Friday, April 10, 2020

Arts Review | Lefsetz Letter

“The Dutch House”
Ann Patchett

This is a huge bestseller, and deservedly so.

Most of the big sellers today are genre books, mysteries, thrillers and lowbrow stuff that cannot be recommended. But “The Dutch House” is a good old-fashioned story, about people and their lives. And just like real life, everything doesn’t always work out. I’d love to tell you more, but I don’t want to give away any plot points. I read for the surprise, for the experience, which is why I essentially never reread or watch movies again.

I’ve been hit and miss on Patchett, she wrote one of the few books I could never finish on my Kindle. But this book called to me, to stop doing anything else and finish it, and that’s what I’m looking for in a read.

One quote that resonated:

“I’d never been in the position of getting my head around what I’d been given. I only understood what I’d lost.”

I’m a glass half-empty guy. My shrink brings this up all the time.

The Dutch House: A Novel

“The Glass Hotel”
Emily St. John Mandel

Mandel shoots higher than Patchett, but she does not hit her target. “The Glass Hotel” is really two books, one about the lives of siblings, the other about the situations they find themselves in later.

I’d purchased the book, had started it, and then all the papers reviewed it and put the key plot point in the headline before I’d gotten to it. Makes me crazy! I don’t want the review to be a CliffsNotes version of the book, I just want to know what kind of book it is and whether it’s good. As for the reviews, I haven’t gone back and read them, why? Especially in the “New York Times,” the reviewers frequently make it about themselves as opposed to the book and this drives me nuts.

Anyway, I loved Emily St. John Mandel’s previous book, “Station Eleven,” so I bought this the moment it came out. And that’s Monday at midnight for those in the Kindle world.

Despite not achieving its goal, “The Glass Hotel” has tons of wisdom, whereas “The Dutch House” is to a great degree just a story.

“Easy now, he told himself. He was aware of a weakness for rhapsodizing on his industry at excessive length.”

I wait for the signal, I never jump in uninvited. If people are really listening, I’ll go on forever, but usually they aren’t, they don’t really care. Then there are the people who get you on the phone and they go into deep detail on minutiae, they want to be heard, they don’t really care if you get up and make a sandwich, they’re out of touch with the listener. If I’m talking, I’m constantly gauging the response, I’m so fearful of burning people out.

“and that’s when I realized money is its own country.”

St. John Mandel nails the bubble the rich live in, with no consciousness of how the rest of us live our lives, that’s one of the great things about the book.

“because that’s what money gives you: the freedom to stop thinking about money.”

EXACTLY! You don’t want to be a starving artist, because if you’re starving, that’s all you can think about, unfortunately I know from experience. Those on the bottom are just one foible away from a crisis. They get a flat, their TV goes on the fritz and they can’t afford to fix it. People romanticize the poor, non-rich people are proud that they’ve got less, our values are screwed up, no one should have to worry about getting fed and having a roof over their head.

“if you’ve never been without, then you won’t understand the profundity of this, how absolutely this changes your life.”

Whether you had it and lost it, or never had it, poor is also a different country. In a land where those in power have only read about the poor, oftentimes the rich and those in power just don’t get it. This is how Trump got elected. The Democrats are still out of touch with their core constituency, unless they consider it to be the educated boomers, and there are not enough of them to win an election.

You need to read Rachel Bitecofer on this. The following article was written in the middle of March, before it was clear Biden would win the nomination, but there’s more wisdom here than I’ve read in the WSJ, NYT or the WaPo:

Political savant Rachel Bitecofer: Democrats face “major disadvantage” going with Biden

You’ll understand more about the populace and how it votes if you read this interview. The truth is, those in big media, at the DNC, have no idea how their constituents really feel and what decides elections. Once again, Bitecofer was the only person to call 2018 correctly.

“all of the stalling motions that smokers perform when they’re not sure what to say and have seen too many movies.”

We all experience this, but to see it articulated makes you feel connected, which is why you read fiction.

“It turned out that never having that conversation with Vincent meant that he was somehow condemned to ALWAYS have that conversation with Vincent.”

When you don’t say it, you think about it all the time. When you do, there is movement, the situation changes, and you forget about it.

The Glass Hotel: A novel


“Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup”

Even if you think you know the Theranos story, you MUST read “Bad Blood,” it’s the hardest book to put down that I’ve read in a decade.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

“Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice”

You’ll learn more about Russia than a year of reading the newspaper. Easy to read and jaw-dropping.

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice

The above two books are non-fiction, I’m loath to recommend fiction, everybody has different taste. But I’ll take a risk.

“The Great Alone”
Kristin Hannah

I loved this book, I loved the darkness of Alaska. When a book takes you away, it’s best.

Some may see this as woman slanted, I guess it depends on what kind of guy you are. If you’re the kind of guy who reads fiction, not only non-fiction, maybe.

I could list all the highly-touted books that are unreadable, like Leslie Jamison’s “The Empathy Exams,” but that’s a different article. Just know the higher brow the publication is, oftentimes the less reliable the reviews are.

The Great Alone: A Novel


The first two episodes give you the impression that season three will be a let-down, it is most decidedly not. There’s way too much action, but the performances are so stellar and so integrated. This is not watching Meryl Streep act outside of the ensemble, Laura Linney is astounding, she truly embodies the character. And Janet McTeer is icily cold. And the kids know and the tension is high and despite being fiction, there are so many lessons on how the world really works.

“Money Heist”

Season four. Good, but a disappointment. Some of the action seems truly implausible, but you watch waiting for a conclusion and…

I enjoyed it. But it’s a mindless diversion.

“Babylon Berlin”

Season three. The best shot show on television. However, the plot doesn’t quite measure up to that standard. A main plot point concerns a movie, and when moviemakers use the movies as main feature of the story, it’s like when authors write about authors and musicians sing about musicians, we all don’t live in their worlds, we all can’t relate to them.

And the strangest thing about season three is…

Season four of “Money Heist” was obviously shot at the same time as season three. But season three of “Babylon Berlin” was obviously shot later than the first two seasons, and the actors have aged, and it throws you a bit off guard. Liv Lisa Fries is suddenly a woman as opposed to a girl on the cusp of adulthood. She’s still phenomenal, but the vibe is a bit different.

And when there’s a long hiatus between seasons, it’s jarring, you don’t remember everything, which is why I’d rather binge…four, five or six seasons. Because not only is it hard to pick up, it’s hard to end. I know, they’ve got to write and shoot more, but I’m ready for the next seasons of “Ozark” and “Money Heist” today!


“Happy Valley” on Netflix, start there. And if that resonates, move on to “Broadchurch,” “The Fall,” “The Killing” and “The Bodyguard.”

As for Amazon, I’m partial to “Bosch,” which is returning with its sixth (out of seven!) season on April 17th.

And you know I love the French shows, “Spiral,” “A French Village,” but not everyone is up for subtitles, so I don’t recommend you start there. Then again, there was that story in the “Wall Street Journal” about people leaving subtitles on all the time, that’s what I do!


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