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Erin Kodicek on March 10, 2017

Behaving-badlyIn this edition, off kilter moral compasses, Jon and Chris talk fish and fungus, and we're piling on some well deserved praise...

Erin Kodicek: I'm reading an upcoming book by Eden Collinsworth called Behaving Badly: The New Morality in Politics, Sex, and Business. Whatever your politics, I think we all can agree that...things are just not normal. Remember the good ol' days of Facebook when you would send your peeps cute pics of cats? No more! Now you really have to steel yourself before checking your feed to avoid becoming completely apoplectic (I don't have any stats on this, but I'm guessing it's a great time to be in the alcohol or Xanax biz). What happened to civility? What happened to Thanksgiving dinners where you talk about things besides the weather, and debate non-incendiary topics like whether or not John Oates is actually Mandy Patinkin?! (So is.) Eden Collinsworth confronts the increasingly thorny ethical quandaries of our time, and does so in manner that won't increase your blood pressure. Mostly.

Penny Mann: I was telling some of my colleagues about Kory Stamper's new book, Word by Word. After describing how Stamper dives in and goes behind the quirky scenes of Merriam-Webster where select individuals decide how our words are ultimately defined, a coworker suggested that I read The Professor and the Madman if I hadn't already - I haven't! Released in 1998 'Madman' follows the creation of the Oxford English dictionary, and involves letters back and forth between… wait for it… a professor and a madman. I really don't need to know any more - I'll be starting it this evening. If time allows, I will also be starting Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (the author of The Lost City of Z) - because after letters from a madman all a successful weekend needs is emotionally devastating look into what may be one of the most chilling conspiracies in US history. 

Chris Schluep: I am reading American War by Omar El Akkad, which will publish in April. It’s about the Second American Civil War, which breaks out in 2074. It’s fiction. I’m also reading Upstream by Langdon Cook. The book comes out at the end of May. The subtitle is “Searching for Wild Salmon from River to Table.” I loved his book The Mushroom Hunters and I’m a big fan of his writing in general.

Jon Foro: A few years back, Langdon Cook wrote The Mushroom Hunters, an unusual book about the underground economy of fungi foraging and the weirdoes and outsiders who fuel it, which we leveraged for this little boondoggle. His latest, Upstream (out May 30), does the same for salmon, following the paths of these essential fish from spawning grounds and hatcheries to the tables of exclusive restaurants – a voyage spanning history, culture, adventure, politics, and commerce. [Full disclosure: Lang is a former colleague who occasionally pulls Chris and me out to the river for some tortured attempts at fly fishing. It’s not that he’s a bad teacher.]

Sarah Harrison Smith: Well, this week I read Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, along with, it seems, every other editor writing about books. This new novel, which was one of the Amazon Book Review’s Best of the Month for March, is getting a lot of love from places like the New York Times (to date: two reviews, one profile), the New Yorker (an excerpt and interview last fall, a review this week, plus a pre-publication shout-out from Joyce Carol Oates), and today, at the other end of the media spectrum, a recommendation in the influential women’s news-distillation site, “The Skimm.”

It’s easy to feel skeptical of a book that’s so universally admired. I mean, can it really be that good? But really, it is. This short, intense, and ultimately hopeful story about two lovers forced to flee their middle-eastern homeland in the wake of a civil war combines a dystopian scenario with magical realism and sweet romance. Hamid has a generous sensibility which warms up the potentially chilling themes of war and cultural estrangement: his focus is always on relationships.

He is also, on the level of the sentence, an astute and witty writer. "Their phones rested screens-down between them, like the weapons of desperadoes at a parley,” he notes, describing his lovers’ first date. Throughout, Hamid balances enduring human activities, like falling in love, with insights into how the experience of being human has in fact changed in a fundamental way. Technology, he suggests, has already ushered us into the realm of magic, whisking us away, like the magic carpet of long-ago tales, to other countries, other existences, at the touch of a screen. Seen in that light, the magic doors that allow his lovers to pass from one country to another in an instant seem simply like physical manifestations of something that’s already possible in our imaginations. Not to pile on, but let me add my voice to the growing consensus: Exit West should be the next book you read.

Adrian Liang: After a very long hiatus (which was completely my fault), the book club I belong to is finally meeting again, and we’re reading Red Dust: A Path through China by Ma Jian. Our book club focuses on stories about travel or food, so this nonfiction memoir about a Chinese man who, while in a moment of personal crisis, leaves Beijing in 1983 to live in the remote areas of China is right up our alley. Author Dan Vyleta (Smoke) strongly recommended this book to me when I interviewed him last year, and it’s been lingering in my mind ever since. Another book that is sticking with me is Void Star by Zachary Mason (April release). Set not too far in the future, Mason’s novel has the rich, dreamlike details of a Michael Ondaatje story and the complex world-building of Tad Williams’ Otherworld series (one of my all-time near-future favorites). I’m about a third of the way through Void Star, and the three main characters, currently running along separate plot lines, seem to be about to intersect. I can’t wait to see what happens as a man who’s lost his memories, a woman with an implant that can talk to AIs, and a young man who has grown up wild in the favelas of San Francisco finally come together.

Seira Wilson: I’m doing some April reading this weekend, started David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon and loving it so far. Grann is one of my favorites for narrative nonfiction and this story of the Osage Indian nation, murder, conspiracy, and one of the FBI’s first homicide investigations is fascinating. Also started Spoils, a debut novel about the war in Baghdad in 2003 and the troops on both sides. The story begins with the narrative of a 19-year-old female soldier, and while I’m only a chapter or two in, the writing is really good and I’m looking forward to more…


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