Weekend Reading

Jon Foro on April 13, 2018

In which half of the Amazon Books Editorial team is wracked by fear and despair, and the other is not.

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Yesterday I picked up a copy of Fascism by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and I’m already hooked. She starts with a chapter on Mussolini, who developed in his youth “a lifelong rage against injustice (to him).” Drawing on her years as an academic and as a diplomat, Albright is a master wordsmith, crafting meaty and thought-provoking chapters. She also has a sense of irony—as displayed in the quote above—that occasionally prompts a hoot of surprise and delight. Which is not to say that this is a gigglefest of a book. No person can read about the long list of executions ordered by Franco, Mussolini, and Hitler without shuddering. And I’m not yet through the World War II part of the book. Still, I cannot wait to get back to it.

Should I need a break from the astonishingly horrible things people do to build a wave of hatred to ride to power, I will read Fredrik Bachman’s Us Against You (June 5), which the copy says is about “how loyalty, friendship, and kindness can carry a town through its most challenging days.” Backman is the author of A Man Called Ove, and his last novel, Beartown, was #3 on our list of the best books of 2017. We need books about the astonishingly wonderful things people are capable of as well. —Adrian Liang

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I’m reading Fatima Farheen Mirza’s A Place for Us, the first novel in Sarah Jessica Parker’s new imprint—SJP for Hogarth (yes, that SJP, whose passion for fashion is matched only by her love of books). It’s about a Muslim-American family, navigating the sometimes fraught worlds of faith and dual cultures; a story that, no matter your background, is relatable and moving, especially if you’re a parent, or a sibling. —Erin Kodicek

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It’s debatable, of course, but I think things might have really started to go downhill when we invented agriculture. Hear me out. Sure, there was suddenly a reasonably dependable food supply, more than enough for everyone, give or take. Take a seat and whittle that stick; you don’t have to chase an antelope if you want to eat tonight. But nobody gets a free ride—if you weren’t farming food, you still had to come up with a way to pay the farmers. This worked for a long time. People found ways to be productive, services like blacksmithing, art, and medicine (such as it was) that both earned money and advanced technology. But over the centuries, that technological advance has taken away more and more of our useful pursuits through the automation and consolidation of industry. But the ride’s still not free! So what’s left to do?

I don’t know if David Graeber traveled the same mental rabbit warren as me, but he seems to have arrived in a similar place. His latest effort divides our current vocational options into two groups. Essential (and often low-paying) functions such as teaching, firefighting, and nursing make a small fraction. The rest? They're Bullshit Jobs, activities serving no real purpose but to provide paychecks, keep people busy, and maintain the pretense. A fella’s got to earn, but what are the downsides--psychological and sociological, to individuals and society—when work lacks meaning and fulfillment? That desk job might be bad for more than your posture. —Jon Foro

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I have been reading Fight No More, Lydia Millet’s short story collection coming out in June, and although she’s been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, I haven’t read her up until now. With every page, I feel worse about that. She’s a great writer who is also funny. I like her view of life. It’s part Chekhov, part Lipsyte. Maybe it’s too early to make that call, but I’m really enjoying this book.

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