Looking Forward: July 2020

Another month, another set of books to brighten my life – that’s what I always say. Wherever my 2020 summer is spent, I’ll at least have some fresh pages to keep me company.

The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America's Wildlands by [Jon Billman]

The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America’s Wildlands by Jon Billman

These are the stories that defy conventional logic. The proverbial vanished without a trace incidences, which happen a lot more (and a lot closer to your backyard) than almost anyone thinks. These are the missing whose situations are the hardest on loved ones left behind. The cases that are an embarrassment for park superintendents, rangers and law enforcement charged with Search & Rescue. The ones that baffle the volunteers who comb the mountains, woods and badlands. The stories that should give you pause every time you venture outdoors. (Oh, how that line has changed.)

Through Jacob Gray’s disappearance in Olympic National Park, and his father Randy Gray who left his life to search for him, we will learn about what happens when someone goes missing. Braided around the core will be the stories of the characters who fill the vacuum created by a vanished human being. We’ll meet eccentric bloodhound-handler Duff and R.C., his flagship purebred, (because short of a happy ending, only a pup can make a very sad story a little better) who began trailing with the family dog after his brother vanished in the San Gabriel Mountains. And there’s Michael Neiger, North America’s foremost backcountry Search & Rescue expert and self-described “bushman” obsessed with missing persons. And top researcher of persons missing on public wildlands Ex-San Jose, California detective David Paulides who is also one of the world’s foremost Bigfoot researchers.

It’s a tricky thing to write about missing persons because the story is the absence of someone. A void. The person at the heart of the story is thinner than a smoke ring, invisible as someone else’s memory. The bones you dig up are most often metaphorical. While much of the book will embrace memory and faulty memory – history – The Cold Vanish is at its core a story of now and tomorrow. Someone will vanish in the wold tomorrow. These are the people who will go looking.

Yeah, I’ve got some strong Maura Murray vibes here so I know I’m going to be sucked in. And also, ill-prepared for the rabbit holes that follow.

DROPS: July 7, 2020

The Golden Thread: The Cold War and the Mysterious Death of Dag Hammarskj¿ld by [Ravi Somaiya]

The Golden Thread: The Cold War and the Mysterious Death of Dag Hammarskjöld by Ravi Somaiya

On September 17, 1961, Dag Hammarskjöld boarded a Douglas DC6 propeller plane on the sweltering tarmac of the airport in Leopoldville, the capital of the Congo. Hours later, he would be found dead in an African jungle with an ace of spades playing card placed on his body. (So not a normal death we’re discussing here – proceed.)

Hammarskjöld has been head of the United Nations for nine years. He was legendary for his dedication to peace on earth. But dark forces circled him (they often do): a powerful and connected group of people from an array of nations and organizations – including the CIA, the KGB, underground militant groups, business tycoons, and others – were determined to see Hammarskjöld fail.

A riveting work of investigative journalism based on never-before-seen evidence (my favorite kind!), recently revealed first-hand accounts, and groundbreaking new interviews. The Golden Thread reveals the truth behind on of the great murder mysteries of the Cold War.

Am I a crime-loving crazy-person or someone who should talk to therapist? Probably both.

DROPS: July 7, 2020

Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey

At age nineteen, Natasha Trethewey had her world turned upside down when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. Grieving and still new to adulthood, she confronted the twin pulls of life and death in the aftermath of unimaginable trauma (that is too often ignored) and now explores the way this experience lastingly shaped the artist she became.

With penetrating insight and a searing voice that moves from the wrenching to the elegiac, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey explores this profound experience of pain, loss, and grief as an entry point into understanding the tragic course of her mother’s life and the way her own life has been shaped by a legacy of fierce love and resilience. Moving through her mother’s history in the deeply segregated South and through her own girlhood as a “child of miscegenation” (miscegenation – marriage or cohabitation between two people from different racial groups) in Mississippi, Trethewey plumbs her sense of dislocation and displacement in the lead-up to the harrowing crime that took place on Memorial Drive in Atlanta in 1985.

Memorial Drive is a compelling and searching look at a shared human experience of sudden loss and absence but also a piercing glimpse at the enduring ripple effects of white racism and domestic abuse. Animated by unforgettable prose and inflected by a poet’s attention to language, this is a luminous, urgent, and visceral memoir from one of our most important contemporary writers and thinkers.

DROPS: July 28, 2020

Afterland by [Lauren Beukes]

Afterland by Lauren Beukes

“Most of the men are dead. Three years after the pandemic known as The Manfall, governments still hold and life continues – but a world run by women isn’t always a better place.” (Ahem, because government’s should represent all people – but I’ll refrain from climbing onto my soap box.)

Twelve-year-old Miles is one of the last boys alive, and his mother, Cole, will protect him at all costs. On the run after a horrific act of violence – and pursued by Cole’s own ruthless sister, Billie – all Cole wants is to raise her kid somewhere he won’t be preyed on as a reproductive resource or a sex object or a stand-in son. (Fair, fair, and fair.) Someplace like home.

To get there, Cole and Miles must journey across a changed America in disguise as mother and daughter. From a military base in Seattle to a luxury banker, from an anarchist commune in Salt Lake City to a roaming cult that’s all too read to see Miles as the answer to their prayers, the two race to stay ahead at every step … even as Billie and her sinister crew draw closer.

A sharply feminist, high-stakes thriller from award-winning author Lauren Beukes, Afterland brilliantly blends psychological suspense, American noir, and science fiction into an adventure all its own – and perfect for our times.

Horrified by what “perfect for our times” is in reference to. And sad that it could be so many things. But also excited to crack it open.

DROPS: July 28, 2020

This Is My America by Kim Johnson

The Hate U Give meets Just Mercy (with a gorgeous cover) in this unflinching yet uplifting first novel that explores the racist injustices in the American justice system.

Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence C, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time — her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run (how easily this can happen!), accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?

DROPS: July 28, 2020


The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its images and its forecast. Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States and is now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men in its population.

The story is told through the eyes of Offred, one of the unfortunate Handmaids under the new social order. In condensed but eloquent prose, by turns cool-eyed, tender, despairing, passionate, and wry, she reveals to us the dark corners behind the establishment’s calm facade, as certain tendencies now in existence are carried to their logical conclusions. The Handmaid’s Tale is funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing. It is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and a tour de force. (I have to say I think we should find a new word/phrase for “tour de force”. It has, sadly, lost all meaning to me.) It is Margaret Atwood at her best.

Perhaps a contrast to Afterland, I’m pumped to finally delve into this well-loved, often-talked-about, and now-a-Hulu-original-series classic.


Photos and synopses of Memorial Drive and This Is My America from The Lit Bar

All other photos and synopses from Goodreads

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