2023 Reading–May

I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai

I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai is a novel about a podcaster who returns to the boarding school she attended to teach a mini-semester class. The standout event from her time as a student at the school was the death of a classmate who at one time had been her roommate. A black employee of the school was convicted of the murder and has been serving time, but there have long been questions about his conviction which was based largely on circumstantial evidence. Meanwhile, the woman is separated from her husband but attempts to defend him from #MeToo allegations, which lands her in the same acid bath of knee-jerk criticism without facts. Included throughout is a litany of cases of murder and sexual abuse, and the structure of the narrative is that it is addressed to a teacher at the school whom the narrator believes was having an inappropriate relationship with the murder victim. I didn’t find the book as compelling as Makkai’s previous novel, The Great Believers, but it is eminently readable.

Guardians of the Valley by Dean King

Guardians of the Valley: John Muir and the Friendship that Saved Yosemite by Dean King is my book club’s selection for May. It’s wonderfully detailed with an account of John Muir’s life and his efforts to preserve Yosemite Valley. Along the way he becomes a founder of the Sierra Club (I’m now tempted to rejoin, although my membership lapsed years ago), a writer, traveler, and activist. The friendship of the title is with Robert Underwood Johnson, the editor of a magazine that was important at the time and publisher of many of Muir’s articles. (Johnson is from Centerville, Indiana, just ten miles from where my sister and her family now live.) The arc of the narrative follows their various battles with politicians and the interests that controlled San Francisco who wanted to build a dam in the valley to create a reservoir supplying the city with water. Terrific book.

Poverty, By America by Matthew Desmond

Poverty, By America by Matthew Desmond is my book club’s selection for June, so I’m getting a head start. It’s an excellent examination of the causes and consequences of poverty in America and includes some proposals—including things that individuals could do—to “abolish” it. While most of us understand that poverty is a problem in this country, the book spells out many of the challenges it creates for people, from housing to education, to healthcare, to hunger, and the inadequacy of the programs that could but mostly don’t alleviate those challenges. Like Desmond’s previous book on the housing crisis, this is an eye-opener, and while solving the problems will take political will that seems unattainable, he believes it’s possible.

Indistractable by Nir Eyal

Indistractable by Nir Eyal. I wanted to read this because, like many people, I am susceptible to distractions and wanted to get some tips on how to control them. I’d say that much of this book provided that–mostly in the form of ideas for taming my devices to leave me alone when I should be working or tricks to keep me from engaging with them until I really need or want to. I also like the way the book is written–shortish chapters with “Remember this” sections at the end to reinforce the main message of that chapter. The last two parts of the book were of no value to me because they deal with distractions in the workplace, such as interruptions from colleagues or intrusive demands on time (I work at home, by myself) and teaching children to manage their distractions (no kids). If your situation is different from mine, these sections may be valuable to you. (I listened to the author narrate the audiobook; if I’d had a physical copy of the book or even an eBook, I might have known those sections were coming and skipped them.) On the whole, I’m glad I read the book, although I may need to go over some of the early chapters again.

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