Susan Toy is reading … “It Can’t Happen Here”

It Can’t Happen Here
by Lewis Sinclair

For everyone who has said over the past couple of years, “How could this have happened?” (and I was one who wondered …), we were apparently warned of just such an event – way back in 1936 when Sinclair Lewis wrote and published the novel, It Can’t Happen Here. I recently heard about this book, only within this past year when others, mostly journalists, referred to it. I was able to borrow an eBook through the library, and have been reading it, absolutely aghast at how well Lewis predicted our own current times, 80 years later!

Lewis excels at sarcasm and satire, but is also quite adept in pointing out exactly what is wrong with society, with the politicians we choose to elect (or are duped into electing), and how it can all go from bad to extremely worse in such a short time.

Following is a long quote from the book, but necessary in order to give you an idea of exactly how “contemporary” this novel is, and why we should all be reading and heeding what Lewis warned us 80 years ago of what could happen here.

(Doremus Jessup is the editor of a newspaper who sees through the fraud of candidate Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, the demagogue who is elected as President of the United States.)

At 21.16%-21.69%: Doremus Jessup … watching Senator Windrip … could not explain his power of bewitching large audiences. The Senator was vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his “ideas” almost idiotic, while his celebrated piety was that of a traveling salesman for church furniture, and his yet more celebrated humor the sly cynicism of a country store.

Certainly there was nothing exhilarating in the actual words of his speeches, nor anything convincing in his philosophy …

Doremus had never heard Windrip during one of his orgasms of oratory, but he had been told by political reporters that under the spell you thought Windrip was Plato, but that on the way home you could not remember anything he had said.

There were two things, they told Doremus, that distinguished the prairie Demosthenes. He was an actor of genius. There was no more overwhelming actor on the stage, in the motion pictures, nor even in the pulpit. He would whirl arms, bang tables, glare from mad eyes, vomit Biblical wrath from a gaping mouth; but he would also coo like a nursing mother, beseech like an aching lover, and in between tricks would coldly and almost contemptuously jab his crowds with figures and facts — figures and facts that were inescapable even when, as often happened, they were entirely incorrect.

But below this surface stagecraft was his uncommon natural ability to be authentically excited by and with his audience, and they by and with him … Aside from his dramatic glory, Buzz Windrip was a Professional Common Man.

Oh, he was common enough. He had every prejudice and aspiration of every American Common Man …

But he was the Common Man twenty-times magnified by his oratory, so that while the other Commoners could understand his every purpose which was exactly the same as their own, they saw him towering among them, and they raised hands to him in worship.

At 25.21%: Most of them [Voters] had, among all the factors in the campaign, noticed only what they regarded as Windrip’s humor, and three planks in his platform: Five, which promised to increase taxes on the rich; Ten, which condemned the Negroes — since nothing so elevates a dispossessed farmer or a factory worker on relief as to have some race, any race, on which he can look down; and, especially, Eleven, which announced, or seemed to announce, that the average toiler would immediately receive $5000 a year.

(More quotes in a second blog post to follow.)

This is the cover of the eBook edition I’m reading from the library. I think I prefer the one at the top of the post that’s posted on Goodreads. It has more of a 30s appearance to the design.

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Amy Nelson-Mille has read two novels by Robert Karjel

Amy Nelson-Mile reads non-stop, mostly mysteries but also SF, literary works, YA, and cookbooks. When she isn’t reading and experimenting with new recipes, she works as an administrator, listens to almost all types of music, and hangs out with her husband and their two dogs and two cats in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Amy and I originally met online when she organized a speaking engagement for me that I gave via Skype. Since then, it’s our mutual love of crime fiction, mysteries and reading in general that keep us in regular contact.

The Swede (Ernest Grip #1)

After the Monsoon (Ernest Grip #2)

Recently I devoured the first two novels in Robert Karjel’s Ernst Grip series, The Swede and After The Monsoon. I’d discovered them after a fellow mystery-lover had shared a review in the New York Times of the second book in the series,  “Nordic Noir, In the Horn of Africa.”

Although the review focuses on the second book, I read them in order of publication, which I always do with a series. I’m glad I did, because so much of Grip’s backstory unfolds there, backstory that is necessary for a full appreciation of the continuing development of his personal storyline in the second book.

I flew through both books over the course of a few days. In the first book, the sub-plot originally started out as an independent storyline but was connected to the main plot partway through the book. Then, at the end of the book, I was left breathless with shock by the final, unexpected connection. The impact stayed with me for several days and I couldn’t wait to read the second in the series.

I enjoyed the second book as well, although it didn’t have the same punch at the end. Still, there were moments throughout the book that linger with me; Karjel has a genius for the smaller, telling details.

Karjel has been called a part of the “Nordic Noir” genre. Although the protagonist and some of the minor characters in each are Swedish, both of these novels are primarily set outside of Scandinavia (Thailand and Africa figure prominently), unlike many other novels in the genre.

However, one shared technique that I’ve seen with all of them is a sense of emotional distance between the main character and the reader. This could simply be a side effect of the difficulties of translation, but in Karjel’s case I think it’s deliberate. Grip is a fan of the artist Edward Hopper, especially Nighthawks, and the solitude, even loneliness, shown in that painting reflects the tone of the books.

I’m absolutely looking forward to the next Karjel novel and hope that it will be one in the Grip series.

Susan Toy has read “The Overstory”

In a year during which I’ve already read so many good books – so many in fact I haven’t been able to keep up with posting about them here to this blog … I had to begin writing about this book I’ve just finished reading today that I am happy to say I found to be great! One of the best books I’ve read in my lifetime of reading! On a scale of 1-5, I would give this book an 8!

The Overstory
by Richard Powers

Listen. There’s something you need to hear. p.4

As I’ve been reading The Overstory, the latest novel by Richard Powers, I’ve also been telling good reading friends, individually, about the book, recommending that they too read it because I know it will appeal to them on so many levels: the writing is so very good; the story is seamlessly well-crafted and well-told; it’s about trees.

The very best literature not only excels because of the quality of the writing and the perfection of the story and the way the characters are drawn/depicted, but also in the way it can sway a reader to think, to see the book’s subject in a different way, and maybe even change that one reader’s mind or perspective – all without proselytizing or manipulation of the reader’s emotions.

The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story. p.488

The Overstory has done all of that for me. One long-time reading pal I wrote to about this book earlier in the week immediately told me she had heard only a day or two before from another friend who said the book had been “life-changing.” Now that I have finished reading, I have to agree. I certainly see trees and forests – and the future of the world – in a different way and, just as with the characters in the book, I feel a call to action to protect them, and to bring attention to what has been done to trees in the name of the advancement of mankind … and to amass more money for some.

This is not a book I recommend lightly to everyone to read. It’s a long novel at 502 pages, and it’s not genre fiction (which too many readers tend block themselves with into a reading box they can’t seem to escape). This book does require patience and thought, plus maybe some bit of a social conscience. Writers will appreciate the sheer mastery of the way Powers strings words together (I found myself shouting “Wow!” at sentences and descriptions that surprised and delighted me) and at the way the story itself is constructed. Readers will also understand (I hope!) most of the references made throughout to other books and authors. Gardeners will especially love that this is, ultimately, a novel about trees. I’m sure that nothing Powers says in this book about trees and their importance will surprise any of the gardeners reading it, but it was an eye-opener for me.

I read (and was a sales rep for) Richard Powers’ previous novel, Generosity, which was about a writing class. I enjoyed his writing of that very much and have wanted to read Orfeo, a more recent novel, but have just not had time. Now I plan to make the time, for reading and rereading everything Powers has written. Richard Powers has previously won major awards for his writing. I predict that this book will win even more for him. And, even if it isn’t judged the same way by others, I will not think any the less of it. When I finished reading the last page this morning, I wanted to begin reading the book all over again, it’s that good. My reading friend I mentioned above has always agreed with me on what we called, “Books that make us weep” – these are not books that make us cry because they are sad or emotional, but that make us weep out of sheer joy for the writing, the story, the characters, and how the book makes us think about its subject. Plus, when we got to the end, we wanted to begin reading all over again. That’s definitely true of The Overstory, Judy!

This, to me, is what writing and reading should be about, folks! A book so good, so GREAT!, that I want to tell everyone about it … and I do apologize to the librarian I spoke to at (perhaps) more length than I should have about it yesterday, but then she did mention how attractive she’d found the cover to be when she first unpacked the book. I do believe she already has a hold on the book though. 🙂

I’m going outside now to sit next to a tree …

An explanation: It has not gone unnoticed that I’ve read a book about saving trees in its hardcover print edition … although I did borrow this copy from the library. It’s interesting that one of the characters in the book also makes mention of the irony of her having written a bestselling book about trees (in pre-eBook days, too) and is concerned over all the trees that will be destroyed in printing it.

Darlene Foster is reading “In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills”

Darlene Foster is a Canadian author who has previously been featured on Reading Recommendations. She has recently published Amanda in New Mexico – Ghosts in the Wind in her Amanda Travels series. The book she is now reading is already on my TBR list!

In The Shadow of 10,000 Hills
by Jennifer Haupt

I found out about this book via NetGalley. It is published by my publisher and will be released April 1. It takes place in Rwanda and you know how I enjoy reading about other places. The story is told through the eyes of 5 different people, only one of who is from Rwanda. I am enjoying it, even though a few parts are disturbing. The story takes place after the genocide but there are flashbacks and of course the after-effects of such a terrible time. The well-developed characters grow on you. I am hoping for a satisfying ending as everyone comes to grips with their own story.

Darlene Foster
For more about Darlene and her books see her website.

Cheryl Schenk has read “By Gaslight”

Cheryl Schenk is the first reader-friend to answer my request to provide information on a current reading favourite for this blog! I’ve recently begun reading an eBook copy I borrowed from the library as a result of Cheryl telling me about it on Facebook. Thanks, Cheryl, for your contribution.

By Gaslight
by Stephen Price

I heard Steven Price speak at our local library during the annual Starfest event. I was not familiar with his writing, and until that night, had not heard about this book. I was taken not only by the author, but enjoyed the stories he told, and the story of how this particular book began.

The fictional story is set in 19th Century London, England, with several back-stories of the Pinkerton’s lives set earlier in America. William Pinkerton has set himself the task for pursuing a man his father had relentlessly, but unsuccessfully, pursued for many years.

It took me a long time to read this book, not only because of its lengthy 731 pages, but because I started it at a very busy time in my own life. However, the main story and all of the sub-stories, captured me from the very first moment, and I never doubted that I would read to the very end.

I found Mr. Price to be a vivid writer, so much so, that I could almost hear and smell the sounds and scents of Old England, much of which was extremely unpleasant. His main characters came to life quickly, as does the story and intrigue. The streets, the alley ways, the fog, and of course the gaslight all take on a character of their own.

I will most certainly watch for more by this author.

Susan Toy was reading “Setting Free the Kites”

I say “was” instead of “is” in the title of this post, because I read this book in less than 2 days and didn’t want to stop long enough to write about it on this blog … it was that good!!

I first heard about the book from Will Schwalbe, who you may remember as the inspiration for beginning this blog in the first place … Will had posted on Facebook a few weeks ago a link to Alex George’s novel when it was released in paperback, saying he “loved” it – and that was enough recommendation for me! I was able to borrow the eBook from the library and began reading on Tuesday morning this week, finishing it up last night. And … WOW!!! was all I could say at the time.

Setting Free the Kites
by Alex George

To say I LOVED this novel is an understatement! It definitely fulfilled all the requirements for me: Great writing/ characters/ story line/ a few plot twists I did not anticipate. I could go on listing more of this book’s qualities, but I think it’s important for other readers to discover this book for themselves. Suffice it to say it’s going on my list of “favourite books of all time”! Right up there with All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, published in 2014, another book I LOVED for all the same reasons.

What stands out, more than anything for me with both these books is the high quality of the writing. If it were only the writing I judged, I would have been a happy reader. But there were so many other elements that were equally outstanding – Oh, just read Setting Free the Kites and you’ll understand what I mean!! I cried at the end, and I’m not ashamed to tell you that! I wept, mainly because the book had ended, and I wanted to go right back to the beginning and start reading all over again. But I experienced so many other emotions while reading (joy, surprise, sadness, grief, happiness, and out-and-out hilarity that had me laughing a full and complete belly laugh so loud I felt it necessary to apologize to my neighbour for the noise – then recommend that she read this book, as well!) that by the end I felt as though I had lived a complete life alongside the main character, his family and friends.

Absolutely and positively HIGHLY recommended!!!

(All the way through reading, I had this nagging feeling that, in some ways, this book reminded me of the writing of John Irving, specifically The World According to Garp, which I had always enjoyed. I must go back and reread that novel to see if I’m right. But then I remembered that one of Irving’s early novels was titled Setting Free the Bears … perhaps that’s where the subliminal comparison came from.)

 

Susan Toy is reading “Fire and Fury”

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House
by Michael Wolff

It’s a good thing I read The Book of Joy before this book … I keep casting my thoughts back, longingly, to that lovely book. This one I’m talking about today is such a contrast to that, but it’s an important book to read, nonetheless.

Dennis is reading it at the same time, but is almost finished. I’m lagging back, wanting to read it all, but finding it difficult, only because THERE’S SO MUCH IN HERE THAT WILL TOTALLY BOGGLE ANY SANE THINKING PERSON’S MIND!!! (And remember, I was prepared for reading this one by reading Fantasyland first. Still … I shudder.)

As I explained to friends … If we’d been told this book was fiction, it would have been hilarious, one of the funniest novels ever! Unfortunately, as it’s non-fiction, it’s absolutely, gobsmackingly frightening! It could never be fiction anyway, because you just can’t possibly make up shit like this!!! (And, coincidentally, after I wrote that last line, I read that Sean Spicer’s personal mantra had become, “You can’t make this shit up!”)

In a way, it’s kind of like seeing a massive train wreck happen right in front of you, one with large numbers of casualties and destruction … you can’t do anything yourself to stop it happening or to help survivors, but you can’t take your eyes away from the horror of it – all you can do is keep watching in shock, repugnance, and disbelief.

So, I persist … But it is an excellent synopsis of this past year – the only problem being that the year has been much, much worse in many ways than we ever realized. I’m only at February, 2017. Dennis keeps saying, “Every new chapter is more astonishing than the previous one!”

It’s definitely an important book, and not to be dismissed – especially by those who think that all it covers is gossip and “fake news” about Trump … when they haven’t bothered to read the book themselves. (The worst type of book censors, in my mind!!!)

Just one quote from the book:

This became a staff goal–to create situations in which he was comfortable, to construct something of a bubble, to wall him off from a mean-spirited world. Indeed, they carefully sought to replicate this formula: Trump in the Oval Office or in a larger West Wing ceremonial room presiding in front of a receptive audience, with a photo opportunity. Trump was often his own stage manager at these events, directing people in and out of the picture.

And now – I’m just about to begin reading the chapter titled, “Russia”.

But what frightens me most is that the last page of the book will read: TO BE CONTINUED …

(By the way, Michael Wolff’s writing is excellent!)