Neshama’s Choices for March 7th

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It starts in 1910 and ends in 1999 as this eccentric building in Edinburgh finally collapses. There’s a bizarre story in each of its many apartments and we shuttle back and forth through the eras in each chapter. Supernatural, mythological happenings but planted right in the heart of town with all the familiar landmarks in view. Catacombs and a bone museum in the basement. Women with devil’s horns, and William Burroughs (no less) are just some of the dizzying cast of characters. Sprinkled with Scottish dialect.  I must admit certain sections left me in the dust but I was so taken with overall vigor and originality, I stayed on the wild ride to the spectacular denouement.

These Precious Days

Essays and oh, what a boon! She effortlessly shares what’s on her mind and in her heart. (Though we know, from an essay on process, how much effort goes into crafting each of these pieces.) Intimacy on the page, as if she’s sitting down with us and telling us what counts in her life: family, friends, writing, her beloved bookstore and more. Sooki Rafael’s paintings grace the cover and form a kind of centerpiece to the book. The artist moved into Ann’s house for an extended period while she had treatment for pancreatic cancer, during the COVID pandemic no less. It turned out to be deeply enriching for hosts and guest in equal measure. Reading this book left me suffused with warmth, calm and joy—medicine for these troubled times. 

This Is your Mind on Plants

Thank you, Michael, for taking us along to explore three drugs: opium, caffeine, and mescaline. The only one I’ve experienced in person is caffeine; he actually went cold turkey for a period of time to discover what it did to his productivity and habits of daily living. As a gardener he’s grown opium poppies and wrote about it for a magazine but encountered a snarl of laws that made such activity dangerous. And his plans for participating in peyote ceremonies were thwarted by COVID but he still managed to report back on his trips through those doors of perception. Lots of history and social commentary woven throughout. I listened to the author reading on CD and appreciated his enthusiastic delivery and his candor. 

Harlem Shuffle

Carney straddles two worlds.  He owns a modestly thriving furniture store but also makes shady deals on the side to get ahead and support his family.  But when Cousin Freddy, a wild card, brings him in on a dangerous caper, that straddle leads to fear, pain, and anxiety. He gets through that crisis but later on, as riots start to erupt in the neighborhood and Freddy comes up with another desperate situation, it’s back on tenterhooks. His wife’s parents are well off. She works as a travel agent specializing in Black-centered vacations. Carney, stiffed by a member of the elite Dumas Club, launches a multilayered plan to get revenge. When I first read this book, I got a bit confused by plot complexities but knew it would work better in the ear. Indeed, the CD rendition just galloped along making perfect sense (of a crazy world) and showing off Colson’s wit and vernacular word-play. Tasty! 

We Know You Remember

Olaf was accused of rape when he was 14 and after hours of police interrogation in which the title’s phrase was oft repeated, confessed.  Now he’s been released from prison years later and returns home to find his father dead. Eira, the detective on this case, is deeply disquieted because she was 9 when the earlier crime took place. Memories of that time still bring up fear in her. Another layer is her charming but ne’er-do-well brother Magnus who doesn’t help with their demented mother’s care. A lot on her plate but she persists in unearthing evidence of both crimes which she senses are related. Scandinavian noir showcases this kind of dark material so well and this book is a welcome addition to the genre.