Reviews of the Week with Brian Doyle, Gabby Noone, and More!

Every weekday, we feature a different review on Booklist Online. These reviews are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, or in high demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight.

Two collections: one infused with nondenominational spirituality, another in praise of the ACLU’s defense of human dignity; two youthful adventures: one set in purgatory, another featuring the voice of a precocious middle child in a British Muslim family; and one historic reprinting of the true story about a landmark bookshop and its owner in WWII Berlin. Stories to fill the mind and soul are part of this week’s Reviews of the Day, posted between November 18 and November 22, below.

Monday, November 18

One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder, by Brian Doyle

The late Doyle called the contents of this generous, posthumous collection essays although they have the rhythm of poems and the lyricism of songs. Indeed, some of the pieces are what Doyle called proems, hybrids of prose and poetry. Regardless of form, they are uniformly brief—typically one-to-three pages—although a handful are longer; for example, an 11-page elegiac essay about a summer spent as a camp counselor. The subjects range widely, from Doyle’s sister’s silence to a random shooting, from hummingbirds to the human heart to the Catholic mass (Doyle was raised an Irish Catholic). Few essays are overtly religious, but all are infused with qualities of spirit, goodness, and grace.

Tuesday, November 19

Layoverland, by Gabby Noone

Bea wasn’t expecting to die. Certainly not in a car crash after a terrible fight with her sister, who’s also her best friend (make that only friend). But when her plane lands at a tacky airport, she’s informed she’s in purgatory, and, before she can move on to heaven, she must help 5,000 souls figure out what’s stopping their upward progress. She’s been chosen for the job, her trainer tells her, because her sharpness at spotting others’ weaknesses and her ability to manipulate are pluses for those who’ll be facilitating at the memory unit. Bea balks; she’s a hater, not a helper, but hell is the only other option.

Wednesday, November 20

Fight of the Century: Writers Reflect on 100 Years of Landmark ACLU Cases, edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman

As they did in Kingdom of Olives and Ash (2017), writers Chabon and Waldman have created a stunning collection of original and topical essays, this time in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the American Civil Liberties Union. Formed in 1920, the ACLU pursues a mission of protecting and expanding upon the Bill of Rights through nonprofit, nonpartisan work that goes to the core of the country’s most sacred values. Take the 1941 case of Edwards v. California, challenging the “anti-Okie” law which made it illegal to bring an indigent person into California. In Ann Patchett’s inspired telling, we feel the humanity behind the legality in her empathic vision of a husband just trying to placate his wife by doing the right thing for her hapless brother. Or Morgan Parker’s passionate evisceration of racial discrimination laws in Bob Jones University v. United States. Immigration, unionization, abortion rights, freedom of speech and of the press: America would not be America without landmark rulings protecting these ideals.

Thursday, November 21

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet, by Zanib Mian and illustrated by Nasaya Mafaridik

In their #OwnVoices debut, Mian and Mafaridik create a relatable and hilarious story for the elementary-school set. Omar is the middle child of a British Muslim family, and he’s feeling anxious about his first day at a new school. Thankfully, he gets seated beside a nice kid named Charlie (instafriend!), but Daniel, the class bully, has his mean eyes on Omar. Outside of school, Omar’s family is observing Ramadan, and Omar takes his first crack at fasting, mostly to score bonus points with Allah, which hopefully will get him a prize like a Ferrari! Exploding with personality and imagination, Omar is an easy character to love.

Friday, November 22

A Bookshop in Berlin: The Rediscovered Memoir of One Woman’s Harrowing Escape from the Nazis, by Françoise Frenkel

Born in Poland and educated in Paris, author Frenkel opened the first French-language bookstore in Berlin in 1921. It soon became an extremely popular destination for writers and poets, and counted embassy officials and well-known intellectuals among its clients. Despite its fame, the shop and Frenkel (who was Jewish) became victims of the Nazi purges of 1939, resulting in the shuttering of the shop and Frenkel’s hasty flight to France. Thus began a nightmarish four-year odyssey of scrambling to secure proper papers, seek safe havens, and avoid capture and deportation to a work camp. Frenkel’s chronological first-person narration details narrow escapes, serendipitous respites, and acts of unbelievable cruelty, indifference, bravery, and kindness.

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About the Author:

Michael Ruzicka, Office Manager, was raised in suburban Los Angeles, received a BA in Creative Writing/Poetry at UC Santa Cruz, then moved to Birmingham, AL, where he spent five years owning an independent bookstore and earned an MLIS. He has brought his librarian skills to Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive, Battle Ground Academy, The Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Michael is very excited to be a part of Booklist and call Chicago his home.

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