This week, our choices are:
All the Lonely People by Mike Gayle, Grand Central
All the Lonely People is a fitting story to read after 2020 threw race, prejudice, politics, family, and the instability of human life into harsh relief. Chapters alternate between "Now" and "Then" timelines as we meet two halves of the main character. Present Hubert–a jaded, 84-year-old with a cat on his lap–and Past Hubert–a buoyant, young man, newly arrived and adjusting to life in London from a Jamaican village. We watch youthful Hubert fall in love and a few pages later, see the aftermath of loss. We see how racism, however subtle, in his youth pushed him to shield himself from society in his adulthood.
The highlight for Present-day Hubert is the weekly calls from his daughter in Australia, however, he'd fabricated detailed lies about his dismal social life that he now must make reality before she visits for six months, expecting to also meet his friends. In reality, he has lost touch with them, and when searching to reconnect:
Death, disease, divorce and relocation: these, it appeared, were the four fates consuming all that remained of Hubert's generation...It was as if he'd been asleep for the past five years only to wake up in another world, in another reality where an entire generation had been wiped out and he alone was the sole survivor.
All the Lonely People is a heartfelt story of human friendship that will make any reader feel a little more hopeful about our divided society. Mike Gayle is already an internationally bestselling author, but this book is his U.S. hardcover debut. It's unfortunate when it takes so long for a skilled storyteller's work to reach Americans, but catching up on his sixteen other books will keep books-to-read lists full for a little while. (GMC)
The Comfort of Monsters by Willa C. Richards, Harper
Reading a novel that takes place in your hometown is a trip to be had, and I am honored to share the town of Milwaukee with author Willa C. Richards and the story she recounts in The Comfort of Monsters. Richards takes us on an epic rewind to Milwaukee in 1991, the year before Jeffrey Dahmer was put on trial for murdering men and young boys. In the story, Peg’s coveted sister, Dee, goes missing, yet Peg has a hard time convincing the city that she was murdered. No Body, No Crime. Her family frantically begins doing their own investigation with a dismissive detective sometimes in tow. In a world where serial killers are glorified, their every past movement becomes a tourist trap. But what about all the missing? All the faces lost to memories?
You don’t even know what you’ve lost unless you’re like me, and then every day you think about how much might be gone, how much you wish you still had, how difficult it is to mourn memories that don’t even exist.
I devoured this book, getting lost in the pages of the Milwaukee that once was and, bouncing to the modern day to see how Peg is the product of tragedy, grief, and trauma. We learn about her sister and their relationship through her memories that she worries are fogged with time.
Isn’t it amazing how time works? How our memories can stretch the shortest moments into long, infinitely unwinding wires of feeling.
The pages illustrate the world of those who survive and the many missing faces of those who disappear. I could not recommend this book enough. Richards writes a beautiful ballad to the missing and to those who survive, trying to pick up the pieces without knowing what that means. (EPP)
"I Have Nothing to Hide": And 20 Other Myths about Surveillance and Privacy by Heidi Boghosian, Beacon Press
“It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are?” Heidi Boghosian reminds us of this popular and often parodied PSA to make a blunt point about our electronic age: “most Americans are unfit as digital parents.” That sounds a bit harsh, but the fact is that almost none of us know where our data is—at 10 p.m. or any other time of the day. We leave bread crumbs of it everywhere we go online, and those that are vacuuming it up are using it to actively undermine our privacy and personal agency by selling it to the highest bidder so they can use it in attempts to track and manipulate our behavior—and our children’s. And even if we’re not actively being manipulated:
We change how we act, according to numerous studies, when we know we’re being watched.
And, well… most of us know we are constantly being watched these days. In fact, we invite the eyes in. We are not only setting up the surveillance infrastructure ourselves, often in our own homes, we are paying monopolistic multinational corporations for the privilege. We’ve been convinced that posting photos of our kids online is a way to show we love them, and that “spying on one another is a civic duty.” The data crumbs we leave behind is the raw material that powers entire industries—increasingly affecting every industry—and those who broker it make up an estimated $200 billion industry on their own. And we are not their customers, we (our data and information) are what they are selling. The so-called “frictionlessness” of online life and commerce is being lubricated by us ceding our right to privacy, and it’s an increasingly slippery slope. So…
The public should understand how surveillance furthers the interests of those motivated by profit, and those with an interest in suppressing voices of dissent.
Boghosian suggests it’s time for a new PSA on data protection. For now, consider "I Have Nothing to Hide" to be that announcement and service to the public. It is an easy to understand guide to figuring out exactly what is happening—where our data is, how it’s being used—and how to stave off the surveillance society we live in. (DJJS)
The Power of Strangers: The Benefits of Connecting in a Suspicious World by Joe Keohane, Random House
We are taught not to talk to strangers from an early age. But that advice, carried out and into adulthood, is adding to the predicament of divisiveness we find ourselves in, and—long before the epidemic that kept us physically distant from each other over the past 16 months—has played a part in creating an epidemic of loneliness in our society. As Joe Keohane shares in his new book:
Studies have found epidemic levels of loneliness in the United States and United Kingdom—affecting everyone, but especially the young, who, in a remarkable development, report levels of loneliness that surpass even those of the elderly. And loneliness, medical researchers have found, is as bad for you as smoking, making it a bona fide public health threat.
Not talking to strangers is why we seem so strange to another and makes us estranged from one another. We become unable to comprehend other people’s reality and are fearful of it, doubling down on our own beliefs and retreating to the ideological and emotional barriers we’ve built around ourselves. Keohane’s book helps us realize how the “others” we’ve learned to fear are those who hold the most opportunities for us—to learn and to grow personally and professionally—and perhaps, together, even politically. Talking to people you don’t know is one of the best ways to get the most out of every day and to form lifelong bonds of friendship and understanding, to walk through life enriched rather than enraged.
He starts by asking three questions:
Why don’t we talk to strangers? When will we? What happens when we do? […] And what happens is this: We become better, smarter, and happier people, and strangers—and by extension, the world—become less scary to us.
The Power of Strangers is a book about adding the satisfying friction of human engagement back into our everyday lives. It is as simple, scary, and ultimately satisfying as speaking to someone you don’t know, and as profound as reinvigorating our civic life. (DJJS)