Each month my goal is to read five books on a variety of topics and from different genres. I read in order to learn and to start conversations with readers and others I encounter along the way. Here are the books I read in October 2022. If you click on the title, you’ll go to the longer post on More to Come. Enjoy!
The Architecture of Suspense: The built world in the films of Alfred Hitchcock (2022) by Christine Madrid French is the rare book from an academic publisher (the University of Virginia Press) that is academically sound in its field (architectural history), insightful in its conclusions, instructive in its suggestions as to how her findings can be applied in the real world (through historic preservation), and — perhaps best-of-all — a page-turner that a reader simply cannot put down. Chris looks at how Alfred Hitchcock made buildings characters in his films, including the mid-century modernist house as the new villain’s lair, the urban honeycombs of apartments and skyscrapers, and, of course, the famous dilapidated mansion and roadside motel. A spooky good read!
Lemon (2021) is the first novel translated into English by the Korean writer Kwon Yeo-sun. The story revolves around the murder years earlier of a beautiful 18-year-old woman and how the case turns cold when the two prime suspects cannot be convicted. Yet the murdered woman’s sister begins her own journey to find the truth, a journey that intersects with the lives and fears of two other women also haunted by the incident. The whodunnit style is merely a device to have the reader consider issues of fear, guilt, grief, and trauma. It is also, as more than one review has noted, a “shrewd diagnosis of a culture that disempowers women — commodifying and consuming them, one after another, until their appeal wears out.” Yeo-sun’s writing is taut, pulling the reader along page-after-page to follow the unfolding, complicated, and contradictory paths each of the women take.
The Baseball 100 (2021) by Joe Posnanski — the self-described “writer of sports and other nonsense” — is characterized by the publisher as “a magnum opus…an audacious, singular, and masterly book that took a lifetime to write.” This is Joe’s intimate and very personal look at baseball history through the lives of the 100 greatest players of all time. The rankings are important, and Posnanski explains how his rankings came to take the form they have in this book. There is a fairly intricate formula he uses to set the rankings, and then some of his personal quirks intrude that set the players in certain places (e.g., #56 for Joe DiMaggio for his historic 56-game hitting streak; #42 for Jackie Robinson for his uniform number, the most famous in baseball). But mostly he wants these rankings to “give this book shape and spark a few feelings.” And they do. I happen to strongly agree with his number 1 ranking, but I know others who would disagree. The Baseball 100 is pure baseball bliss.
Survivor: The triumph of an ordinary man in the Khmer Rouge Genocide (2012), is by Chum Mey, one of seven survivors of the S-21 Khmer Rouge prison. As Mey tells in his captivating book, he was fortunate. His life was spared because, as a mechanic, he was able to fix a broken typewriter for his captors, who then kept him alive in order to work on other machinery at the site. The book, told in the first person, is a raw and moving story of a poor Cambodian peasant whose parents died when he was young. His dream to be a car mechanic led him to learn the trade, and then to go to Phnom Penh after the Khmer Rouge takeover because that was where the buses and cars were located. Like many in Cambodia, he was arrested under false pretenses and sent to Tuol Sleng, the name for the S-21 prison and torture center. The story of his resilience and impact is inspiring.
1368: China and the Making of the Modern World (2022) by Ali Humayun Akhtar makes a compelling case that China’s “first modern global age” began in 1368 with the establishment of the Ming dynasty and lasted until the abdication of the last Qing emperor in 1912. In Akhtar’s capable hands, we learn of the series of diplomatic missions that went out from the Ming rulers to various parts of the world. Though it may come as a surprise to many, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English traders maintained an unusually peaceful relationship with China until the 19th century. “Finished textiles flowed from Safavid Persia and South Asia to Japan; silver bullion from Japan to China; and tea, ceramics and silk from China to Europe.” The Opium Wars, where Britain and later France brutally defended their right to import opium into China, signaled the ending of China’s first great global era. Both China and Japan were humbled by Western military superiority of the 19th century, and reformers in both countries pushed for a western-style industrialized empire. That they succeeded has generated a new set of problems along with enduring questions for the west, questions where history can be a guide to China’s current global aspirations.
More to come…
This Weekly Reader features links to recent articles, blog posts, or books that grabbed my interest or tickled my fancy. I hope you find something that makes you laugh, think, or cry.
Photo of Thomas Hughes Memorial Library in Rugby, Tennessee, by DJB