Weekend Reading

Adrian Liang on September 14, 2018
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The fall deluge has begun here in Seattle...which means more time to hang out on the couch and read books. From an exploration of Lafayette's role in the Revolutionary War (why was a talented young French aristocrat in the US anyway?), to an eye-opening book longlisted this week by the National Book Awards, to a crime novel with one of the year's most arresting covers, we have plenty of good books to make the weekend fly by.

Wait a second.... We like our weekends to go by slowly. But life's too short to read bad books.

Sorry, weekend.

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The Marquis de Lafayette, a.k.a. one of George Washington’s best buds, is the subject of Sarah Vowell’s Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. So why would a young French aristocrat venture to our shores to join Washington’s army and fight in the Revolutionary War? He came for the glory! He came because he believed in American ideals! He came to escape his in-laws! But mainly it was for the Enlightenment ideas that were unevenly embraced by many of his fellow comrades—ideas that impacted how the war played out. I have seen eyes glaze over when I talk about this sort of thing, but anyone familiar with Vowell’s oeuvre knows what a knack she has for making the (seemingly) mundane fascinating. She also draws some oddly comforting parallels between that time and our own (turns out that politicians have been butting heads, acting like idiots, and sporting terrible comb-overs since the birth of our great nation). There is rarely a description of Vowell that doesn’t include the term “acerbic,” and her signature snark, strategically employed, is one of the things that is making Lafayette a fun (and, yes, educational) read. But the other quality that shines through is her optimism. I’m feeling a little less cynical as I’m reading it, which is quite a feat. –Erin Kodicek

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Carol Anderson, acclaimed author of 2016's White Rage, won a spot yesterday on the National Book Awards nonfiction longlist for One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy. Released only this week, Anderson's short but certainly not sweet book explores how voter suppression is still an active force, especially at the state level. While I'm only halfway through, I will caution right-leaning readers who want to learn more about voter fraud and voter suppression that they'll have to grit their teeth to get through the beginning, but readers from all points on the political spectrum will gain deeper knowledge and a wider perspective. —Adrian Liang

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I don’t know about you, but I need a bit of escapism right now, and some absurdism wouldn’t hurt, either. This might be an oblique approach to both, but I’m going to look at The Last American Man. A real-life Mountain Man, Eustace Conway retreated to the forests of Appalachia in search of a life of independence, trading modern convenience for buckskins, rustic tools, and self-sufficiency. As anyone who has seen the long-running “reality” show Mountain Men, it’s been a struggle. Conway essentially resorts to a series of side-hustles to bankroll his mission, while still stubbornly riding his horse into town for bank appointments. But that comes later than the events depicted in this book, which was written by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. It makes a kind of sense. -- Jon Foro

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The Dakota in this title is the grand old building on New York's Upper West Side. The Winters are a family that lives in the Dakota, headed by father Buddy, a talk show host who had a bit of a career meltdown and is now looking to work again. When his twenty-something son returns from time spent in the Peace Corps in Africa (where he contracted malaria), he eventually decides to move into an small apartment on one of the gritty, cheap top floors of the Dakota to help his dad and think about his own future. The book is set back in late '70s/early '80s New York, a far grittier time, one that is easy to romanticize and--with NYC's more recent rise--also easy to forget about. I'm finding this compelling reading so far. I like the characters. And I like the feeling of reading about old New York, but not so old that I don't feel a distant connection to it. --Chris Schluep

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This is, hands-down, one of the most gorgeous covers I've seen in a while. I remember hearing about the book, Bitter Orange, some months ago, when the sun was still high and October seemed far away…. Suddenly it’s fall, and time to give this one a read. A lonely woman is befriended by a glamorous couple and everything is shiny and exciting, until little lies become big lies, and a small crime becomes something much bigger and wholly inescapable. I can’t wait to start this suspenseful, twisty novel this weekend! -- Seira Wilson

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It’s tricky to describe the premise of Crudo, Olivia Laing’s short, playful, and utterly charming first novel. Let’s just say that Laing ( The Lonely City; To the River) summons up the spirit of the late American experimental writer Kathy Acker to narrate this story about a writer named Kathy, who, at 40, is on the brink of marrying the man she loves. Set in contemporary Tuscany, London, and New York, there’s so much zest and warmth to Crudo that I’m having trouble reading anything else at the moment. Finishing it will be my weekend treat – and since Norton published it earlier this week, it could be yours, too. Enjoy! -- Sarah Harrison Smith


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