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Summertime and the Reading is Easy

(Short Reviews of Recently Read Books)

In the Clear Light of Day by Jon P. Dorschner and William Laray

Dorschner and Laray’s memoir is specific to a certain experience and time yet it is also universal in its tale of the human quest for meaning. The authors grew up in the world of the US military dependent, traveling from one imperial outpost to the next. I crossed paths with Jon Dorschner when we both lived in Frankfurt. His younger brother and I skipped many classes to take rides in his Opel Kadett. I knew of Laray, but only saw him at a rock concert or two and then only in passing. This memoir details the travels and discoveries of that period—when the counterculture, new left politics and the quest for spiritual discovery took many folks to new and different worlds from that of their parents. The fact that its authors were both military dependents is proof in itself how much the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s was a reality among young people in the United States. The story in the book’s pages is both personal and generational. In the Clear Light of Day is more than a travelogue or just another story told by an old hippie. It is a compelling, well-written story about how thoughtful humans can exist in a world gone terribly wrong.

American Discontent: The Rise of Donald Trump and the Decline of the Golden Age by John L. Campbell

There have been numerous books published regarding the meaning of Trump and Trumpism. Most have been written from a liberal perspective that decries the apparent rejection of liberal values his election represented. Campbell’s analysis looks at the decades leading up to the 2016 election, the rise of neoliberal capitalism and the accompanying increase in income inequality. He looks at race, immigration, and fear as crucial factors. Statistics, polls and other data are examined and dissected, providing a useful breakdown of not only the rise of the Trumpists, but the general overall drift rightward in US politics. It’s not a hopeful read, but it is an important one.

Mountain Brew by Tim Matson and Leeanne Dorr

It seems hard to believe that in today’s world when marijuana is being legalized across the continent that it used to be illegal to brew your own beer. This little book is a collection of tales and recipes from the 1970s when the author and his friends brewed their own beer in Vermont. Back then, it wasn’t just a matter of going to a brewery supply store or going online to order those supplies. One had to actually piece together malt and hops from different grocers and feed shops. If your palate turns to thoughts of beer in the summer, grab a pint and read this book. It’s as tasty as any IPA. And goes down almost as quickly.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

Powers is a master storyteller. His novel The Time of Our Singing is one of the best novels written this century. Although a capsule review like this one does not even come close to doing justice to his latest, it seems a mention here is better than no review at all. The tale here is situated in the time of the tree-sit. The action is undertaken by five of the characters Powers creates—characters as real as the time we find ourselves in. A nod is given to the deaths of the giant trees felled by greed and corporate takeovers and also to real-life activist Judy Bari, who was killed in a nefarious scheme by the forces arrayed against the forests. However, it is the fictional human characters who participate in the protests and direct actions against the destruction that make this tale the incredible story it is. Other characters as developed as the activists fight to save the trees include a botanist and a middle-class middle-aged couple whose personal issues resolve themselves in a manner unforeseen and completely believable in Powers’ telling. On top of being an awe-provoking, heartrending page turner of a story, The Overstory is also a treatise on the meaning of nature (especially forests) and their interconnectedness with a human species that for the most part fails to even see that connection, with consequences potentially more fearsome than any fiction.