Recommended Reading List: February, 2024

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We are slowly getting through what was a very difficult eight months. In addition to Dean’s injury and the shooting at UNLV, we had issues of our own at WMG. A long-time employee turned out to be someone other than who we thought she was. The mess she left behind after her dismissal has been staggering, and we’re repairing all of it. It meant a lot of hard work, but we’re coming through it.

We were just discovering the issues in February as I started this post. I did most of my reading for the Holiday Spectacular then, before I ended up doing clean-up and schedules and talking to lawyers and law enforcement. As I write this, in late June, we’re finally getting back on track, and this website will become what it was—lots of interesting things and fun postings as well as notifications of all I’m doing.

Here’s February’s list. I was finally able to type up all of my copious notes. You’ll find lots of nonfiction and some really good articles.



February 2024

Bissinger, Buzz, The Mosquito Bowl: A Game of Life and Death in World War II, Harper, 2022. I had a weird experience reading this book. I started to read it in February of 2023, got very ill, and set it aside. Then I picked it back up later in the spring, but only read it while I was waiting for food at the restaurant downstairs. The book is compelling, and by the end, I was reading quickly, but I didn’t finish it until this February. Some of the details are just too grim to linger with long, and some are very sad. Other parts of the book just show how strange war is, particularly how strange and far-reaching World War II was.

The book examines what happened to the college football stars of 1941, when they got called up and scattered into the various units of war. These young (white) men had a lot of promise, but got derailed by a world war. They ended up playing in a “bowl” game in Guadalcanal in 1944, the only time these young men got to play football against each other.

I like books like this because they bring massive events, like WWII, down to the human level. Lots of lost hopes and dreams here, and life-changing moments. The amazing thing to me in this particular case is that I never forgot a detail about this book, even though I was reading it over such a long stretch of time.

Cole, Teju, “After Caravaggio,”  Black Paper: Writing In A Dark Time, University of Chicago Press, 2021. The first essay in the book deals with Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, who was, in Cole’s words, “the quintessential uncontrollable artist.” Yeah. A brawler who eventually became a murderer, Caravaggio was at times feted and at other times homeless. His work endures, partly because of the viciousness and clarity of his subject matter. Cole explores this and the difficulties of life in the various places—even now—where Caravaggio had once lived. There’s an undercurrent in this essay that grapples with the appreciation of the work of a difficult human being, which is something I have grappled with myself over the years. Enjoying the work of a criminal of any stripe feels dirty. This essay didn’t clarify anything for me, but it is nice to see someone else grappling with the same issues.

Cole, Teju, Black Paper: Writing In A Dark Time, University of Chicago Press, 2021. I’ve picked a lot of essays to highlight out of this book, but I could easily have picked several more. Or several instead. The entire book was wonderful, and my reaction to finishing it was to wish I had something else just like it to read. Of course there is nothing else just like it, but I consider that reaction to be one of the highest compliments I can give a book. I don’t want to give up the experience of reading it for the first time. So, in that way, I envy you. You’ll get to experience it anew. I’ll be rereading, of course, but that’s not entirely the same. Get this one, and enjoy!

Cole, Teju, “The Blackness of the Panther,” Black Paper: Writing In A Dark Time, University of Chicago Press, 2021. This entire essay was difficult for me to read. Not because it’s about racism, but because I hate zoos. And he deals with zoos here (panthers), as well as does something with a house cat that made me really uncomfortable. But the heart of the essay is excellent. It makes me see the world anew. Especially the line that caught me in my Americanism: I grew up with Black presidents, Black generals, Black kings, Black heroes, both invented and real. Black thieves too, Black fools. It was Nigeria, the biggest Black nation on earth.

We have a large Black population here in the U.S. (not the largest by a loooong way) but we’re always, always, always dealing with the history of slavery and Jim Crow, so that we pride ourselves on the first Black senator from such n so state or the first Black president, as if we invented it. And we did not by a long stretch. I’m so deep in my own culture, though, that I forget how different from ours that other cultures can be.

I will probably be rereading this essay a number of times despite the mistreatment of actual cats. There’s so much here…

Cole, Teju, “Experience,” Black Paper: Writing In A Dark Time, University of Chicago Press, 2021. If you want to learn how to write the five senses, read this essay. If you want to experience the five senses, read this essay. More than once.

Cole, Teju, “A Letter to John Berger,” Black Paper: Writing In A Dark Time, University of Chicago Press, 2021. Beautiful little short piece that I had to read twice because I found it so lovely. If I say more, I’ll ruin it for you.

Cole, Teju, “Mama’s Shroud,” Black Paper: Writing In A Dark Time, University of Chicago Press, 2021. A really beautiful essay on the reality of death and love. That sounds pretentious, but this is not pretentious. It’s heartfelt. And in the middle is a lovely quote: Death makes us protest the fact of death. It makes us wish for the impossible. Read this, especially if you’re struggling with loss.

Cole, Teju, “On Carrying And Being Carried,” Black Paper: Writing In A Dark Time, University of Chicago Press, 2021. A thoughtful consideration of what art and literature really mean, and how we all stand on the shoulders of those who came before. In some ways, for me, this essay matches “The Blackness of the Panther,” because the realizations in that essay (the ones that existed therein and the ones that I had personally) would not have crossed my mind without the experience of reading that essay. It was the perfect piece to end with, which is what Cole did here.

Cole, Teju, “Passages North,” Black Paper: Writing In A Dark Time, University of Chicago Press, 2021. I think I underlined almost everything in this essay. It works as a piece, though, so I wanted to recommend it. Ostensibly, it’s about the shooting in Oslo years ago now, but it’s about more than that. It’s about processing pain and figuring out how to move forward. Really, the entire book is about that, which is why I haven’t highlighted all of the essays that I loved here, but this one hit me particularly hard.

Cole, Teju, “A Quartet for Edward Said,” Black Paper: Writing In A Dark Time, University of Chicago Press, 2021. An examination of music, and art, and memory, and the way all of them impact us in different ways. This piece also looks at inspiration and the closeness we feel with our favorite artists, even if they don’t know that we love their work.

Fienberg, Daniel, “Norman Lear Was TV’s Lodestar,” The Hollywood Reporter, December 7, 2023. When I read this tribute to Normal Lear, I was having some trouble in my own life. I knew I’d be turning 64 this year, and I was feeling it, particularly since Dean had been injured and I had been taking care of him. I had to take a leave of absence from school because I knew that the work I had been doing in the fall wasn’t sustainable. (Little did I know that it would get harder, not easier, as we discovered the horrid betrayal of a long-time employee. Not going to school was a good decision.) After I read this, I realized that my grandmother had lived longer than Lear had and she had been in her right mind all the way to the end. She had energy throughout her nineties. I have at least another 30 good years ahead of me, if I do this right.

Most importantly, though, was this quote, which I circled and underlined:

And finally, when he died, Norman Lear was 101. But “101” is just a number, and it can mean different things for different people. Norman Lear could have spent the last 40 years in retirement — either in tropical seclusion or on the aforementioned national tour with civic documents — and his status as one of the most important and best writer-producers in the history of the medium would have already been set in stone.

Instead, he kept developing shows and producing shows. He kept finding voices to nurture and kept using the clout associated with both his name and his talent to keep the spirit of his classic shows alive, rather than merely keeping their syndicated bottom line intact.

Lear kept learning and growing, which is what it’s all about. He also cemented his legacy and influenced hundreds of people in-person, thousands by contact, and millions through his actions. Wow. That’s a heck of a life, and one to emulate.

Keegan, Rebecca, “Final Cut is a State of Mind,” The Hollywood Reporter, December 15, 2023. The Hollywood Reporter does a series of round tables in anticipation of the Oscars and award season, guessing who will be on ballots. This round table is an interview with six directors, all of whom were together for it. There’s a lot of wisdom here and a lot of great conversation about creativity. My favorite quote, though, comes from then 80-year-old Michael Mann. When asked how he felt, knowing the impact the choices he made had on other people (directors), he said, “It’s a surprise. I pretty much occupy a present, looking to the next thing I want to do. Go forward.”

That’s how I live too, and for a while, being in my sixties really messed that up. I kept seeing “forward” as “on the way to dead.” But it’s just a shift in attitude, along with the fact that I need to plan for the future of my work, now more than ever, after the implosion of one of my plans. Time to be thoughtful, not casual, about the future. So I love this quote.

Marshall-Chalmers, Anne, “The Track That Louisville Built,” Runners World, Winter, 2023. Ever wonder how things change? Sometimes someone gets an idea that everyone else thinks is impossible, and yet, that person manages it…somehow. That’s what Sadiqa Reynolds did when she decided to transform a run-down part of Louisville into a state of the art track facility. Spoiler alert: she pulled it off. But it took so much work and effort that most people would have given up. She didn’t. I love reading about amazing people, and she is one of them.

Miller, Shannon, “New Power Generation,” Las Vegas Weekly, 12/7/23. Ever since I moved to Las Vegas, I’ve been stunned at this community’s commitment to renewable energy. It’s staggering. When I tell people about it, they doubt me because they only know the party city, not the serious city behind the tourist façade. So I put this here, just to prove, yet again, that Las Vegas has vision and it’s fascinating to be a part of.

Penzler, Otto, Bibliomysteries, Pegasus Crime, 2017. I started reading this book in 2019 and quit for an unknown reason. I recommended two stories from the volume (which I still remember reading) and didn’t mention others. I do find that weird. I reread some stories in the volume and read all the others that I had missed. This is one of those consistently good anthologies in which very little stands out (except the two I mentioned years ago). I recommend the book as a whole. It led me to reading its sequel in March, which I will discuss then.

Rankin, Seija, “Making of Barbie,” The Hollywood Reporter, December 12, 2023. No, I still have not seen Barbie. I doubt I ever will. Barbie and I have had a troubled relationship all our lives. You’ll find that most women my age loathe her, although our daughters love her and so do their daughters. That’s because women of my generation remade her into a feminist. Before that she was a bimbo with a dream house. (Yeah, I have opinions. No, I will not see the movie. You can’t make me.)

However, I love reading articles about the making of this surprising hit film. Surprising to the men in suits who have never understood that women get their families to entertainments, not the men in their lives, no matter how many studies show this. (Sigh. Another fight that can wait for another day.) Anyway, this article about the making of is filled with all kinds of history and understanding and actual love for the doll from the filmmaker (thank heavens, because if she had hated it, the movie wouldn’t have worked at all.) Some great quotes here too. This one in particular about filmmaking—about art really—from the end of the article:

[Margo] Robbie’s proudest moment of dialogue isn’t a speech, but the six words that end the film: “I’m here to see my gynecologist.” She picked more than a few battles in her role as producer, occasionally fielding discomfort or nerves from the studio and corporations involved in Barbie. “But the last line of the movie was the hill I was ready to die on,” she says. Robbie received feedback, though she won’t say from whom, that there was concern the line might spur young viewers to ask too many questions. “I said, ‘If that’s the only thing this movie accomplishes, then I will be so proud, because that might save that little girl’s life one day,’?” says Robbie. “I think it’s extremely important that girls know, and if this movie makes them ask, then it will all have been worthwhile.”  

Reginato, James, “Estate of Play,” Vanity Fair, October 2023. Fascinating, fascinating article on the Downton Abbey-ish British estates, how they’re managing to survive in this very different world, and how they’re handling their own history. There’s a rather uncomfortable photograph in the middle of the article showing actor David Harewood sitting in the Harewood estate with the current owner…whose ancestors enslaved Harewood’s. Yeah. History is messy and not dead at all. Really worth the read.

Runner’s World Staff, “Everyday Champions,” Runners World, Winter, 2023. Initially, as I read this article, I was going to point out the series of names that inspired me the most, but honestly, everyone in this group of runners inspired me. They run despite the other challenges in their lives, sometimes because of the other challenges. Read this. It will remind you why you do hard things. (It certainly did me.)


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