Summer Reading

President Barack Obama recently posted on Facebook his summer reading list. This year it’s a mix of fiction, memoirs, and instructive non-fiction. If you are searching for a good vacation read, you can never go wrong following the lead of the last legit President of the United States.

It’s August, so I wanted to let you know about a few books I’ve been reading this summer, in case you’re looking for some suggestions. To start, you can’t go wrong by reading or re-reading the collected works of Toni Morrison. Beloved, Song of Solomon, The Bluest Eye, Sula, everything else — they’re transcendent, all of them. You’ll be glad you read them. And while I’m at it, here are a few more titles you might want to explore:

Sometimes difficult to swallow, The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead is a necessary read, detailing the way Jim Crow and mass incarceration tore apart lives and wrought consequences that ripple into today.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang is a collection of short stories that will make you think, grapple with big questions, and feel more human. The best kind of science fiction.

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel­’s epic fictionalized look at Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power, came out in 2009, but I was a little busy back then, so I missed it. Still great today.

Haruki Murakami’s Men Without Women examines what happens to characters without important women in their lives; it’ll move you and confuse you and sometimes leave you with more questions than answers.

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson is a whole lot more than just a spy thriller, wrapping together the ties of family, of love, and of country.

The Shallows by Nicholas Carr came out a few years ago, but its arguments on the internet’s impact on our brains, our lives, and our communities are still worthy of reflection, which is something we all could use a little more of in this age.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren is a beautifully written memoir about the life of a woman in science, a brilliant friendship, and the profundity of trees. Terrific.

Inland by Téa Obreht just came out yesterday, so I won’t spoil anything. But those of you who’ve been waiting for Obreht’s next novel won’t be disappointed.

You’ll get a better sense of the complexity and redemption within the American immigrant story with Dinaw Mengestu’s novel, How to Read the Air.

Maid by Stephanie Land is a single mother’s personal, unflinching look at America’s class divide, a description of the tightrope many families walk just to get by, and a reminder of the dignity of all work.

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Art Floats

Europe’s first floating art museum has finally launched on the River Seine in the heart of Paris. The much anticipated attraction is  conveniently situated near the Pont des Invalides. Focusing on contemporary urban art, Fluctuart offers three levels with a permanent collection, temporary exhibitions, workshops, and special cultural event. There’s also a bookshop and two cafés. Best of all, it’s open daily noon to midnight and has free admission. Visit their website to learn more.


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Travel Advisory

I have recently heard from some TBTP readers who have concerns about travel safety in the United States. With a number of countries including Japan, Germany, and New Zealand issuing travel advisories for their citizens considering visiting the U.S., it’s not surprising that some folks have trepidation regarding travel here. Now, Amnesty International has actually published a formal advisory due to the surging levels of gun violence.

In response to the queries that I have received on the issue of safety, I have tried to be as honest as possible in my responses. My answer to this thorny question is: it depends where you are planning to go and your ethnic background. If your travels will take you to major cities such as New York, stick to tourist areas and you’ll be fine. In fact, New York City is one of the safest large urban areas in the U.S.. If you are visiting one of our wonderful national parks, again you’ll be okay. However, if your travels are focused on the American south, I would suggest a change in plans. I admit that I am biased, but I have lived in the south and have family there. The reality is that so-called “Red” states tend to be places where people regularly carry firearms and in many places what are known as “open carry” laws allow any adult moron to have guns in their possession almost anywhere. the result is more gun violence.

The other issue is ethnic background. In many cases people of color are specific targets of white nationalist gun violence. This includes people from the Middle East, South Asia, South America, and people of African descent.

Some might suggest that the Amnesty International travel advisory, or even the ones issued by national governments, could be politically motivated and aimed at embarrassing the illegitimate government that runs this country now, but as far as I’m concerned they are actually called for in the present U.S. environment.

If you have concerns about visiting the U.S., or have questions about specific areas, please feel free to contact me directly via email at

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Vintage Italy

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Camping 101

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Don’t Get Lost


Google Maps: Live View

If you still managed to get lost despite using Google Maps, augmented reality directions are here. On August 8th, Google launched a beta version of its Live View mode in Google Maps, which uses your camera, visual information from Street View and location data to tell you exactly where you should be heading.

With the updated version, when you hold up your phone to your environment and click on Live View in Google Maps, large arrows pop up on top of whatever is happening in real-time. The new AR feature also flags up street names and other helpful markers, demonstrating how to reach your destination.


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August, you’re just an erotic hallucination

“Here in the electric dusk your naked lover
tips the glass high and the ice cubes fall against her teeth.
It’s beautiful Susan, her hair sticky with gin,
Our Lady of Wet Glass-Rings on the Album Cover,
streaming with hatred in the heat
as the record falls and the snake-band chords begin
to break like terrible news from the Rolling Stones,
and such a last light—full of spheres and zones.

you’re just an erotic hallucination,
just so much feverishly produced kazoo music,
are you serious?—this large oven impersonating night,
this exhaustion mutilated to resemble passion,
the bogus moon of tenderness and magic
you hold out to each prisoner like a cup of light?”

Denis Johnson


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Joy of Books

A big h/t to the clever folks at Type Books in Toronto, Canada for this marvelous little video.

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Dog Days of Summer

July 12th to August 20th are the official “Dog Days of Summer,” the period following the heliacal rising of the star system Sirius, which in astrology is connected with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck.Here on the East coast of North America the heat is stifling and the humidity oppressive. This emblem from the enigmatic Atalanta Fugiens(Michael Maier, Johann-Theodor de Bry Publisher, Germany, 1620) titled  “Lupus ab Oriente & Canis ab Occidente se invicem momorderunt.” certainly captures the mood.




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