Anthem – Noah Hawley
Hawley can spin a story. Here he takes a little bit of everything going on in the world today and mixes it together: Covid, our former president, climate change, toxic discourse on social media, the Insurrection, and even Joe Rogan. He whips that up into the biggest possible mess. There is a total breakdown of society and what amounts to a second American Civil War. Then he throws in a very Stephen King angle: sending a bunch of kids on a quest in the midst of this. He even names one of his characters after one of King’s most famous characters. Hmmm…

It’s a hell of a story and keeps the reader turning the pages. Whether all of it makes sense or not is another discussion. But I was entertained.

Bloody January – Alan Parks
Damn, I read this two weeks too late!

This tale takes place in Glasgow in January 1973, as a series of murders take place and detective Harry McCoy takes lead on the investigation. McCoy isn’t the cleanest of cops, and his private life gets all intertwined with the search for truth. The story is bloody and dark.

How the Word Is Passed – Clint Smith
This is a difficult book to write about, for a couple reasons.

First, it is about the lasting effects of slavery on American society, and how we, as a nation, handle that history. That’s never easy to discuss.

Second, Smith has written one of the most beautiful non-fiction books I’ve ever read. I was constantly amazed at how gorgeous his language was, and the irony of that beauty being used to relate the most heinous part of our country’s history.

Smith travels to several different geographic locations to examine how the legacy of slavery is handled in each of them. Among stops in his travels are Thomas Jefferson’s home in Monticello; the Angola prison in Louisiana; Galveston, TX, where the holiday Juneteenth was first celebrated; New York City; and the island off the coast of Senegal that was a loading point for slave ships.

Smith reported this book before Covid hit, right in the midst of the last administration, when white supremacy was being encouraged from the highest office in the land. Some of the conversations he had are astounding. I can’t imagine being a Black man and having an open discussion with people who are celebrating the lives of Confederate soldiers. Hell, I can’t imagine having those conversations as a white man!

There were many points while reading that I would stop and stare out the window, thinking about what I had just read, forming thoughts about those passages. I should have written some of those down.

I do recall a couple of those thoughts.

First, there was the suggestion Smith made for why so many white people struggle to honestly look back at our country’s history of slavery. It is hard, he writes, to be told the history you grew up with was false. To realize you have to reevaluate your life, and the lives of your family members that came before you. You may have no connection with your great-great-great grandfather who was a slave owner, but you still don’t want to hear that he enslaved other humans and generations of your family probably thought that was fine. It’s just hard to get people to accept updated histories of any kind, whether they are directly affected or not.

Second was how the concept of freedom differs based on who you are and where you are from. For white Americans, freedom is largely about our relationship with the government. What can and can’t we do without being interfered with? Where can we travel? What can we say and believe? And so on. For all the heated rhetoric of modern politics, where some people suggest that being asked to pay taxes or wear a mask is tantamount to tyranny, white people are generally arguing about nuance.

Black people, on the other hand, view the concept very differently. To them freedom literally means the difference between being owned as property and living as free humans. Sure, slavery ended over 150 years ago, but because of how Black people have been marginalized since Emancipation, that truth remains strong within their community.

Unfortunately Smith does not offer us a clear path forward. He suggests that we will never get past slavery as long as broad swaths of the country – in all geographic regions – refuse to honestly address the impact slavery has had on our society.