• Robert Birnbaum

Not The New York Times Book Review* (11 March 2019)

Updated: Mar 12, 2019


One of the most frequent comments I hear everywhere, right up there with “what’s for dinner” and “I want to be somebody” is “I don’t have time to read”, which is essentially telling you, a lifelong writer, that your profession is below that of communal spritzers and flossing, and frequent social ass scratching.  Everyone has to learn over and over that at best time is seized and then you flee…Jim Harrison






The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides


Michealides's novel is a psychological thriller squared—the protagonist is a psychotherapist and the plot engages on a number of psychological issues. In addition to reviewing some fundamentals of the Talking Cure, this story's overarching punchline's is that childhood is a dangerous terrain fraught with soul crushing obstacles.






Before Time Could Change Them: The Complete Poems of Constantine P. Cavafy by Constantine P. Cavafy, Theoharis Constantine Theoharis(Translator), & Gore Vidal (Foreward )

Having recently reached back into my personal reading history to reacquaint myself with Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet, the looming presence of the celebrated eastern Mediterraneon poet Constantine (C.P.)Cafavy,was in evidence. Here from Gore Vidal's foreward, an illuminated footpath into Cafavy,


"...All is illusion for the enlightened....Cafavy...did achieve something very like that ultimate state of enlightenment where, not fooled by words, he was able to so order them as to make our common usage, viewed from his unique angle, seem beautiful, even consoling, in its shining nothingness. "




Our Woman in Havana: A Diplomat's Chronicle of America's Long Struggle with Castro's Cuba by Vicki Huddleston

Almost anyone who has even the faintest connection to Cuba is counted as an expert on that island nation, so spellbound are people of the United States. Being one of those early enchanted by the triumphant revolution and bewitched by the music that Dizzy Gillespie brought to the US mainland, I have been a long time witness of this bedazzlement.

If you know the fable of the three blind men and the elephant, you will understand that even legitimate reporters won't give you a complete picture. Ms Huddleston, a career diplomat and de facto ambassador in Havana under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush.purports to report on several decades of US-Cuba relations as well her own efforts. And perhaps most usefully, she speculates on the post-Fidel arena.





The Flip: Epiphanies of Mind and the Future of Knowledge byJeffrey J. Kripal



Much of why as I was fascinated and drawn (despite a prosaic title) by the Micheal Pollan book applies to Jeffrey J Kripal's tome. He describes a 'flip" as a “a reversal of perspective,” “a new real,” And his purpose here is to unify the sciences and the humanities to expand our minds.


The publisher, Bellevue Literary Press, the excellent small press notes, "Combining accounts of rationalists’ spiritual awakenings and consciousness explorations by philosophers, neuroscientists, and mystics within a framework of the history of science and religion, Kripal compellingly signals a path to mending our fractured world."**






Baseball Epic: Famous and Forgotten Lives of the Dead Ball Era by Jason Novak

In baseball history, the dead ball era refers to the years from 1900 to 1920, when a single ball was used for an entire game (in case it escaped you balls are replaced with almost every pitch) . Novak's amusing cartoons of the players and characters who shaped the national pastime are also informative of "of the unsung heroes who played pro ball before it was a profession."


Sugar Run: A Novel by Mesha Maren


I have had my fill of fiction that portrays neurotic, middle class, white characters (being a neurotic, middle class white person). And growing up in the middle of the USA I am more interested in people who live away from centers of ambition: Jim Harrison, Thomas McGuane, Russell Banks, Dorothy Allison, Joe Bageant, Frank Bill, Donald Ray Pollock, Philip Meyer's American Rust, Kyle Minor... I could on. Mesha Mason, not only presents a likable character burdened with Sisyphean tribulations but her prose is acute and honest. Maren's debut novel exhibits a stand out talent, leaving me looking forward to more from this writer...



The Wall: A Novel byJohn Lanchester




British writer Lanchester's fifth and latest novel imagines a dystopic Britain whose coastline has been augmented the National Coastal Defence Structure or as it is commonly called, The Wall with young conscripts known a Defenders who serve for 2 years patrolling 10,000 km of concrete walkways looking for “Others” who might appear at any moment from the sea.


The "Change" a climactic event has triggered this grim world with movement between countries being outlawed. And, of course, these Others ( refugees) represent a grave threat and are dealt with harshly as the plotline involves a big uptick marauding Others. Although presenting a world not entirely fleshed out, The Wall has good company in the current burgeoning literature of dystopia, joining George Saunders, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. Margaret Atwood, Charlie Brooker, Naomi Alderman, Emily St Mandel etc.


Need I mention the USA's current nightmare reality?





The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America by Greg Grandin


Yale mentor Grandin's new opus is part of the American Empire Project :


which is a response to the changes that have occurred in America’s strategic thinking as well as in its military and economic posture. Empire, long considered an offense against America’s democratic heritage, now threatens to define the relationship between our country and the rest of the world. The American Empire Project publishes books that question this development, examine the origins of U.S. imperial aspirations, analyze their ramifications at home and abroad, and discuss alternatives to this dangerous trend .


Grandin ****unpacks the meaning of the essential American myth, the frontier, from the American Revolution to the War of 1898, the New Deal to the election of 2016. He posits that American imperialism provided a “gate of escape," which allowed the country to avoid dealing with problems such as problems, from racism to inequality. And that the 2008 economic disaster and continuing with unwinnable wars have closed that gate and led to the

reactionary populism and racist nationalism, and the Bedlamite presidency.


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* for that small but mighty cadre that cares what Our Man in Boston is reading


** Visions of the Impossible How ‘fantastic’ stories unlock the nature of consciousness


*** Interview with John Lanchester


**** Greg Grandin Interview at Democracy Now

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