Outside Reading — The Road Is So Long edition

A Warm Slice of Pizza in a Bombarded City by Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Natalia Yermak

I understand that I operate with a level of privilege, and I try not to take it for granted. As my household gets to pause from the whirling roundelay of external obligation on this holiday, I’m know that so many others don’t have the same opportunity. This year, that’s especially true in Ukraine, of course, where the populace is being besieged by the militaristic incursion ordered by a fiendish despot who’s evidently decided that the perpetration of war crimes is his baseline. For The New York Times, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Natalia Yermak report on the devastation in the city of Bakhmut, centering the story on a resident who persists in running his modest food stand even as bombs rain down.

The 7″ Singles Paul McCartney by Jayson Greene

The Beatle with the shrewdest business sense had quite the new product available to help satisfy this year’s requirement to procure a Christmas gift for vinyl-hound dads. This box set stocked with recreations (or, in the case of more recent material, first time pressings) of every single released by McCartney after the Fabs broke up is so lovingly crafted that the crate it comes in gets its own adoring promotional video. Reviewing the engine block of 7-inches for Pitchfork, Jayson Greene takes the opportunity presented and essentially addresses the entirety of McCartney’s career in all its glory and disappointment. It’s a tremendous piece of music writing.

Five Days at Memorial (2013) by Sheri Fink

Sheri Fink’s book about the dire hardships faced at a hospital when Hurricane Katrina hit is impressive enough as a piece of reportage. Fink gets into intricate detail in recounting the collapsing systems and mounting worries, sometimes going minute-by-minute in her storytelling. Reading it now, it’s arguably even more impressive as a forceful forecast of the ongoing troubles in the healthcare industry, exemplified by the way many institutions were blindsided by the COVID-19 pandemic. A portion of the epilogue is devoted to a discussion of whether hospitals have prepared ventilator protocols adequately for a health care crisis on par with the the 1918 flu. It’s astonishing foresight for a tome published six years before the first known cases of the coronavirus disease that’s felled well over six million worldwide in the past three years. That sort of broader system consideration is layered throughout the book, which effectively strips away any sensationalism, especially as circumstances bend towards the sort of desperate choices that fuel a zillion true-crime television programs narrated in a grim, bass-heavy voice. Five Days at Memorial is resolutely fair, leanly intense, and quietly devastating.

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