Bob Kliebenstein: Cozy up to the fire with a good book


Thirty-five and counting and no, this is not an attempt on a self-pat-on-the-back.

But as December winds down, I’ve been able to read 35 books in 2021. Actually, when I think about it, full disclosure, a more accurate total is 34 and 1/2. One of the books I pretty much speed-read. The first half of the book had some strong points. The second half of the book, not so much. Obviously did not make the list. I’m having a hard time getting settled into my latest literary selection. It will likely be my first read for 2022.

But as in the past few years, following are some of my selections I would suggest.

The John Carlos Story, Dave Zirin author. I was 7 years old when Carlos and Tommie Smith stood atop an Olympic podium, each wearing a black glove and raised fists to bring attention to racial injustice in the United States. Such a simple gesture with such powerful meaning.

Zirin’s book tells the story of how Carlos became a public outcast in a nation that proclaims liberty and justice for all. It tells the story of a guy who unwittingly became a racial icon. Still 53 years later and a country still puffs its chest about liberty and justice for all.

Chasing the Scream, author Johann Hari. This book about the global war against drugs leaves me asking who the hell is winning this war and is there any end in sight under our present legal system. Throughout, Hari weaves the connection between Harry Anslinger, the commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930 to 1982; Arnold Rothstein, a Jewish crime lord in New York City during the 1920s; and Billie Holiday, the famous jazz singer who died in 1959. Hari's quest to find out all he could about drugs, those who use them and those who abuse them, takes him to nine different countries and adds many more players to the cast. He agrees with those who see the war on drugs as an example of racism at its worst.

Fighting For Space, author Travis Lupick. Another book that deals with the world of illegal drugs, but from a different perspective. Dealing with illegal narcotics as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue. Lupick’s book is a compelling case that the United States is on the wrong end of treatment for addicts.

It tells the story of a grassroots group of addicts in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside who waged a political street fight for two decades to transform how the city treats its most marginalized citizens. Fighting for Space tells that story — including case studies in Ohio, Florida, New York, California, Massachusetts and Washington state — with the same passionate fervor as the activists whose tireless work gave dignity to addicts and saved countless lives.

Empire of Pain, author Patrick Radden Keefe. This book moves from the world of dope deals in crack houses and dark alleys to dope deals between medical doctors and big pharma under the guise of pain treatment (Oxycontin). It’s much more disturbing since it’s all true. I had never heard of the Sackler name until this book.

The Line Becomes a River, author Francisco Cantu is about Cantu’s life as a Border Patrol agent who decides to leave after giving witness to the harsh realities of dehumanizing treatment of immigrants. When an immigrant friend travels to Mexico to visit his dying mother and does not return, Cantú discovers the border has migrated with him, and now he must learn the full extent of the violence it wreaks, on both sides of the line.

Havana Nocturne, author T.J. English. Since the first time I watched “The Godfather Part II” I’ve always had an interest in the connection between Cuba and that mafia. English offers a multifaceted true tale of organized crime, political corruption, roaring nightlife, revolution and international conflict that weave the stories of the mafia, Havana, Cuba, a young Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.

Nomadland, author Jessica Bruder. This book might convince you to sell your house, quit your job, buy a modest RV and hit the road. Any more questions? Read the book.

The Ground Breaking, An American City and Its Search For Justice, author Scott Ellsworth. Hard to imagine the story of the Black Wall Street district in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was a secret to so many for so long, including myself. Had never heard about this despicable act of rage and cowardice until a couple of years ago. Ellsworth tells the long-hidden story of the notorious Tulsa Race Massacre.

It also reveals the lost history of how the massacre was covered up and the individuals who fought to keep the story alive. It recounts the ongoing archaeological saga and search for unmarked graves of the victims of the massacre and of the fight to win restitution for the survivors and their families. The book should also serve notice of the need for education of racial injustice in a nation that, as mentioned earlier, insists on puffing its chest about liberty and justice for all. Teach our children well, or the words in the pledge have little meaning.

Happy reading in 2022. Who knows? Maybe I will try a novel this year.

Bob Kliebenstein writes for the Monroe County Herald covering news and searching for feature ideas in Tomah and the surrounding communities. If you have a story idea, give him a call at (608) 343-8805 or e-mail him at


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here