On My Bookshelf, February 2016

speak_now-book-jacketSpeak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial by Kenji Yoshino (2015)

Wow. Amazing. Already a candidate for best book I’ve ready all year (and it’s only March!). This is the story of what happens when civil marriage meets religious marriage . . . as it played out in the courtroom, not in television ads. I really loved it – I knew I was going to love it when I learned in the first few pages that the lawyers who brought the case against Prop 8 were the lawyers who faced off against each other in Bush v. Gore. How did I not know that? Random facts aside, Yoshino treats the subject, the lawyers, and the witnesses with respect while writing a thorough, but easy-to-read masterpiece. Yes, I said masterpiece.

From Amazon.com:Speak Now tells the story of a watershed trial that unfolded over twelve tense days in California in 2010. A trial that legalized same-sex marriage in our most populous state. A trial that interrogated the nature of marriage, the political status of gays and lesbians, the ideal circumstances for raising children, and the ability of direct democracy to protect fundamental rights. A trial that stands as the most potent argument for marriage equality this nation has ever seen. In telling the story of Hollingsworth v. Perry, the groundbreaking federal lawsuit against Proposition 8, Kenji Yoshino has also written a paean to the vanishing civil trial–an oasis of rationality in what is often a decidedly uncivil debate. Above all, this book is a work of deep humanity, in which Yoshino brings abstract legal arguments to life by sharing his own story of finding love, marrying, and having children as a gay man. Intellectually rigorous and profoundly compassionate, Speak Now will stand as the definitive account of a landmark civil-rights trial.”

*My copy is an uncorrected proof, but is a print fairly close to publication (I noticed maybe two typos and it already has the cover/back info). I’m happy to loan it to anyone I know in real life.

ImperfectionistsThe Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (2010)

Very enjoyable. I don’t have anything else to say really, so I’ll let a professional take it from here.

From Amazon.com: “Printing presses whirr, ashtrays smolder, and the endearing complexity of humanity plays out in Tom Rachman’s debut novel, The Imperfectionists. Set against the backdrop of a fictional English-language newspaper based in Rome, it begins as a celebration of the beloved and endangered role of newspapers and the original 24/7 news cycle. Yet Rachman pushes beyond nostalgia by crafting an apologue that better resembles a modern-day Dubliners than a Mad Men exploration of the halcyon past. The chaos of the newsroom becomes a stage for characters unified by a common thread of circumstance, with each chapter presenting an affecting look into the life of a different player. From the comically overmatched greenhorn to the forsaken foreign correspondent, we suffer through the painful heartbreaks of unexpected tragedy and struggle to stifle our laughter in the face of well-intentioned blunders. This cacophony of emotion blends into a single voice, as the depiction of a paper deemed a “daily report on the idiocy and the brilliance of the species” becomes more about the disillusion in everyday life than the dissolution of an industry.” –Dave Callanan

GhettosideGhettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Levoy (2015)

I was afraid this book would be too painful to read, but I found the emotional parts well-balanced with facts and historical context making it much easer to tackle this difficult subject. It was a dense read, but good. Ghettoside is listed on almost every list of the best books from 2015 for a reason. Recommended.

From Amazon.com: “On a warm spring evening in South Los Angeles, a young man is shot and killed on a sidewalk minutes away from his home, one of the thousands of black Americans murdered that year. His assailant runs down the street, jumps into an SUV, and vanishes, hoping to join the scores of killers in American cities who are never arrested for their crimes. But as soon as the case is assigned to Detective John Skaggs, the odds shift. Here is the kaleidoscopic story of the quintessential, but mostly ignored, American murder – a “ghettoside” killing, one young black man slaying another – and a brilliant and driven cadre of detectives whose creed is to pursue justice for forgotten victims at all costs. Ghettoside is a fast-paced narrative of a devastating crime, an intimate portrait of detectives and a community bonded in tragedy, and a surprising new lens into the great subject of why murder happens in our cities—and how the epidemic of killings might yet be stopped.”

He Wanted The MoonHe Wanted the Moon: The Madness and Medical Genius of Dr. Perry Baird, and His Daughter’s Quest to Know Him by Mimi Baird with Eve Claxton (2015)

This book came to me through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program (as did Speak Now; I received a copy of the new paperback released a couple of weeks ago. Overall, a good read. This kind of story is right up my alley – I’m fascinated by the history of mental illness and its treatment. The book contains portions of Dr. Baird’s manuscript (written while he was hospitalized) mixed with medical records, Mimi Baird’s memories, and other archival documents. It was an easy read; I tackled it in a couple of hours on a lazy Saturday.

From Amazon.com: “Texas-born and Harvard-educated, Dr. Perry Baird was a rising medical star in the late 1920s and 1930s. Early in his career, ahead of his time, he grew fascinated with identifying the biochemical root of manic depression, just as he began to suffer from it himself. By the time the results of his groundbreaking experiments were published, Dr. Baird had been institutionalized multiple times, his medical license revoked, and his wife and daughters estranged. He later received a lobotomy and died from a consequent seizure, his research incomplete, his achievements unrecognized. Mimi Baird grew up never fully knowing this story, as her family went silent about the father who had been absent for most of her childhood. Decades later, a string of extraordinary coincidences led to the recovery of a manuscript which Dr. Baird had worked on throughout his brutal institutionalization, confinement, and escape. This remarkable document, reflecting periods of both manic exhilaration and clear-headed health, presents a startling portrait of a man who was a uniquely astute observer of his own condition, struggling with a disease for which there was no cure, racing against time to unlock the key to treatment before his illness became impossible to manage.”

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