• Michael Rosen
    • Investment Insights are written by Angeles' CIO Michael Rosen

      Michael has more than 30 years experience as an institutional portfolio manager, investment strategist, trader and academic.

    FIRESIDE READING

    Published: 12-21-2023

    I hope you have a wonderful holiday season, with ample time to enjoy some good books next to a crackling fire. I have an even-dozen to recommend. Best wishes to all!

    Fiction

    Old God’s Time, Sebastian Barry

    This is a beautiful, haunting novel that captures the memories and joys and pains of a man inhabited by his past. Tom Kettle is a just-retired policeman, detective, who has moved into a rented cottage on an island outside Dublin. The book is mostly a narrative of his thoughts to himself, of his wife and children, an abusive past and a case from long ago that still troubles him. The plot moves slowly, with exquisite prose closer to poetry, and a rush to tie everything together in the end. Sebastian Barry is masterful storyteller, a gift even among the Irish masters.

    The Pole, J. M. Coetzee

    “The Pole” is an aged concert pianist who is invited to perform by a music society in Barcelona. He falls for the middle-aged woman, happily married, who heads the society and tries to woo her. How we communicate is one theme, as both have to speak in English, a second language for each, and there are difficulties in getting thoughts across. Mostly, this is about how we see our self-worth: for the pianist, is his music enough for him? For the woman, educated and smart but afraid she is not taken seriously, what does a relationship with this man mean for her self-worth? A short, beautiful novel from a master.

    TrustHernán Díaz

    This is the story, or rather, stories, of generational wealth, told from multiple perspectives. It opens with the immense fortune created by Benjamin Rask in the late 19th-early 20th centuries, building on his grandfather’s initial fortune parlayed during Thomas Jefferson’s trade embargo. Then we hear of the fortune of Andrew Bevel, whose life bears an uncanny resemblance to Benjamin Rask’s. Bevel hires a ghost writer for his autobiography, and it is through her perspective that we discover some of the family’s secrets, until finally, the diary of Bevel’s wife, Mildred, is revealed 60 years after his death. These fortunes are built on trust, but also on distrust, and the reader does not quite know what to trust in this novel. Intriguing and intelligent, a deserving winner of last year’s Pulitzer Prize.

    Afterlives, Abulrazak Gurnah

    The novel takes place in German East Africa in the early 20th century. On one level, it is about imperialism, the German pursuit of African colonies, the British determination to displace them, the devastating impact of these wars on the native population across generations. On a deeper level, this is a love story, how people survive, suffer, find happiness and love in the most trying circumstances. Mostly, this is simply a beautiful work by a master, largely unknown but deserving winner of the Nobel Prize for literature.

    Tinkers, Paul Harding

    It is rare for a debut novel to win the Pulitzer Prize, as Tinkers did in 2010. George Crosby lies dying in his home and reflects on his life, especially haunted by his father Howard, who was an epileptic traveling salesman who disappeared when George was just 12. Both father and son were tinkers, menders of broken objects. Both were broken men in their own way. But the true joy of this book is Harding’s prose: stunning, reflective, beautiful. A breathtaking work of art.

    The Bee Sting, Paul Murray

    This is the story of the Barnes family, their secrets and their unraveling, the lies they tell themselves and the truths they reveal. Each member is sketched in lush detail: the father who stepped in for his golden-haired older brother who died unexpectedly, the mother, a beauty forced to pawn her jewels and clothes, the bright older daughter who turns to drink and drugs, the younger son intimidated by bullies.  Are secrets better hidden or revealed? Do truths set you free or have painful consequences? Paul Murray inherits the mantle of great Irish writers, with lush prose and sardonic wit that invest us deeply in his characters.  A spectacular family saga that hums along over 600 pages that thoroughly engulfs us in the lives of this tragic family.

    Let Us Descend, Jesmyn Ward

    The title is borrowed from Dante’s Inferno, and for Annis, the narrator of this novel, Hell is all around her, as a slave in the antebellum South. The brutality and inhumanity of slavery stab us repeatedly in poetic passages that sear our ears and hearts. Annis is guided by the spirit of her grandmother Aza, a warrior in Africa who was captured and sold and survived the passage. But Annis is also her own woman, alternatively taking and rejecting the advice of Aza’s counsel. Jesmyn Ward is one of our most gifted writers. Let Us Descend is not her finest work: a bit overwrought and verbose. But she can move us to tears nonetheless.

    Nonfiction

    The Rediscovery of America, Ned Blackhawk

    This is a 600-page, almost a textbook, single volume history of the United States from the perspective of, and impact on, the indigenous peoples of the Americas. The genocide perpetrated on native peoples, both intentionally and otherwise, almost defies comprehension, but Blackhawk focuses just as much on the impact this destruction and dislocation had on the development of European settlement in North America. A dense book, but an important contribution to understanding the history of the United States.

    The Rigor of Angels, William Egginton

    This book explores “the ultimate nature of reality,” by connecting the seemingly disparate works of Immanuel Kant, Werner Heisenberg and José Luis Borges, each of whom struggle, in their own disciplines of philosophy, quantum physics and literature, with the question of what, exactly, is reality. The genius of each of these men is explored, and while their concepts are often difficult to follow, at times even for them, we are left with a deeper appreciation of their brilliance as well as just how similar their goals were. The ultimate answer to the ultimate question of what is the nature of reality is…well, I’ll leave that for you to discover in this challenging, provocative and illuminating book.

    King: A Life, Jonathan Eig

    This is the definitive biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. In more than 600 pages, Eig chronicles his life, with intimate, personal portraits of family along with the narrative of the civil rights movement he came to lead. It’s remarkable that King’s prominence lasted just 13 years. Sadly, in the wake of his biggest triumphs with the passage of several landmark civil rights legislation, which would never had passed had it not been for King’s influence and relationship with President Johnson, in his last few years the nation erupted in violence and even King harbored doubts about the future of race relations. Eig writes in a very straightforward way, giving us a clear picture of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. The book lacks the detail and passion of a narrower subject, such as You Have to Be Prepared to Die Before You Can Live by Paul Kix, recommended a few months ago (https://www.angelesinvestments.com/institutional-insights/beach-reading-9). But King’s life is worth revisiting in our times. His nonviolence philosophy broke the Jim Crow laws, but fell (well) short of a reconciliation of racial tensions. Yet King’s legacy may still be our best hope for healing the divisions that rack our society today.

    The Spy and the Traitor, Ben MacIntyre

    The spy is Oleg Gordievsky, the most important double agent since Kim Philby. Gordievsky’s secrets, passed to MI6, and shared with the CIA, were critical in how the West handled the final years of the Soviet Union. The traitor is Aldrich Ames, whose treachery led to the execution of at least a dozen CIA assets around the world and tagged Gordievsky as a double agent. This is a heart-pounding story of Gordievsky’s life, his turn to the West, his pursuit by the KGB and his attempted escape from Moscow. A thrilling story of a man who arguably helped change history.

    Liliana’s Invincible Summer, Cristina Rivera Garza

    Liliana was murdered, almost certainly by her boyfriend. An arrest warrant was issued, but he was never found, and Liliana’s parents didn’t have the money to bribe the police to try to find him. Thirty years later, Liliana’s sister, the author, wants to see the police file to try to figure out what happened. Navigating the bureaucracy of Mexico is a story in itself, but the along the way through this maze we hear of Liliana’s life, through her letters she saved and the reminiscences of her friends. Cristina Rivera Garza has given is a beautiful homage to her sister, to the all-too-common violence against women and the search for justice that never comes.

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