I’ve been on a good reading stretch lately. Here are some blurbs.

The Mercenary – Paul Vidich
Vidich gets a lot of critical acclaim for his espionage novels. I wasn’t crazy about his first book I read, The Good Assassin. It was so noir-y that I felt no warmth towards or connection with any of the characters. Despite that, I decided to give this one a shot.

Taking place late in the Soviet era, just before Mikhail Gorbachev took over and began opening the country up, it focuses on the attempts by the CIA to exfiltrate a KGB contact, something they had never successfully done. To facilitate this, they bring in a retired agent who had defected from the Soviet Union, Alex Garin. Garin’s return to the USSR is rife with issues beyond his not-so-simple task of hustling a high-level KGB officer across the border, creating an ultra-tense setting for his mission.

This hews a little closer to standard spy fare. But there were still elements of the story I did not like. I think my experiments with Vidich’s oeuvre are complete.

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music – Dave Grohl
I’ve had several people tell me I should read this. One friend even gave me a link to his copy of the audiobook. But I don’t do audiobooks so I bought the Kindle edition to read over spring break after the news that Taylor Hawkins had passed.

I’m not a huge Foo Fighters fan – I like them but don’t love them – but this was a fun book that I raced through. Grohl brushes over a lot of big moments and leaves out a few minor stories I was particularly interested in. I would, for example, have loved a few paragraphs on the brief period when he drummed for Pearl Jam when then PJ drummer Jack Irons was unable to.

The book doesn’t change anything I thought about Grohl before I read it. He still seems like a very decent and (mostly) unaffected dude. Through immense effort, some luck, and some tragedy he went from being an underage drummer in an obscure punk band to one of the biggest names in rock. And unlike a lot of famous folks, it doesn’t seem like he shit on too many people along the way.

The Backyard Adventurer – Beau Miles
My favorite YouTube adventurer wrote a book! This provides a lot more backstory on how Miles got to be how he is, how he comes up with his various projects, and then background beyond the content of his videos. It was interesting and entertaining, but unfortunately he writes exactly how he speaks, and I think that style translates better to audio than text. Still glad I was able to support his habits in some small way.

The Trees – Percival Everett
This is one of the more amazing books I’ve read recently. It is outrageously funny. It is infuriating. It feels awfully close to the truth of how our country continues to marginalize people of color.

A series of bizarre murders take place in rural Mississippi. Two Black Mississippi Bureau of Investigation agents are sent in to take over for the local, white police. Soon a Black, female FBI agent joins them.

What starts out as a funny-yet-incisive story eventually gets pushed hard, hard, hard into the ridiculous. But that was Everett’s point, I think, to show the ridiculousness of our history race relations in this country.

There was one little sub-point that I loved. When a large FBI task force is put together, an ancient agent is brought in because he was the only active agent who had ever witnessed a lynching. After running through the agent’s history, and litany of problematic beliefs and statements, Everett writes that Clint Eastwood was working on a film about this agent’s life.

I HOWLED at that section.

How Civil Wars Start And How to Stop Them – Barbara F. Walter
Obviously a light-hearted, uplifting read.

Walter dives into the political science behind how most modern civil wars have begun. Sadly, by many measures, the United States is dangerously close to reaching the thresholds that countries like Northern Ireland and the former Yugoslavia hit when they descended into civil wars. The good news is our various constitutional guard rails have held steady. For now.