Some Bad-Ass Reading Suggestions...

August 28, 2017

My annual summer reading review is back by popular demand (ok one person asked, but as law blogs go that probably counts for popular). If you are looking for something enlightening or just lighter than legal opinions to read, I’ve got a few suggestions.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer

I have to admit that before I read this I wasn’t quite sure Timbuktu still (or maybe ever) existed. This may be because I’m mixing it up with Constantinople (blame Dr. Seuss’s Hop on Pop for that).[1] But this beleaguered and fascinating West African city does indeed still exist and, as this non-fiction book by a U.S. journalist with extensive experience in the region proves, its residents do include some bad-ass librarians. The essence of the story is how one brave and determined librarian, with help from his family, friends and the local and international community, saved centuries-old Arabic manuscript treasures from destruction by the elements and more recently by jihadists. Alongside this adventurous story, the reader learns much, not only about the history of Timbuktu as a centre of intellectual learning and study, but also about the historical and current politics and culture in Mali. Terrorists figure prominently and you’ll gain a lot of insight into how complex the situation is. Informative, inspiring, a bit scary and entertaining – what more do you need?

It’s not always an easy read. For one thing, as in Game of Thrones, there are a lot of long and difficult names to keep track of – of characters as well as places. Thankfully, the author recognizes that and reminds the reader regularly of who on earth he is talking about. By the end, though, you should be able to rhyme off the names of at least 10 major terrorists and a few librarians too.

Here’s a link to the Simon & Shuster description of the book.

The Nix by Nathan Hill

Short review: Very funny. A bit too long.

Longer review: Very funny novel touching on ’60s U.S. politics, modern U.S. politics, fathers, mothers, campus politics, consumer culture, and societal disconnection. You know how lots of book jackets say “Laugh out loud funny” and you read them and you don’t laugh out loud even once. I did actually laugh out loud more than a few times reading this, especially the parts dealing with the protagonist’s bane, who is a plagiarizing, self-absorbed first-year university student named Laura. Her transitory moment of insight is hilarious. Hill has created a Dickensian cast of exaggerated characters and a Dickensian length too (over 600 pages). But it’s so entertaining, I skipped my daily afternoon nap on the beach and plowed through it in a couple of days.

Defectors by Joseph Kanon

Joseph Kanon’s newest spy novel is set in 1960s Russia among the community of Western defectors. The main character is a U.S. book publisher visiting his brother, a former CIA agent who defected in 1949 with his wife. The purpose of the visit is to finish Frank’s memoir, which is going to be published in the U.S. – but there is much more going on. It’s atmospheric, includes lots of real-life British and U.S. defectors in its cast of characters, mixes in a few murders and lots of tension, and, like all Kanon novels, is also very finely written. So, all in all, it’s a pretty satisfying read.

A Shimmer of Hummingbirds by Steve Burrows

Most of my summer reading is mystery or detective novels. A Shimmer of Hummingbirds is the latest in a series by Canadian author Steve Burrows. I like Burrows’ books because his detective hero isn’t the usual disaffected, rule breaking, alcoholic f*#&-up crime-story protagonist. If you’re intrigued by the idea of a different kind of detective, you should begin with the earlier books in this series: A Pitying of Doves, A Cast of Falcons, and A Siege of Bitterns. If you are sensing a theme, you are right! Burrows’ detective is a birder (not as nerdy as it sounds), so while enjoying the guilty pleasure of a delicious murder mystery you can feel slightly virtuous by learning something about birds.


[1] And yes, I know Constantinople is now Istanbul!

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