Virginia Burning

Book review: American Fire, by Monica Hesse In the American countryside, during five months from 2012 to 2013, a terrified county nearly went up in flames. The place was Accomack County, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, within the East Coast’s picturesque Delmarva (Delaware-Maryland-Virginia) region. “The Eastern Shore of Virginia is a hangnail, a hinky peninsula separated from the rest of the state by the Chesapeake Bay … Continue reading Virginia Burning

Behind-the-Scenes Glimpses into the Mind of David Sedaris

Book review: Theft by Finding, by David Sedaris “In order to record your life, you sort of need to live it. Not at your desk, but beyond it. Out in the world where it’s so beautiful and complex and painful that sometimes you just need to sit down and write about it.” David Sedaris, beloved humorist and essayist known for his dry, witty takes on the absurdities … Continue reading Behind-the-Scenes Glimpses into the Mind of David Sedaris

Images of Apocalypse in the Everyday

Book review: The World is On Fire, by Joni Tevis Joni Tevis has a strange talent for writing essays that combine the most unlikely, unrelated subjects, skipping without any obvious connection between topics and somehow making it work as a coherent, emotional, interesting piece. I’ve never read anything quite like it before. As one example, she writes an essay contrasting her own struggles with fertility … Continue reading Images of Apocalypse in the Everyday

True Solace is Finding None

Book review: The Solace of Open Spaces, by Gretel Ehrlich “I came here four years ago. I had not planned to stay, but I couldn’t make myself leave.” Achingly beautiful, emotionally charged prose essays with a distinctly lyrical style, written by a young woman as she initially pursues a work project on the ranches of the Wyoming plains, then can’t seem to find a reason to … Continue reading True Solace is Finding None

America’s Most Fragile

Book review: Glass House, by Brian Alexander Journalist Brian Alexander is a native of Lancaster, Ohio, a city highlighted by Forbes in 1947 with the shining, post-war pride declaration, “This is America.” Now it’s one of many towns in America’s Rust Belt that’s fallen victim to plagues of misfortune in recent decades – the restructuring and eventual closures of big companies, leading to economic bust and rampant opiate abuse. These towns … Continue reading America’s Most Fragile

Appalachia and the American Dream

Book review: Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance The first three-fourths of Hillbilly Elegy was so, so close to being a perfect book to me. It’s the memoir of a still-young man looking back at his childhood and his family’s migration from impoverished, seemingly hopeless Kentucky to a moderately more hopeful Ohio. But like the old Russian adage that if you try to drink your troubles … Continue reading Appalachia and the American Dream

Cold-Blooded Murder on America’s Last Frontier

Book review: Ice and Bone: Tracking an Alaskan Serial Killer, by Monte Francis There’s something exotic about Alaska and its identity in America as our “Last Frontier”, compared with what Alaskans call the “Lower 48”. I don’t know much about it, besides that it used to be Russia, it’s the least-populated U.S. state, Jewel and insane Sarah Palin are from it, and it’s cold and … Continue reading Cold-Blooded Murder on America’s Last Frontier

Spooks and Storytelling: We Scare Ourselves in Order to Live

Book review: Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places Ghostland is a perfect October read. It’s hard to find a nonfiction book about ghosts and hauntings that’s not an utter cheeseball groanfest. And although it’s sometimes (sometimes!) fun to watch ridiculous, guilty pleasure TV shows about spookiness (I mean, we have networks devoted to the genre – I came across a show entirely about Amish hauntings last time I … Continue reading Spooks and Storytelling: We Scare Ourselves in Order to Live

From Queens with Love

Book review: The Clancys of Queens, by Tara Clancy A fast-paced memoir composed of vignettes of the author’s time growing up with her big Irish-Italian families in Queens. After her parents’ split when she was a toddler, she divides her time between her dad’s tiny but loving boathouse home and bar family in Broad Channel and her mom’s colorful family of loud, cursing Brooklynite Italians, with sojourns … Continue reading From Queens with Love

Lessons from Borough Park and the Payne Whitney

Photo: New York Hospital, Payne Whitney Clinic. From the Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C. Credit: Wikimedia Commons Book review: One of These Things First : A Memoir, by Steven Gaines It sounds strange, but I’ve read a couple of Holocaust memoirs lately and I needed to read something light and funny, stat. Strange, because this is a memoir … Continue reading Lessons from Borough Park and the Payne Whitney

Why Spy?

Book review: The Falcon and the Snowman Two childhood friends, former altar boys, develop their own espionage “scam”, as they call it, and become unlikely spies, selling government documents to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It would make an entertaining basis for a spy novel, except that it actually happened. An upcoming ebook edition of this former bestseller is published September 6. Christopher Boyce and … Continue reading Why Spy?

Down and Out in Dutchland

Book Review: Exiled in America Sociologist Christopher P. Dum lived for a year in a residential motel, vaguely and anonymously located somewhere in upstate New York, observing and interacting with its residents to learn more about what brought them there and why they stay. That’s the basic premise. As an academic, he fits these individual stories and relationships into the broader picture of the marginalized in … Continue reading Down and Out in Dutchland