Once again, I’ve fallen behind in my blogging so I gotta do another catch-up post. I don’t enjoy doing this because it feels like cheating. But hey, what, can I guy do? I got books to write about. So, as they say in the entertainment world, the show must go on.
Of the three books I’ve chosen to briefly spotlight, two are nonfiction and one is fiction. Two are from authors I’m familiar with and one is by an author who’s new to me. As far as subject matter goes, we’re dealing with one of the world’s largest and revered public libraries, life during the German Occupation of France and humanity’s battle against infectious disease.
Scott Sherman’s Patience and Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library is another one of those books that was completely off my radar and until I spotted a copy on display at my local public library. Published in 2015, Sherman’s book is an expose of just how close an alliance of real estate developers, NYC power brokers and library big-wigs came to selling off the NYPL’s local branches, gutting the main branch’s iconic reading rooms and relocating the library’s millions of books to an off-site storage facility in New Jersey. The planned overhaul shocked not just NYC’s scholars, intelligentsia and bibliophiles, but many of the world’s famous novelists. The result was a public battle to save the library.
Sherman’s book was an eye opener for me. One, I had no idea this fight to save the NYPL ever happened. Two, I had no idea the NYPL is a nonprofit corporation. All these years I just assumed it was a municipal solely entity owned and operated by NYC.
I was afraid Sherman’s wouldn’t have enough material to devote an entire book to the NYPL controversy and in the end I was relieved he could pull it off. Sometimes these kind of investigative pieces make great lengthy pieces in publications like the New Yorker or the Atlantic but go flat when stretched out and padded to book length. Fortunately, that didn’t feel the case here. Not once while reading Patience and Fortitude was I bored. My favorite parts of Patience and Fortititude were those dealing with the library’s history. (I remember reading in Why the West is the Best the first book checked out of the NYPL was not in English, but in Russian.)
With Alan Furst’s latest novel A Hero of France being released just last week, I figured the time was right to grab one of Furst’s earlier books from the library before they all got snatched up. With only a handful of his Night Soldiers series I haven’t read, I opted for his 1999 offering Red Gold because it’s set mostly in Paris during the German Occupation. For me anyway, it’s also been tough to find an available copy at the library. Therefore, when given this chance I grabbed Red Gold.
The good news is, even though it’s a sequel of sorts to The World at Night, which to me is the weakest novel of the Night Soldiers series, I enjoyed it a bit more than it’s predecessor. The bad news is just like with The World at Night, I’d have to say it’s one of my least favorite novels of Furst’s But I still like his stuff and I can’t wait to read A Hero of France.
Even though I was slightly disappointed by Sonia Shah’s The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years I could not resist giving her latest book Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond a shot when a copy became available at my public library. After all, I’ve never been able to resist a good book on nasty diseases.
Shah’s book looks not just at the horrible pandemics of year’s past, but how also how some of these like cholera have recently come back with a vengeance to once again haunt us. She also fears in this age of worldwide jet travel, massive factory farms of antibiotic fed chickens, increasing deforestation and the rapid rate in which microorganisms mutate, are we due for another deadly pandemic? Perhaps only time will tell.
While I didn’t love it as much as David Quammen Spillover or Viral Storm, I enjoyed it more than Fever. As a result I have no reservations recommending Pandemic to anyone wanting to read a good book on horrible diseases.
There you have it, three books that in their own ways managed to exceed my slightly low expectations.