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Books #7-8

Book #7 was "The Intuitionist" by Colson Whitehead. The novel is set in an alternate universe during a time when elevators and the Elevator Inspectors Guild are a huge influence in big cities. It appears to be set in a time very similar to the 1960s in America when black people are still called "colored" and integration is still a novel idea. Lila Mae Watson is the first black and female elevator inspector. She only wants to keep her head down and do a good job, and in fact has a perfect records. But she gets caught in the political intrigue of the Guild, largely a war between the "empiricists" who insist on checking every mechanical detail and "intuitionists" who use indirect methods including meditation and almost Buddhist-like ideas such as "feeling the elvatorness of the elevator." When an elevator that Lila has recently inspected crashes, both sides use the incident as a football in their machinations. About the same time, there's a discovery that the founder of the "intuitionist" school of thought had  left behind a blueprint for a "black box," or the perfect elevator, and Lila becomes involved in the search for the black box as well as clearing her name of wrongdoing. If you buy into the premise, which seems a little ridiculous at first (i.e. warring elevator inspector factions), it's a very compelling read. It's sort of a thriller/detective novel but also commentary on race and on disruptive technologies. I liked this quite a bit and am apparently not the only one since it received a lot of accolades, including being named a "best first novel" in the year it came out. I plan to read more by Whitehead.

Book #8 was "The Monster of Florence: A True Story" by Douglas Preston, with Mario Spezi. The story is, ostensibly, about a serial killer terrorizing young lovers in the countryside around Florence in the 1970s and 1980s, but it is as much about judicial and police corruption in Italy as it is about the murder case. The real tragedy is not just the death of 7 or 8 pair (there is some dispute whether a few of the cases were really connected) of lovers but about how magistrates and prosecutors used the case to further their careers in politics rather than giving justice to the victims and relief to their families. Preston is an American who comes into the case late in the game, after Italian journalist Spezi has been working on it for nearly 2 decades. They both get arrested for obstructing the official investigation and Spezi is even accused of possibly being the monster or being in league with the monster. The term that kept flashing through my mind was "Clown Show," because the public prosecutors and police handled it so very terribly. If you're interested in the case but don't want to read the whole book, there's a Dateline episode avaialable on YouTube. I do recommend the book, though. It includes a lot of context for the case and its implications for freedom of the press in Italy.

1. Death's End (third and final installment in the "Three-Body Problem" trilogy) [fiction]- Cixin Liu (translation by Ken Liu)
2. Brat Farrar [fiction]- Josephine Tey
3. Notorious Victoria: The Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored [nonfiction]- Mary Gabriel
4. Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner-City Funeral Home [fiction]-  Sheri Booker
5. Heap House (1st in the Iremonger trilogy) [fiction]- Edward Carey
6. Air [fiction]- Geoff Ryman

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