Long ago I used to sit around on lazy days and read short stories by William Trevor, the august Irish author who turned 81 this year. I haven’t sat around reading William Trevor for a long time, but a gentle review of his Love and Summer by Thomas Mallon in the latest New York Times Book Review leaves me yearning to rediscover that pleasure:
Mrs. Eileen Connulty, a prosperous widow who ran a local lodging house for traveling salesmen, Number 4 The Square, and who, as death came near, “feared she would now be obliged to join her husband and prayed she would not have to.”
Who writes family stories like these anymore? Well, hmm, actually Joyce Carol Oates does, and I must be in an a receptive mood today, because Malena Watrous’s brief on the love-and-murder triangle (or, actually, pentagon) at the center of Little Bird of Heaven makes me want to read this one too, even though I haven’t picked up any of the twenty or thirty other books Oates has written this decade. Well, I’m looking forward to catching Joyce Carol Oates in a rare career-summary event at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC this Monday night, so maybe I’ll decide then whether to dive into her new one or not.
And, hell, I have to admit that I’ve never read an entire novel by Margaret Atwood, though I’ve enjoyed listening to her at live events. Jeannette Winterson’s cover article in the Book Review makes Atwood’s new The Year of the Flood, a scary vision of our future, sound like a must read.
How am I going to find the time to read even one of these books? I don’t see any lazy days coming up on my calendar soon. Hmmm …
I don’t think I’ll linger long here today, anyway, but I would also like to mention a few good articles on history and public policy. Ira Berlin provides a fascinating summary of Deliver Us From Evil, a book about the American Civil War by Lacy K. Ford that actually manages to deliver something new: an analysis of the intense internal debate about slavery that went on in the Southern states before they became the Confederate nation.
I’m a bit taken aback by Irshad Manji’s positive review of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. I have heard of the oppressions and crimes detailed in this book, but it’s shocking to read that “gendercide” (a word I’ve never heard before) “steals more lives in any given decade ‘than all the genocides of the 20th Century'”. Is this true? If so, it’s an absolutely shocking fact, because if you include Stalin’s manufactured famines in the Ukraine and Mao’s manufactured famines in China along with the familiar horrors of Eastern Europe, Turkey, Rwanda and Cambodia, you’re talking about at least 50 million deaths. I have no reason to cast doubt on a subject I know nothing about, but if global gendercide kills 50 million women every 10 years, then this book should be on the cover of this weekend’s Book Review, not buried somewhere in the middle. In fact it should be on the cover of the New York Times, not just today but everyday. But I’m not sure I’m understanding the facts correctly. Another book I’ll have to read.
Finally, Ada Calhoun’s capsule review of T. R. Reid’s The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care is highly relevant today, and worth quoting in full:
With all the hysteria over health care and the public option, it’s high time for the facts behind buzzwords like “socialized medicine” and “death panels.” Reid, a correspondent for The Washington Post, provides a lucid examination of health care around the world, and shows how the United States compares on coverage, cost, quality and choice. The results are humbling. In a humanizing twist, Reid details his own experiences as he tries to get treatment for a bum shoulder. At a $10 consultation in Versailles, he is told that he should have physical therapy but that he may choose surgery done by any doctor in France, on the national dime. In Japan he’s offered a vast range of treatments. When he asks about shoulder reconstruction, he is told: “Tomorrow would be a little difficult. But next week would probably work.” So much for national health care inevitably resulting in a lack of choice or endless waits. But not all the statistics and fun facts in “The Healing of America” are equally persuasive. Reid writes, for example, that “British women tend to have their babies at home; Japanese women, in contrast, almost always give birth in the hospital.” Actually, home births account for less than 3 percent of births in each country. Still, this doesn’t detract from Reid’s conclusion that every advanced nation in the world has a cheaper and fairer health care system than we do. He deftly counters the notion that “American exceptionalism” prevents us from successfully adapting another country’s system. Evidently, when it comes to health care, America is exceptional only in that it’s a rich country with a poor country’s approach to taking care of people.