Book Beginnings: Corruptible by Brian Klaas

Not only does Gilion host the European Reading and TBR 22 in 22 on her Rose City Reader blog but also Book Beginnings on Friday. While I’m no stranger to her European Reading Challenge, only recently I decided to participate in Book Beginnings on Friday. This week I’m back with another post.

For Book Beginnings on Friday Gilion asks us to simply “share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are reading this week, or just a book that caught your fancy and you want to highlight.”

MY BOOK BEGINNING

Does power corrupt, or are corrupt people drawn to power? Are entrepreneurs who embezzle and cops who kill the outgrowths of bad systems, or are they just bad people? Are tyrants made or born?

Last week I featured the 2019 memoir Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Eritrean-American lawyer and disability rights advocate Haben Girma. The week before that it was the 2016 novel This House Is Mine by German writer and linguist Dörte Hansen. This week it’s Brian Klaas’s 2021 Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us.

I heard about Corruptible late last year when the book’s author Brian Klaas began making the rounds on some of my favorite podcasts. After experiencing first-hand the horrors of toxic leadership in the workplace, Corruptible sounded like the perfect book for me. Recently, I stopped procrastinating and finally borrowed a Kindle version through Overdrive. Instead of me blathering on, here’s what Amazon has to say:

Corruptible draws on over 500 interviews with some of the world’s top leaders—from the noblest to the dirtiest—including presidents and philanthropists as well as rebels, cultists, and dictators. Some of the fascinating insights include: how facial appearance determines who we pick as leaders, why narcissists make more money, why some people don’t want power at all and others are drawn to it out of a psychopathic impulse, and why being the “beta” (second in command) may actually be the optimal place for health and well-being.

Book Beginnings: Haben by Haben Girma

Not only does Gilion host the European Reading and TBR 22 in 22 on her Rose City Reader blog but also Book Beginnings on Friday. While I’m no stranger to her European Reading Challenge, only recently I decided to participate in Book Beginnings on Friday. This week I’m back with another post.

For Book Beginnings on Friday Gilion asks us to simply “share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are reading this week, or just a book that caught your fancy and you want to highlight.”

MY BOOK BEGINNING

I’m deafblind. Because I can’t see faces or recognize voices,
every conversation needs to start with a name. My friends begin conversations like this: “It’s Cam,” “It’s Gordon,” or if someone is drinking, “It’s me.”

Last week I featured the 2016 novel This House Is Mine by German writer and linguist Dörte Hansen. The week before it was the 2016 biography True Believer: Stalin’s Last American Spy by Hungarian-American writer Kati Marton. This week it’s the 2019 memoir Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Eritrean-American lawyer and disability rights advocate Haben Girma.

Haben is one of several books over the last month or so that’s intrigued me as I’ve walked by it on the shelf during my weekend trips to the public library. The true story of a death and blind woman who was able to graduate from Harvard Law School was simply too hard to resist. I was also pleased to learn she did her undergraduate studies at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, OR, a city where I lived my entire life until just a few years ago. Instead of me blathering on, here’s what the book’s page on Amazon has to say:

Haben defines disability as an opportunity for innovation. She learned non-visual techniques for everything from dancing salsa to handling an electric saw. She developed a text-to-braille communication system that created an exciting new way to connect with people. Haben pioneered her way through obstacles, graduated from Harvard Law, and now uses her talents to advocate for people with disabilities.

 

Immigrant Stories: A Dream Called Home by Reyna Grande

After spending much of this summer reading books for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge I was ready for something different. At the library one weekend I added to my growing stack of library books cradled in my arms a pair of memoirs that had previously caught my eye. Reyna Grande’s A Dream Called Home appealed to me because I can’t resist a good immigrant memoir. Sadly, I ignored A Dream Called Home for several weeks before I finally started reading it. I’m happy to say once I did I whipped through Grande’s 2018 memoir in no time.

Unbeknownst to me, it’s a sequel of sorts to her previous memoir The Distance Between Us. A Dream Called Home begins with her college years at UC-Santa Cruz followed by her brief stint as a teacher at an economically depressed public school, followed by a more rewarding position as an ESL instructor teaching adults happy to learn English. From start to finish however, her overriding quest was to become a published and successful writer. As a non-native born woman of color was, and still is, forced to navigate the dominant Anglo culture, and all that comes with it. On top of that, Grande also had to deal with a host of other challenges including a rather troublesome extended family, home ownership in a gang-plagued LA neighborhood, the pressures of single parenthood and her life-long habit of falling for feckless men.

But Grande is a fighter, and without revealing too much, in the end she gets published, earns critical acclaim and even meets a quality guy. Probably the most valuable take away from A Dream Called Home is to be a successful writer one needs not only talent but a whole lot of perseverance.

Book Beginnings: This House Is Mine by Dörte Hansen

Not only does Gilion host the European Reading and TBR 22 in 22 on her Rose City Reader blog but also Book Beginnings on Friday. While I’m no stranger to her European Reading Challenge, only recently I decided to participate in Book Beginnings on Friday. This week I’m back with another post.

For Book Beginnings on Friday Gilion asks us to simply “share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are reading this week, or just a book that caught your fancy and you want to highlight.”

MY BOOK BEGINNING

Some nights, when the storm came in from the west the house groaned like a boat tossed back and forth on a heavy sea. Gusts of wind squealed before being deadened by the old walls.
That’s what witches sound like when they’re burning, Vera thought, or children when they get their fingers caught.

Last week I featured the 2016 biography True Believer: Stalin’s Last American Spy by Hungarian-American writer Kati Marton. The week before it was the 2021 novel The Wrong End of the Telescope by Lebanese-American writer Rabih Alameddine. This week it’s the 2016 novel This House Is Mine by German writer and linguist Dörte Hansen.

This House Is Mine is yet another one of those books I discovered because a helpful librarian recommended it by propping the book upright with its cover prominently displayed. Noticing its lead character is a wartime refugee from former German East Prussia I figured Hansen’s novel could make a good follow-up to Svenja O’Donnell’s 2020 family memoir Inge’s War: A German Woman’s Story of Family, Secrets, and Survival Under Hitler. Instead of me blathering on, here’s what novel’s page on Amazon has to say:

All her life Vera has felt like a stranger in the old and drafty half-timbered farmhouse she arrived at as a five-year-old refugee from East Prussia in 1945, and yet she can’t seem to let it go. Sixty years later, her niece Anne suddenly shows up at her door with her small son. Anne has fled the trendy Hamburg, Germany neighborhood she never fit into after her relationship imploded. Vera and Anne are strangers to each other but have much more in common than they think. As the two strong-willed and very different women share the great old house, they find what they have never thought to search for: a family.

Library Loot

With a tall stack of library books by my bed I should be content with what I’ve got and continue reading my way through it. But after returning several books to the library the other day I felt reckless and borrowed more. Will I ever learn? Probably not. 

 

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading to encourage bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write-up your post, steal the Library Loot icon and link your post using the Mr. Linky on Claire’s blog.  

Book Beginnings: True Believer by Kati Marton

Not only does Gilion host the European Reading and TBR 22 in 22 on her Rose City Reader blog but also Book Beginnings on Friday. While I’m no stranger to her European Reading Challenge, only recently I decided to participate in Book Beginnings on Friday. This week I’m back with another post.

For Book Beginnings on Friday Gilion asks us to simply “share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are reading this week, or just a book that caught your fancy and you want to highlight.”

MY BOOK BEGINNING

How does an idealist turn into a willing participant in murder? How does such a person-who is neither poor, nor socially deprived-learn to crush those he loves for the sake of a cause, a promise, and an illusion?

Last week I featured the 2021 novel The Wrong End of the Telescope by Lebanese-American writer Rabih Alameddine. The week before it was the 2012 Kindle release of Lawrence Durrell’s 1960 travel memoir Bitter Lemons of Cyprus: Life on a Mediterranean Island. This week it’s the 2016 biography True Believer: Stalin’s Last American Spy by Hungarian-American writer Kati Marton.

I’ve been wanting to read True Believer for the last five or six years. However, I had no idea until held a copy in my hands the author, Kati Marton also wrote The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World. I thoroughly enjoyed her 2006 book and had I known she was the author of True Believer I would have read it a long time ago. After starting the book just this morning it’s shaping up to be a winner.

Instead of me blathering on, here’s what novel’s page on Amazon has to say:

This astonishing real-life spy thriller, filled with danger, misplaced loyalties, betrayal, treachery, and pure evil, with a plot twist worthy of John le Carré, is relevant today as a tale of fanaticism and the lengths it takes us to.

True Believer reveals the life of Noel Field, an American who betrayed his country and crushed his family. Field, once a well-meaning and privileged American, spied for Stalin during the 1930s and ’40s. Then, a pawn in Stalin’s sinister master strategy, Field was kidnapped and tortured by the KGB and forced to testify against his own Communist comrades.

20 Books of Summer: Bitter Lemons of Cyprus by Lawrence Durrell

Based solely on a quick glance at a map, it might be hard to think of Cyprus as European. A relative stone’s throw from Turkey, one might consider it part of the Middle East, or at the very least the Levant. Despite our geographical first impressions, based on its deep cultural ties to the Adriatic and spending close to a century as a British possession Cyprus is more than arguably a European nation. Even with the northeast section of Cyprus an internationally unrecognized Turkish puppet state the Greek-speaking island republic was welcomed into the EU in 2004, and the Eurozone four years later.

Perhaps failing to fully comprehend this, for as long as I’ve participated in Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge I’ve never read a book representing Cyprus. Seeking to change that I recently borrowed through my public library’s Overdrive portal a 2012 Kindle release of Lawrence Durrell’s 1960 travel memoir Bitter Lemons of Cyprus: Life on a Mediterranean Island. Durrell’s very British, very mid-20th century first-hand account of the island’s twilight years under colonial rule is a pleasurable mix of travelogue, history and politics served with wry humor.

By 1953, after years of serving the British Crown overseas in the Balkans Lawrence Durrell has come to Cyprus in search of a quieter life. The former government official, writer and poet would love nothing more than secure a modest country residence, live convivially with the locals and embrace whatever advantages come his way. In what feels like no time he’s on a trajectory to accomplish all of this, and even more when more larger, unreconcilable forces get in his way.

Across the globe colonial subjects are demanding their freedom. On Cyprus, voices claiming to represent the Island’s Greek majority begin calling not only for the end of British rule but union or Enosis with the Kingdom of Greece. Emboldened by the Island’s Greek Orthodox clergy and pro-Enosis broadcasts from Radio Athens increasing numbers of Greek Cypriots demand the British leave the island and Cyprus unite with Greece. (An eery precursor to our current American fundamentalist preachers in tandem with right-wing media personalities peddling election denialism and pro-insurrectionist propaganda.) Frustrated by Britain’s refusal to leave voluntarily, some resort to violence. As a growing insurgency of bombings and assassinations erupts on the island the British are forced to counter with armed actions of their own, and in the process help escalate hostilities.

Cursed, as the Chinese would say with having to live in interesting times, Durrell is forced to contend with this rapidly deteriorating situation. Be they Greek or Turk, Durrell has been the appreciative recipient of bountiful Cypriot hospitality, making many a good friend among the locals. But as things spin out of control, for safety’s sake he’s forced to leave Cyprus. His decision to leave made easier knowing his Cypriot friends will no longer be at risk for being killed as collaborators based on their associations with him.

I mentioned in an earlier post Robert Kaplan has a new book out entitled Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age and I’ve placed a hold on it with the library. Until my copy become available, I’ll probably make do with books on that part of the world and parts adjacent to it. Who knows, that might even include another good book or two about Cyprus.

Sunday Salon

For over a month I’ve been taking part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

Last week I started and finished the 2021 novel The Wrong End of the Telescope by Lebanese-American writer Rabih Alameddine. Currently I’m still reading Lawrence Durrell’s Bitter Lemons of Cyprus: Life on a Mediterranean Island and Dzevad Karahasan’s Sarajevo, Exodus of a CityLike I mentioned last week all three of these books are for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge

Articles. With my nose buried in several books last week I managed to read just two articles. This week I’ll try harder and hopefully read more. 

Listening. Like I’ve said before, with so many things going on in the world there’s no shortage of material for my favorite podcasts. 

Watching. Right now I’m watching just one TV show and it’s Mr. Robot. Like I’ve said before it just gets crazier and crazier thanks to insane plot twists, great writing and superb acting. It’s been one hell of a wild ride. Unfortunately for me, I have only two episodes left to watch. 

Everything else. Friday, instead of indulging in my weekly ritual of fine wine and conversation at my favorite local winery I drove up to Portland. After a quick trip to Powell’s Books I proceeded to my friends’ place for an evening of beers, fun and frivolity. Our wonderful hosts fired up the grill and put on the soccer game. After watching the home team come from behind to beat our hated rivals the Seattle Sounders a few of us stayed up past our bedtimes conversing on the porch. Saturday on my way home I hit a massive church yard sale and walked away with small stack of books, almost all of which were free. Among the treasures are Pulitzer-Prize winners American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. 

Book Beginnings: The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine

Not only does Gilion host the European Reading and TBR 22 in 22 on her Rose City Reader blog but also Book Beginnings on Friday. While I’m no stranger to her European Reading Challenge, only recently I decided to participate in Book Beginnings on Friday. This week I’m back with another post.

For Book Beginnings on Friday Gilion asks us to simply “share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are reading this week, or just a book that caught your fancy and you want to highlight.”

MY BOOK BEGINNING

He was my people—he and I kneaded by the same hands. He was on the shorter side, my height, not in the greatest of shape. His hair had less gray than mine but was the same shade of dark. We had similar facial features. I would have recognized that he was from the Levant even without the Palestine Red Crescent Society vest he sported.

Last week I featured the 2012 Kindle release of Lawrence Durrell’s 1960 travel memoir Bitter Lemons of Cyprus: Life on a Mediterranean Island. The week before it was Life of Pi author Yann Marte’s 2016 novel The High Mountains of Portugal. This week it’s the critically acclaimed 2021 novel The Wrong End of the Telescope by Lebanese-American writer Rabih Alameddine.

Alameddine’s novel caught my eye back in June when I spotted a copy at the public library as part of its Pride Month display. Sucked in by its cool cover art, upon closer inspection I noticed it’s set on the Greek island of Lesbos during the 2015 -2016 refugee crises. Recently, I was in the mood for even more international fiction and remembering I could apply it towards Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge I grabbed the book during one of my library visits. Once again I’ve deviated from my original 20 Books of Summer but since the challenge is ending in less than a week who cares. LOL!

Earlier I was going to read James Angelos’s The Full Catastrophe: Travels Among the New Greek Ruins to fulfill the Greece requirement for the European Reading Challenge but decided to go with The Wrong End of the Telescope and return The Full Catastrophe to the library unread. But a few days ago I learned Robert Kaplan has a new book out entitled Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age so I placed it on hold with the library. While I’m impatiently waiting my turn I’ll be reading additional books about this part of the world, including stuff on the former Yugoslavia, Greece and Italy. Because nothing takes the sting out of waiting for a good book than killing time reading other good books.

Like I mentioned earlier, The Wrong End of the Telescope received widespread critical acclaim, including winning the 2022 PEN/Faulkner Award. I didn’t remember until this morning the author also wrote my favorite essay from The Best American Essays 2020 entitled “How to Bartend.”  Instead of me blathering on, here’s what novel’s page on Amazon has to say:

By National Book Award and the National Book Critics’ Circle Award finalist for An Unnecessary Woman, Rabih Alameddine, comes a transporting new novel about an Arab American trans woman’s journey among Syrian refugees on Lesbos island.

Mina Simpson, a Lebanese doctor, arrives at the infamous Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, Greece, after being urgently summoned for help by her friend who runs an NGO there. Alienated from her family except for her beloved brother, Mina has avoided being so close to her homeland for decades. But with a week off work and apart from her wife of thirty years, Mina hopes to accomplish something meaningful, among the abundance of Western volunteers who pose for selfies with beached dinghies and the camp’s children. Soon, a boat crosses bringing Sumaiya, a fiercely resolute Syrian matriarch with terminal liver cancer. Determined to protect her children and husband at all costs, Sumaiya refuses to alert her family to her diagnosis. Bonded together by Sumaiya’s secret, a deep connection sparks between the two women, and as Mina prepares a course of treatment with the limited resources on hand, she confronts the circumstances of the migrants’ displacement, as well as her own constraints in helping them.

20 Books of Summer: Grand Hotel Abyss by Stuart Jeffries

Late one Sunday morning at the public library, a year or so before COVID hit I spotted a copy of Stuart Jeffries’s Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School. Standing upright with its cover prominently displayed to all, I sensed it was some librarian’s official or unofficial recommendation. Knowing little about the Frankfort School, I had some vague recollection of its influence on mid-20th century leftist thought. So I made a mental note to someday read Jeffries’s book only later to forget.
Fast forward to earlier this summer, when, after telling one of my professor buddies who’s deep into the Frankfort School about the book he ran out and bought a copy. The next thing I knew he’d read the first two chapters and invited me to discuss Grand Hotel Abyss with him over wine at a local winery. Accepting his kind invitation I borrowed a Kindle edition of Jeffries’s 2016 book through Overdrive and went to work reading.

In the early 1920s a group of German Jewish intellectuals of the Marxist persuasion found themselves in a bit of a quandary. Within their ranks it had been a tenet of faith that when the time came for the working class to finally revolt against their capitalist masters it would begin in Germany. Lo and behold, much to their surprise when the revolution did break out it happened not in Germany, the birthplace of Karl Marx but in Russia. (On top of that, when Lenin and company did seize power it was more like a coup and not a workers’ uprising.) Adding insult to injury, in the following years the nation’s working class began showing its reactionary side, preferring to support conservative politicians and causes. Instead of embracing the communists or even the more moderate socialists many backed the Nazis.

With seed money from a wealthy grain merchant (no pun intended) the group founded an independent research agency in Frankfort to understand why capitalism, at least outside of Russia, survived even in the face of German hyperinflation and worldwide economic depression. Operating outside established academia, the organization’s highly-educated Marxist scholars (influenced as well by Freud, Proust and Weber) began their critique of not just capitalism but society as a whole. At first their influence, even in the rarefied realm of academia was minimal. Unable and unwilling to engage with members of the working class many saw them as nothing more than a high-minded talking club. György Lukács, the great Hungarian Marxist philosopher and historian called them “a hotel on the edge of the abyss”, voyeurs perched upon high watching the world slip into fascism.

Staffed by Jewish Marxists, the institute was firmly in the Nazi’s crosshairs when they seized power in 1933. With the unfortunate exception of Walter Benjamin, (who committed suicide after being denied entry into neutral Spain) members found sanctuary in either Britain or America, with several following their countrymen to Los Angeles. No strangers to academia, many landed positions at universities. During the Second World War several even went to work for the OSS as intelligence analysts thanks to their understanding of German society.

In latter years Frankfort School alumni and their disciples would shift their attention from fascist Europe to the capitalist West. Ironically, some adherents now saw unbridled American consumerism as dehumanizing as Nazism. Others helped inspire a new generation of radicals like Angela Davis, those committed to overthrowing oppression and ushering in a more egalitarian order.

This is a meaty book of considerable depth. True to the book’s subtitle much of it’s a biography of the individual Frankfort School thinkers, in addition to their ideas and the greater political and social contexts from which they sprung forth. Few can deny some of their more arcane criticisms, especially of jazz, movies and consumerism in general come across as downright loopy. But their ideas, or perhaps more importantly their questions have influenced countless individuals over the decades as they labored to understand, and ultimately change the dominant sociopolitical order. Please consider Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School highly recommended.