NWPR Books

Northwest Public Radio loves to read! Below, you will find our editorial reviews and personal recommendations for literary works we think you, our listeners, would love.

We are also receive station support from many Northwest Independent Booksellers, who provide their own recommendations here.

And, if you have any great reads you would like to share with us, please let us know, by emailing your review to NWPR@wsu.edu!

British army troops once kicked a soccer ball around as they went into battle. True story! In fact, it's one of the first and best anecdotes in Paul Fussell's classic study of World War I, The Great War and Modern Memory. That astonishing image illustrates just how naive the recruits were about modern war's potential for unprecedented destruction — and it sets the stage for their devastating shock and disillusionment.

A father takes his three sons to a hypnotist's show. Called onto the stage, the father's cool self-possession and confidence seem to prevail, and he walks away, claiming no effect. They leave the show, he drops his sons off and drives away. We learn later that he has taken his passport and emptied the family bank account. The boys will not see him again until they are adults.

Even for those of us who despise the heat and are well past school age, it's always kind of sad when summer vacation comes to a close. It feels like the end of an era, every year — goodbye to the swimming pools and water parks, the long days, the late evenings with friends. Those "back to school" sales are a kind of low-grade torment, even for those of us who kind of liked school.

It is early August. A black man is shot by a white policeman. And the effect on the community is of "a lit match in a tin of gasoline."

No, this is not Ferguson, Mo. This was Harlem in August 1943, a period that James Baldwin writes about in the essay that gives its title to his seminal collection, Notes of a Native Son.

The story begins with the death of Baldwin's father, a proud, severe preacher who viewed all white people with suspicion, even the kindly schoolteacher who encouraged his son's writings.

You've heard this story before. You may even have experienced it, or thought about it: A woman who apparently has it all — loving, financially successful spouse, posh home, wonderful, healthy kids, great job — still feels something is missing from her life. Could it be passion? Adventure? Risk? She throws herself at an old high school boyfriend. What's love got to do with it? Dismayingly little.

It's hard to think of another writer who is as popular, as strange, and as lionized as Haruki Murakami is. Usually writers get to be one of those, but not all of them. Yet over the course of his formidable international career, Murakami has written novels that have been ambiguous to one degree or another, which hasn't stopped readers from lining up at midnight when his books go on sale.

Tasmanian-born novelist Richard Flanagan named his latest book after a spiritually intense travel journal by the 17th century Japanese poet Basho, but this extraordinary new novel presents us with a story much more tumultuous than the great haiku writer's account of his wanderings. Flanagan has written a sort of Australian War and Peace, centered on the extraordinary Dorrigo Evans (also Tasmanian-born), a heroic yet philandering doctor.

I first read Lace as a 16-year-old schoolgirl at Dominican Convent High School in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, in the 1980s. I remember that chunky, glitzy novel being passed around during math, biology, religious education classes ... under our desks, pages earmarked as it moved along ... for your reading pleasure ...

What giggles it provoked; how many hushed discussions it spawned, and how those we called the "forward" girls dissected and expounded on the text. And all of it done right under the noses of the austere nuns.

Celebrity child autobiographies fall into two categories. There's the scorched earth approach: One sordid story after another — call it the "Mommie Dearest" syndrome.

The second category is the warts-and-all approach, in which the performer's progeny relates parental faults in oft-painful detail, but with the ultimate goal of deeper understanding. In many ways, the warts-and-all way is more challenging, because it requires the author to explain why — despite the horrors — they still loved Mom or Dad.

False Equivalencies Mar This Bold 'Face'

Aug 15, 2014

Trans men and women face many problems — not least among them is the small but pernicious group of people, usually found on Tumblr, who use the rhetoric of trans experience to claim that they too are trapped in the wrong body: an able body (I have the soul of a person in a wheelchair!) or a white body (I'm black inside!). Treating gender, race and ability as identical and equivalent categories, they blithely declare that they are "trans-abled" or "trans-ethnic," so they too understand oppression. The appropriate response is usually an eye roll.

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