Monday, January 15, 2018

The Hunger (Alma Katsu)

The doomed Donner Party mixed with elements from The Walking Dead -- what could go wrong? Be sure you don't have a fresh manicure as you're reading Alma Katsu's The Hunger because you're sure not to have any nails left by the end.

Most readers will already know the horrible story of the ill-fated Donner Party, so I won't rehash it here. Katsu's characters include those people that are historically accurate, as well as a few fictional characters to flesh her story out. The Donners' dreams of going West are dashed as they must survive brutal weather and diminishing rations. Before long, things begin to happen that are unexplained, and their party has an uneasy feeling that they are being stalked. But by whom? And how will this contribute to what is known as one of the most horrific episodes in American history?

Katsu builds almost unbearable suspense, and it is almost made worse by the fact that as readers, we know at least part of what is going to happen. The middle of The Hunger was a little slow for me, but once things started to happen, I raced through each page to get to the ending, which included one terrible event after another. A truly original read!


Thursday, January 4, 2018

Bunk (Kevin Young)

In Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Phonies, Plagiarists, Post-Facts, and Fake News, author Kevin Young dives headfirst into the rich tradition of American fascination with everything fake. Covering 200 years of history, from Barnum to Trump, Dolezal to The Bearded Lady, forged works to forged “reality”,  Young’s thoughtful, candid research into the history of carnival-barking phonies and fraudsters is a fascinating read.

Not getting into too much detail, Bunk provides a candid timeline of the weaving of race, class, gender, and occasional criminality of several case examples.  Given our current environment in politics, news, and entertainment, Young delivers a reminder that America’s “been here, done that” many times before when it comes to putting show before substance, hype above honesty, and chicanery in front of correctness.

Young’s perspective and African American roots are woven effectively for context at key moments throughout the book and provide additional sources of perspective for students of history and of current events. I found myself captivated, yet shaking my head at the number of examples throughout history where we the people have truly been duped by sensationalism and outright fraudsters. My only wish is for Young to have crafted some sort of argument for us to get out of our sucker mentality; however, there’s enough history there for us to be able to realize that it may ultimately be on all of us to be more effective filters of “bunk” in the future.