This month vanished almost instantly. Busy almost every night from the beginning of the month to the 15th, which cut into my reading time dramatically. But things slowed mid-month so I was able to read many good things.
If you want to see the kinds of things that can eat into my leisure reading time, then look no farther than the Winter Holiday Spectacular, which I ended in two parts—first in March, and then in July. I think you’ll love the stories in the Spectacular, and it’s not too late to jump onboard.
Here’s what I liked the most in November.
Alameddine, Rabih, “Comforting Myths,” The Best American Essays 2019, edited by Rebecca Solnit, 2019. This is an unusually thin volume of the Best American Essays, and I worried that I wouldn’t like anything here. The last time the volume was this thin, it was edited by a poet who seemed to care for language, not content. I should have known better. Rebecca Solnit is all about content.
The volume starts with Rabih Alameddine’s thoughtful essay on the myths we humans tell ourselves. Which myths belong to what culture, and what function do they serve? How does the writer fit in? Ever since I read this, I’ve been asking myself if I’m purveying cultural myths that I’m not even aware of, and at the same time, I’ve been worrying that thinking about such things will ultimately damage my writing.
Which goes a long way toward saying that I can’t get this essay out of my head. It’s a good way to start an interesting volume, which I have not yet finished (as if this writing).
Balogh, Mary, Someone To Remember, Jove, 2019. When I preordered this, I thought it was going to be a full novel. Instead, it’s a relatively short novella. The paperback has 100+pages of padding. Excerpts from the other books in the series and a letter from Balogh to her readers. The letter is sweet, and explains her process, which is nifty.
The novella itself is good. There isn’t much story between these two characters, because they’re meant for each other, so novella was the correct length. My only quibble? Matilda, our heroine, is in her fifties, which Balogh keeps referring to as an “advanced age.” Jeez, Louise. I guess I’m an advanced age now. Moving on to nearly dead, I guess. That blew me out of the story every single time. Grump.
But otherwise, there was some sweet tension and some good lessons what happens to our perceptions of our younger selves as we get older.
Cobo, Leila,“The 50-Year Supernatural Magical Musical Journey of Carlos Santana,” AARP The Magazine, August/September, 2019. Want to know how to have a long-term career? Here’s how. Read this interview with Carlos Santana. He bucked a lot of trends, was told no more times than the rest of us, was told that—as a Latino—he couldn’t be in the industry, was told that —as a guitarist, not a lead singer—that he couldn’t front a band, and on and on. Yet, here he is 50 years later, still playing, still performing, and still producing new music. Inspiring and educational.
Farrow, Ronan, Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, Little Brown, 2019. I’ve been looking forward to this book since I heard it was coming out.The book is mostly about the Harvey Weinstein scandal and how it finally reached the press.
I’m working with one of the people who spoke to Farrow about Weinstein. I knew she was courageous, but the book makes it clear just how courageous, and how much of her life and work she put in jeopardy by being willing to speak on the record. I admire her even more now.
I also found the book fascinating in a sad way. I wish I could send it to my younger self, the one who believed she wasn’t courageous or strong enough to be an investigative journalist. Farrow documents all his fears and his tribulations. He even burst into tears in a taxi (in an unintentionally funny scene). Had I read this as a young woman, I probably would have remained in journalism. I thought everyone else was so much more confident and certain than I was. Farrow blew the last of that myth away for me.
The book is well done, except for the ending. Like so many books about current events, it really has no ending at all, just a mishmash of incidents. Still, even with that, the book is definitely worth reading. The opening reads like a thriller. That was my other big surprise about this book: Farrow can write, and write well. Worth your time.
Huba, Jackie, Monster Loyalty: How Lady Gaga Turns Followers into Fanatics, Penguin, 2013. One of my readers suggested this book after we met at the Licensing Expo, which was the same week I saw Gaga in concert. (She’s amazing, btw.) The book is older, and some of the business examples are dated. For example, Whole Foods is no longer a small private company, but a subsidiary of Amazon. But that doesn’t change the business message here.
Huba examines something that most business writers ignore: How to cater to the loyal fans who make up maybe 20% of a business’s purchasers, but 80% of its revenue. She uses Gaga as an example, primarily because Lady Gaga built her following so fast and with such savvy. A worthwhile read that I might be mining for some of my business blogs.
Hunter, Madeline, “A Christmas Abduction,” Seduction on a Snowy Evening, Kensington Books, 2019. This comes from another of those anthologies that weirdly does not give the editor credit. Oh, I hate that.
The anthology has three novellas, along with excerpts from upcoming novels, which I mostly skipped. I bought the anthology because of a different author, but this is the story that I found memorable. I’d heard a lot about Madeline Hunter, but I’ve never read her work before (that I remember). She managed to set up a heartbreaking scenario for our heroine, one that our hero understands without her telling him about it, because he already knew bits and pieces of the story. He just put it all together for her.
Novellas a tricky, particularly a romance novella with villains, which this one has. Hunter pulled off the villain in a way that I had expected only because I’m a writer, and because I realized about 20 pages from the end there’s only one person who could be the villain. But she did the work delicately and in a delightful manner.
If you like holiday novellas, you’ll like this one. It’s like no other that I’ve read.
Kantor, Jody & Twohey, Megan, She Said, Penguin Press, 2019. I would have said that the Ronan Farrow was the book of the month, until I read this one. I had frowned at it early in September when it hit the stands because I thought Farrow broke the story about Weinstein. Nope. The broadcast media decided Farrow was the better story. Kantor & Twohey broke the story, but Farrow gave it legs.
Kantor & Twohey wrote a heck of a book, not so much about Weinstein as the origins of #MeToo, and all of the implications. They end with Kavanaugh, and deal with Christine Blasey-Ford. The behind-the-scenes in that story is simply heartbreaking. Ford had no idea what she was walking into. She made the mistake that many rational and intellectual people make: assuming that people would behave in a logical and unemotional manner. Even though Kantor & Twohey detail much of what she went through (and is still going through) I can’t quite imagine it. Or maybe I can, which is why my heart breaks.
Unlike the Farrow book, this one actually ends. A spectacular book about spectacular reporting. Read this one.