November 2022 Book Reviews

We’re officially in my favorite book-reading season, folks! It’s cold outside and my Christmas tree is up – what better place to curl up with a cozy blanket and read a good book by the twinkly lights? This past month, I read two books. One felt like a warm hug from a friend and one filled me with the waters of rage. So…bit of a mixed bag. Ha! Let’s discuss.

Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley

“Every day Iona, a larger-than-life magazine advice columnist, travels the ten stops from Hampton Court to Waterloo Station by train, accompanied by her dog, Lulu.  Every day she sees the same people, whom she knows only by nickname: Impossibly-Pretty-Bookworm and Terribly-Lonely-Teenager. Of course, they never speak. Seasoned commuters never do. Then one morning, the man she calls Smart-But-Sexist-Manspreader chokes on a grape right in front of her. He’d have died were it not for the timely intervention of Sanjay, a nurse, who gives him the Heimlich maneuver. This single event starts a chain reaction, and an eclectic group of people with almost nothing in common except their commute discover that a chance encounter can blossom into much more. It turns out that talking to strangers can teach you about the world around you–and even more about yourself.”

I read Pooley’s The Authenticity Project back in April 2020 and loved it. This book followed the same “diverse cast of characters with seemingly little in common unite around a common person/event and are forever changed” playbook, but I’m not complaining! I thought this book was delightful. The cast of characters are realistic, flawed yet likeable, and entertaining. I thoroughly enjoyed the way each of their stories wove together as the plot unfolded through their varied perspectives. Iona is just the right person for this bunch to gather around and I found myself vividly picturing their interactions on this commuter train. I kept smiling and even chuckling to myself as the story developed, which is always a sign that the characters have taken a life of their own and seem like real people with real personalities. There were just the right amount of individual and combined plots (and the right amount of side characters that made occasional – and generally humorous – appearances) to make an interesting, uplifting read. It’s fun, it’s sweet, it’s satisfying – highly recommend this one!

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe

For decades, the Sackler name has been known in elite circles – the family’s extraordinary wealth and philanthropy have meant their names were on everything from college buildings to art museums. It was no secret that they had given away millions, but where exactly the millions came from was less clear . . . until the high-profile lawsuits began. The truth is, for generations the family was heavily involved in the pharmaceutical business, producing everything from laxatives to Valium, but their biggest “contribution” to society was the making (and aggressive marketing) of OxyContin – a powerful opioid that helped launch the United States into a devastating opioid epidemic.

This book was eye-opening to say the least. Prior to reading, I had vague recollections of hearing about Purdue Pharma a while ago but didn’t really remember any specific details. The author spent years researching for this deep-dive book and it is an incredibly thorough look at four generations of Sacklers: from their humble immigrant beginnings to the building of a multibillion dollar empire. Though it’s nonfiction, it reads like a story and was so compelling that even as a longer read (440 pages of the actual narrative, then roughly 100 pages of notes!), I found it hard to put down. It’s well written, thoroughly researched, fact-checked, fascinating, and honestly? FRUSRATING. This family has profited for decades off of shady-at-best, illegal-at-worst practices in their pharmaceutical company (and multiple other businesses that created conflicts of interest yet somehow they got away with it). They have made BILLIONS of dollars pushing the sale of more prescriptions and higher doses of a highly addictive opioid, all the while claiming that it’s not at all addictive when followed as prescribed. I do believe the author tried to be factual and fair in his reporting, but the truth is this family is tremendously dislikable and the book was hard to read at times due to my outrage. It’s difficult to recommend, because I promise that it will make you angry too, but it’s also an absorbing read that leaves an impression you won’t forget.

What have you been reading lately?

3 thoughts on “November 2022 Book Reviews”

  1. “One felt like a warm hug from a friend and one filled me with the waters of rage.”. That has been my experience with the two books I read this month too. I watched a documentary on the topic of the second book you mentioned and I was infuriated by it, so I guess my reaction to that book would be the same. Let’s hope December’s reads are less rage inducing 🙂

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