Since my last list over a month ago, I have masticated a further three books. The previous catalogue was my ultimate of the old decade. After the turn of the New Year, this marks the first reading list of the 2020’s. Two of the three books were non-fiction; I also found my last couple to be rather challenging. Having more non-fiction titles in any catalogue is a welcoming exercise. Ditto with trying out new authors. In chronological order, here is my new reading list:
- Finding Chika (Mitch Albom). This is no doubt the easiest read of the three. Written in his familiar breezy prose, the book tells the story of Chika, Albom’s adopted daughter. Starting with his impetus of trying to help orphans in Haiti, the plot moves on as Albom discusses his wife, his parents, and his home. He is shocked in his first visit to Haiti, a third world country right at America’s doorstep. In spite of his family’s shortcomings, he had not yet witnessed the level of destitution rife in Haiti. Here he meets Chika, one of many Haitians who call his orphanage home. At first, she is shy and does not speak English. Albom would learn that she is suffering from a disease and the prognosis was not good. He decides to bring her to America – temporarily – to seek better treatment.
As Chika’s illness continues, she changes her outfits, learns the language, and becomes part of the Alboms more and more. In particular, she turns very close with Janine, Mitch’s wife. The book is divided in a similar manner to The Next Person, Albom’s previous book. For every chapter, there is a lesson attached. In one of the most moving parts of the title, Albom meets Chika in hospital, Care Bear in hand. He gathers that the bear belongs to Chika, who puts the stuffed animal in front of her face. Albom calls it a lucky Bear since Chika is special. After a bit of toing and froing, Albom tells the Bear not to tell Chika how much he loves her. That should be their secret. However, the talking Bear surprises Albom, saying that Chika already knows. Prodded on how much he loves her, Chika extends her wingspan, saying ‘this much.’ Mitch fought back tears. Chika forms another keeper from Albom. Utterly undemanding yet very moving, Mitch remains the emblem of simple prose.
- Choke (Palahniuk). Choke is my first book by Chuck. I saw Fight Club ages ago but thought that the film version was enough. Let’s be honest: Choke is not a good introduction to Palahniuk’s world. Albeit not longer than 300 pages, there’s a big deal of padding and unnecessary words. See also: headache. See also: verbosity. Only a fraction of the characters is likeable, and this excludes the anti-hero, Victor Mancini. Dude sidesteps responsibility in much the same way he indulges his sex addiction. In his spare time, he works at a colonial-era museum, complete with old English and ruffles. He spends more time cruising sex addiction groups and engaging in meaningless coitus. By the way, he also deliberately chokes in restaurants so that his ‘saviours’ could foot his mother’s hospital bills. Callous is not the right word, but it’s the first word that comes to mind.
Interspersed with his escapades is his love/hate relationship with his mother. We would learn that Victor has an unenviable childhood. He lives with different foster parents, although his mum would always disrupt him with her visits. For most of the book he craves to find out his father’s identity. As his mother withers in a ‘hospital’, she keeps mistaking him for someone else. When he offers that he is her son, she retreats in her shell. He has a healthier bond with his best friend, Denny. The latter was nothing but supportive, having had similar problems as Victor. When he is forced out of home, he immediately stays with Victor. Altogether, the story was the hook but was something that retrogressed: the more you read, the less you liked it. In case you missed it, the novel was adapted to the cinema but underachieved all the same. In the end, Choke was okay but definitely not a must-read.
- Catch and Kill (Ronan Farrow). As yet this is still unfinished, though I’ve perused more than enough to warrant an opinion. Farrow was one of the reporters who broke the story of sexual harassment in Hollywood. Together with his Times counterparts, Farrow was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his expose. As per the book’s blurb, the story reads like a political thriller complete with spies, lies, and big media protecting predators. At the outset, Farrow worked for NBC. The network constantly thwarted his attempts to investigate Harvey Weinstein and interview his victims. At the same time, Weinstein hired a private firm to stay ahead of his enemies. This included using sexual assault allegations in Farrow’s family as conflict of interest in his reporting. NBC ultimately let off Farrow, his boss saying that there was no room for him in their budget. Before being sacked, NBC had urged Farrow to bring his story elsewhere.
Farrow ended up publishing his revelations with The New Yorker. Of course, the written word was not as powerful as the pull of live television. However, Ronan cut his losses given that the Times were the first to break the story. Reading about the amount of red tape at 30 Rockefeller (home of NBC) was disgusting. Ronan’s editors continually shelved the story for months, backburnered indefinitely for no real reason at all. Two people had to work the witnesses and follow leads, all during their downtime. In New York, there was almost no face that you could trust. Company heads, lawyers, district attorneys, and the police were all in Weinstein’s pocket. There was no worse place to battle Weinstein than in his old stomping ground. It got to the point where victims would back off, frightened by more delays orchestrated by Farrow’s bosses.
The allegations about Weinstein’s misconduct was likewise horrific. The producer’s antics was of someone who had sheer power: to make unreasonable demands, to wear down women, and to abruptly finish careers. To victimise was one thing, but to silence them with non-disclosure agreements? To fabricate stories about them? Well, the world could breathe easier now. In case you’re wondering, ‘catch and kill’ is a popular term in the tabloids. The phrase means purchasing stories to ensure that they would be ‘killed.’ Farrow’s reporting has even been mentioned in a Netflix series. His name is synonymous with covert operator and rethinking the boundaries of journalism. Overall, I like Ronan’s writing style: short chapters, sections, and a desire to uncover the truth; the title represents a lovely complement to She Said.
So, there you have it, the first reading list of the new decade. I scanned three authors of three different books and only one was a work of fiction. I hope I’ve convinced you to ‘read mas.’