Another Now: A Novel by Yanis Varoufakis (Melville House, 2021)
This small paperback science fiction novel sounded great in the online review but was very disappointing to me. Others might enjoy it but to me it was like wrapping a pill in a treat to get your dog to eat it. I hate economics so much that I dropped my required college economics course and then had to hold my nose and take it again to graduate. This book is basically a vehicle for the author to talk about the problems of financialization, debt, and other large-scale global problems of capitalism. While the former Finance Minister of Greece obviously knows what he’s talking about, and I don’t disagree with him that our problems are serious, I don’t really understand his recommended replacement system. There are a few characters in this novel, and a very thin plot involving a wormhole and an alternate reality (Other Now) in which they abolish capitalism. The setting and references are all very Euro-centric. But mainly there is a lot of conversation about economics and finance. Ugh. I bought this on bookshop.org.
The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee (One World, 2021)
This excellent and important book is already on the New York Times bestseller list and amply fulfills the prediction by fellow writer and public intellectual Bill McKibben on the back book jacket that “it will be a classic on the day it’s published.” The sub-title summarizes the book well: “what racism costs everyone and how we can prosper together.” The front jacket illustration of a little Black girl and a white boy in a swimming pool is a reference to the troubling story Heather McGhee tells of towns all around the U.S. that closed their public swimming pools in the mid-20th century rather than let Black children use them. In the eye-opening chapters of this book McGhee (who is Black herself, and a Yale graduate), explains the destructive American narrative of the “zero-sum game” – that insidious idea that if Black and brown people get more opportunities, Whites will have less. In fact, as McGhee documents, the willingness of conservative Whites to prevent anyone from getting public goods that might help people of color (Medicare for All, for example) is why we “can’t have nice things” in this country. This is not an academic treatise you have to get through, it’s an essential work written for everyone, comparable to Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow.”
All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis. Edited by Ayanna Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson. One World, 2020.
This unusual book is a compilation of invited essays and poems by women about dealing with climate change. These women come from all different backgrounds and occupations, from scientists to poets, but all share a feminist perspective on the existential crisis our planet faces. The essays are grouped into 8 sections, titled Root, Advocate, Reframe, Reshape, Persist, Feel, Nourish, and Rise. They offer hope, courage, and solutions that are worth re-reading and absorbing multiple times. The poems are well-chosen to provide a emotional counterpoint to the brain-focused essays. Highly recommended for all women who are concerned about climate change.
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray (Berkley, 2021)
This new novel is a collaboration between two authors brought together by their agents during the pandemic. It’s historical fiction that is based on the real life of the personal librarian to early 20th century industrialist J.P. Morgan. Belle DaCosta Greene came from African American roots but at her mother’s insistence changed her name and her identity to pretend to be white. Apparently she was light-skinned enough to get away with it but keeping the secret caused her unbelievable amounts of stress. She even had an abortion because a dark skinned baby would give her secret away. She did achieve her goal of success in her career as a librarian, although her role was more like a rare book collector. It’s a fascinating but disturbing story.
A Dance in Donegal by Jennifer Deibel (Revelle 2021)
This was a enjoyable romance with an interesting plot, setting, and characters. But I have a bone to pick with the previous reviewers, such as the one on the back cover. They never mention some important details, such as the fact that it takes place in 1920, and it’s very strongly Christian, with prayers and scriptural quotes on practically every page. All they say in the reviews is that Moira has been hearing about this small town near Donegal all her life and decides to move there and find out why her mother left. I assumed she was a widow or divorcee, or recent retiree – in the present day. Not an extremely devout 23 year-old teacher living a hundred years ago. The good news is it’s very sweet and you can let your teenage daughter read it without fear of R-rated material. Most young adult novels are more racy than this book.
We Could Be Heroes: A Novel by Mike Chen (Mira, 2021)
This new science fiction book is a superhero movie in book form. It reads like teen fiction but isn’t labeled that way. The two main characters, Zoe and Jamie, are both young adults suffering from complete amnesia. But along with losing their memories, they have gained super powers. Zoe can fly and has super strength and speed, while Jamie can steal people’s memories and stun their minds. They call themselves Throwing Star and Mind Robber respectively. Zoe saves people in danger but Jamie robs banks. They meet each other at an amnesia support group and together they eventually track down the evil scientists who altered them and erased their memory. Fans of the superhero genre will enjoy this book; others might find it a little hard to follow the plot.
Power Challenges by Ben Bova (Caezik, 2021)
Ben Bova is an old-school science fiction writer known to most sci-fi fans – he’s won six Hugo Awards over his career. His characters pursue traditional dreams like building a permanent settlement on the Moon and discovering new Earth-like planets. Their federal governments are run by moderate Republicans who still think nuclear war is the biggest threat the Earth faces. Bova does make an effort in this book to include women and people of various ethnicities and treat them respectfully, but it still feels a few decades behind on diversity and inclusion. If you just like a good science fiction story with a little politics thrown in and aren’t too concerned about social justice, this story fits the bill. I got the sense that Bova was setting up for a sequel because after focusing on the Moon base for the first half, he abruptly switches to a plot about nuclear disarmament, leaving some loose ends. But sadly he passed away last November from COVID-19 so this was his last book.
Support your local bookstore: https://bookshop.org/books/power-challenges/9781647100186.
Libertie: A Novel by Kaitlyn Greenidge (Workman Publishing, 2021)
I hate to be disparaging about a best-selling novel but it really wasn’t that good, in my opinion. Libertie, a college-age free Black woman in the 1870s, is not mature enough to make decisions that affect her whole life but does so anyway. Her mother is a doctor and wants her to be one too, but she is not interested. Though most young Black women in that time couldn’t even dream of going to college, she throws away this privilege, flunks out after one year, and marries literally the first young Black man she meets. He is a doctor who emigrates with her to Haiti, where she is unhappy as a housewife and mother. The novel is set in a historical period that hasn’t been explored much in fiction, the Reconstruction period after the American Civil War, but the focus of this book is on the mental anguish of a self-centered twenty-something woman, not the experiences of more typical people of that time.
Klara and the Sun : A Novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (Alfred A. Knopf, 2021)
Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize for Literature for a previous book – it says so on the cover, since he is justifiably proud. Although he is Japanese by birth Ishiguro has lived in England since childhood. That explains why he writes in English and the setting of this novel is never specified – just a large city somewhere on Earth. It appeared to take place in the near future. The references to children being “lifted” worried me (did they die?) until he finally mentioned that it meant genetic editing. The main character of the book is Klara, an Artificial Friend (robot companion for children). She has a unique perspective on the world around her and on human interactions, expressed in her first person observations. Klara is solar powered and thus believes that the Sun has special powers. She is purchased by a family whose teenage daughter is very ill (cancer perhaps). I won’t spoil the story by revealing how it all turns out. It was certainly a well-written and unusual story, almost a short story in book length.
The Seed Keeper: A Novel by Diane Wilson (Milkweed Editions, 2021)
This is an interesting novel about the indigenous Dakhota people of Minnesota and their connections to nature, seeds, and food. The main character, Rosalie Iron Wing, loses her family at a young age and grows up in foster care, then marries a young white farmer. Over time she begins to understand that she didn’t just lose her family, she lost her connection to a whole culture that respected the earth and its bounty by saving seeds. The book jumps back and forth between the early 21st century, the 1860’s (when white settlers took the Dakhotas land), and the 20th century in order to tell her back story. As Rosalie becomes aware of the wrongs that are being done to her local environment by pesticides and predatory seed companies, she also begins to find her way back to her long-lost relatives and a culture of strong women who feed their families despite the odds.