In theory I like pulpy airport spy thrillers, but am almost always disappointed when I take a chance on one from an unfamiliar author. I don’t feel like I read enough to waste time on ones that aren’t great examples of the form. I listened to an interview with David Ignatius whom I know as a foreign policy journalist. When he revealed he’s also been a spy novelist for most of his career, I decided I should check it out. I will read more. All of the thriller mechanics were solid and engrossing, and the specifics of the world—quantum computing, tech espionage, Big Science bureaucracy—all felt non-stupid.
The protagonist is a British journalist living and working in late 1930s Berlin. I bought the e-book on a promotion primarily out of interest in the setting. Unfortunately the construction of that setting frequently relies more on the name-dropping of streets and locations more than it does on evoking a feeling. However, the very British espionage thriller technique of having someone adjacent to events—a journalist, in this case—thrust into a cloak and dagger world and the mundane mechanics of negotiating the situation saved it for me. It is the first of a series, and I think I will read more. Even though I was a bit disappointed in the world-building, there were passages that suggest to me that future iterations may improve in that regard as well.
This is a short book exclusive to Amazon that I listened to as an audio book. Because he is such an efficient storyteller and concise stylist, I find that Michael Lewis’s books work particularly well as audiobooks. This one was an eye-opening analysis of the risks around the Trump administration’s failure to address basic administrative responsibilities across the bureaucracy. Lewis suggests (compellingly) that as abhorrent as the administration’s rhetoric is, the incompetence and lack of interest in basic governance has the potential to be more catastrophic.
Another iteration in the genre of ‘fish out of water’ parenting experiences, this one tracks the experiences of a Vancouver-born woman married to a Frenchmen when they moved their family of four to the small village in Brittany where he grew up. It adheres to genre tropes of possibly exagerrated mea culpas around the author’s personal history of feeding her family in comparison to the enlightened ease with which the French around her succeed at the same task. Nonetheless, Le Billon is an engaging writer, so the stories are fun, and her research into French social science on child development and nutrition was very interesting. I found myself wishing that we had a similar experience in our Belgian school as she did with her French school around the centrality of eating properly (as in eating as a behavior or a pursuit, rather than as a means of nutrition) in early education. It has inspired me to try some of her techniques in bringing unfamiliar Belgian dishes into our dinner routine at home; we have a year to see if it will work out.
Kathleen Finn was already an accomplished food writer when she embarked on the entrepreneurial task of identifying and remedying many American homemakers’ fear of basic cooking skills and difficult relationships with food and feeding families that results. In its specifics, the book is a memoir of teaching a small cooking basics class to a group of volunteer students and, more generally, an exploration of the practice of cooking as a form of self-care and a path to self-care and a lamentation of the decline of basic food knowledge as a result of postwar processed food marketing. There are recipes and techniques taken from the class which would be of interest to the reader who was a candidate for her class. I appreciated it mostly for the dicussions of the process of building the class and identifying the needs of her students.