Florida Chicanery, Fleeing the Nazis, South Beach Pulp: Mitch Kaplan’s New Book Picks

Mitch Kaplan (Photo by Aaron Bristol)

POPULAR FICTION

Squeeze Me by Carl Hiaasen

The sort of addictive beach read you’ll be compelled to finish in one sitting, Hiaasen’s latest mystery-comedy is hyper-local and attuned, as ever, to the engines of absurdity powering business and politics in Florida. It’s set during the glittering society ball season of Palm Beach (remember that relic of the Before Time?), where a fixture from such galas, a Trump-supporting dowager named Kiki Pew, is found dead in a concrete grave. Suspicions fly, the president blames the specter of illegal immigration, the First Lady seeks (ahem) comfort in the arms of another, and a wildlife wrangler sees through the noise to pinpoint a perhaps deeper problem: invasive pythons. Sounds like Florida Man: The Novel.

LITERARY FICTION

Letters From Cuba by Ruth Behar

Ruth Behar, a Guggenheim Fellow and the first Latina to win a MacArthur “Genius” Grant, penned this epistolary novel based on research into her own fraught family history. It’s set during Nazi invasion of Poland, and follows the narrator, a young Jewish girl named Esther, who flees to Cuba in her father’s footsteps, and relays every step of her journey in letter form to his sister Malka. Upon arrival in Batista’s Cuba, Esther discovers both the kindness and the creeping fascism that, like too many other nations, has invaded the island country. Written with a teenager’s exuberant, clear-eyed prose, this one should be as compelling to tweens as it as adults.

NONFICTION

The Socrates Express: In Search of Life Lessons From the Dead Philosophers by Eric Weiner

Equal parts vivifying travelogue and Philosophy 101 crash course, Weiner’s peripatetic book finds him trotting the globe via train—that most romantic and thoughtful mode of transport—to uncover fresh lessons from the lives of the philosophers who lived, and thought, and created in such far-flung locales as ancient Athens, Paris, Delhi, Wyoming and Frankfurt. And though such supporting characters as Epicurus, Gandhi, Thoreau, Confucius and Nietzsche are, as the title reminds us, long dead, Weiner’s gift is his lively ability to unearth fresh insights about their ideas that relate to the chaos of the present day.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson

“Caste” is a term that rarely if ever surfaces in modern Beltway vernacular in America, but this sweeping, Oprah-approved survey of the brutal inequities of the caste system through time argues that it undergirds many of the world’s troubled polities, not least of which our own. Studying the ideas of divine will, bloodlines, stigmas and other pillars that keep caste systems in place, Wilkerson uncovers links between such disparate nations as the U.S., India and Germany under the Third Reich, and explores the caste chasm through the personal stories of Martin Luther King Jr., Satchel Paige and others. As Lawrence O’Donnell blurbed it: “You cannot understand America today without this book.”

A CLASSIC WORTH REVISITING

La Brava by Elmore Leonard

Given that La Brava was pulp evangelist Elmore Leonard’s 17th novel, it’s safe to say he knew his way around a seamy, punchy crime narrative. First published in 1983, and winning the Edgar Award for Best Novel a year a later, La Brava centers on a former Secret Service agent from the Truman Administration who has retired from government work to pursue a middling photography career, only to find himself protecting a former movie star who is being harassed by a thuggish security guard. Unlike Leonard classics like Get Shorty, La Brava was never made into a movie, so it is immortalized only in print. I think the reason Kaplan chose it as this month’s classic owes to its relatable setting: the 1980s lost paradise of South Beach.


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