Frackopoly: the Battle for the Future of Energy and the Environment by Wenonah Hauter (The New Press, 2016).

This book by the Executive Director of national environmental non-profit Food & Water Watch is presumably meant to provide ammunition for the movement to ban fracking. It  provides a history of fracking in the United States, followed by stories from anti-fracking organizations and coalitions that detail their successes and failures. There is a lot of revealing information about how environmental organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund, in conjunction with centrist Democratic politicians, have supported fracking around the country by pushing the expansions of natural gas as a “bridge fuel.” In contrast, Hauter cites research that shows how natural gas is just as bad for climate change, and as dangerous, as oil and coal. She also calls out moderate Democrats who have a history of promoting cap and trade schemes that allow polluters to keep polluting, and investors to make money speculating on prices. This book was published before Trump’s election, so it offers some optimism based on successes in states such as New York to ban fracking entirely. Clearly many people in the U.S. and elsewhere are passionate about stopping the use of fossil fuels.


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Pieces of Her

Pieces of Her: A Novel by Karin Slaughter (William Morrow, 2018)

This engrossing novel technically hasn’t been published yet – I picked up a an Advance Reader’s Edition off a table at the American Library Association annual convention this week. You’ll definitely want to read it when it comes to a library or bookstore near you. It’s almost 500 pages of fast-paced action about a young Georgia woman and her mysterious mother. The story alternates back and forth between 2018 and 1986, shortly before the younger woman’s birth. There are some episodes of graphic violence which are key to the plot but not easy to read. The younger woman learns that her mother is in the federal witness protection program and the whole story of her life is a lie, but the real story is gradually revealed during a dangerous journey as well as through the flashbacks to 1986.

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American Nations

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard (Penguin Books, 2011).

Since I’m very interested in regional cultures of the U.S., this book has been on my list to read for a long time and I finally bought a copy. It was absolutely fascinating. Woodard explains so much about American history by dividing North America into 11 “ethnocultural nations” instead of the usual 50 states. He explains the origins of these regional cultures and how (amazingly) they have persisted since the 18th century. The eleven nations are the Left Coast, the Far West, First Nation (in Canada only), El Norte (partly in Mexico), the Deep South, New France, Tidewater, New Netherland (New York City), the Midlands (Philadelphia area, the Midwest and Ontario), and Yankeedom (New England, upstate NY and Minnesota/Wisconsin). Woodard makes a very strong argument for American history being almost entirely explained by the influence of and shifting alliances between these nations. I would love to hear how he explains Trump; perhaps he can be persuaded to write a second edition.

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The map of salt and stars

The map of salt and stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar (Touchstone, 2018)

This novel is two stories intertwined: the tale of a medieval Arabic mapmaker and his apprentices (one is a girl), and the story of a modern day Syrian refugee family. Although the main character in the modern story is a young teenage girl, her mother is also a mapmaker. So maps of the Middle East and North Africa are important to both stories, and the people follow similar paths in their journeys. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel about a Syrian family before, but it is very timely. I learned a lot about their language and culture. Some of the poems were lovely. There were also distressing similarities between the horrific situations and traumatic losses that this Syrian family had to endure before they found safety in a new home, and the situations encountered by the undocumented immigrants to the US that I read about in another recent novel. There’s a lot of bad stuff going on out there in the world.

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How to stop time

How to stop time: a novel by Matt Haig (Viking, 2017)

This is one of those non-traditional style science fiction books where everything is normal and Earth-based except for one major alternative-world premise. In this case, the premise is that a few lucky people age 10 times more slowly than normal, so they live for 800-1,000 years. The main character is a man who appears to be in his forties but is actually over four hundred years old. Of course this kind of thing has a few problems, like outliving your spouse and scaring medieval witch hunters by your eternal youth. It’s not a time travel novel per se, but has some of the same elements. This is a good story based on a unique plot device.

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Census: A novel by Jesse Ball (Harper Collins, 2018)

This was a much stranger novel than the book jacket described. Although the back flap says Jesse Ball was “born in New York” it doesn’t say where he lives now, and what country he imagines this story to take place in. It is certainly not the United States. I guess it takes place in a fictional country. He doesn’t bother to name the towns; he literally labels them A through Z. Conveniently there is a train running from Z back to A. I could buy the idea that a dying surgeon living alone with a Down syndrome son decides to travel the country working for the census bureau until he dies, but in modern times the census bureau mails you the form, the census takers don’t visit you in person. And they most definitely do not tattoo you to prove you’ve been counted. The novel is a vehicle for some worthwhile commentary about people and their attitudes towards individuals who are different, but it has a very strange vibe overall. There is an obsession with birds (specifically cormorants) and clowns that I don’t even begin to understand.

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Rules for Revolutionaries

Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything by Becky Bond and Zack Exley (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016).

This non-fiction book tells the story of the Bernie Sanders for President campaign from the unique perspective of mid-level paid staffers Becky Bond and Zack Exley. I was interested (as a CREDO Mobile customer) to learn that they came from CREDO. It is also literally a set of rules (one per chapter, alternating chapters by author) for organizing a political revolution in the sense of a mass populist movement, not a violent overthrowing of government. This is not the usual high level campaign retrospective, written by the candidate him or herself; this is about the day to day organizing problems and how they were solved, and the lessons that were learned for next time. Some of the takeaways include the advantages of the vast mobilization of volunteers for Bernie, and the way the paid staff were able to leverage consumer software tools to manage and fully utilize those volunteers.

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