We’re a third of the way into September, so I guess it’s time to post this list. Here’s what I read in August 2019.
The Smallest Minority, by Kevin D. Williamson
Kevin Williamson has made a career of ticking off all sorts of people in his writings for the National Review and other places. While I often appreciate his reported work, particularly about the opioid epidemic and other such problems, this book — about mob rule on social media and other places — was too obsessed with its own cleverness. We’re talking extended musings on Dante and Milton here. I found myself wishing Williamson had written something to fit in with the genre of Hillbilly Elegy, Strangers in Their Own Land (which I finished last week), and such. I’d definitely pick up that book.
Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book, which won all kinds of awards when it came out in 2017. The basic plot is that after young Willie Lincoln’s death from an illness in the middle of the Civil War, his father visits him in the cemetery where he’s been laid. Souls, including Willie’s, inhabit a “Bardo” (a Tibetan Buddhist middle space between life and death) for some indeterminate time. We get to know all sorts of other characters in the young Lincoln’s cemetery through staccato passages about their lives and deaths. Some characters are intriguing. Some of the stories are just…weird. Sometimes weirdness is brilliance. Sometimes it’s just weird. I guess a lot of people came down on the brilliance side of the ledger for this book. It was swift enough reading, though I am probably more mixed on my final interpretation than others. I am glad I have read it, though, and I do think that the short passages format works well for a novel in this distracted age.
A book I’m reviewing for a publication — More about this when the review is published!
Salt Sugar Fat, by Michael Moss
This was my favorite book of the month. Reporter Michael Moss digs into the big food companies’ product development and marketing techniques over the past few decades. Modern processed food is precisely calculated to approach the “bliss point” — that optimized combo of salt, sugar, and fat that maximizes pleasure. He casts plenty of blame for various health crises at a wide range of players. I particularly enjoyed the bit about one part of the federal government encouraging Americans to drink skim milk while another worked to increase cheese consumption to get rid of all that excess milk fat…since cows persist in producing whole milk regardless of consumer desires. But he’s also sympathetic to just how hard it is to drastically reduce an ingredient such as salt in processed food while still creating something that anyone would want to eat. There aren’t easy answers here.
So that’s last month. I’m currently reading Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic. While interesting, it’s kind of slow going (requiring some stoicism to get through??) We shall see what I pick up next.
Photo: Re-using this old bookcase shot. It looks more cluttered now.