J writes about buying books in Pandemonium and The Whisper Network

Scramblers, the last time I wrote to you I had just finished reading a book about a pandemic and breezily commented that it was interesting to read as we started hearing about the Coronavirus.

Little, little, little did we know.

This drawing by Robyn O’Neil is called “The Last Man on Earth.”
It has long been one of my favorites in the permanent collection at the
Sheldon Art Gallery. Check out the Omaha artist’s work here

Since the world has gone sideways, I have struggled to find books to read. I mean both books that hold my attention, and actual books. I am in the mood for lit-light. Comedies, Who-dunnits, Historical literature…. Escape.  But with libraries and bookstores closed for perusing, I’m short on materials. I miss picking up armfuls of “possibles” and deciding which to read.

Last weekend, Matt and I went out to support A Novel Idea, our local used bookstore.  In one of today’s versions of buying books, you can call in your list. In my case, I spoke with the bookseller in-person while waiting outside the store. I could see her image through the store window, walking from stack to stack, finding the section, then the author, then looking for my requested title, stopping to pet a cat, moving to another shelf where my book might be… Oh man, I wanted to be doing that very activity.  My bookseller found selections from almost all the authors,  but not always the preferred book.

Her -Do you want…. Instead? She’d name an alternative.

Me – What’s the back cover say? Can you tell me about the size? What’s the font like?  Is there an author photo? Does it look cool?  Smug?  Surprising? Author-y? Could you read the first sentence of the book to me? Now how about one in the middle.

Her – After reading requested sentences, Do you want me to read  the last sentence too?

Me – NO!  (never the last sentence.) But can you tell me…do the chapters have titles or just numbers? How long are the chapters? Are there any pictures or drawings? If so, then I’ll definitely take that one.  While you’re flipping through it, can you tell me what the pages feel like? Are they clean cut and thin, or thick with raggedy edges?  Do you have it in paperback? Does the book have a smell?…

I’m only kidding. Of course, I didn’t say all that. I just thought it.

After the nice bookseller went to the trouble of locating a section, and author, and reading off titles, I said  “Sure.  I guess. I’ll try that one.  Sounds good.”

I wrote a post here one time about how judging books by their covers actually works a fair amount of the time. I guess after all, there’s more to it than just the cover.

And now for a book report.

My readings are meager. But I can report on one called The Whisper Network by Chandler Baker. It is a mashup of Giant Corporate America + the early days of #metoo. It starts with a suicidal leap off a skyscraper. The reader’s not sure of the jumper’s identity, yet. Then the story unfolds.

Truviv is a big law corporation that represents famous athletes. Recently promoted Truviv CEO, Ames, has a history of mentoring young female employees; grooming them for executive positions. The  mentoring, however, comes with a price. Mentees must act like his sexual advances are welcome and consensual, and without quid pro quo. (They are not.) Four women, three in various stages of advancing the executive ranks, have distinctly different relationships with Ames. Sloane is a Senior VP who has earned a respectable level of clout.  However, she “paid her dues” with Ames ten years prior, when she was first starting out at the company. Ardie, a Senior VP of finance, came up at the same time as  Sloane, despite spurning Ames’ advances.  He has detested her ever since, which has, in a way, freed Ardie to speak her mind and work without his interference. Her price, however, was that she has to work twice as hard for recognition of her accomplishments. Grace is a junior VP and new mother trying to make working her regular 14-hour days through her sleep deprivation and breast pumping seem like it’s a breeze. She’s junior enough that she has to laugh at Ames’s lame jokes and compliment him when he completes work tasks any numbnut could do.  And finally, there’s Rosalita, a maid at Truviv; disposable in Ames’ eyes as someone who’s life is inconsequential to him. Though, invisible to Ames, Rosalita sees all. There is also a chorus, a “we” narrator ,who stands for all women in the workforce. The chorus explains the way things are, inequities, and unspoken rules.

An anonymously authored spreadsheet naming sex offending male execs in the business, is the central point of this story. It circulates among the social network of female executives. The fact is, it’s a multi-authored document and it grows in fame and power. Putting a name on the list might save a sister from sexual harassment from a future boss, and worse. But being discovered for putting a powerful offender on the list can also be crippling. These male execs in the top tier may not only fire subordinates, but create a ruinous and scandalous story that could prevent her from being hired in the industry ever again. And you can guess Ames shows up on the list. But you can’t guess who does it. And so, the story works backward from the mystery suicide as we learn the secrets of the players involved.  It’s an engaging read. I think it would have been right up your alley, Cathy, when you were deep in the throes of Big Corp America.

And that’s all for now Scramblers. I have eight books in my queue at the library, and five in a stack from my Novel Idea outing.  So, I hope to be back on this page soon.

Till then. Happy reading.


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