About Roger Gloss

Books and literature are my passion. I am a life-long reader and - more recently - a novelist. On this website you will learn about the novels I have written, as well as my all-time favorite works of fiction and nonfiction. I hope you will be inspired by these recommendations!

How To Respond to the Red Hats?

Now there is a new debate raging over what is the appropriate level of vitriol we should sink to in protesting the conduct of the Trump administration.  His royal orangeness, obviously, in his position of presidential power, has set the bar about as low as you can go.  The unprecedented level of dissent on our side that has manifested itself during his term has thus far proved ineffective.  So it’s logical to ask, is it time for us to pull out the stops and become as nasty and mean-spirited as he and his supporters?

This debate is, in itself, a further distraction from the damage being done daily by the current administration and our feckless public servants in Washington.  I honestly can’t decide how low I should go, how much of my anger and outrage I should release on anyone within earshot.  What I do feel “confident” about, though, is that, regardless of tactics, we are unlikely to succeed in reaching or moving the other side.  “Bipartisanship” in today’s America is about as likely as the Rapture.  What I am quite convinced of is that I’m condemned to feeling entirely uncomfortable and distraught living among those who, after a year and a half, still believe we’re making America great again.

The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row

by Anthony Ray Hinton with Lara Love Hardin

St. Martin’s Press, 2018

Anthony Ray Hinton’s story takes place in a dark realm that most of us in white, middle class America have little to do with and think little about.  This is the realm of criminal justice, courts, and prisons – specifically Holman Prison’s Death Row in Alabama.

Hinton was convicted of murder and sentenced to death at age twenty-nine, by a sloppy and flawed system that passes for justice in the State of Alabama.  That system is driven to convict someone – anyone – of a capital crime, in order to portray to the public an image of swift justice and tough punishment.  That system is fraught with corruption and racism, and thus is particularly harsh on those who are black, or poor, or both.  Once Hinton’s guilty verdict was reached and his death sentence passed, the State stubbornly resisted subsequent appeals based on accusations of error and misconduct at trial or discovery of new evidence.  The State of Alabama showed little interest in guilt or innocence; the important thing was to convict someone and then stand by it.

Hinton was twenty-nine when he entered Holman and fifty-nine when all charges against him were finally dropped and he was set free.  In the time it takes us to read The Sun Does Shine, we get from him a fair sense of what it’s like to spend thirty years on Death Row, living in bitterness and despair and occasional slim hope, riding the rollercoaster of a justice system more interested in following process than in determining actual guilt or innocence, and watching more than fifty fellow inmates marched by prison guards to “Yellow Mama,” Holman Prison’s electric chair.  Hinton’s 5-by-7-foot cell was thirty feet from the execution chamber.  He and other prisoners could hear and smell each electrocution.

That is how Anthony Ray Hinton spent thirty years on Death Row.  Fortunately for him, though, Bryan Stevenson, attorney and founder of Equal Justice Initiative, learned of his case and went to bat for him.  Even then, it took nearly seventeen more years for Stevenson and EJI to get Hinton off Death Row.

By the way, Anthony Ray Hinton was innocent – a minor detail in the eyes of the State of Alabama.  Of the fifty-plus inmates who were executed during Hinton’s tenure on Death Row, many were guilty, some were innocent.  Statistically across the nation, one in ten prisoners on Death Row is innocent.  Hard to justify the death penalty with an error rate of that magnitude.  As of today, nineteen states and most developed countries have eliminated the death penalty.  Not Alabama.  Not Texas.  Not my state, California, where ballot initiatives to repeal the death penalty have been narrowly defeated twice in recent years.

Anthony Ray Hinton is a good man, and stronger than most of us have ever been called upon to be.  He was sustained through thirty years on death row by the love of his mother and of his best friend Lester, who visited him regularly at Holman and stood by him the entire time.  He formed new friendships among other inmates condemned to die, including a white man named Henry in the next cell, who belonged to the KKK and had tortured, killed, and lynched a young black boy, because Henry’s racist father had taught him to hate.  Hinton was also sustained by his friendship with Bryan Stevenson, another black man who proved to be more than just “God’s best lawyer.”

Hinton was sustained by love, hope, a sense of humor he never allowed himself to lose, and a capacity for forgiveness beyond anything I can imagine.

Upon leaving Death Row in April 2015, Anthony Ray Hinton was finally given the opportunity to begin his life at age fifty-nine.  He now works part-time at Equal Justice Initiative, speaks on prison reform, and has dedicated his life to ending the death penalty.

Read The Sun Does Shine, and meet a great human being.

Half-Life of the Lie

by Roger Gloss

Kindle Direct Publishing, 2018

After a three-year sojourn into writing nonfiction, a place I had once feared to go, I’ve returned to the novel.  Half-Life of the Lie is the result.  It feels good to be back to writing fiction.

I am disappointed with the tepid response to my earlier novel Third Wind.  I’m proud of the book, and feel that it’s an important story, still highly relevant.  But the sheer length of Third Wind has been an inhibitor to broad readership.  We all have many choices of what to read, and even avid readers will hesitate to read a long book they know nothing about.

So Half-Life of the Lie is short – less than half of Third Wind in length – but still powerful, in my view.  No spoiler alerts here, but I promise you an engaging plot, believable characters, facts and realism, and confrontation of big themes.

And one more teaser:  There are perspectives on American behavior different from the myopic view that has been drilled into us by our politicians and the capitalists who would have us believe that America is exceptional among nations.  Half-Life of the Lie examines another perspective.

I have a personal disdain for sequels.  Especially in the world of self-publishing I see many authors who seek to thrive on writing long series, hoping to hook the reader on one volume and draw them into the rest.  Some of these people have talent as writers; others do not.

You will never see a sequel from me, even if you beg for one.  I relish trying something different with each new effort.  Half-Life of the Lie reflects this, and yet there is a flow and a consistency with my earlier novels and there is no mistaking its author.  My fiction will always reflect my worldview, which continues to evolve as I live, read, and write.

Half-Life of the Lie surprised me – yes, writers can be surprised when they read their own work.  Despite my increasingly bleak worldview, the story turned out warm and hopeful, filled with possibility.  Try it on Amazon.

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership

by James Comey

Flatiron Books, 2018

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership – every word of the book’s title and subtitle describe what every page of James Comey’s memoir is about.  Since the 2016 election, there has been much obfuscation of the distinction between truth and lies.  Worse, many Americans, even when not confused, don’t seem to care.  They’ve picked their side, truth be damned.

So let me be clear.  The following statement is a lie: “Jim Comey is a liar.”  Yes, this is a lie.  One thing Jim Comey is not is a liar.

Many Americans knew little or nothing of Jim Comey until the Hillary Clinton email investigations.  At that point he gained instant, unsought fame, and much hatred from Democrats, who blamed him for Clinton losing the election.  But it wasn’t that simple.  An argument could be made that Comey exercised some poor judgment or made a bad decision at the worst possible time in the election campaign.  But “liar” he was not, and as his story makes clear, he was in a no-win, impossible situation.  Those who read his book with an open mind will come to understand this.

Comey’s story – and his history of speaking truth to power – goes back much further than the 2016 election.  In the dozen or more books I read about the George W. Bush administration (you could argue that I’m a masochist), Comey played prominently in stopping a questionable electronic surveillance program conducted by the Bush administration in its overly-zealous war on terrorism.  He stood, nearly alone, for principle, and ultimately resigned as deputy attorney general over the surveillance program and subsequent administration policies on torture.

I have been predisposed toward Jim Comey ever since, and the events of the past two years, so vividly described in his memoir, have done nothing to dampen my regard for him.

Twelve years later, along comes Trump, a man who wouldn’t recognize truth if it hit him in the face and knocked him on his ass, a man who lies so much neither he nor the pols nor the media nor we the governed can keep it all straight.  The final chapters of A Higher Loyalty detail the series of unsought encounters with Trump that ended with Comey being fired as Director of the FBI.  Given the clash of character between these two men – almost an understatement –  the outcome was inevitable.

Not only is Comey’s whole story compelling; he writes compellingly as well, with exceptional candor, clarity, honesty, and frequent doses of dry humor.  (Comey believes, as I do, that humor is an important asset to those who occupy leadership positions.)

Comey understands and cares deeply about leadership.  Notably, he believes that an essential characteristic of effective leadership is the ability to maintain a balance between confidence and humility.  In his memoir he keeps coming back to this.  Comey, a confessed Republican (or ex-Republican?), saw this balance in Barack Obama.

In Trump?  Not so much.  Comey’s descriptions of his one-on-one dinner, meetings, and subsequent phone calls with Trump are positively chilling.

Yet another fundamental principle in Comey’s set of values was the need for the FBI to be independent, free of politics.  The 2016 election cycle and the current reign of His Royal Orange-ness has made this impossible.

Comey’s A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership is a superb work, and historically important for everyone to read.  Comey tells the truth consistently throughout.  In fact, the book’s final sentence contains all seven words of the book’s title and subtitle.

James Comey is not a liar.

Grant

by Ron Chernow

Penguin Press, 2017

Grant, a new biography of Ulysses S. Grant by Ron Chernow, excels as both biography and history.  Years ago, in my somewhat inexplicable fascination with the American Civil War, I read Grant’s Personal Memoirs, which were clearly and honestly written by the man himself, but covered his life only through the end of the war in 1865.  Thus, Chernow’s new biography, encompassing Grant’s entire life, caught my interest when it was reviewed last Fall in Time magazine.

Grant is my first exposure to Ron Chernow as a writer and biographer.  (Chernow also authored Alexander Hamilton, which is the basis of the blockbuster play Hamilton.)  Grant is without a doubt the best written biography I’ve read – ever.  Chernow brings Grant and many of the characters surrounding him to life.  And I learned more nineteenth century and Civil War history reading Grant than I had reading James McPherson’s classic Battle Cry of Freedom.

It seems that it can take a hundred years or more to properly assess the legacy of an American president.  This is certainly true in Grant’s case (and will probably be true of Barack Obama, if our republic lasts that long).  Although Grant actually enjoyed high regard during his lifetime as both a general and president, subsequently his reputation was tarnished, helped in part by Southern revisionism.  The short version is that he was a butcher and a drunk and a corrupt politician.  It is true that he struggled most of his life with occasional but infrequent bouts of alcoholism, but these lapses never interfered with execution of his responsibilities either as general or president.  It is also true that his approach to battle against the Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy was aggressive and often resulted in high casualties.  His two terms as president were marked by corruption and scandal, but this originated lower down in his administration, and he did much to rein it in once it was exposed.  Often he made unwise political appointments, as one of his flaws was an lifelong naivete in matters of business and capital.

But despite these faults, he was a man of impeccable integrity and honesty.  As a leader, he possessed a near-perfect balance of confidence and humility.  (In another post, we will see that this balance of confidence and humility is of paramount importance in our politics today.)

And in reading Grant, I learned several things that surprised me.  First, Grant was very likely our greatest civil rights president in terms of commitment and achievement, with the possible exception of Lincoln.  He was also, in my view, one of the greatest presidents of the nineteenth century, and arguably among the top five or six presidents in American history.

At 960 pages, the book’s sheer length will discourage many from reading it.  This is unfortunate.  I found Grant compelling, enlightening, uplifting, and ever relevant to where we find ourselves today as a nation.

A Simple Hello

I just visited my own website for the first time in months.  No wonder most of my visitors lately are web developers offering me their services to increase traffic on my site!

So today’s post is just a simple hello, a sign that, yes, I’m still alive in the age of Trump.  The image at the left is intended to grab your attention.  Please don’t read too much into it.  The hand is mine; the tomato is from our garden, from a plant that kept bearing fruit all through the winter and is now going gangbusters as spring weather arrives.  The tiny sombrero, knitted by my wife, rests on the tomato so that the appendage will hopefully be seen as a nose rather than something else that is better left unspoken.

My website is supposed to be about books.  Despite my silence – or perhaps because of it – I’ve been reading and reading and reading.  In my view the country would be much better off if more Americans did the same.  Take this post as a heads-up, and a promise that there will be more book posts coming soon.  I’ve read some incredible, important books already this year – and published a novel that I haven’t yet even posted on my own site.  I will remedy this in the coming days/weeks/months.

In the meantime I hope you’re all able to serpentine your way through the daily distractions and normalized dysfunction, and stay focused on the good that still exists out there when we understand where to look for it.

So, hello.

 

Animal Agriculture: A Personal Bibliography

Since I first saw the documentary Cowspiracy in early 2015, I keep reading books about animal agriculture.  I read several books on the subject before I published my own in February, and I’ve read several more since.  I’m past the point where I need further convincing, so why do I continue?

(Imagine significant time passing between asking myself this question and coming up with some answers.)

Okay, here are some answers.  First, animal agriculture, a.k.a. factory farming, has been kept under wraps for too long, so there are many truths about it that need to be brought under public scrutiny.

Second, each of the books I’ve read so far has reinforced the others and, as well, added new insight or approached the subject from a new and different perspective.  I continue to learn more from each, and certain nuances of my values and conclusions continue to be challenged, even though I’ve made the most basic decisions already.

Finally, these books tell about more than just factory farming.  They examine the implications of modern industrial-age capitalism on an overpopulated planet.  They raise questions of human nature:  compassion and cruelty; confronting unpleasant truths versus turning a willing blind eye; whether or not humans are superior to other animals and thus entitled to exploit them; whether how we treat other animal species has bearing on how we treat one another.  This is deep stuff.

So here is a brief personal bibliography of books I’ve read thus far – or plan to read soon.  I’ve listed them alphabetically, because it’s impossible to rank them by worth.  I’ve also written a few words about each, so potential readers can decide which they want to pursue and in what sequence.  I’m confident that any one of these books will cause readers to examine their habits and beliefs in a new way.

Fortunately for humanity and the planet, there is a wealth of information available today on the history and the incredible complexity of animal agriculture.  It’s all out there just waiting to be digested by the broader population.

Comfortably Unaware: What We Choose to Eat Is Killing Us and Our Planet – Dr. Richard A. Oppenlander

This is highly readable, concise discussion of the impacts of the food we eat upon climate and the environment.

I own Comfortably Unaware on my Kindle but haven’t read it yet; it’s in my near-term backlog.

Eating Animals – Jonathan Safran Foer

This is a deep, fresh, philosophical look at the practice of eating animals.  The author is an accomplished novelist, and this book is both thoroughly researched and brilliantly written.  It challenges the views of anyone who eats anything, even vegetarians and vegans.

I’m in the midst of reading Eating Animals now, and I’m finding it amazing.  I continue to learn more about animal agriculture.

Eating Earth: Environmental Ethics and Dietary Choice – Lisa Kemmerer

This book focuses on three aspects of our relationship with animals:  factory farming, fishing, and hunting.  The author explores the ethics of these practices, employing a wealth of facts, data, and graphics.  Eating Earth is thoroughly researched, and Kemmerer presents all her findings concisely, in a way that is visually appealing.  If you thrive on data, you will love Eating Earth.

Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food – Gene Baur

Gene Baur has dedicated his life to building awareness of what’s behind the meat and dairy products we consume, through his nonprofit farm animal rescue organization Farm Sanctuary.  This book is a thorough look at animal agriculture – with emphasis on animal treatment – as well as the author’s personal story.

I am honored to know Gene personally.  From his three decades as an activist, he has developed keen insights into human behavior that transcend our relationship with animals.

If Pigs Could Talk: The Case for a Plant-Based Diet – Roger Gloss

Yes, this is my own book, published in February 2017.  It’s intended as a concise handbook (70 pages), an introduction to the entire array of problems resulting from factory farming, and a roadmap to help readers who wish to move to a plant-based diet.  For anyone new to the subject, If Pigs Could Talk is a great place to start.  You can find it here.

Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won’t Eat Meat – Howard F. Lyman with Glen Merzer

Howard Lyman spent much of his life as a cattle rancher in Montana.  Mad Cowboy is his personal story.  He explains why he no longer eats meat and tells the story of his transition from farmer to politician to activist.

The Sustainability Secret: Rethinking Our Diet to Transform the World – Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn

This is the book version of the documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret.  Published subsequent to the release of the film, the book covers all the issues in the film, but in greater detail.  While the documentary builds a strong case against the environmental destruction from animal agriculture, the book reinforces it.

What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins – Jonathan Balcombe

The world of fish, beneath the oceans’ surface, is even more hidden from most of us than what goes on in factory farms.  Jonathan Balcombe challenges our notions of how different fish are from us, and examines why this matters.

I’m pleased to count Jonathan among my acquaintances.  He owns a signed copy of my book If Pigs Could Talk and has spoken highly of it.  My signed copy of What a Fish Knows is unread as yet; it’s in my near-term backlog.  Stay tuned.

Porcelain: A Memoir

by Moby

Penguin Books, 2016

Moby’s memoir is not my normal reading fare.  My path to Moby and his book was indirect.  It went like this.

Moby is vegan, and has been since 1987.  I’ve been vegan only since last year.  But on my path to becoming vegan I had occasion to see Moby in person three times:  once with Gene Baur, co-founder of Farm Sanctuary (who has been vegan since 1985, a lighthearted point of contention for Moby); again at Soka University in Southern California, at a premier screening of Allison Argo’s stunning documentary The Last Pig; and most recently at Frida Cinema in Santa Ana, where Moby was interviewed by a book critic from the Orange County Register.  At the Frida I purchased my copy of Porcelain, which Moby graciously signed for me, even drawing a sketch of an alien similar to the one on the cover.

Moby’s life is nothing like mine, for which I’m extremely grateful.  He’s an eccentric artist, DJ, and composer of electronic music who immersed himself in the club and rave scene in New York City through the ‘80s and ‘90s.  A disproportionate number of his companions were alcoholics, drug addicts, sex addicts (of all persuasions), and prostitutes.  At times they used him and at times he used them.  Some of them were his lasting friends.  Ironically, he was straight, Christian (for a long time), drug-free (with exceptions), and a teetotaler (in between two enthusiastic bouts of alcoholism, first in his teens and again in his thirties).

Through it all he was insecure, afraid, self-destructive, and suffered frequent panic attacks.  But despite all of the depravity and squalor around him he remained an artist committed to his music.  He sought love in his own admittedly clumsy, desperate way. He is good-humored and refreshingly honest.  His honesty and his wry sense of humor illuminate his writing, along with occasional brief exhibitions of self-pity.  I admire him for his willingness to share his story so candidly and openly.

I should add that Porcelain is only the first part of Moby’s story, covering his life through 1999.  Part two is nearing publication, and I will likely read it, to see how Moby, now fifty-two, has put the pieces of his life together since the relative low point at which Porcelain ends.

Here is the bottom line for me.  From meeting Moby and reading Porcelain, I know that he is vegan over and above almost everything else and that he is refreshingly honest.  This is reason enough for me to want to see where his life goes in part two.

No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need

by Naomi Klein

Haymarket Books, 2017

Followers of my blog might notice that I’m predisposed to feature and praise the works of Naomi Klein.  Maybe even a little obsessive.  There’s a reason for this.  Naomi Klein is one of the greatest minds in North America today (I say North America because she holds both Canadian and U.S. citizenship).  She has dedicated her career – her life, in fact – to delving deeply into the most threatening crises facing modern civilization:  war, inequality, injustice, and climate change, to name but a few.

There are narratives surrounding these crises, stories we have been told for decades by our political and corporate leaders about how we are – or, in the case of climate change, are not – confronting these crises and what sort of approaches we are or are not pursuing.

Well, Klein turns these narratives upside down.  She turns over all the rocks and looks underneath them.  In all three of her prior books – No Logo, The Shock Doctrine, and This Changes Everything – she argues for a new narrative, one that better explains why we as a global society continue doggedly toward our own destruction, one that suggests the need for a radically different and better way forward.

Bringing It All Together

No Is Not Enough represents the convergence of all her prior work.  And Naomi Klein is one of the first to understand this convergence.  She synthesizes the trends and ideas from all three of her earlier works – corporate branding, shock politics, and climate injustice – and shows us how all of it explains how we ended up with Trump.  Thanks to Klein, I already had a good understanding of the pieces, but I still needed her brilliant synthesis to tie them all together.

This post is not a book report, but I’ll mention three key conclusions Klein reaches in No Is Not Enough, to entice you to read this brilliant book of ideas.  First, we were all shocked by the rise of Donald Trump, but we shouldn’t have been.  His election was rather the logical conclusion of three decades of neoliberal ideology, unregulated capitalism, and explosive growth of the corporate behemoth, all at the expense of the public sphere.

Second, the popular energy and level of engagement awakened by Trump’s election, while a “hopeful” sign, would have been far more effective and achieved substantive results had it coincided with the 2008 election of Barack Obama.  We should have been in the streets then.  Had the public demanded massive reform back then, rather than sitting back and expecting that Obama would fix it all, we would be better off today (and Trump would not have happened).  Big mistake.

And finally comes the lesson articulated by Klein’s title, No Is Not Enough.  We – all of us who were disengaged or cynical or resigned too long – need to have a vision of what “yes” looks like.  Klein, in collaboration with other great minds, has laid one out for us.  It is radical; it is bold; it will be incredibly hard to achieve.  But at this juncture, as we run out of time, the path she lays out is, in my view, our only hope to reverse the course of the world we are facing.

Paris and the Fool

Apparently the bee under our so-called president’s orange comb-over is telling him today to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord.  There might be a few fanatics in his administration, like Steve Bannon or Scott Pruitt, encouraging him to pull out, but nearly everyone else – all 194 other nations in the Accord (which is all the other nations of the world except Syria and Nicaragua), all the other nations in the G7, his own Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, even Exxon and Chevron, would prefer the U.S. to stay in the agreement.  Of course Tillerson and the oil companies are most likely just cynically wanting a “seat at the table” so they can slow the agreement down or undermine it.

It’s even possible that Trump will wake up at 4 a.m. tomorrow and tweet that he’s changed his mind and will keep us in (he loves that feeling of power), but at this point it hardly matters.  He’s already signaled to the rest of the world that the federal government of the (formerly) leader of the free world has collapsed into utter dysfunction.  Those of us who pay attention to these matters know quite well that we can’t count on Congress for anything – this has been true for some time – nor can we depend on the Supreme Court, nor, least of all, on the current Executive Branch.   Activists like me can convince ourselves to keep being activists only by believing that someday this idiocy in Washington will end.  But there’s no guarantee that it will.

Meanwhile the rest of the world will try to forge ahead without us, hoping that the U.S. is merely irrelevant on the global stage, as opposed to taking the rest of the world down with it.