’t want to live with kids again (his own are finally leaving the nest, he wants to enjoy his freedom). This sends her scurrying for a therapist of her own to deal with the breakup, and we dip into the inner workings of therapy along the way. Highly readable and chock full of discreet bits that might help you wrangle your thoughts.

Still Life

One of the best things in life is traveling to a family member’s home, where they know you well and where they have your book waiting for you in the guest room, saving you one additional title in your luggage. Devoured this one over a few days in NJ where I kept barking suspects at my sister (“I think Ruth did it.” “No, I know now, Peter’s the one!”). Rainy weekend helped my cause. Entertainment at the lightest.

Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil

We’re not meant to feel sorry for Eichmann in Arendt’s writeup of the 1960 show trial that followed after Israel kidnapped Eichmann hiding in a nest of Nazis in Argentina. And yet, he is pathetic. The trial and Arendt’s book expose him as the worst kind of following-orders-without-thinking cog in the Nazi wheel that obliterated millions of Jews in the Holocaust. He was a simpleton who couldn’t think beyond catch-phrases, perfect for manipulation by grander, eviler minds. Himmler coined slogans that stuck into Eichmann’s brain, being told that he was involved in something grand, historic, instead of focusing on the actual murdering that was going on. He’s not a monster, but a dimwitted clown.

Arendt calls out contemporary (1960s) Germany for its self-deception and believing in the lies that spewed forth from the regime. She also pinpoints another group for guilt: those Jewish leaders who assiduously took notes of names and property to ensure the smoothest of handovers to the Nazis, leading their lambs to slaughter.

One of the “few great [moments] in the whole trial,” according to Arendt, is when Eichmann’s defense lawyer declared the accused innocent of charges bearing on his responsibility for “the collection of skeletons, sterilizations, killings by gas, and similar medical matters,” being interrupted by one of the judges to ask if a slip of the tongue was made when describing these killings as medical matters. Nope, Servatius says, “It was indeed a medical matter, since it was prepared by physicians; it was a matter of killing, and killing, too, is a medical matter.” Jaw on floor, this will serve me well when evaluating whether the current state of the U.S. has reached the depths of depravity (not yet).

Strange attitudes of countries willing to exterminate other country’s Jews but not their own—Arendt provides examples of this in Germany and France. Eichmann himself feels he was a friend to the Jew, attempting to find refuge for them in the first years before buckling down to provide the final solution.

The actual phrase “banality of evil” is used only once, as the last words of the book before the epilogue, describing Eichmann’s last acts before he was executed when he contradicted himself and used clichés, Arendt calls it “the grotesque silliness of his last words.” It’s an instructive read for any student of history, as well as any person aware of current events in the U.S.