Hey there! I read just two books this month… the second one was fairly dense and I took a lot of notes. Here they are!

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: a Savannah Story, by John Berendt.

This novel-like nonfiction book was a huge sensation in the 90s, and I read it now because I have a novella set in Savannah. I’m not surprised that it was so difficult to translate into film, because the structure is odd. The first half of the book is essentially sketches of the various colorful characters the author met in Savannah, and the second half is all about how Jim Williams was tried four times for the same crime: the killing of his lover and assistant Danny Hansford.

This makes it sound like the first half of the book would be boring, but it’s not, because the characters are fascinating. Considering this book was written a while back, I think Berendt gets credit for the nonjudgmental portrayal of a transgender performer, Lady Chablis. I think he was also more than a bit in love with her, and it was easy to understand why.

I would especially recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in Southern folk magic, which plays a big part in the trials.

Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism, by Ha-Joon Chang.

This was from my “50 Books That Might Make Me Smarter” list, and it certainly made me more informed.

“Bad Samaritans” is actually a pretty bad metaphor for proponents of neo-liberal economic policies, but then again, The World Is Flat was a poor metaphor on Thomas Friedman’s part. Economists should probably enlist the help of poets when they write books. Chang is a much better prose writer than Friedman, and he has a thorough and scathing criticism of Friedman’s book The Lexus and the Olive Tree.

Chang argues convincingly that most rich countries became rich partly through protectionist measures that nurtured “infant industries.” His discussion of the dramatic economic rise of the country of his birth, South Korea, was particularly persuasive. He also makes the argument that state-owned enterprises are not all bad — look at Singapore Airlines, for example.

Occasionally he would point to a country that didn’t do well at a certain time and say, “Neo-liberalism!”, and it would occur to me one or more other factors — a fragile environment, a health epidemic, the rise of criminal cartels, a succession of corrupt military regimes — had also hurt the country economically.

I was not at all convinced by his argument that patent and copyright laws should be weakened. I think he drastically underestimates money as an incentive for invention, and as someone who has had her creative work stolen and pirated, I’m a very hard sell.

When you don’t know much about a topic, there’s a danger of reading one book and being persuaded by the author’s arguments without reading any counter-arguments to them. I would need to read much more on the topic before having a strong opinion myself. But I learned a ton from this book, and I highly recommend it.

If you’ve read something you loved lately, or if you have thoughts about Savannah, global economics, or murder, let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!