Three Great Books #1

Organized crime in Naples, passing as white in America, horndog faeries.

Here are three books I recently enjoyed and think you might, too:

Gomorrah, by Roberto Saviano. This was published in 2006, but I picked it up after watching the same-named TV show on HBO Max and wondering if one completely bananas scene was based in reality (it is!). It’s a deep dive into the organized crime system, called the Camorra, in and around Naples. The author – who had to go into hiding because of his reporting -- comes to see almost everything around him, from the cement in building foundations to Angelina Jolie’s Oscars outfit, through the lens of corruption and crime. Don’t worry about keeping track of the names and just absorb the deep, atmospheric reporting. (One caveat: The book is translated from Italian, and not every metaphor and description translates well.) I also love the show, which is only very loosely based on the book. It’s perfect if you thought “The Wire” was light on guns, and that “Game of Thrones” sentimentally spared the lives of too many characters.

The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett. Am I the last person I know to read this? Probably! But it was so great I can’t leave it out, in case someone else has missed it. Twins Stella and Desiree Vignes live in Mallard, La., a small town populated only by black residents with light skin. They run away to New Orleans together as teenagers, feeling constrained by their options if they stay, but they soon take very different paths. Stella ditches her sister, passes as white to get a job, and marries her boss, choosing a lifetime of keeping her history and identity secret. Desiree, feeling abandoned by her twin, finds her way to Washington, D.C., where her own marriage starts promisingly but soon turns grim, eventually returning home to Mallard with her daughter. Stella has a daughter, too, and the cousins grow up ignorant of the other’s existence until coincidence brings them together and threatens Stella’s secret. It’s a family saga that unfurls over decades and wrestles with big issues. I couldn’t put it down.

A Court of Thorns and Roses, by Sarah J. Maas, is the first in a fantasy series about hot, horndog faeries battling for power in various imaginary kingdoms, and if that doesn’t ring your bell, stop reading now. There is plenty of intrigue, magic, graphic violence and explicit sex, and also some very bad descriptions, if that kind of thing bothers you. It’s completely escapist reading; nothing in this book reflects actual life events in 2020-21, unless your pod is a lot more interesting than mine.

(Tell me how you liked them at ThreeGreatBooksNewsletter@gmail.com or just reply to this email.)