Some Books and Other Stuff I Liked

I tend to just read new stuff coming out, made a few exceptions in the last few weeks, actually took advice from other people, and am glad I did.

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Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

Harper and I were facing a very long day of travel from a remote part of Mexico back to NYC and I didn’t like any of the books I’d brought with me. She recommended Elizabeth Strout for probably the twenty fifth time. Necessity is the mother of invention and I needed something to read. Should have listened the first time. What a beautiful book. It intertwines the stories of around a dozen people living all over the U.S. (and one in Italy) who are all different and yet have all struggled to overcome the traumas of their childhoods. This is not a tale of overcoming adversity. But it’s also not a tale of utter woe. These are regular people, most of them trying their best, some doing better at it than others. Strout’s writing is beautiful (really descriptive without  ever getting bogged down) and even though many of the characters may not deserve our sympathy, I found myself giving it to them anyway. I think you’re supposed to read My Name is Lucy Barton first (Lucy Barton keeps making cameo appearances in the book) but I read it out of order and am not sure it mattered. The two lessons here are that Elizabeth Strout is a great writer and I should listen to Harper more.

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

We were sitting with a friend of ours, she asked what I was reading, told her I’d just finished The Mars Room, she looked at me and said, “I’m about a quarter through it. Does it ever get less depressing.” I shook my head slowly. “Nope, not once. But you should still read it anyway.” The story of a woman imprisoned with little hope of being released is depressing (how can it not be?) and yet you come to really like her (even admire her in some ways). Kushner does a brilliant job making many of the inmates likeable and interesting without morally excusing them for anything. It’s not nearly as fun to read as The Flamethrowers (hard to see how she ever tops that one) and not as lush as Telex From Cuba, but it’s a very good story and extremely well written, all the way through. I liked the descriptions of LA and SF and found myself much more immersed inside the prison scenes than I expected (and I’m not a big prison movies/ books/ tv shows guy; testifying in three federal corruption trials and two grand juries takes away the allure pretty fast). Worth reading.

Red Notice by Bill Browder

When my friend Jeff asked me if I’d read it, we were three innings, eight runs down and several beers into the Mets game, so I just pulled out my phone and ordered it on Amazon without thinking. Glad I did. This is the true story of a guy who started a hedge fund in Russia, took on the system (probably foolishly), things went well until they didn’t, and then things went really badly. He ended up having to flee the country and his lawyer was tortured and killed, but rather than this just being a screed against Putin (it is, but it’s more than that), he becomes a human rights advocate and fights the FSB every step of the way. And wins (more or less). It’s an incredibly fast moving, gripping story. I had a seven hours to kill on a flight to Milan and this consumed most of it. Browder’s story is remarkable and yet he comes off as flawed, human, scared and as a result, totally relatable. Also, it hit me later that blockchain would have prevented the fraud perpetrated upon him, so score another one for technology.

I’m Keith Hernandez (by, yep, Keith Hernandez)

Not sure if you’d like this book if you’re not a Mets fan or a Keith fan, but I’m both so it was an easy call. He writes a lot like he talks on SNY: interesting, meandering, good insights, just enough self-deprecation to reveal that he gets it (barely), and lots of fun stories. It didn’t really change my view of Keith either way (I was 13 in 1986 so he’ll always be a hero to me) but I enjoyed reading it.

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Spiderman Homecoming (I know; it’s not a new movie)

Finding a movie to watch at home that satisfies both a 9-year old boy who only wants to watch Deadpool (not happening) and an 11-year old girl who only want movies somehow connected to Stranger Things isn’t easy. I’m iffy on superhero movies. Love Batman in all forms but not into X-Men or Superman. Abby suggested Spiderman Homecoming (despite the lack of connections to an 80s Netflix drama set in Indiana). Great call. What a fun movie. The kid (Tom Holland) who plays Spiderman is fantastic and all of the famous people who show up across the movie – Robert Downey Jr, Marissa Tomei, Gwyneth Paltrow, Donald Glover, Michael Keaton, Martin Starr, Jon Faverau – play their parts with ease. It’s fun and funny, works for kids of pretty much all ages, and if you’re an adult and don’t like it, there’s probably something wrong with you. After the movie, Lyle and I went through the Ringer’s recent list of the top 50 superhero movies, did a very loose cross reference with Common Sense Media and decided we’d watch the first two Spiderman movies, the first two Ironman movies, Ant-Man, and maybe Captain America.

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This is America (music video by Childish Gambino)

Saying how powerful or moving or nuanced you found This is America is already worse than redundant – it’s a bad cliché. But then Santa Fe happens and you watch the video again (and again). I wonder what would happen if we had a national referendum on the Second Amendment? What if everyone actually voted? What if we let kids vote? The underlying problem is lack of voter participation in GOP primaries giving the NRA a death grip on the small group of voters who actually do show up at the polls (and as a result, their death grip on any GOP elected interested in re-election). Mobile voting is the long-term answer (if turnout scales radically because it’s easy to vote, any one special interest’s influence declines commensurately), but even though we had the first blockchain election in the May 8 West Virginia primary, full-scale implementation is probably a decade away. So if the Second Amendment is the excuse why we can’t keep schoolkids safe, let’s put it to the test. See if Americans think it’s worth keeping in the Constitution. Not sure we can’t win.

Bradley Tusk