Find it at your library!

The gift that was our trip to see Hamilton keeps on giving. Recently the Library Hotel called to say they loved the blog post I wrote detailing our stay, and wouldn’t you know it, they still had a copy of that ARC I mentioned wanting to steal from the front desk, and if I’d confirm my address, they’d put it in the mail and send it to me with their thanks.

See, kids? The lesson here is don’t steal things. Write publicly about your desire to steal them, and people will give them to you for free!

(In case it wasn’t clear in my original post, I want to note that my glowing remarks about the Library Hotel were 100% unsponsored and unsolicited. They’d never heard of me before (what, you thought this blog was big potatoes?) and did not ask me to write anything about them. I’m just a book nerd who stayed in their hotel, absolutely adored it, and wanted to share it with (my teeny tiny little corner of) the world. In writing the post, I had no expectation that anyone at the Library Hotel would ever read it, much less volunteer to give me anything I super badly wanted. End of disclaimer.)

Anyway, I was jazzed to get my hands on this ARC, because Southeast Asian history is an area I’d like to learn more about. I feel like I know so little about the culture, the struggles, and *ahem* U.S. involvement in that part of the world, even when it comes to the past fifty years or so. There’s no excuse, man! Especially right now, when U.S. relations with just about every other country in the world are so fraught with tension and uncertainty.

Ratner is a really lovely writer, and she tells a sometimes brutal and heartrending story with a featherlight touch. Obviously it’s hard to sell people on a book by saying, “Here! Read this book about a genocide!” but Ratner truly does spin straw (or worse) into gold here. It’s an ugly story at times, but her telling of it is consistently beautiful.

I also found main character Teera’s reflections on feeling Cambodian in America and American in Cambodia to be incredibly timely and honest, again particularly in light of the current hostility towards immigrants. I imagine it would be very difficult to feel welcome here with the vitriol that has been spewing from so many mouths.

With warmest regards to the Library Hotel for the advance copy. On sale April 11!

Find it at your library!

I realize Steve Sheinkin’s books are for kids, but I totally, 100% don’t care. Non-fiction? More like non-stop thrill ride.

I love how he writes about history as if it’s urgent. Increasingly, I’m becoming aware that it is indeed urgent for average Americans to understand what’s happened in the past, so we can avoid living in a Groundhog Day-type loop of bad political and humanitarian decisions in our present.

With Most Dangerous, Sheinkin turns his attention to the Vietnam War: what started it, and most interestingly, what eventually ended it. A Washington insider named Daniel Ellsberg chose to leak a massive top-secret document to expose years upon years of lies and deception by American presidents. Those in power labeled him a traitor and put him on trial. Looking back now, a strong argument could be made that he was a hero.

I especially enjoyed how, in the afterword, Sheinkin connects the dots from Ellsberg’s decision to a much more recent one, specifically the case of Edward Snowden, who exposed the NSA’s spying on law-abiding citizens. Physically, at least, Snowden’s task was very different from Ellsberg’s thanks to advances in technology since the 1960s. Ellsberg labored for weeks on a Xerox machine to make copies of the thousand-page document, and it had to be transported in suitcases. Logistically, a bit more complicated than saving everything to a flash drive the size of a baby carrot and sticking it in your pocket.

Having never studied the Vietnam War in school before, it was gratifying to fill in that particular hole in my education. For example, I had NO IDEA how absolutely terrible a person Richard Nixon was. I knew he was the only president to ever resign, and I figured whatever he did must have been bad for him to do that, but good Lord, that guy was awful.