Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Limits of Tolerance (Denis Lacorne)

Denis Lacorne's The Limits of Tolerance was originally intended for a French audience. This version discussed the evolving definition and boundary of tolerance over time, first from a religious perspective and then widening to a view of general “free speech” in the 20th century. An updated and translated version for English audiences takes that one step further and discusses the limits of tolerance in modern free speech and religious expression in the West.

Lacorne does a good job of showing the gradual widening of tolerant expression in thought and behavior - first, by showing how religious freedom in some colonies helped produce a more robust economy, which led to the adoption of free expression of religion throughout the early American republic. The concept of tolerance was not unique to America. The Ottoman Empire’s millet system provided a relatively tolerant approach to allowing those who were not Muslim to practice their religions and live within the legal framework of the Ottoman Turks without high levels of repression for a few centuries before rising nationalism and centralization of its empire led to a reduction in civil liberty.

Lacorne revised his edition with information on recent challenges to tolerance in both Europe and America - more from a political view within America, less from a religious one. Given the decrease in religious ties in America, it would have been interesting to see Lacorne tackle the corresponding increase in political fervor and how that is tying into challenges to tolerant speech and expression of thought. Outside of that, this book provides a firm grasp in understanding that tolerance is a struggle that never quite ends as the boundaries of the subject are ever-changing.


Sunday, June 16, 2019

A Man Called Ove (Fredrik Backman)

I'm certainly late to the game reviewing Fredrik Backman's A Man Called Ove. For some reason, I never picked it up until now. But after finishing it last night, I can't believe it's taken this long for me to read about this lovable curmudgeon.

Let's just say that Ove is...particular...about how he wants things done (I identify!). He lives his life by rules, routine and tradition, and doesn't understand people who want to change things or move into the technological age. The first few pages will have you rolling on the floor as Ove tries to buy a computer. But the beauty of Ove is that after you laugh, you will cry, and then you will laugh again, and then you will sob. Backman takes you on a roller-coaster ride of emotions as Ove thinks that maybe this is a world he doesn't want to live in anymore.

The writing in A Man Called Ove is just beautiful. From the beginning, readers know that the ultimate goal is to get Ove to realize that life is worth living after all. It's the question of how (or if) he will eventually reach that point that makes A Man Called Ove such a rewarding read.


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Little Fires Everywhere (Celeste Ng)

Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere is one of those phenomenon books that spread by word of mouth. It was on the bestseller list for a long time, and for good reason. Each character is as intriguing as the next, all with multiple layers and secrets with major repercussions.

Shaker Heights is a planned suburb of Cleveland. The residents there take pride in the rules and structure of their community, especially Elena Richardson, journalist, wife, and the mother of three children. The book begins with the the Richardson house burning to the ground, and the youngest daughter, Izzy, nowhere to be found.

Ng wisely begins with this shocker, and then presents us with what led up to it. So many plot points are in play here, from Mia Warren and her daughter, Pearl, moving into the neighborhood, to the custody battle for a Chinese-American baby. Little Fires Everywhere is one giant puzzle, and the reader waits with bated breath until the final puzzle piece is ready to go in.

I reviewed Ng's Everything I Never Told You just a few weeks ago, but I found this so much better. While Everything felt dull and confusing during the last quarter, this one stays interesting and layered until the very end, just like a puzzle. I loved it.


Monday, May 27, 2019

Moneyland (Oliver Bullough)

Oliver Bullough’s Moneyland is a journey into a place that exists not on a map, nor in an app, nor in some virtual reality scene. This book is about the inside story of the highest of high net worth individuals who conceal large chunks of their wealth to avoid taxes or to hide their criminal affairs.

Bullough takes readers on a jet-set trip across the world to the Caribbean, London, the Channel Islands, the Sahel, the Ukraine, Russia, and the United States. Each of these locations is a willing or unknowing participant in setting up financial shelters for the super rich. Some of those super rich earned their money through completely legal manners and are looking for the best return on their assets at the lowest tax rate. Others obtained their money through illegal means. Bullough’s Moneyland is a place without borders and reflects the flow of money around the world, seeking out the best and easiest way to protect its value and those who have a lot of wealth.

The author goes through a detailed review of how the so-described “Moneyland” came to be, between loopholes in global financial arrangements, to various nations selling their citizenship for a price, to the development of layered corporations as tax shelters. All of this occurs to hide and make it near impossible to figure out just who owns that expensive condo or that business venture. Of course, given modern events, current political players and their surrogates take a willful role in the “Moneyland” stage.

Bullough’s book is a great read if you are interested in finance and curious to know how some of the one-tenth of one percent flaunt law, taxation, and decency all in order to hoard more of their wealth. Bullough offers pointed suggestions to bring about Moneyland’s demise, including better vigilance from politicians and voters alike.


Friday, May 24, 2019

Inspection (Josh Malerman)

When an author comes up with such an original concept as Josh Malerman's Inspection, it's just plain refreshing to read. There are only so many times I can read about secrets in marriages and the like before I start to get bored with the same old topic again and again. It's nice when you can say as a reader that you've read NOTHING like a particular book. That's not to say I loved Inspection, but it definitely had its positives.

If you want characters with actual names, you better turn elsewhere. The story revolves around the "Alphabet Boys," who are students in a school deep within a forest. They know nothing about reality. All they know is what D.A.D. and the Parenthood have told them, namely that they came from trees and need to be careful not to get fake diseases. Oh yeah, they also do not have a clue that a species called "girls" exists either.

We are told their story through the eyes of "J." J begins to have some suspicions, and these suspicious are increased a hundredfold when he meets "K," a girl. Where did K come from? What secrets about the world are being kept from all of them, and how will they react when they find out they have been deceived?

Other readers have commented that they found the plot slow and the ending great. I, however, am completely the opposite, which is why I couldn't rate this a 4. Unfortunately, I can't reveal much about the ending lest I give it away, except to say that I just found it way too much. But major props go out to Malerman for creating something here that we really haven't seen before.


Thursday, May 16, 2019

Everything I Never Told You (Celeste Ng)

The opening lines of Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You shocks you from the very beginning: "Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet." Based on these lines, the reader obviously assumes that this book is some type of mystery. But what Ng surprisingly does instead is make what happened to Lydia the secondary part of the story. Instead, this is a book about a family in turmoil, both before Lydia died and after.

Set in the 70s, Everything I Never Told You is about Marilyn and James Lee and their children, a Chinese American family living in a small town. Even though she has two other children, Marilyn's attention is focused on Lydia, making sure she has the opportunities (whether or not she even wants them is beside the point) that Marilyn never had. The family struggles to overcome the hardships in their lives until one day, Lydia goes missing.

This is a page-turner at the beginning, but I found the last quarter of the book dull and even confusing. However, Ng does create here a profoundly moving narrative of a family trying to understand each other and wondering if it's too late to mend its connections.


Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Dreamers (Karen Thompson Walker)

I was really excited about the premise of Karen Thompson Walker's The Dreamers, especially because the book got major buzz in the publishing world. Unfortunately, at least for me, the premise was far more exciting than the execution.

A "sleeping disease" is going around a California college town. One day, a college girl falls asleep in her dorm room and never wakes up. It doesn't take long before the disease travels around the dorm floor. Some of the other people in the town become infected, and the National Guard is called in to enforce a quarantine. How did the disease start and what is the cause? Will the "dreamers" ever wake up, and if they do, will they ever be the same?

The ultimate problem of The Dreamers is that many of the questions the reader will definitely expect to be answered are not. The book also bounces from character to character so much that we never really get to know them (and therefore, care about them). I did enjoy the "dream-like" quality of the prose, but because there are so many plot points left open-ended, I ultimately wondered what the point of it all was.