Book Review:  When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Paul Kalanithi, the author of When Breath Becomes Air, majored in literature in college and then decided to go into medicine. He chose to become a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist, which involves some of the most difficult academic and residency training possible. For him it was not about finding a lucrative career, but rather a calling to be able to serve humankind in the best way possible. When he was six years into his residency training, he was diagnosed with a lethal form of lung cancer. The doctor was forced to become a patient. He died just after finishing his residency at the age of thirty-six. He wrote this book in the last months of his life, when it was evident that he would be unable to go back to his work as a surgeon and the drugs and chemotherapy he was undergoing were proving ineffective.

Like another memoir I read not long ago, Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad, about a twenty-two-year-old diagnosed with leukemia and the trauma she underwent in the medical system in efforts to save her life, this would seem to be an agonizingly painful read. And Kalanithi’s book does have its difficult, intense passages, but overall it evokes a feeling of hope and triumph rather than despair. Remember that Kalanithi trained in literature before he trained in medicine and had at one point considered becoming a writer. His language throughout the book is intense, poetic, and insightful.

What elevates the author’s account of his medical training is his ethical focus. He was deeply concerned about the patients in his care. For their sakes he was willing to forego an easier lifestyle and put in grueling hours of work. Because he had the capacity to help, he felt the obligation to do so. As a neurosurgeon he looked forward to a lifetime of service to those in need, and as a neuroscientist he looked forward to discovering new and better methods of treating brain injuries and illnesses.

This all came to a crashing halt when he began to suffer unbearable pain and was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic lung cancer. Before he began treatment and would be unable, he and his wife decided to have a child. Their daughter was born eight months before he died. She brought him joy and a sense of completion before the end.

This book confronts the dilemma of facing unexpected death; but then, for most of us, regardless of our age or the state of our health, death is unexpected and unwelcome no matter when it arrives. It was one thing for Kalanithi to confront the reality of dying patients, but quite another when the roles were reversed and he was the one contemplating the realization of his own mortality. I think it is good to sometimes remind ourselves that one hundred percent of us will experience death at some point. There are no exceptions. There is no escape from this truth. We can try to prolong our time in these fleshly bodies, but sooner or later we will die one way or another. Knowing this can help us evaluate our lives and make decisions that can imbue the time we have with significance. It is a reminder we all need now and then.

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Book Review:  The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer

Fogged in by a spate of loneliness, I decided to deal with the gnawing, empty feeling by turning the negative into positive. To accomplish this, I conducted a search for books on solitude, and compiled a list of about a dozen or so. I was hoping to glean some insight into what makes solitude desirable and apply these ideas to my own situation. Of the selections available at the library, I chose to start with this one.

The Art of Stillness is a small, slim book in which a large portion consists of images or blank pages. The text is about the length of an essay or magazine article. The author Iyer is an elite intellectual and professional travel writer. In the introduction he emphasizes that he offers no answers, only questions that readers can expand upon. According to Iyer, nowhere is the place you arrive at when you “sit still long enough to turn inward.” Disasters are opportunities to start again, he claims, and we can change our lives by changing how we look at them.

I soon realized that though this book is well-written, it is not really aimed at people like me and does not offer any insights into long-term solitude. Instead, Iyer offers high-class executives and other intensely driven individuals the concept of meditative solitude as a temporary break from their other activities. Solitude for Iyer is a few weeks of respite in a monastery or retreat in the hills near Silicon Valley, an option which is beyond the means of ordinary folks. In other words, “going nowhere” is a vacation rather than an ongoing lifestyle choice.

That’s not to say that this book is devoid of value. Within its parameters, it offers insightful examples of others who have taken solitude seriously. For instance, Iyer briefly tells the story of the love affair of Thomas Merton, the famously reclusive monk and author. Although he had taken a vow of celibacy, during a hospital visit the fifty-one-year-old monk fell in love with a twenty-year old nurse. They ultimately did not consummate their relationship, and Merton chose to “marry the silence of the forest.” Another example is Matthieu Ricard, who spent almost a year in a cabin on a mountainside in Nepal; every week or so he would take a photo of the same view, but it was ever-changing due to the mutable weather and seasons. Eventually he published the results in a book called Motionless Journey.

Anecdotes such as these add nuance and flavor to a book that otherwise skims the surface of its subject but does not make any effort to explore it in depth. Iyer does not see stillness as an end in itself, but rather a means of refueling for further accomplishments. He comes across as a traveler passing by and remarking on activities he observes rather than a committed seeker. This does not render the book ineffective, but it limits its scope. Evidently the material in this book is the basis of a TED talk, and in fact The Art of Stillness is labeled “a TED Original” from TED Books. So imagine you are attending a lecture to the upper class on the theme of meditation, stillness, and going nowhere, and then you’ve got an idea of the range and length of this book.

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Book Review:  All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

I have just finished reading this amazing novel, and I am unsure of how to approach it as a reviewer. In truth, I am in awe of it. I approach it as I might approach a priceless painting or sculpture in a museum: afraid to touch it in fear of shattering the illusion. It’s a fairly long novel without a single extraneous word. It is complex, jumping from one time frame to another and one character to another in short but intense chapters, but it is easy to follow and never for a moment did I lose the story’s thread. It is a near perfect work of art.

Who would have thought that a novel about World War II could resonate so deeply in this modern era? And yet it does. It escapes its historical trappings and becomes universal. It gives every one of its characters, from the most vulnerable to the most ostensibly evil, profound motivations for their behaviors and intricate though sometimes succinctly expressed backgrounds. Within a very short time after you commence reading it, you will find it very difficult to put down.

The story begins with the Allied bombing of Saint-Malo, a town on the coast of France where a teenage girl named Marie-Laure lives with her great uncle. Marie-Laure became blind when she was six years old. When the Germans invaded France, she and her father fled Paris for Saint-Malo. Her father worked in a museum and carried with him a valuable diamond known as the Sea of Flames. A parallel story tells of a German boy named Werner, a whiz with radios and electronics, who is sent to a brutal military school and is conscripted into the Nazi army at the age of sixteen. A further plotline concerns the evil Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel, an expert in gems who ruthlessly hunts for the Sea of Flames through various Nazi-held territories. The horrors of war are vividly described as the story progresses, but these awful realities are mitigated by the love, tenderness, and compassion of those caught up in the conflict, who seek to survive and protect their loved ones as chaos and disaster erupt all around.

As the story progresses, Doerr expertly draws the various threads tighter and tighter until they all come together at the Battle of Saint-Malo. I have read more novels than I could ever count, and yet seldom have I encountered a book as superbly crafted as this one. Most novels of this length have weaknesses such as occasional ponderous descriptions, pontifications of the author, or pointless digressions. Doerr avoids these errors. The writing is focused throughout, always clear and sharp and on-point. I have a certain time in my daily schedule that I designate for reading, but with this book it was extremely difficult to avoid going overtime for just one more chapter, and then another, and so on. In short, this novel is well worth reading. Don’t let the World War II setting, which has been used so often in the past in innumerable books and films, put you off. This novel far transcends its background; its themes and insights, as I mentioned above, are universal. Highly recommended.

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A Journey into the Wasteland (of Downtown Seattle)

Downtown Seattle isn’t what it used to be. In my youth it was a wonderland, a special place to go for shopping and entertainment. It was safe enough that my parents felt comfortable dropping a group of us kids off to see a movie and then picking us up later. During sales periods or winter holidays the streets would be lined with lights and we looked forward to strolling along the sidewalks with our parents. Later as a young man I would go downtown with my friends for double or triple features at the ornate cinemas or to head to the waterfront to view the exhibits in the aquarium, eat fish and chips at outdoor tables, or take ferries to the islands in Puget Sound.

A few days ago I took a bus downtown to meet two of my sons. They had flown in from their disparate college and work locations to attend a metal concert in downtown Seattle. I met them at their hotel and we went to have a bite to eat and walked around a bit before they had to head to the airport for their flights out. It was the first time I had been downtown since before the start of the COVID pandemic. I had heard that things had changed, that violent incidents had increased, and that safety warnings had even been issued. Still, I was unprepared for the shock of how much the area had deteriorated. There was vomit and rubbish on the pavements, and indigent people were everywhere: on every corner and in many of the doorways. Some sat on the sidewalks with rough cardboard “spare change” signs propped in front of them, while others gathered in groups or wandered along the sidewalks mumbling to themselves. There had always been homeless people here and there downtown in the past, but never as many as now. They were literally everywhere. I could sympathize, of course, having been broke and homeless myself for years when I hitchhiked around the world; however, I had voluntarily embraced homelessness, while these multitudes around me were victims of the current cataclysmic economic catastrophe.

It was a hot day, but instead of the brilliant blue of yore, the sky was gray and glowering due to the smoke from wildfires in Canada.

The strange contrast between wealth and poverty, between the tourists who strolled from attraction to attraction and the filthy street residents trying to survive was accentuated when my sons and I stopped for a sandwich at a bakery. We supposed that having a bite at a bakery rather than a sit-down restaurant would save us time and money, but the amount we were charged for three small sandwiches took my breath away.

We decided to head for Pike Place Market, which has remained more or less the same over the decades: low ceilings, polished wood floors, and fascinating idiosyncratic small shops. The highlight was my discovery that the used book store in the heart of the market was still there and had the same owner with the truly encyclopedic knowledge of the used book trade. We wandered the various levels of the market and then decided to walk along the Seattle waterfront, which has always been one of my favorite places. Alas, the peaceful ambiance of the waterfront is gone. When we descended to the bottom of the market and approached Alaskan Way, the street that runs alongside the piers, we were confronted with an apocalyptic wasteland. As far as we could see the street was gutted and filled with pits, mounds of earth, construction equipment, and construction workers. At first glance we couldn’t even discern a path through to the waterfront itself. We decided to abandon our plan for a waterfront walk, realizing it would have to be accomplished amidst grating noise and roiling dust. In chagrin we retreated to the relative calm of the crowded market.

On the bus ride home I wondered what had become of the city I had once known. It had grown, of course, from a neglected oasis to a tech hub; its population had increased greatly since I had grown up there. Still, growth can be positive instead of negative. But the city center I had just seen had somehow imploded into catastrophic desolation. I wondered if it could ever be saved and once again become the glittering attraction I imagined from my youth. Or had it ever really been as perfect as I remembered it? It had been different anyway – cleaner, brighter – that was for sure. For the present, I was thankful to be able to retreat to the relative safety and cleanliness of my apartment complex in the suburbs.

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Reviews and Reflections on Books, Literature, and Writing: Volume Three Is Now Available!

My latest collection of book reviews, Reviews and Reflections on Books, Literature, and Writing: Volume Three, is now available in paperback and as an ebook at various online outlets. Links to these are below.

From the author’s introduction:

A popular topic in science fiction these days is the multiverse, the concept of an infinite number of parallel worlds. Remember, though, that the multiverse is not as far away as you suppose. Each book that you read takes you into a new universe. When you enter a bookstore or a library you are in the midst of thousands of portals to other worlds. To enter all you have to do is follow the words that the authors have set down to guide you. If they have done their jobs effectively, you find yourself in strange lands and alternate timelines with all sorts of different types of characters. The best part is that you can do it anywhere and anytime. Just open up the door, namely the cover of the book, and dive in. I compile these collections of book reviews to serve as maps leading to wondrous worlds. I wish you joy, amazement, prosperity, fun, and adventure in your explorations.

Trade Paperback

Amazon Kindle

Barnes & Noble


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Book Review:  Cinema Speculation by Quentin Tarantino: Part Two

When I wrote part one of this review of Cinema Speculation, my grandson Charlie was nine and a half months old. Today is his first birthday. That’s how long it has taken me to obtain a copy of the book from the Seattle Public Library system and read the second half. It’s a popular book so I had to wait.

The second half begins with a synopsis of film history in the sixties and seventies. Specifically Tarantino explains how the anti-traditional films of the sixties and early seventies (such as Easy Rider) gave way to the seventies blockbusters (such as Star Wars and Jaws). Tarantino’s encyclopedic knowledge of film and his obvious love affair with cinema make these explanations fascinating. He brings up as examples a lot of directors and actors that I have never heard of, but that’s okay. His style of writing is as frantic and fast-paced as the movies he directs, which makes for an exceedingly entertaining ride.

Tarantino spends a major part of the second half of the book considering a trend in cinema back then that he calls Revengeamatics. This phrase describes the spate of revenge films that came out after the box office success of Death Wish with Charles Bronson. A lot of the low-budget revenge films were crude stereotypical examples of Revengeamatics, but a number of movies that ostensibly follow the formula transcend the genre. Among these are Taxi Driver, Rolling Thunder, and Hardcore, each of which has their own fairly long chapter in Tarantino’s book. According to Tarantino, a strong influence on these films is The Searchers, a John Ford western starring John Wayne as a Civil War veteran who searches for his kidnapped niece among the Comanche Indians. In both Taxi Driver and Hardcore, the protagonist is trying to rescue a young woman from unsavory characters, just as John Wayne does in the western. The quality of the writing, direction, and acting of these films cause them to transcend lesser works with similar basic plots.

One of the ultimate examples of Revengeamatics, in fact, is the Kill Bill duo by Tarantino: Kill Bill Volume 1 and Kill Bill Volume 2. In honor of finally finishing Cinema Speculations, I re-watched Kill Bill Volume 1 last night. When Tarantino attempts Revengeamatics, he pulls out all the stops.

I don’t really share Tarantino’s cravings for violence and horror in film, and I don’t always agree with his assessments of particular films or with his analysis of what films he considers great. I like his own movie creations, for the most part, not despite the fact that he tends to go over the top, but because of it. He has a singular approach to his material that is a lot of fun to watch. It’s the same with this book. He is an opinionated man, and he is straightforward in Cinema Speculations about what he likes and doesn’t like. You don’t have to agree with him to enjoy the book. Take his pontifications with a grain of salt, buckle up for the ride, and afterwards form your own opinions.

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Book Review:  Cinema Speculation by Quentin Tarantino: Part One

I have recently returned from a two-week trip to Los Angeles. (This first part of the review was written in February.) However, this was not a holiday venture during which I spent my time wining and dining and touring places of interest. I went specifically to help one of my sons and his wife take care of their first child and my first grandson, a bright, exuberant, wonderful nine-and-a-half-month-old named Charlie. (Now he’s over a year.) My son has just got a new remote job, so both parents are working full time. I came to help with Charlie while my son navigates his first couple of weeks at work. I was sometimes intensely busy, but in brief moments of respite I would pull Tarantino’s book off the shelf (my son is a film buff and picked it up as soon as it was released) and read as much as I could. By the end of my visit I had managed to finish half of it; that’s why this review is broken up into two parts. I have reserved the book at the Seattle Public Library (there are many people ahead of me) and will review the second half when I get a chance.

Anyway, on to the book itself. I was immediately drawn in by Tarantino’s voice. He writes like he speaks at interviews, with lots of expletives and fervent expostulations. He traces the roots of his movie fascination and addiction from when he was a young child going to films with his mother and her boyfriends. He was exposed to sexy and violent movies long before he was really able to understand what was going on, but during these years he began to form visceral opinions about the nature of cinema and how it affects audiences. As he grew up, he continued to haunt theaters in the Los Angeles area, attending double and triple features of all sorts of films. His reminiscences reminded me of how I grew up with books. I was an avid reader from as far back as I can remember. Early on it was stories about heroic dogs and horses, then fantasy and science fiction, then Jack London’s adventure stories, then fictional memoirs such as those by Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller. To progress from reading to writing was a natural step. In like manner it was a natural step for Tarantino to progress from fascination with movies to creating his own.

After a section on how he grew up with movies, Tarantino moves on to essays about specific films from the sixties and seventies such as Bullitt, The Getaway, The Outsiders, Deliverance, and others. It is clear from these essays that Tarantino has an intimate knowledge of the films and their actors, directors, cinematographers, and the other personnel that brought these films to life. He is able to trace their lineages from idea to execution and reveal fascinating tidbits about studio politics, celebrity motivations, and creative considerations along the way.

No one but Tarantino could have written this book. If you appreciate his movies, you will have a great time reading his thoughts about cinema. I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, just as there are some scenes in his films that I think are ill-conceived. I watch them nevertheless because overall they are extremely well crafted and wildly entertaining. I am anxiously awaiting the opportunity to read the second half of Cinema Speculation.

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Book Review:  Uncanny Valley: A Memoir by Anna Wiener

When she was in her mid-twenties, Anna Wiener left her career in New York publishing to move to San Francisco and work in the tech industry. She worked first at one startup and then another, getting a firsthand glimpse at the overwhelmingly white male entrepreneurs that were driving Silicon Valley’s digital culture. This book alternates between standard memoir passages and Wiener’s wry observations about what makes Silicon Valley tick. It could aptly have been titled Anna’s Adventures in Wonderland, because she drops into a rabbit hole as bizarre and mystifying and adrift from reality as anything Lewis Carroll ever imagined.

She soon found out that Silicon Valley was (and is) unlike any other place on Earth. It had its own language and culture, and it was predicated upon the creation of apps that were designed to lure customers away from reality and onto their screens while at the same time making the creators and CEOs of the tech companies filthy rich. The entrepreneurs Wiener worked for demanded total commitment of their employees, including long hours of work, a constant upbeat attitude, the spouting of pseudo-inspirational platitudes, and a pursuit of the long-term goals of the organization to the exclusion of everything else. At first Wiener went along with it all, somewhat enthralled by the strangeness of the lifestyle, the decent salaries, and the perks and parties. It is easy to discern, though, in the way that she describes her adventures in tech-land, that she is alternatively befuddled, confused, skeptical, and often appalled.

Back in the seventies, San Francisco was one of my favorite cities, a bastion of the counterculture and a fun and inexpensive place to be. However, once the tech industry took over, the Bay Area became a region of contrasts. The rich techies had their overpriced mansions and enormous office spaces, while the streets were crowded with the disenfranchised homeless. There was practically no middle ground. Employees of the tech companies would ride their bikes or minibuses or ride-share cars past the destitute poverty-stricken populace without really noticing them, too caught up in their pursuit of wealth to focus on and care about what was going on all around.

In Uncanny Valley, the owners and CEOs in the tech industry come across as visitors from another world entirely, unable to focus on any reality other the apps they are selling and the money they are raking in. Their employees are like acolytes in some sort of weird money-worshipping cult. In some parts of the narrative, Wiener’s mind seems to be unraveling from the strain of attempting to reconcile what she knows of the world outside of Silicon Valley and the dysfunctional culture within. There are passages of stream-of-consciousness that display the surreal nature of her surroundings better than a traditional description.

All of this makes for a heady trip indeed. From the first paragraphs, Wiener takes your hand and carries you into the rabbit hole with her. You become immersed in an alternate world that cannot exist in our reality – and yet it does. That’s the strange part. As I read this book, I could hardly believe that somewhere on our world people really live like that and have such values. And yet they still do. They are so focused on their tunnel-visioned perspective that they are blind to the emotional and spiritual truths that the rest of us see.

If you read this book, prepare for immersion in an alternate universe that to most people is an abstraction but to a select few is the only reality there is.

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Book Review:  Cold People by Tom Rob Smith

I want to clarify at the start that Cold People is a lot of fun to read, albeit in the same way that Marvel Comics are fun. There is very little verisimilitude; you have to dial up your “willing suspension of disbelief” to the extreme. Most of what takes place is not explained in any sort of logical manner; it is simply taken for granted, the same way you read a comic and you assume the aliens and monsters are a natural part of the story because… Well, because they are there. The plot is a series of “what if?” questions taken to one extreme after another. Warning: spoilers ahead.

The story begins with an alien invasion. Gigantic spaceships suddenly appear in Earth’s atmosphere, and a warning message is broadcast over the internet, television, radio, and every other form of media in all human languages. Humans have thirty days to move off all habitable continents and resettle on Antarctica. The alien superiority is so overwhelming that resistance is impossible. A massive, chaotic exodus commences. It is a plot device, of course, to get all the survivors to Antarctica, where most of the story takes place. I kept wondering as I read, though, why the aliens would make such an unusual request. If they wanted humans out of the way, why not just kill them all? They end up murdering all but a few anyway. And if the purpose was not eradication but relocation, why not give them a more livable spot somewhere such as Australia or a half of the Americas? The cruelty of the evacuation order makes no sense. For some reason the aliens transport the greatest monuments of humanity such as the pyramids of Giza, the Forbidden City from Beijing, the Palace of Versailles, the Statue of Liberty, Notre-Dame Cathedral, and many others to a plateau in the middle of the Antarctic continent, but no explanation is given as to why they might have done this – and that makes no sense either. I couldn’t put my mind around beings that were so advanced technologically but completely lacking in compassion and mercy. As far as I am concerned, evolution is not complete unless the emotions evolve and become better as well. Humans – at least normal, well-adjusted, sane humans – do their best to tend to the other, simpler life forms on our planet. And yet these invaders, who seem to be so superior, are in fact demented, abhorrent forms of life, using their overwhelming power and intellect to torture and slaughter less advanced species. Okay, whatever. That’s the premise we’re dealing with.

Many of the humans who manage to make it to Antarctica on time die during the first winter. The others set up a few cities and make the best of their new situation. However, some of the most brilliant leaders and scientists, instead of working on improving conditions for the sad, sorry multitudes, decide to invest whatever technical resources they have left into creating a race of super beings – the Cold People – who will be impervious to the continent’s harsh, freezing weather and be able to work as sort of glorified servants for humankind. That’s strike two for the common folk, because these gigantic, armor-plated, powerful monsters (who are all fully created in makeshift labs in just twenty years and are somehow telepathic as well) have no intention of assisting ordinary people in any way. Instead, before a truce is ultimately reached, they initiate a second genocide, their emotions seemingly as atrophied as the alien conquerors that have banished everyone to this remote, forbidding land. The poor humans get it from both sides, first from evil sadistic aliens from outer space, and then from their own murderous creations.

The overriding premise of the story is that the universe is a cruel, heartless place and that with great power comes great evil. Some of the human protagonists have loving, sacrificial relationships, but love and self-sacrifice seem to count for little in such a forbidding universe. The survivors of the alien-imposed exodus and the war with the mutated Cold People are relegated to a few small cities on a single isolated peninsula, and they still face the threat of the mutant army attacking them again in the future.

As I said, despite the leaps of credibility the author asks you to take, this is a fun read. I suppose that’s all it was ever meant to be. But don’t hold your breath for a happy ending.

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Book Review:  Rough Draft: A Memoir by Katy Tur

I picked this book up under the assumption that it was written by a magazine or newspaper reporter; I had never heard of Katy Tur because I don’t usually watch broadcast news. She is, in fact, a television journalist who anchors her own news program. I was quickly drawn in by her rugged, honest voice and her fascinating story. Her writing style for some reason reminded me of the voice of Claire Vaye Watkins in the novel I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness. Both women had (or have) dysfunctional fathers. Watkins’s father was a member of Charles Manson’s murderous cult until he got free and met her mother; Tur’s father was a hard-charging, risk-taking, award-winning, helicopter-flying newsman given to fits of rage during which he physically abused his wife and children. Eventually he blamed his violence on his testosterone, transitioned into a woman, and cut ties with his daughter.

Tur’s relationship with her father and other family members is one of the threads running through Rough Draft. However, the main storyline involves her relationship with her career. Her parents were legends in media circles, but in college Tur initially had her eyes on a career as a doctor or a lawyer. Inevitably, though, she turned to journalism as more than a career: a calling. She recounts her work with the Weather Channel, KTLA, News 12 Brooklyn, WPIX-TV, WNBC-TV, MSNBC, and NBC. For a time she was based in London and reported world events before relocating to New York. She is credited with being on the scene for many breaking news stories, but she became famous when she was assigned to Donald Trump’s unlikely presidential campaign. On multiple occasions during his rallies, Trump singled out Tur as a bad example of a reporter. She wrote a bestselling book describing her adventures on the campaign trail called Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History.

Tur goes on to tell of her marriage to Tony Dokoupil, another television journalist, and what it’s like to have children while being fully committed to her career. During the early days of COVID, when lockdown ensued and bodies “were being stacked in the back of refrigerated eighteen-wheelers,” Tur and her husband set up a studio in their basement and broadcast from there. That was a tragic, stressful time. The climax of the book, though, is Tur’s description of attempting to report on the electoral college returns on January 6th, 2021, while a mob violently stormed the Capitol. She qualifies her incredulity at the time by emphasizing that there were warning signs in the weeks leading up to the tragic event. She had fleeting feelings of wanting to get away, perhaps to relocate somewhere in Europe. But then she realized she had to stay and do the best she could. Her conclusion is that “our lives are one long rough draft” and “all we can do is try.”

Going back to the comparison I made earlier about Tur’s writing and Watkins’s, I think that both these highly skilled writers are strong but vulnerable. The strength comes through, but so do the weaknesses that make us all human. In this memoir, Tur blends her often tumultuous background with her equally tumultuous professional life, and what results is a compelling, absorbing read.

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