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What to Read Next (No. 262): D.A.R.E. Didn't Work
"Raising Lazarus" and "The Power of the Dog" + upcoming February releases
Happy Friday, readers!
We’re firmly in the depths of winter here in Colorado as we enter the final week of January. It’s among the longest, snowiest cold spells we’ve had in our 10+ years in the state. This is always the time of year when I start itching for spring, and yet I know we’re months away from consistently warm temperatures. Oh well — more time to hunker down and read!
Though my reading for the last few weeks has been immersed in other worlds (the Expanse series is crazy fun), this week I’m featuring a couple books with narratives centering around one of the dark sides of our real world: the illicit drug trade and its victims.
I also have a list of the books coming in February that I’m most excited about.
As always, let me know what you’re reading! I love to hear.
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“Whether we realize it or not, most of us continue blaming the victims rather than the corporations, politicians, and impotent regulators who allowed the wealthy to poison our nation.”
Beth Macy’s Dopesick (2018) is one of the most memorable books I’ve read in the last handful of years. Though it’s mostly a bleak narrative, it kickstarted a national, cultural backlash towards Purdue Pharma. It’s a book that made some serious waves and turned Macy into a mouthpiece for the opioid resistance movement.
When Raising Lazarus was published this year, I didn’t think it would live up to the lofty heights that her previous book reached.
She starts this one by highlighting the heroic doctors and caregivers providing treatment to people with addictions. Care is dished out in any number of ways — “from Narcan to Taco Bell and, when people look like they need it, basic human touch.” As one caregiver put it:
“Any positive change as a person defines it for him or herself is our definition of recovery.”
Macy also gets into why the pandemic has only exacerbated the opioid problem, despite Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy and villain status. At the root of the problem is the unbreakable American health care system. She writes:
“It is uniquely American that making money has long been the main driver of our health system, not compassion.”
Ultimately, Raising Lazarus wildly exceeded my modest expectations. It is one of the most compassionate, empathetic books I’ve ever read. Period. Whereas Dopesick hit me on more of an intellectual level, this book reached me on an emotional level.
Let me leave you with one final quote (I took pages of notes), from trauma expert Laura van Dernoot Lipsky:
“Americans are drowning in the lack of grace, the lack of humility, the complete inability to assume well about others.”
Please, please read Beth Macy’s books about America’s crippling opioid crisis. They’ll change you.
February Releases I’m Most Excited About
I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai — Her previous novel, The Great Believers, was a top three read for me last year, which means this one is a high priority.
A Mystery of Mysteries: The Death and Life of Edgar Allan Poe by Mark Dawidziak — I love Poe, and his life was wild, so I’m looking forward to this one. There are shockingly few biographies about him.
Enchantment: Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age by Katherine May — This one just sounds like a good thing to read in our current era. I’ve heard great things about May’s books but haven’t read anything by her.
Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism, and the World by Malcolm Harris — Ya’ll know I can’t resist a good Silicon Valley story. Can’t wait to get my hands on this one.
The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow
Though Winslow was writing and publishing books for over a decade before 2005’s The Power of the Dog (the first in a trilogy), this is the novel that catapulted him to the upper echelons of American thriller writers.
Art Keller is a disillusioned DEA agent who spends most of his time in Mexico trying to ferret out cartel members. Adan Berrera is an up-and-coming member of that cartel — supposedly modeled after real-life supervillain El Chapo. After the torture and death of a fellow agent, Keller becomes obsessed — dangerously, crazily so — with hunting down Berrera and the rest of the crew.
Starting in the 1970s, with Nixon’s War on Drugs in full swing, and bringing us all the way into the early 2000s, Winslow brilliantly details the complex web of screw-ups that the DEA orchestrated in trying to stem the flow of drugs into the United States, often making the problem ten times worse.
Though it’s definitely a gritty crime drama, it veers into historical fiction too, giving readers true-to-life glimpses into the Latin American drug trade, the politics of the DEA, and the powerful 1985 earthquake that devastated Mexico City. His six years of deep research for this book pays off handsomely and every page feels real because of it.
That all said, this long book (500+ pages) was tough to get through at times because of its intensity. I can generally handle thrillers and horror with no problem, but The Power of the Dog was so utterly and depressingly real in its widespread depravity that it just bummed me out.
I gave it 4 stars because there’s no denying that this book was really well done, but I’m not sure I have much interest in reading the other two in the trilogy.
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