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Good Books

At the risk of thinking myself shallow, I’m going to turn back, at least for now, to one of the reasons I started this Substack: so I can talk about books. Books, after all, are what I do: I write them, and I do that because as a kid I read them and read them and read them. And as many hours as I can steal from the required activities of grown-up life now, I still fill with reading. Do I think books, or art generally, can save us? Would that it could. But what art can do it support and revitalize us, give us a chance to recharge our batteries, and a chance to see, once more, what it is in this life that’s worth fighting for.

So I offer you two books I loved, in the hope they’ll help with your batteries.

Book the first: EBONY GATE, by Julia Vee and Ken Bebelle.

I was at the San Diego Union-Tribune Book Festival this summer and after my own panel I went to a couple of others to hear people I knew. On one of those panels I also heard the two authors of this book, whom I didn’t know. I’m doing a joint writing project now, so I was kind of academically interested in their process; but after I heard this book described by one of the authors as “a female Asian John Wick with dragon magic” I was sold.

And I loved it.

The “dragon magic,” which is wielded by people, isn’t GAME OF THRONES, I promise you. It’s completely original; what impressed me most was the authors’ breadth of imagination coupled with the discipline with which they used it. No cheating here, which is one of my arguments with some fantasy/spec fiction. The voice of the narrator is also terrific — she’s a serious highly-trained martial arts warrior, plus she’s hilarious. Not just her; every character, good or bad — and most are a mixture — is a strength in this book. Once I started it I found myself carrying it around with me so I could sneak in a few pages while I was on the subway, etc. That right there should tell you something, because it’s not a small book and I’d bought the hardcover. Luckily for me it’s Book 1 of a trilogy. Can’t wait for the next.

 

Book the second: HALF-LIFE OF A STOLEN SISTER, by Rachel Cantor

In a sense, HALF-LIFE OF A STOLEN SISTER is also fantasy. It’s a re-telling of the lives of the Brontës, but called the Bronteys… set in the modern day… with archaic language… and different names… but not entirely different… told through narration, letters, diaries, short plays, radio interviews… Basically, this book is indescribable, except to say, it made me cry. And it made me laugh out loud. And here’s the thing: this is a story I knew, in broad outline. Tragedy after tragedy, some great books, more tragedy. Rachel Cantor’s great accomplishment here is to make all these people so real that I wondered why I’d never really known them for who they were before. Are the people in this book who the Brontës really were? I don’t know; but it’s a measure of how much I loved this book that it made me hope so.

 

 

If you have books to recommend, you can go ahead and do so in the comments.

What I Saw Walking Across Town on Saturday Night Before Halloween

Elmo holds hands with a priest.

Here’s Beauty, but where is the Beast?

King Charles, a cigar,

A square motorcar,

And seven Ivankas, at least.

 

The Horseman, while gripping his head

Tries to evade the undead.

A young Bengal Lancer,

A tall necromancer,

A pillow, and with her, a bed.

 

A ghost lifts a sign saying “Boo”

To old Colonel Mustard from Clue.

Two Martians, a band,

A Chewbacca, and

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

 

 

 

These Are Not Your Heroes

When I started this Substack it was to talk about books, gardens, and whatever else intrigued me. And I’ll get back to that. But the war in the middle east has overtaken any sense of the normal routine of daily life.

Palestinians, I’ve seen the AI image of a paraglider sailing into Jerusalem. It’s heroic and stirring. But terrorists who slaughter children, who stream live video on their victims’ social media accounts, who randomly call friends and family from victims’ cell phones to gloat and horrify — these are not your heroes.

Israelis, I’ve seen reservists young and old racing to answer the nation’s call. It’s heroic and stirring. But a military that uses white phosphorus on civilians, that orders a million people out of their homes toward closed borders, that shells indiscriminately — these are not your heroes.

“We wouldn’t have if they hadn’t — “ “They’ve always — “ “We had to respond — “ “They won’t — “ “They will — “

Enough. Enough. ENOUGH.

There’s plenty of guilt and savagery on both sides, enough that it’ll take centuries to expiate. But that has to start because this has to end.

Here in the US a new organization of Jews, IfNotNow, is leaning on the US government to pressure the Israeli government to back down from the “Once And For All” stance — which rings a lot like the Final Solution, doesn’t it? We can only hope there are similar organizations among the Palestinians. If not they must be created. Palestinians and Israelis of good heart must throw off Hamas and its partners, and the Israeli right wing and its enablers. Everyone else everywhere else must help however we can.

We have to be each other’s heroes.

This war will end as all wars do. Israel is in the middle east to stay. Palestine must be created as a co-equal nation. These are truths, and not necessarily bitter ones. They have to be acknowledged and the work of building has to begin.

Those who do it, these are your heroes.

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Hardwiring

We’re hardwired to hate. It’s pointless to pretend otherwise; it’s how humans got where we are. We evolved to protect our own and our resources and destroy anyone who’d take them from us. Including, pre-emptively, anyone we think might take them from us. It’s a powerful force in our lizard brains.

But biology isn’t destiny.

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We’re hardwired to screw, yet no society on earth is without restrictions — as imperfect as they are in intention and practice — on who can screw whom and when. Some people in some places even choose to spend their lives celibate.

We’re hardwired to eat. But what can be eaten, when, and how much, along with rituals around eating (sometimes referred to as table manners) differ widely but in some form exist everywhere. Some people in some places even choose to starve themselves, sometimes to death, for reasons they find strong enough to override the wiring.

We can override the hate wiring, too.

I don’t see it happening in the middle east but I cling to the idea that it can. If it doesn’t we will destroy each other and in the process, ourselves.

I have nothing to offer by way of advice. What I do have is these images, taken at the Greenmarket this morning, to say: there is still abundance, even on this abused, trampled planet. If only we can find a way to share it.

 

 

War, Part 2

I’ve been reading and hearing some things since the Hamas attack on Israel and I feel like I have to say this: The Hamas soldiers are terrorists and butchers. They’re war criminals. They’re about as low as humans can sink.

But this is what they’re not: They’re not “the Palestinians.” They’re not “the Arabs.” And they’re certainly not “the Muslims.”

They’re a group of angry young men deliberately stoked into a vicious, murderous mob, then turned loose on an ancient enemy. Killing Jews is the main goal of Hamas, but not their only one: repression of women and LGBTQ+ people is right up there. They deserve the condemnation of the entire world.

But if the violence in the middle east is ever going to stop, that condemnation cannot extend to the people these butchers came from. Israel’s thirst for vengeance is understandable, though one could desperately hope it doesn’t get indulged. But I’ve been hearing the same thing from here, from people who’ve lost no one, for whom it’s a matter of taking sides. Bomb Gaza back to the Stone Age? Pound the Palestinians into the dirt? Really? And from the other side: This is Israel’s fault? Israel got what it deserved? Really? Israel got nothing. Little children got slaughtered in the streets.

Are there cooler heads? Are there backstage talks going on, actions being taking, flames being quenched? I don’t know. I have to hope so. Otherwise this spiral of death and blood will go on and on until there’s no one left for anyone to hate.

 

This post was published first on my Substack. You can subscribe here.

War in the Middle East

I had a whole different post planned for today. I was going to recommend a couple of books I recently read and loved. I’ll do that one, too, later on. But I can’t just ignore what’s going on in Israel and in Gaza.

It’s monumentally horrific. The pundits say it’s going to get worse. They also say other things: that this was a massive failure of Israeli and US intelligence — it was — and a massive miscalculation on the part of Hamas. Was it? I’m not sure. It depends on the goal.

I don’t know what the goal was. Hamas can’t have expected to win a war against Israel. Were they flexing their muscles, showing their power, making the point they need to be included in any talks, any decision-making? Were they proving to the Iranians and maybe even Putin that they’re worth continuing to finance, if only to keep things destabilized?

I’m a writer; I can come up with dozens of scenarios. I have no idea whether any of them are true. I’m a Jew; my grandparents and parents were Zionists. I don’t question either practically or theoretically the right of Israel to exist. But the creation of the state of Israel can be seen — must be seen, I think — as an exercise in British and American guilt and privilege. Guilt, of course, for refusing to accept Jewish refugees in the 1930’s, which some argue created the Holocaust: once Hitler saw that no country would offer the Jews anywhere to go and no country seemed to care what happened to those forced to stay, he realized he could annihilate the European Jewish population with impunity. Privilege because after the war, with Jews demanding a homeland and the British conveniently occupying Palestine — occupying, ruling a land of people who were there when the British came — it was easy to give “the Holy Land” over to the Jews, who were, after all, white Europeans. Not quite as white as Christians, but whiter than the indigenous people of Palestine.

The moral high ground the founding generation of Israelis stood on has long since eroded down to a bleak plain of entitlement. Feeling entitled also makes people feel invulnerable; everything will be ours because it should be.

The Palestinians, meanwhile, were everyone’s pawns from the beginning. Whenever “peace in the middle east” was discussed, they were the afterthought. The Arab nations wouldn’t absorb them; why should they, when they could be used as a stick to beat Israel with? Israel, through all its various governments, could never find a way to extend a hand. Mostly, it didn’t look for one.

And now this is the result. A hopeless generation of Palestinian young people given a goal, given an ability to take some kind of action. What did they have to lose? Yes, killing civilians and taking hostages is horrible, it’s contrary to international law. The Israelis have done it before. The Palestinians are doing it now. And there will be retaliation, and retribution for the retaliation, and punishment for the retribution, until finally there’s an exhauted, restless peace. Then what? A recharging of energy for renewed hostility? Or a looking each other in the eye and realizing there was never any success to be had down that road?

I’m hoping for the latter. But I’m not holding my breath.

 

Comments

So about this Substack thing

What am I doing and why am I doing this? And why is it orange? (It’s not orange here on my website. Sorry.)

 

Oct 4, 2023

To answer that last one first, it’s orange because I found where the colors are. Be warned I’m likely to keep changing colors until I hit on the right one. Or as my mood takes me. Or maybe I’ll just go back to white, or straight to black…

What I’m doing is, sending out a newsletter to subscribers, plus posting it on my website and my social media. Broad-spectrum newsletters, like broad-spectrum antibiotics, have the unfortunate effect of hitting things besides the things you aimed them at. Antibiotics can give you a stomach ache if they hit the wrong bacteria. Newsletters can give readers a headache if they fill up mailboxes of people who didn’t ask for them. Okay, it’s a weak analogy, but you get it because you’re all so smart. Which is why I don’t want to give you a headache. So hit the SUBSCRIBE NOW button and this thing will come into your mailbox more or less once a week.

 

And why?

I’ve posted for a long time on social media. I’ve written, more and less dependably, a blog. For the blog you needed to go to my website. On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Mastodon, my reach is large, but random. Lots of people can see what I have to say, but do they? Social media’s like a river, and each post like a piece of driftwood. You blink, it’s gone already. That wasn’t a great analogy either, was it? What happened to my mental analogy generator, I wonder? Also, I’m watching that little hairball Elon destroy Twitter (stick your X, Elon) and thinking, the s.o.b. is like a landlord closing everyone’s favorite bar. If I could I’d open a new hangout for us all, but I can’t do that (though if anyone has a great post-Twitter site I’d be glad to hear about it). So I thought I’d try this Substack thing. After all, if Barbara Shoup, Peter Blauner, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar do it, it must be a good idea, right? I know there’s a way I can link to those Substacks for you but that’s for next time. It was enough today that I found the colors.

The Rozan Report

Random and less-random thoughts

Oct 1, 2023

Hey, look, a Substack!

What the hell is a Substack?

I dunno. A subordinate stack? What’s the stack? Or a substitute one? Still, what’s the stack? Hay? Pancakes? Poker chips?

No way to know. But — ta da! — whatever the stack is, a Substack’s a newsletter!

This one’s about whatever moves me, and so many things do: books, writing, gardens, photography, birds, basketball (Go Liberty!), art, New York…

You can hear from me more or less once a week, if you subscribe. Not much more, not a whole lot less.

SUBSCRIBE

If the link wants money from you tell it nice try, this is a free newsletter. Then just keep clicking.

I’ll try not to bore you, harangue you, confuse you, make you mad, or make you crazy.

To start, here’s a photo, because why not?

Two senior students at Bo Law Kung Fu, Grand Street, NYC, at their Autumn Moon celebration.

ANTHONY AWARD!

Hey, folks: CRIME HITS HOME, the anthology I edited for Mystery Writers of American, won the Anthony Award at Bouchercon last night! I’d show you a photo of the award but I’m in NY and it’s in San Diego. But here’s a photo of the book, and my fabulous agent, Josh Getzler, holding the award. And if you hit the link above you can buy it. The book, not the award. I’m keeping that. But you will want the book for sure, because it holds 20 super stories! Thanks to all the invited writers who stepped up so beautifully, all the writers who submitted in the contest, all the judges for the contest, and the Anthony voters!

 

San Diego Union-Tribune Festival of Books!

Come on down! This Saturday, August 19th, I’ll be at the San Diego Union Tribune Festival of Books in conversation with the wonderful Kwei Quartey. If you’re on the Left Coast, drop in!