Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Nevermore: Androids, Autism, Criminals, Istanbul, and America's Wars

Reported by Ambrea

This week, Nevermore discussed a variety of new books, leading the conversation from androids and autism to Whitey Bulger and the hidden history behind American wars.  We started off with Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb, a deeply moving and poignant novel about an autistic boy who has grown up in a “therapeutic community.”  Now, in his fifties, Todd is known as the “Old Fox” of the Payton Living Center who quietly rereads the encyclopedia.  But when a menacing new staffer and a disruptive, brain-injured roommate arrive, Todd finds himself being unwoven by all these sudden and terrifying new pressures.  He runs away in a desperate attempt to return “home” to his younger brother, home to the mother who is only in his memory.  Our reader was pleasantly surprised by Gottlieb’s latest novel, saying it was wonderfully portrayed and insightful.  It let readers know that “these people have lives…[that they can] live regular lives” with disorders, such as autism.

Next, our readers skipped over to a new book by Nic Kelman titled How to Pass as Human.  Android Zero—or “Zach” as most humans know him—compiles a list of his experiences with humankind, offering graphs and sketches and even flow charts that depict human foibles and explains (to others of his kind) how to pass as human.  As he seeks the purpose of his creation and his creator, he discovers that his existence is in peril.  Along with Andrea, a human female who has taken more than a friendly interest in him, he will find out where he came from or perish in the attempt.  Our reader said it was a pretty good book, but it “seems to get in a rut.”  He admitted that he wouldn’t quite call it boring; however, it sometimes restated information and rehashed experiences unnecessarily.  It borders on the dry side, feeling very sterile and scientific, rather than feeling like the narrative he expected.

One Nevermore reader looked at a brand new book on Whitey Bulger, Where the Bodies Were Buried by T.J. English.  White Bulger was an Irish-American gangster and, for decades, he was considered one of the most dangerous men in America due to his connections in the government (his brother was a Massachusetts senator) and in law enforcement.  For a number of years, he served as a confidential informant to the FBI, reporting on rivals and, eventually eliminating them to reinforce his power.  The author, T.J. English, covered the trial extensively and even interviewed Bulger’s associates, including lawyers, former federal agents, and jury members.  Where the Bodies Were Buried is extensively researched and highly detailed, offering glimpses into world that Bulger inhabited and the tangled web between the FBI and Boston’s criminal underworld.  Although much of it is based on the Bulger court trials, she said she still found it to be an interesting and compelling story.  As a fan of crime biographies, she was thrilled with Where the Bodies Were Buried and recommended it highly to her fellow book club members.

Next, our readers switched gears and looked at A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk.  Mevlut Karataş spent his childhood in a poor village in Central Anatolia, until, at the age of 12, he travels to Istanbul and becomes enthralled by the city.  Following in his father’s footsteps, Mevlut sells boza—a traditional Turkish drink—in the hopes of making his fortune; however, as the years pass, he finds himself trapped in a succession of jobs that lead him nowhere.  Later, even as he and his wife settle into their marriage, he feels his life is missing something, he feels the “strangeness in [his] mind” separates him from everyone else and he doesn’t know where to go.  Alternately tragic and moving, A Strangeness in My Mind is an epic coming-of-age story in the heart of Istanbul, which our reader declared was both interesting and informative.  She said she enjoyed the detail and description involved in Mevlut’s story, how the author manages to capture his character, how Melvut makes “so many beautiful observations.”  Although she hadn’t yet finished reading Pamuk’s latest novel, she said she couldn’t wait to see what lay in store for Mevlut and she was excited to share his story with her fellow Nevermore members.

Last, Nevermore shifted back to another nonfiction book titled The Hidden History of America at War:  Untold Tales from York to Fallujah by Kenneth C. Davis.  Having recently arrived at the library, our reader was excited to read Davis’s latest book, which chronicles the stories of soldiers and behind-the-scenes events that the average citizen doesn’t know.  It specifically pinpoints the six critical battles in the history of American war:  Yorktown, Virginia (1781), Petersburg, Virginia (1864), Balangiga, Phillipines (1901), Berlin, Germany (1945), Hué, South Vietnam (1968), and Fallujah, Iraq (2004).  Our reader said it was an “easy-reading kind of history [book],” but it was incredibly interesting.  Separated into six specific parts, it breaks down complex altercations, such as the Revolutionary War and the War in Iraq, and makes history accessible.  It’s informative without overwhelming the reader; it’s simple to understand, but it doesn’t compromise on information or value.

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