What to Read Next (No. 160): mystery of the month + Gerald Ford
Miracle Creek, a Donald Rumsfeld memoir, and more.
Our new baby is a week old, and though my reading routine has taken a hit, I’m still sneaking in bits and pieces, especially on my phone late at night and while holding the newborn. (I’m also crushing Bejeweled Stars.) That said, it should be obvious that my reading volume has been sapped for the time being.
So this week you’re getting a look at two books I finished earlier in January. (There was a lot of reading done while waiting for baby to come.) I’m also introducing a feature I’m calling “Mystery of the Month.” Over in a subscriber-only discussion thread, a reader asked me what I thought the most underrated genre was. I said this:
I’ve come to believe in the last year or so that the most underrated genre is the murder mystery—not necessarily the thriller. Thrillers rely on quick plots and jaw-dropping turns/twists, whereas a murder mystery—which, at its simplest, asks “whodunit?”—can rely a little more on smart plotting and excellent writing (in my opinion, at least). A really well done mystery is so heads and tails above a poorly written one, that the good ones stand out all the more.
Let’s do it.
Mystery of the Month: Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
Published: 2019 | Pages: 351
“Doing the right thing is not nothing.”
Miracle Submarine, the fictional company at the center of the novel, operates a hyperbaric chamber that’s been set up to treat a number of conditions, from autism in kids to infertility in grown men. But the oxygen tanks, which fuel the sci-fi-looking contraption, are a known weak spot. One day, when things are behind schedule, one of the tubes catches fire, which turns into a fireball, and kills two of the sub’s occupants. It clearly was not an accident.
Was it the ever-present protesters? Was it one of the patients? Was it the owner himself, hoping to cash in on insurance money? At various points it seems like all conclusions are possible and that everyone is keeping secrets.
But it’s not all about the crime. For me, the most compelling parts of this superb novel were the potent and deeply honest portraits of the complicated emotions parents feel, whether their kids are “normal” or not. There’s always competition, there’s always the thought that the grass is greener for other parents, and there’s always some sense of shame or guilt about the wrong decisions you’re inevitably making—as Kim writes, “We all have thoughts that shame us.”
That said, the central murder mystery was really well done. Miracle Creek, at its heart, is indeed a crime novel. The setting is almost entirely the courtroom; as readers, we get the story in bits and pieces through witness testimony and lawyerly interviewing. Our certainties about whodunit change with almost every chapter, until you’re nearly breathless when you finally get the truth at the same time that our main characters do.
These hyperbaric chambers are real, and author Angie Kim actually has experience with them, which she mentions in a great interview at the end of my paperback edition. That first-hand knowledge must be what makes the novel so incredibly visceral; it’s raw and real and satisfying.
Ultimately, Kim’s debut novel delivers a powerful triad of a compelling and page-turning murder mystery, a humbling portrayal of the immigrant experience, and most powerfully, a thought-provoking meditation on parenthood and the lengths we’ll go to in order to protect the people closest to us.
Highly recommended for readers of all stripes. No matter your tastes, I think you’ll find something you like here.
This week, premium subscribers had the chance to ask me questions about my reading. Here’s just a few of the questions, all of which were very fun to answer:
“Do you have a general rule regarding when to ‘quit’ a book?”
“What are some of your favorite books to read to/with your kids?”
“How do you take notes / what’s your process for highlighting and digesting main points?”
When the Center Held: Gerald Ford and the Rescue of the American Presidency by Donald Rumsfeld
Published: 2018 | Pages: 273
“He was the president we always wanted that we didn’t know we had.”
With the Super Bowl this weekend, the football metaphor only seems appropriate. On the field, the center is the position the holds things together. It’s under-appreciated by fans and its importance cannot be overstated. The center paves the way for glory of the quarterback and running back.
Gerald Ford was indeed a center in college when he played football at Michigan; but then later while he was president (the only POTUS never elected to be President or Vice President) he played the same position for the politics of the nation.
Donald Rumsfeld, Ford’s Chief of Staff and then Secretary of Defense, decided to capture the vital role Gerry Ford played in the history of the presidency with this book that is technically a memoir, but feels more like narrative history.
Though Ford is often forgotten in our collective national memory, he served an important 2.5 years at the helm. He was quick to forgive Nixon, which was widely criticized, and possibly cost him the ‘76 election, but also did indeed serve to restore some unity and dignity to the office of the president. Ford was also responsible for getting the last American soldiers out of Vietnam—we’ve seen today how tough it is to get out of a warzone.
Frankly, I was surprised by how good this book was. I don’t expect much from political memoirs, but there just isn’t much out there about Ford, so I went with it. Though Rumsfeld is obviously biased in his warmth towards our 38th president, he also readily outlines where he disagreed with Ford’s decisions and policies.
Ultimately, I really enjoyed this book. It was remarkably easy-reading (in a good way) and I don’t hesitate recommending it to anyone with even just a casual enjoyment of history and American politics.
Thanks for the time and inbox space, as always. I’d love to hear what you’re reading, too. If you enjoy the newsletter, I hope you’ll consider subscribing as a premium member:
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Have a great weekend everyone!