This whole solstice thing confuses us. Why is it that the longest day of the year is the beginning of summer? And since the days are getting shorter now, shouldn’t they be getting cooler too? Aren’t we moving away from the sun, right? When you’re driving away from something, there is more breeze flowing over you than when you’re . . . no? Stick to book reviews and leave the science to professionals? Fine. Grumble. Grumble.
Anyway, it’s hot outside because the sun is looking right at us, so now’s a fine time to find a good book and some shade. What sort of goodies have we got to offer you this week?
Did we mention Chelsea Clinton’s She Persisted? It’s a fabulous picture book about thirteen historical women who stood up and demanded satisfaction (or, at least, some respect). Earlier this year, Senator Elizabeth Warren refused to be silenced in the Senate, and her actions went on to become an inspirational meme. She Persisted seeks to honor those other women who, during the course of this young nation, made a difference by speaking their mind and sticking to their ideals.
And speaking of holding the line in a slightly heavier edition, we have Thomas E. Ricks’s dual biography of Winston Churchill and George Orwell. Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom follows Winston and George as they thrash through the mid-19th century, at a time when democracy wasn’t all that cool and no one was terribly worried about this fascism thing. Surely, it was just a fad, like wide ties and polyester slacks, right? W & G thought otherwise, and, well, Churchill went on to make some pretty historic speeches, and Orwell wrote a couple of books which are still terrifying for their prescience.
And speaking of hiking through history, now that the sun is trying to drill holes in our skulls with its heat ray gaze, let’s all go outside and get some fresh air! Look kids, we can backtrack through the history of Washington state over the course of the forty different hikes listed in Hiking Through History. Some of these hikes are as easy as walking to your mail box; others are akin to being chased through a storm-tossed forest while being chased by wolves. And they all have numerous scenic resting points where History happened. Fun!
Well, maybe The Creaky Knees Guide would be better. It's okay. We don't judge.
Speaking of awkward hikes, Paulette Jiles’s News of the World is now out in paperback. Set in Texas after the Civil War, News of the World follows Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, an aged news reader who agrees to cart a kid from Wichita Falls to San Antonio. Naturally, the kid is mostly feral but still manages to melt the old codger’s heart, and when it comes time for him to hand the barefooted escape artist off to her relatives, Kidd is forced to make the toughest decision of his life.
And speaking of feral children, Theodora Goss’s debut novel, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is out this week as well. Sort of a female-cast version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter introduces us to some of the forgotten monsters of Romantic and Victorian literature. Goss has been rewriting fairy tales for many years in the short fiction markets, and we’re delighted to see her considerable talents unspooling in a longer format. Plus, monsters!
And speaking of monsters, let’s not neglect Sarah Perry’s debut, The Essex Serpent, which is the story of a widowed Victorian naturalist who sets out to discover the truth behind a rumored serpent that supposedly roams the nearby marshes, taking human lives. It might be a metaphor, of course, but it might also be a real giant snake. Hard to say until you get into the book, and by that point, Perry has you completely rapt.
Like hypnotized sort of “rapt.” Or like, “wrapped,” as in the coils of a mighty serpent. Word play! It’ll totally work either way for those readers who prefer the audio version of the newsletter.
What? You don’t turn on your phone text-to-speech option when you open the newsletter? You could, because that technology exists. Isn’t it sort of phenomenal that we all carry around handheld devices that are more complex and powerful computers than the only CRT-molded desktops machines with fat, noisy keyboards from, what?
[Apple's 1984 TV ad]
Okay, so more than thirty years ago. But the tagline of that ad for the introduction of the Macintosh computer says, “You’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.” Uh, well, maybe 2017 will be like 1984, but the tech will be so much better.
Which brings us to Brian Merchant’s The One Device, a secret history of the invention of the iPhone. Technology is changing our lives in so many ways that it is hard to keep up, and we’re still not entirely convinced we’re using it well. Books like Merchant’s provide us an opportunity to reflect on how we got here, and what we’ve gained and lost in reaching this point in our evolution.
Not to tie this all up in a neat little package, but between Churchill, Orwell, the iPhone, and persistent women (not to mention the one hundred and fifty or so days of reality TV leadership we’re being forced to watch), it's important to be aware that we're making the future—every day—and it won’t be anything like we imagine it will be. Which is both good and bad and totally up to us.
Read books. Choose kindness. Say hello to your neighbors. Participate in your community. In fact, we’ll be having our bi-monthly community gathering next week with Campfire Bookclub. The weather will persist, undoubtedly, and so we’ll be outside, roasting marshmallows and talking trash about books. The best sort of evening. You should join us.