Surprising book finds at the airport

I’ve spent an awful lot of time lately in airports — first, several trips to Pittsburgh during the illness and ultimately the death of my last uncle, then more to New York as my sister entered hospice and several weeks later passed away. I find it easy to sleep on planes, but sometimes the way I travel requires plane changes that also require fairly long stints of airport sitting. What I do with that time is read. I always carry a book with me, but more often than not I can finish it while I wait, and then I comb the airport stores for others. And for me, there is no such thing as an unsuccessful search for another book!
On one of those trips I purchased “The Tattooist of Auschwitz,” a novel based on truth. It is the telling of a real person, Lale Sokolov, whose assignment by the camp’s Nazis was the tattooing of numbers on incoming prisoners who had been sent to the right upon entry — meaning life of horrific work, but life nevertheless, not immediate death in the gas chambers.
Many people say that we have had enough Holocaust books already: biographies and memoirs of survivors as well as fiction based on their incarcerated lives, plus the tales told by their children and even grandchildren as memories were finally released and reactions made their ways into print.
However, I strongly disagree; I believe all these stories need to be told, these books must be written, for the peace of survivors and the understanding of all who have followed them and been affected by their past histories. But I continue to be surprised by finding them among the more popular novels and self-help books that are the primary offerings of airport souvenir and food emporia.
The next one I found is very different, but equally important and necessary because of our own country’s history, with its long unsolved problems that keep bubbling up from the past to cause foment in the present. As I read “White Fragility,” subtitled “Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism,” I kept shaking my head in recognition, nodding it in agreement, and thanking author Robin DiAngelo for daring to put into print what she’s found as hard truths in her 20-plus years of dealing with racial and social justice issues. I hope many people — particularly white people — will read this book, which may help us understand how our nation got into the racial divide that seems to continue widening even today. Again, I was surprised to find it for sale at an airport — particularly one in the southern city where I bought it.
A much easier read than the two above is “Not Our Kind” by Kitty Zeldis. I’d call it a contemporary take on what those of us who have already lived a long time will remember from the 1947 novel and subsequent film called “Gentleman’s Agreement,” a look at how we Jews of that time were discriminated against by the Christian majority through the eyes of a Christian posing as a Jew. The new book is a pleasant story, but after reading it, I’ve gone back to the earlier one, which has far more “teeth” in it.
And finally, my most recent purchase: “Never Look Back,” a book of the type I often see in airport stores but have never bought before. I made this exception because the author is Alison Gaylin, the pen name of a prolific author of bestselling novels who is the daughter of Beverly Sloane, a longtime Jewish friend from our time together at National Federation of Press Women conferences. But I have yet to read it. Truth told: I may never read it…
A word of caution: Do not take too seriously what “New York Times bestseller” means. Because of book club growth these days, many mediocre escapist novels sell better than volumes of far more lasting value.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Alison Gaylin

    Hi Harriet! Alison Gaylin here (not my pen name; my actual married name.) My mom speaks very highly of you and your writing, and mentioned to me you were putting my latest book in your column. I’m sorry you had such negative things to say about the book, particularly considering you say you never read it and never intend to. If you did, you might see that it explores the complexity of parent/adult child relationships, and how bad actions impact not only those directly involved, but future generations. I confess I don’t exactly know what you mean by “a book of the type I often see in airport stores” (I’ve seen many, many types of books in those stores.) but I can tell you that I put a lot of hard work into Never Look Back, and that it was reviewed, most of the time very favorably, by people who did, in fact, read it. Seeing it mentioned here, in this way, was hurtful.

  2. Ellen M.

    I would title my reply, “You Can’t Judge a Book by Looking at the Seller.” I came across this post while searching for reviews of Never Look Back before requesting it from my library. I agree with the author’s response. To dismiss a book one’s never read by stereotyping where it was sold seems hasty (and maybe irresponsible). I look forward to trying it. –From a household that subscribes to and appreciates the TJP.

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