Author du Jour: J. D. Vance

HillbillyElegy-Final-Jacket-smallHillbilly Elegy: a Memoir of a family and Culture in Crisis,” J. D. Vance

(Harper, pp 272, $ 27.99)

A book that could not be more timely. The “Hillbilly Elegy,” is a memoir about poor white folks in a Rust Bell town, Middletown, in Southern Ohio. Timely because, these are the angry folks who elected Trump on the promise that he will bring jobs back to them. Income inequality, class warfare, high unemployment, drug addictions, and family disintegration, constitute the tapestry of everyday life. One can only speculate had the Democrats gotten their hands on this treasure trove of insights of this small town America two months earlier, what could have happened . . . Though well-documented and researched, “Hillbilly Elegy” is not simply a book of sociology. It also written from the inside, by one of “theirs.”

This is where the author, J. D. Vance, grew up, in a multi-generational family originating from the Appalachia, and journeyed from, to study at the Yale Law School. The book draws with moving descriptions the portrait of a culture in crisis where lives are torn apart by cycles of economic depression, featuring Vance’s own family. J. D. Vance excels at describing how the hillbillies lost faith “in any hope of upwards mobility.” The way he talks about his own mother’s struggle with drugs, finding forgiveness in himself, showing a lack of judgment to offer understanding is truly heartbreaking. At the core, the book questions the myth of the American Dream where promises are broken, and the prospect of a good life is blunted by the bleak lack of horizons. A great portrait of proletarian literature not seen in decades.

Author du Jour: Satyajit Das

Age-of-Stagnation-smallThe Age of Stagnation: Why perpetual Growth is Unattainable and the Global Economy Is in Peril,” by Satyajit Das

(Prometheus Books, pp 340, $25.00)

Although the title of Das’s book is enough to make anyone go back to bed, the book is not only an eye-opener but also a great clarifier. Written in a clear prose and with concrete examples, Das performs an excellent demystification of the concept of perpetual growth. Think of a car running an empty but which still aims to reach the moon. This is where the global economy stands, on a verge of catastrophe. Heavily indebted, plagued with poor policies, modern economies seem out of the touch with reality. Something clearly visible at the moment with a red-hot stock market giving the impression that there is not trouble with national and international economies. This delusive aspect echoes the mindset of the pre-2008 Great Recession. Das challenges the deep-seated assumptions that led us spiraling into the global monetary crisis, the “easy money” approach, and he forecasts instead years of stagnation as a direct result.

The best part of the book is where Das makes an important argument about the political responsibility of our leaders, who display a vast array of denials and paralysis, while promoting short-term policies that only overwhelm the system. At that point, he asks what is the big picture going forward for Western countries and the meaning of their democracy, when GDP ratios top the 100%, and policies call for the increase of national debts, while diminishing supply of raw-products, disappearance of jobs, take their toll and exacerbate the population? What to do when the developing countries’ debts prevent them from ever becoming solvent and impact our polity? These are just a few of the challenges that Das brings to the table of fundamentals.  Perhaps endless growth may not be the solution to our well-being. The buzzword these days for a way out is “degrowth.”

Author du Jour: Cara Brookins

January 2017. First of all in the behalf of the Books du Jour team, Happy New Year to you. May your eyes get not too exhausted from reading too many books.  Always a risk.  We are kicking off this new year with an amazing selection of new books.

As new know, even though truckloads of books see the light year after year, with each new year the same question remains. On which note to start the year, especially when it begins with the most controversial presidential inauguration ever? On a spirit of celebration? On a serious or mournful note? Is it possible to be chirpy when the anxious making uncertainty of the months ahead already corrupt our present? Some claims that knowing nothing is better. But as a critic, I only find solace in the better understanding of circumstances. Below you will find a selection of books that reflects the concerns of the day.

FinalCover.Rise-smallRise: How a Family Built a House” by Cara Brookins

(Saint Martin Press, pp 320, $25.99)

Here is a book that I expect will make a lot of buzz when it launches in mid January. “Rise” is a memoir of a long and incredible journey of its author, Cara Brookins, a single mother of four, who . . . Before I proceed and tell you what the book is about, I would like to explain why this memoir touches the nerve of a nation more than others of late, such as “Eat, Pray, Love” or “Wild.” These bestsellers have a similar thematic: a lost or troubled soul goes into the world in search of meaning and restoration of a sense of personal fulfillment. “Rise” comes free from the geographical journey. In fact, the story pretty much circles very close to where the author’s life crumbled, Little Rock, AK.

There is a reason for this absence of pilgrimage. “Rise” is about a house. The incredible endeavor of its author to build her own house with her four children. Knowing the symbolic importance of the role of owning a house in the American psyche, Brookins offers a tremendous journey of resilience and recovery in the face of adversity. In this occurrence, three failed marriages with nefarious partners. It will be hard for the readers not sympathize with Brookins’s predicament. Her kids are solid, insightful, naturally tuned in to their dire circumstances and their mother’s dilemma. Though, Brookins’s writing flies off the page with exalting verve, which at times did not give me time to absorb the magnitude of what was happening, her story is deeply compelling.

For those who believe that only a trip to India or a marathon jaunt along the Compostela trail can unlock their life issues, they should be reminded that a home is also where one builds or rebuilds it. Expect Brookins’s “Rise” to teach you that.

Author du Jour: Marcia Clark

Moral-Defense-Clark-smallMoral Defense” by Marcia Clark

(Thomas & Mercer, pp 460, $24.95)

Let me start with this month’s most unlikely candidate. Someone who has been in the news twenty or so years ago during the infamous O. J. trial. I am referring to Marcia Clark. Her new book, “Moral Defense,” is a novel. Yes, you have read loud and clear. A crime novel to be precise, which is by the way not her first one. “Moral Defense,” is a sequel to “Blood Defense” (soon to be a TV series).  Of course, probably like most people, you did not know that Clark also wrote crime fiction. After all, she gained fame for being the prosecutor of one of the most controversial murders in our history, something which cannot be easy to shake off, especially if you intend to reinvent yourself.

But in defense of Clark, she reads like a seasoned pro. “Moral Defense” follows the criminal defense attorney, Samantha Brinkman, who represents a teenager, whose family has been brutally murdered. The more Samantha puts her case together, the more she discovers that her narrative thread does not align. If everyone has been murdered, how come her client has survived? . . . Beyond the plot, ultimately, what makes a thriller stand above the fray is not the clever complexity of twists and turns, but the moral questions the main character confronts. And there Clark’s experience and honesty triumph.

Author du Jour: Andrew Gross

One-Man-Gross-smallThe One Man” by Andrew Gross

(Minotaur Books, pp 418, $26.99)

The One Man” marks a radical departure for Andrew Gross. His past novels (nine and counting) were all in the pure thriller genre, a craft he learned straight from the Lord himself, James Patterson, with whom he co-authored several novels. “The One Man” however is a war novel, set in WWII, with a thriller plot. A daring move for an author of this caliber with a large following. But audacity combined with skills and originality can only translate in superior work, which is what “The One Man” bears witness. The characters have gained depth. Descriptions are layered, breathing life, while the plot is more organic and humanly warmer, an anachronism despite being set in a death camp.

In this finely chiseled engaging novel, a Polish-descent polyglot intelligence officer, Nathan Blum, is offered the mission of a lifetime: enter Auschwitz and escape with one of the prisoner, a professor named Alfred Mendl, who is believed to hold crucial secret that could put an end to the folly of the Third Reich. The ending will not be disclosed here . . . but the novel questions the nature of meaning and devotion to a cause, especially when the involvement calls for huge personal sacrifices for the good of all.