What We Are Reading Today: Better to Have Gone by Akash Kapur

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Updated 26 July 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Better to Have Gone by Akash Kapur

Better to Have Gone is a nonfiction book about the human cost of our age-old quest for a more perfect world.

Author Akash Kapur was very articulate, and it was clear that he spent a great deal of time researching this book. 

He also has a number of photographs in this book about a village in India called Auroville as well which were a real delight. 

“This is a haunting, heartbreaking story, deeply researched and lucidly told, with an almost painful emotional honesty — the use of present tense weaving a kind of trance,” Amy Waldman said in a review for The New York Times. 

Better to Have Gone “ends with an unexpected lightness, even transcendence, as Kapur helps us see what Auroville has given him, gives him still, despite the pain,”  Waldman said.

“In his descriptions of its landscape, made so lush by those early pioneers, as well as of the sphere at its heart, he conveys the internal concord and harmony, the peace, that he finds there.”

Waldman is the author of two novels: A Door in the Earth and The Submission.


What We Are Reading Today: Alien Oceans; The Search for Life in the Depths of Space by Kevin Hand

Updated 21 September 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Alien Oceans; The Search for Life in the Depths of Space by Kevin Hand

Where is the best place to find life beyond Earth? We often look to Mars as the most promising site in our solar system, but recent scientific missions have revealed that some of the most habitable real estate may actually lie farther away. Beneath the frozen crusts of several of the small, ice-covered moons of Jupiter and Saturn lurk vast oceans that may have existed for as long as Earth, and together may contain more than 50 times its total volume of liquid water. Could there be organisms living in their depths? Alien Oceans reveals the science behind the thrilling quest to find out.

Kevin Peter Hand is one of today’s leading NASA scientists, and his pioneering research has taken him on expeditions around the world. In this captivating account of scientific discovery, he brings together insights from planetary science, biology, and the adventures of scientists like himself to explain how we know that oceans exist within moons of the outer solar system, like Europa, Titan, and Enceladus.


What We Are Reading Today: The Pomegranates and Other Modern Italian Fairy Tales by Cristina Mazzon

Updated 21 September 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Pomegranates and Other Modern Italian Fairy Tales by Cristina Mazzon

The Pomegranates and Other Modern Italian Fairy Tales presents 20 magical stories published between 1875 and 1914, following Italy’s political unification. In those decades of political and social change, folklorists collected fairy tales from many regions of the country while influential writers invented original narratives in standard Italian, drawing on traditional tales in local dialects, and translated others from France.

This collection features a range of these entertaining jewels from such authors as Carlo Collodi, most celebrated for the novel Pinocchio, and Domenico Comparetti, regarded as the Italian Grimm, to Grazia Deledda, the only Italian woman to have received the Nobel Prize in Literature. With one exception, all of these tales are appearing in English for the first time.

The stories in this volume are linked by themes of metamorphosis: A man turns into a lion, a dove, and an ant; a handsome youth emerges from a pig’s body; and three lovely women rise out of the rinds of pomegranates.

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What We Are Reading Today: Inside the Critics’ Circle by Philippa K. Chong

Updated 16 September 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Inside the Critics’ Circle by Philippa K. Chong

Taking readers behind the scenes in the world of fiction reviewing, Inside the Critics’ Circle explores the ways critics evaluate books despite the inherent subjectivity involved and the uncertainties of reviewing when seemingly anyone can be a reviewer. Drawing on interviews with critics from such venues as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post, Phillipa Chong delves into the complexities of the review-writing process, including the considerations, values, and cultural and personal anxieties that shape what critics do.

Chong explores how critics are paired with review assignments, why they accept these time-consuming projects, how they view their own qualifications for reviewing certain books, and the criteria they employ when making literary judgments. She discovers that while their readers are of concern to reviewers, they are especially worried about authors on the receiving end of reviews. As these are most likely peers who will be returning similar favors in the future, critics’ fears and frustrations factor into their willingness or reluctance to write negative reviews.

At a time when traditional review opportunities are dwindling, book reviewing  is being brought into question.


What We Are Reading Today: Becoming George Orwell: Life and Letters, Legend and Legacy

Updated 16 September 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Becoming George Orwell: Life and Letters, Legend and Legacy

Author: John Rodden

Is George Orwell the most influential writer who ever lived? Yes, according to John Rodden’s provocative book about the transformation of a man into a myth. Rodden does not argue that Orwell was the most distinguished man of letters of the last century, nor even the leading novelist of his generation, let alone the greatest imaginative writer of English prose fiction. Yet his influence since his death at midcentury is incomparable. No other writer has aroused so much controversy or contributed so many incessantly quoted words and phrases to our cultural lexicon, from “Big Brother” and “doublethink” to “thoughtcrime” and “Newspeak.” Becoming George Orwell is a pathbreaking tour de force that charts the astonishing passage of a litterateur into a legend.
Rodden presents the author of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four in a new light, exploring how the man and writer Orwell, born Eric Arthur Blair, came to be overshadowed by the spectral figure associated with nightmare visions of our possible futures.
Rodden opens with a discussion of the life and letters, chronicling Orwell’s eccentricities and emotional struggles, followed by an assessment of his chief literary achievements. The second half of the book examines the legend and legacy of Orwell, whom Rodden calls “England’s Prose Laureate,” looking at everything from cyberwarfare to “fake news.” The closing chapters address both Orwell’s enduring relevance to burning contemporary issues and the multiple ironies of his popular reputation, showing how he and his work have become confused with the very dreads and diseases that he fought against throughout his life.


What We Are Reading Today: A Republic of Equals: A Manifesto for a Just Society

Updated 14 September 2021

What We Are Reading Today: A Republic of Equals: A Manifesto for a Just Society

Author: Jonathan Rothwell

Political equality is the most basic tenet of democracy. Yet in America and other democratic nations, those with political power have special access to markets and public services. A Republic of Equals traces the massive income inequality observed in the US and other rich democracies to politicized markets and avoidable gaps in opportunity—and explains why they are the root cause of what ails democracy today.
In this provocative book, economist Jonathan Rothwell draws on the latest empirical evidence from across the social sciences to demonstrate how rich democracies have allowed racial politics and the interests of those at the top to subordinate justice. He looks at the rise of nationalism in Europe and the US, revealing how this trend overlaps with racial prejudice and is related to mounting frustration with a political status quo that thrives on income inequality and inefficient markets. But economic differences are by no means inevitable. Differences in group status by race and ethnicity are dynamic.
and have reversed themselves across continents and within countries. Inequalities persist between races in the US because Black Americans are denied equal access to markets and public services.