One victim has his throat slit in a church. Another is immolated. Still another undergoes a medical procedure, imagining that the stuff in the syringe is going to be helpful, when in fact the stuff is poison. A hated barrister is sliced open with a letter opener. An old cranky wheelchair-bound man is sent sailing off a cliff. A writer of murder mysteries is found in a boat with both hands chopped off at the wrist.
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Everyone applauds Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad books for covertly introducing children to the idea of long-term gay love. (Well, almost everyone.) And yes, on one level, the bond between Frog and Toad is touching and inspiring.
These creatures cook for each other, make special gifts, tell each other stories, act as bedside nurses, write kind letters to each other, and do a million other small, nice, thoughtful things. Just like we’re taught to do. And then we grow up.
When I was a senior at Purdue, I took a class on “American Regionalism” with Sean “Kip” Robisch, and it completely changed how I looked at literature. From delving into Ken Kesey’s underrated classic, Sometimes a Great Notion to discovering Willa Cather for the first time, Robisch opened a door for me into a world where the physical setting of a novel or poem mattered just as much as its contents and that writing about a place was the highest form of realism.
Novella Carpenter is best known for her 2009 memoir, Farm City, wherein she details her decision to squat farm the empty lot beside her rental. That this land is located in one of Oakland, California’s worst neighborhoods only adds to the madcap quality of Carpenter’s choice.
Make no mistake, however, she is utterly serious about life off the grid in one of the country’s grittiest cities. Farm City won Carpenter a lot of readers with her humor, honesty, and earthy refusal of consumerist values.
Back when publishers still released books about Iraq, Thomas Ricks wrote a pair of them that were forward-thinking for the time but now look powerfully prescient. Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005 (2006) was a damning an indictment of the Bush / Cheney / Rumsfeld crew’s excited rush to war and then seeming boredom with the details of actually managing it. It wasn’t the first book to lay out that case, but given the depth of Ricks’s reporting and his lack of ideological cant (which hampered a number of other books on the Iraq fisaco), it was one of the most definitive and difficult to dispute.
It was Fiasco’s less-celebrated 2009 companion volume, however, that truly stands out today.