Book Reviews

Alan's haunting novel of the AIDS epidemic, As If Death Summoned, was released on December 1, 2020, World AIDS Day, and can be ordered at your favorite bookstore or from any online bookseller (418 pp) Paperback, $18.95, e-Book, $9.99. Read the reviews here.

Lily King

Grove Press

Nearly every guy I’ve dated believed they should already be famous, believed that greatness was their destiny and they were already behind schedule. An early moment of intimacy often involved a confession of this sort: a childhood vision, teacher’s prophesy, a genius IQ. At first, with my boyfriend in college, I believed it, too. Later, I thought I was just choosing delusional men. Now I understand it’s how boys are raised to think, how they are lured into adulthood. I’ve met ambitious women, driven women, but no woman has ever told me that greatness was her destiny.

     from Writers & Lovers


Eric Weiner

Avid Reader Press



We think we want information and knowledge. We do not. We want wisdom. There’s a difference. Information is a jumble of facts, knowledge a more organized jumble. Wisdom untangles the facts, makes sense of them, and crucially, suggests how best to use them. As the British musician Miles Kington said: “Knowledge is knowing that tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”

     from The Socrates Express


James Raven, editor

Oxford University Press



Cultural conservatives of the late eighteenth century imagined a wide range of contemporary ills  that they blamed on the malign influence of untutored reading: a wave of suicides, set off by the reading of Werther and the writings of the philosophes; an epidemic of masturbation, spread through the solitary reading of erotic literature … and, most ominously, a growing incapacity of women afflicted with ‘reading addiction’ to distinguish adequately between fact and fiction and to attend responsibly to their daily chores.

     from The Oxford Illustrated History 
                of the Book


Maggie O’Farrell

Alfred A. Knopf



Mary inhales, shutting her eyes for a moment, as if mustering the final shreds of her patience. “Agnes,” she says, opening her eyes and fixing them on her son, “is with child. Says it’s yours.”

He gives a nod and a shrug, all at the same time, eyeing the broad back of his father, who looms behind his mother, still facing the street…

“Is it?” his mother says, her face white, stretched.

“Is it what?” …


“Is what mine?” …

Mary presses her lips together. “Did you put it there?”

“Did I put what where?”


                               from Hamnet


Megha Majumdar

Alfred A. Knopf



I learned English, the language of progress. I couldn’t get anywhere if I didn’t speak English, even I knew that. But I dreaded being asked to stand up and read from the textbook…The other girls, from middle-class homes where they read English newspapers and watched Hollywood films, disdained me. But in the slum, I was the only one with an English textbook, and who cared whether I was good or not? It was a place where most could not read a word—Bengali or English—and what I had was a great skill.

                         from A Burning


Ibram X. Kendi

Nation Books



Segregationist geneticists powered forward on their wild goose chase, trying to figure out something that did not exist: how the races differed genetically…“There is no such thing as a set of genes that belong exclusively to one [racial] group and not another,” University of Pennsylvania bioethics scholar Dorothy Roberts explained in her 2011 book Fatal Invention, in which she exposes the unscientific basis of biological races, race-specific genes, and race-specific drugs for race-specific diseases. “Race is not a biological category that is politically charged,” she added. “It is a political category that has been disguised as a biological one.”

      from Stamped From the Beginning


Colson Whitehead


The discovery of the bodies was an expensive complication for the real estate company awaiting the all clear from the environmental study, and for the state’s attorney, which had recently closed an investigation into the abuse stories. Now they had to start a new inquiry, establish the identities of the deceased and the manner of death, and there was no telling when the whole damned place could be razed, cleared, and neatly erased from history, which everyone agreed was long overdue.

                          from The Nickel Boys


Sonia Purnell

Penguin Books

Dubbed the “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” the Special Operations Executive “found the search for a new type of rule-breaking recruit capable of ‘absolute secrecy’ and ‘fanatical enthusiasm’ rough going. Dyed-in-the-wool military types, with their concern for what they termed ‘ethics’ had to be kept away, as indeed did most of His Majesty’s ministers. A Cabinet colleague excluded the devout Anglo-Catholic foreign secretary Lord Halifax from SOE meetings, for instance, because he did not have what it took to ‘make a gangster.’”

 from A Woman of No Importance


Jerry Thompson


“I live here. And every time I drive to the coast, I see towns that are not long from now going to be under water from the next tsunami…The Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and the tsunami that’ll come with it will be virtually identical to the one in 2004 in Sumatra. It’ll dwarf 1906 (San Francisco). And Katrina. It’ll be many dozens of Katrinas all at once. Coastal towns from northern California to Canada will be virtually wiped out…It’s a little hard to go to the beach and just hang out there and enjoy it.”

Chris Goldfinger, marine geologist at Oregon State University, from Cascadia’s Fault


Erik Larson


The one universal balm for the trauma of war was tea. It was the thing that helped people cope. People made tea during air raids and after air raids, and on breaks between retrieving bodies from shattered buildings. Tea bolstered the network of thirty thousand observers who watched for German aircraft over England, operating from one thousand observation posts, all stocked with tea and kettles…Tea was comfort and history; above all, it was English. As long as there was tea, there was England.

      from The Splendid and the Vile