What to Read Next (No. 156): the dark side
Preliminary note: The bulk of this newsletter was written on Mon/Tues. The subject line, unchanged from earlier in the week, is sadly quite fitting, isn’t it? There will someday (probably sooner rather than later) be books about what happened on January 6th, 2021. I’m not qualified to give any sort of commentary other than to say that what I saw on TV was shocking and saddening. I’m beyond relieved that Democracy ultimately prevailed, but holy sh*t was it too close for comfort.
For some reason, I tend to enjoy venturing to the dark side in January—leaning into life’s shadows with tales of murder and corruption and intrigue and disaster. It may be the darkness, the cold weather, the knowledge that here in Colorado winter brings its more ferocious roars from February through April. Whatever it is, it’s sort of a natural reading pattern I’ve fallen into and have come to weirdly enjoy. (Though I do prefer to be further away from that dark side than where we currently sit.)
So this week I’m bringing you a few reviews of books in that vein. Though, of course, given the events of the week, it’s understandable if you bookmark this edition for another time.
One final note before jumping in: The first email for paid subscribers will be an Inauguration Day special featuring books about Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, as well as an interview with Kamala’s Way author Dan Morian. Get subscribed to be sure you don’t miss out on that one.
Dark Money by Jane Mayer
Published: 2016 | Pages: 378
“They said they were driven by principle, but their positions dovetailed seamlessly with their personal financial interests.”
Since the Supremes Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010, which legalized unlimited corporate political spending, the money spent by individuals with hopes of swaying elections has exploded. Legendary journalist Jane Mayer’s book may be over four years old—pre-dating Trump even—but it’s as relevant as ever, and as disconcerting as any book I’ve read.
Largely focusing on the Koch brothers, Mayer details the rise of the billionaires who pour their fortunes into making libertarian ideas not only mainstream, but the law of the land. The Kochs, in particular, basically do whatever they can to reach a state of the lowest possible taxes and the least possible regulation. (I moved Kochland higher on my list after reading this book.)
Each page is more infuriating as the reader learns about how the richest people in the world fiddled with campaign finance law and evaded non-profit tax codes, only to see the bank vault doors blown open with that 2010 court decision.
Campaigns, even well down the ballot from the presidency, are basically billionaires going to battle. While Mayer mostly focuses on the funding of the right, there are Democrat-supporting billionaires doing this too.
Money rules politics in America, period. And it’s not going to end anytime soon.
If you feel like leaning in to the anger of the moment, Dark Money may be up your alley. It’s a gripping, expertly written and reported, albeit exasperating, read.
One by One by Ruth Ware
Published: 2020 | Pages: 372
“They are arrogant, that's what I realize . . . all of them to some degree. They are protected by the magic of their shares and their status and their IP. They think that life can't touch them — just like I used to do.
Only now it has. Now life has them by the throat. And it won't let go.”
For some reason I really enjoy reading mysteries around Christmas. This one, featuring a ski chalet and a deadly avalanche in the Alps, fit the bill perfectly. I knew Ruth Ware from her short story “Snowflakes,” which blew me away. One by One was insanely popular at the library, but I found a copy on the Lucky Day shelf (limited copies that don’t require a wait) and snatched it up.
Alternating between two female narrators, Ware sets the reader up with a classic “locked room” mystery in which there’s a murder, but a very limited cast of characters who could have done it, and they’re all literally trapped together in a cabin. No getting in or out.
I also enjoyed the tech angle—the main characters, outside of two help staff, are part of a hit startup called Snoop. What’s at stake is a possible sell out of the company; the handful of shareholders need to vote on the issue, and to say it’s tense is about as much of an understatement as possible.
Disaster strikes; an avalanche renders them trapped together; someone gets lost in the snow; another is clearly murdered; and of course the ultimate reveal is someone you don’t expect.
This is definitely a tale in the tradition of Agatha Christie, from a fellow British woman no less. I devoured One by One back in December and thoroughly enjoyed it. If ya need some distraction, look no further.
One of the reading lessons I took from 2020 is to just lean in to what I like—and with the help of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, I was finally able to publicly admit that I just really enjoy a sophisticated murder mystery, especially before bed and on weekends. Expect to see more mysteries here in the newsletter in 2021 (my hope is at least one a month).
One DNF That Might Be Right for You
“DNF” in bookish parlance means “Did Not Finish.” The reason you don’t often see bad reviews in this newsletter (especially of newer books) is because I don’t finish titles that I don’t like, and I hate disparaging authors who’ve worked their ass off to write and publish a book.
That said, there’s a book that I tried reading and wasn’t pulled into at the time, but now here on Friday the 8th carries more significance. Antisocial is journalist Andrew Marantz’s chronicle of embedding himself into the extreme right—conspiracy theorist, neo-nazis, and alt-righters alike. It’s possible I would have have liked it had I kept going, or if I was reading it this month rather than last, but I wasn’t personally a fan of the tone or approach. I was hoping for more objective analysis, but it seemed mostly to be a reporting effort, and a subjective one at that (which he actually explains near the beginning).
All that said, it’s a book I may return to at a later time, and one that you, my readers, may enjoy and find enlightening.
That’s all for me at the end of this weird week. Did you get any reading done? Thank you, as always, for the time and inbox space.