Nicholas E. Barron

Words in many mediums

Menu Close

Author: Nicholas E. Barron (page 1 of 3)

20 Most Popular Books June 2017

The summer reading season is in full swing, according to the Most Popular Books June 2017 list. Beach reads and books made into summer movies make an appearance on the list.Image of an island surrounded by water at sunset underneath the words "20 Most Popular Books June 2017."

For example, “Captain Underpants” is at third on the list. An animated movie, perfect popcorn summer fare, debuted on June 2. And that ultimate summer read, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” rose five spots to number 10.

In other book-to-movie news, “Sword Art Online” shot up nine spots. The English trailer for the next Sword Art movie, “Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale,” was released on May 30.

And two books return to the most popular books list because their movie versions were released on DVD at the end of May: “The Shack” and “Before I Fall.” Movies for both books hit theaters in March. That month, “The Shack” hit number two and “Before I Fall” was third on the most popular books list.

Mostly holding its own is Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods.” The first season of the book’s TV version finished airing in June.

The season finale for “American Gods” is tomorrow, so it’s possible we’ll see the book dropping off the list in June.

And interestingly, “Big Little Lies” returns to the most popular books list. The book’s HBO miniseries finished airing in April. So why did the book make a comeback in June? Perhaps media coverage explains the reappearance.

There was media coverage of Nicole Kidman talking about a filming abuse scenes in the miniseries. Plus, Kidman’s co-star in the miniseries, Alexander Skarsgard talked about the possibility of the show having a second season, as did the show’s writer and executive producer, David E. Kelley.

Looking for summer reading ideas? Check out the most popular books list below.

This page contains affiliate links. This means I earn a small amount of money if you make a purchase using these links. Visit my Disclosures page for more info.

Based on Google search data for the United States.

1) The Bible
2) Thirteen Reasons Why
3) Captain Underpants ↑3
4) Quran ↑4
5) American Gods ↓1
6) Hamilton ↑6
7) Sword Art Online ↑9
8) 1984 ↑2
9) Romeo and Juliet ↓6
10) Fifty Shades of Grey ↑5
11) The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity NEW
12) The Lord of the Rings ↑8
13) Fifty Shades Darker ↓2
14) The Handmaid’s Tale ↑3
15) The Great Gatsby ↓9
16) Before I Fall NEW
17) Half Girlfriend ↓8
18) To Kill a Mockingbird ↓13
19) The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts NEW
20) Big Little Lies NEW

Image of an island surrounded by water at sunset underneath the words "20 Most Popular Books June 2017."

Why Charlotte S. Gray Wrote About a Girl Accused of Killing Her Father

Charlotte S. Gray, the author of “Fatima’s Room” (June 2017, Arc Light Books), was in Sudan teaching girls from 1991-1993. This was a period in that country’s history leading up to civil war. Sudanese optimism of post-colonial rule was giving way to religious extremism. And it’s a setting that inspired “Fatima’s Room,” Gray’s first work of fiction.Image of a Charlotte S. Gray quote reading, "these women, of course, are very clever. You always have to be more clever if you're the suppressed one because you have to figure out how to deal with the suppressor."

I spent a little time on the phone with Gray last month. Below is a condensed version of our conversation. And in case you missed it, here’s my review of “Fatima’s Room”.

“Fatima’s Room” is available for purchase here or on Amazon.

Interview with Charlotte S. Gray

Q: Why did you write “Fatima’s Room”? And why now?

A: “It (‘Fatima’s Room’) has a long history. I couldn’t find the right form. It just took this long before I came around to writing this fictional story where it worked for me. First, I was more the academic person. I thought that I was doing some documentary or documenting, but then I decided it’s better to write it as a fiction story. And then use all the material I had. Which I have managed, I think, to put a lot into the novel. But, you know, there’s a fine line to thread there. You don’t want to put too much stuff about a culture. The story has to move along, too, so you have to find a balancing way.”

Q: How did you balance between story and giving readers a sense of the culture and religion of Fatima and her family?

A: “I have a sense that a story must move on. I will tell the story, and I will feel how much I can put in without slowing it down too much. I mean like the female genital mutilation. How much could I tell about it? Well, I think I managed to tell quite a bit, but you can’t slow down the story too much. If the thing you’re telling helps shape who she (Fatima) became, then it belongs in the story. Otherwise not.”

Q: Was Fatima being kept in a room of her uncle’s house a metaphor for how she was being held back by her culture?Cover of "Fatima's Room" by Charlotte S. Gray.

A: “I think this room thing had a lot of advantages. I think you can say that it was a metaphor and that she was trapped. But it also had other advantages. In fact, she was quite happy there. She finally had a little peace to herself and could think her own thoughts and wasn’t being chased up to do house chores. This was her chance also to find out more about herself. I had no idea I was going to talk anything about sexual discovery. In a way, that just came from Fatima, from describing her being in that room and suddenly it seemed completely natural and that it had to be there. And, actually, it’s a very important subject, so I’m glad it came to me. Because I think for a woman like that, part of finding out who she is is to move into her own body and discover her sexuality. And then she understood suddenly better how she had been repressed.”

Q: Fatima is visited by various women, all who seem to have different opinions about a woman’s role in Sudanese culture. Did you intend to show Fatima being pulled in different directions by the women in her life?

A: “It’s just a realistic picture of how it is and how women function differently. So I’m just trying to give different kinds of characters to different women because these are different ways with how you cope with where you are and the various oppressions. And that’s how it was. And these women, of course, are very clever. You always have to be more clever if you’re the suppressed one because you have to figure out how to deal with the suppressor.”

Q: Fatima is being held in a room in her uncle’s home because she’s accused of killing her father. What’s the meaning behind having her accused of killing her father?Image of a Charlotte S. Gray quote reading, "the ultimate thing you could rebel against as a female would be the patriarch."

A: “I knew this particular girl, and she told me about her family life and how the parents always screamed at her, ‘We’ll kill you! We’ll kill you!’ And all the way back I had this idea of the female rebel. And the ultimate thing you could rebel against as a female would be the patriarch.”

Q: The book takes place in a period of Sudanese history when things are getting worse for people, not better. But through Fatima’s grandmother’s recollections, we get a sense of how optimistic the Sudanese had been when the country first emerged from British colonial rule.

A: “I guess that is not an uncommon experience with a country that gains its independence and has such high hopes and, of course, especially for the women. Everything was going to get better. Women were going to be able to leave their homes, go out and work. And, of course, it went the other way.

Q: What was that experience like for you as a teacher, witnessing the growing oppression of the young women you were teaching?

A: “I was an outsider and I could leave and thereby my experience is very different. That brings us to that whole discussion of whether I’m an insider or an outsider and whether I really have the right to write a book like this. Who are we to say something? That is one reason I’m careful to put it in the feminist context and that’s where it belongs. And where I talk out of solidarity.

Some people will argue, ‘Well, you shouldn’t even be writing about that because, you know, you just came and saw and left again.’ But I don’t accept that argument because after all, I think it’s a writer’s right and privilege and up to his or her skill to be able to enter the mind of people who are different or from somewhere else or from another time or another gender. I don’t agree that you can only write about people who are exactly from your own worldview or where you come from.”

“Fatima’s Room” is available for purchase here or on Amazon.

Image of a Charlotte S. Gray quote reading "these women, of course, are very clever. You always have to be more clever if you're the suppressed one because you have to figure out how to deal with the suppressor."

Why the Evicted Book is an Incredibly Important Book You Must Read

The Evicted book by Matthew Desmond may be the most important nonfiction book written in years. And it’s the book I didn’t want to read.

After all, there’s no shortage of sources documenting how bad things are for many people. Image of a quote from the Evicted book reading, "Decent, affordable housing should be a basic right for everybody in this country. The reason is simple: without stable shelter, everything else falls apart."I didn’t want to read a book about how housing costs have made it nearly impossible for poor people to live.

But then my job pushed me into a corner.

Since it was first published, one of my employer’s executives talked about “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” to anyone who would listen. Never was in a meeting or on a call with this executive when he didn’t mention the book.

Then this executive organized a conference for several hundred housing industry leaders. Desmond was the keynote speaker. As a member of our company’s communications team, I would cover the conference and Desmond’s talk.

The sands of my procrastination hourglass ran out. I had to read the Evicted book. Thank God I did.

Evicted by Matthew Desmond may be the most important book published in years. It’s no wonder Desmond has a Pulitzer for his work on the book. This is a terrific piece of journalism.

This page contains affiliate links. This means I earn a small amount of money if you make a purchase using these links. Visit my Disclosures page for more info.

About the Evicted Book

Intensely researched and exquisitely put together, the Evicted book throws light onto the impact of affordable housing in America.Image of a quote from the Evicted book reading, "Today, over 1 in 5 of all renting families in the country spends half of its income on housing."

The book focuses on the impact of foreclosures in Milwaukee in the wake of the 2008 economic crash. But Desmond provides information supporting his contention that the plight of Milwaukee’s poor is no different than it is in other American cities.

Desmond was a Ph.D. student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison while researching for what would become Evicted. Not satisfied with academic research, he lived as a tenant in Milwaukee’s low-income neighborhoods.

It’s this investigative journalism that allows Desmond to bring America’s housing affordability crisis to life.

We meet people with names like Arleen, Scott, and Lamar. These are people with families and stories. These are people barely surviving.

Many of the people in the Evicted book have made mistakes. Their mistakes, though, are not too dissimilar from yours or mine. But for family, friends, money, race, education, or any other number of factors, you and I could be one of the people in Evicted.

Because that’s what I found most surprising in Evicted. I realized how close I’d been to becoming someone who could have been in Evicted.

It took me eight years to graduate college. I filled those eight years between high school and earning my degree with repeated poor personal decisions. I did everything I could to ruin my life financially.

But I had a buffer protecting me from myself: My parents. Mom and dad had just enough money to keep me from falling into financial obscurity.

I never quite appreciated this part of my past until reading the Evicted book. In many ways, the only difference between the people in Evicted and myself are my parents.Image of a quote from the Evicted book reading, "We need a robust sociology of housing that reaches beyond a narrow focus on policy and public housing."

Highlights from the Evicted Book

The Evicted book contains jaw-dropping stats and numbers. Below are just a few examples of the incredible information you’ll find in “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City”.

  • “Today, over 1 in 5 of all renting families in the country spends half of its income on housing.”
  • “Since 2000, the cost of fuels and utilities had risen by more than 50 percent, thanks to increasing global demand and the expiration of price caps. In a typical year, almost 1 in 5 poor renting families nationwide missed payments and received a disconnection notice from their utility company.”
  • “In the vast majority of cases (83 percent), landlords who received a nuisance citation for domestic violence responded by either evicting the tenants or by threatening to evict them for future police calls.”
  • “Since 1997, welfare stipends in Milwaukee and almost everywhere else have not budged, even as housing costs have soared.”
  • “Between 2007 and 2010, the average white family experienced an 11 percent reduction in wealth, but the average black family lost 31 percent of its wealth. The average Hispanic family lost 44 percent.”
  • “In many housing courts around the country, 90 percent of landlords are represented by attorneys, and 90 percent of tenants are not.”
  • “In 2008…federal expenditures for direct housing assistance totaled less than $40.2 billion, but homeowner tax benefits exceeded $171 billion. That number, $171 billion, was equivalent to the 2008 budgets for the Department of Education, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Agriculture combined.”

Image of a quote from the Evicted book, sized for Twitter, reading, "Today, over 1 in 5 of all renting families in the country spends half of its income on housing."

Evicted Book Cover Evicted
Matthew Desmond

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER - FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FOR NONFICTION - FINALIST FOR THE PEN/JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH AWARD FOR NONFICTION - NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR by The New York Times Book Review - The Boston Globe - The Washington Post - NPR - Entertainment Weekly - The New Yorker - Bloomberg - Esquire - Buzzfeed - Fortune - San Francisco Chronicle - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Politico - The Week - Bookpage - Kirkus Reviews - Amazon - Barnes and Noble Review - Apple - Library Journal - Chicago Public Library - Publishers Weekly - Booklist - Shelf Awareness From Harvard sociologist and MacArthur "Genius" Matthew Desmond, a landmark work of scholarship and reportage that will forever change the way we look at poverty in America In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind. The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, "Love don't pay the bills." She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas. Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America's vast inequality--and to people's determination and intelligence in the face of hardship. Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.

20 Most Popular Books May 2017

A look at the Most Popular Books May 2017 list shows you deities had a big month. Neil Gaman’s “American Gods” shot up 16 spots and “The Bible” returned to its nearly perennial position atop the list.Image of a cow in a field at sunrise under the words "20 Most Popular Books May 2017".

The first season of “American Gods” the TV show aired on April 30. As we see each month, TV and movies often drive what books appear on the most popular list. No doubt this explains “American Gods” rising to number four on the most popular books list.

The season finale for “American Gods” is tomorrow, so it’s possible we’ll see the book dropping off the list in June.

Another book benefitting from the entertainment industry is “The Circle”. This book rose four spots to number seven, its highest placement yet on the list. A film version of “The Circle” starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks premiered on April 30.

And as expected, “Half Girlfriend” remained in the most popular books list. The Chetan Bhagat novel rose three spots in May. A film based on the book opened May 19 in theaters.

Making its debut on the chart, “The Handmaid’s Tale” appears in the 17th spot. A Hulu show based on the book began airing in late April.

And perhaps out of interest in its 50th anniversary, “The Outsiders” also debuts on the chart this month. The book was first published on April 24, 1967.

Falling off the list is “Big Little Lies”. This is a significant drop after the book was number three on the April chart.

Other books dropping off the most popular books list this month are “The Lost City of Z” and “The Shack”.

This page contains affiliate links. This means I earn a small amount of money if you make a purchase using these links. Visit my Disclosures page for more info.

Based on Google search data for the United States.

1) The Bible ↑1 Cover of Neil Gaiman's "American Gods".
2) Thirteen Reasons Why ↓1
3) Romeo and Juliet ↑3
4) American Gods ↑16
5) To Kill a Mockingbird ↓1
6) The Great Gatsby ↓1
7) The Circle ↑4 Cover of William Golding's "Lord of the Flies".
8) Quran ↓1
9) Half Girlfriend ↑3
10) 1984 ↓1
11) Fifty Shades Darker ↓1
12) Hamilton ↓4
13) MacBeth ↑1 Cover of Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale".
14) Lord of the Flies ↑5
15) Fifty Shades of Grey ↑2
16) Sword Art Online ↓3
17) The Handmaid’s Tale NEW
18) Hamlet ↓3
3) Big Little Lies ↑1
16) The Outsiders NEW
20) The Lord of the Rings NEW

Photo of a cow in a field at sunrise next to the words "20 Most Popular Books May 2017".

“Fatima’s Room” Uses Story to Raise Awareness of Women’s Issues

“Fatima’s Room,” by Charlotte S. Gray, is about a Sudanese girl’s fight for her life.

Set in Sudan, the book opens with Fatima being accused of killing her father. She’s held in a room inside her favorite uncle’s house while her family decides her fate.

Enter to win a copy of “Fatima’s Room” by publishing the tweet below. See giveaway details.

I've entered to win #newbook 'Fatima's Room' in the #FatimasRoomGiveaway. Click To Tweet

The story takes place in the 1990s before there were two Sudans. Fatima lives in Sudan’s north, in Khartoum, where Sharia law is practiced. Her fate rests largely in how her uncles decide to implement punishment based on Sharia law. Death is certainly a possibility for Fatima.

What will happen to Fatima is one question dominating “Fatima’s Room.” Another question is how this seemingly kind and gentle girl came to be accused of patricide. Did she really kill her father?Cover of "Fatima's Room" by Charlotte S. Gray.

Answering the latter question is one part of Fatima’s past that Gray uses to tell this story.

Indeed, much of the book’s action occurs in the time before Fatima became imprisoned in her uncle’s home. After all, this is a story set inside one room featuring one main character. And Gray does a wonderful job flipping between past and present to bring us up to speed while advancing the story.

“Fatima’s Room” is an insightful book by Gray, someone who lived and worked for years with girls in Sudan. The book successfully bridges the gap between Sudan and Western readers, helping us understand the challenges faced by individuals caught in one of the world’s most challenging struggles, that of Sudan.

Gray’s writing is efficient yet compelling. She adeptly puts you inside Fatima’s room and inside Fatima’s mind.

The Parallels of “Fatima’s Room”

Something else Gray does well is to draw a parallel between Fatima’s confinement by place and confinement by culture.

“Fatima’s Room” is the story of a girl being held captive, accused of killing her father. But it’s also the story of a girl being held captive by a culture that oppresses women.

The book begins as a story about a girl confined to a room. Before you realize it, though, you’re reading a story about a girl oppressed her culture.

Gray most visibly exemplifies this oppression with female circumcision. Fatima frequently reflects back to when she and others in her family were subjected to this barbaric act.

And Fatima frequently considers the broader question of how her culture treats women.

The Sudan of Fatima’s time is one in regression. The optimism of moving past colonialism has faded, a time in her country’s history Fatima is aware of through her grandmother’s experiences: “This was something Fatima’s grandmother always complained about: times had changed for the worse with all this religion and Sharia laws.”

How girls like Fatima are treated in Sudan is almost as oppressive as possible, but the book raises larger questions about the treatment of women in more modern societies.

Yes, readers of “Fatima’s Room” are asked to feel something for the women in countries like Sudan. But we’re also asked to consider how women are treated in societies with more modern views than those of Fatima’s Sudan.

Through “Fatima’s Room” we see the immensity of impact a culture can have on one girl’s life. After all, “Fatima’s Room” is the story of a girl caught in the swirling rapids of her country’s culture.

And that’s a story of universal impact, a story that’s replicated with varying details across the globe.

“Fatima’s Room” is available for purchase here or on Amazon.

“Fatima’s Room” Giveaway

I’m giving away three copies of Charlotte S. Gray’s “Fatima’s Room”. Here’s how you can enter for your chance to win a copy of the book:

1) Publish a tweet or Facebook post. Your tweet must contain a link to this blog post and the hashtag #FatimasRoomGiveaway. Your Facebook post must contain a link to this blog post, the hashtag #FatimasRoomGiveaway, and tag my Facebook page (@writerbarron).

Each tweet and Facebook post you publish that follows these rules counts as an entry into the giveaway. For example, if you publish three tweets that link to this blog post and contain the hashtag #FatimasRoomGiveaway, you’ll have three entries to win. In other words, the more you tweet and post, the more you increase your chances to win.

An easy way to enter the giveaway is to click and publish the tweet below. The deadline to enter the drawing is 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Friday, June 16.

I've entered to win #newbook 'Fatima's Room' in the #FatimasRoomGiveaway. Click To Tweet

2) Subscribe to my newsletter. All subscribers to my newsletter by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Friday, June 16, 2017, will be entered into a drawing to win a copy of “Fatima’s Room”. This is part of my monthly book giveaway.

3) Check back next week. I’ll announce the third giveaway for a copy of “Fatima’s Room” on this blog next week.


  • You must be in the United States in order to participate in the giveaway. (And, if you win, you must have a valid U.S. mailing address at which you can receive a copy of the book.)
  • You can only win one copy of the book. That means three different people will win a copy of “Fatima’s Room”.
  • If your name is drawn to win a copy of the book, you will be contacted in the platform by which you entered the giveaway. For example, if you win the Twitter giveaway, I will contact you through Twitter.
  • You must respond within 48 hours of receiving my notification that you’ve won the giveaway in order to receive your copy of the book. Failure to respond within 48 hours will result in your win being nullified and another winner being selected at random.
  • Winners will be selected at random using The drawing will take place on Saturday, June 17, 2017.
  • Winners will receive one paperback copy of “Fatima’s Room” by Charlotte Gray by the United States Postal Service mail.

Best of luck!

Fatima's Room Book Cover Fatima's Room
Charlotte S. Gray
Arc Light Books
June 4, 2017

"Fatima's Room" is a novel set in Khartoum. Fatima is a young woman accused of an unimaginable crime. She is confined to her room while her uncles will decide her fate. Fatima fills the hot and worrisome days of waiting, by writing in her journal. She remembers the time before her imprisonment, and imagines what the future might be. All the while family members come and go, interrupting her reflection with various schemes: to reconcile--or escape.

Stephen Ambrose’s “Upton and the Army” is a Matter-of-Fact Good Read

Upton and the Army by Stephen E. Ambrose came to us before we met the Band of Brothers or learned about Undaunted Courage.Quote from "Upton and the Army" that reads, "Men, your friends at home and your country expect every man to do his duty on this occasion. Some of us have got to die, but remember you are going to heaven."

Ambrose’s first book, Upton and the Army was published in 1963. This was before Watergate and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, assassination. And it was before the country knew it had in Ambrose one of its most talented historian-storytellers.

The book is about U.S. Army General Emory Upton’s impact on the U.S. military. An officer during the Civil War, Upton’s war experience led him to two conclusions that shaped the rest of his career.

First, he saw the role politics played in military promotions and decisions in the U.S. in the mid-19th century. Secondly, he realized the military tactics used were outdated and overmatched by advances in weaponry.

After the war, Upton focused on overhauling the U.S. military. He recommended changes that were implemented for how the military fought battles and conducted parades. But it was in the area of politics, military organization, and leadership that Upton set his sights on most.

For example, Upton advocated for a large, standing army trained to defend the United States. At the time, most of the nation’s defense fell to voluntary state militias.

Also, Upton believed professional officers make military decisions, as opposed to the Secretary of War. Upton was convinced the Civil War lasted four bloody years in large part due to the leadership of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

Stanton was a lawyer who had never served in the military. As was custom for the Secretary of War at the time, Stanton frequently made strategic military decisions throughout the war.

This page contains affiliate links. This means I earn a small amount of money if you make a purchase using these links. Visit my Disclosures page for more info.

After surviving and succeeding in the Civil War, you might think changing military policy would be easier. But Upton found it to be anything but simple. The general learned how difficult changing bureaucracy can be.

It’s in his struggle to modernize the American military that Ambrose tells the story of Upton and the Army.

Upton and the Army Book Review

Some authors’ first books immediately announce their talent (i.e., Stephen King’s Carrie or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus).

This is not the case with Ambrose’s Upton and the Army. It is a book that achieves its objective, to educate the reader about General Emory Upton. But readers of Ambrose’s later and more popular works will wonder where the commanding storytelling is in Upton and the Army.

The book reads more matter-of-fact than as a fact-based story. It’s more of an academic paper written by the history professor Ambrose than it is a page turning non-fiction book.

Still, Upton and the Army is illuminating. Through the book, we learn a great deal about military history, especially changes that set the U.S. up for successes in World War I and World War II.

And Ambrose is superb in his grasp of military history. In some ways, Upton and the Army’s greatest weakness, its lack of emotion, is also its greatest asset. The book lays out in digestible and compelling fashion military tactics and history.

You may not feel a grasp for any character outside of Upton, but you won’t walk away from the book without having learned.

Upton and the Army is recommended most for those interested in military history, including battlefield tactics. But even broader students of history will find the book informative and worthy of reading.

Upton and the Army Book Cover Upton and the Army
Stephen E. Ambrose
LSU Press
August 1, 1993

Why Blood Meridian is the Masterpiece of a Genius Artist

Not long into reading Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy you realize there’s something stuck in your teeth: grit. Yes, the grit and sand covering the land and characters of Blood Meridian are all over you, too. It’s on your tongue, in your pores, and coating your clothes.

You don’t read Blood Meridian. You experience it, every dirty, bloody, nasty bit of the book.

A talented novelist makes you believe their fictional world is real. McCarthy does this in Blood Meridian as well as any writer.

It doesn’t matter if McCarthy didn’t live in 1849 when the book is set. Or that Hollywood Westerns could have been some of his source material for the book. What matters is that you believe the place and people in Blood Meridian are real.

You believe this so much that you feel every paragraph of desperation and fear and violence that echoes like a gunshot in a canyon throughout McCarthy’s book.

This is probably one reason why authors such as Stephen King and Rachel Kushner cite the book as one of their favorites. A writer reading Blood Meridian is an apostle in the presence of their savior.

Another reason practitioners of writing often laud Blood Meridian could be McCarthy’s manipulation of the English language.

It’s as if McCarthy is the boy with the spoon in “The Matrix”. The boy bends a spoon by looking at it. He explains, “Only try to realize the truth…There is no spoon.”Image of the quote from Blood Meridian, "If God meant to interfere in the degeneracy of mankind would he not have done so by now?".

McCarthy doesn’t adhere to standards of grammar, punctuation, or definitions. He instead uses words however he needs to tell his story. He is able to bend the language because to him it isn’t a language. It’s a vehicle to his story.

Take this passage, for example: “All night sheetlightning quaked sourceless to the west beyond the midnight thunderheads, making a bluish day of the distant desert, the mountains on the sudden skyline stark and black and livid like a land of some other order out there whose true geology was not stone but fear.”

This is a sentence. It contains English, words you understand. But they’re adeptly sewn together in ways unimaginable to most of us. Pieced together phrases such as this make Blood Meridian a masterful work of art. The book is a classic.

Overview of Blood Meridian

Setting: Blood Meridian mostly takes place in Texas, Mexico, and the American Southwest in 1849-1850.

Main Characters:

  • The kid – Protagonist; A runaway teenager from Tennessee, The kid makes it to Texas. He eventually falls in with a gang led by Glanton. The kid is an antihero. He’s no saint, but he does show small amounts of compassion and decency throughout the book.
  • The Judge – Antagonist; He’s a psychopath that comes across as nearly supernatural. He has no conscience and shows no remorse. He seems omnipotent and unstoppable.
  • Glanton – Leader of the gang, he’s nearly as mean and violent as The Judge. But he’s not quite as smart. If The Judge is Satan, Glanton would be his right-hand demon. The character is loosely based on the real-life John Joel Glanton.
  • Toadvine – A character The kid meets that puts him on the path to joining The Judge and Glanton’s group.
  • Tobin – An ex-priest, is a paradox. He maintains some religious beliefs while killing and committing crimes alongside the rest of the gang.
  • David Brown – He wears a necklace made of human ears. That gives you an accurate picture of this character’s makeup.

Plot: The kid runs away from home and ends up in Texas. He meets Toadvine, a relationship that leads both to join Glanton’s gang. The gang is hired by Mexican authorities to hunt Apaches. The gang journeys north and west across Mexico, killing and plundering as they go. They work their way to present-day California and Arizona. The gang takes over a ferry crossing on the Colorado River, a move that ends disastrously for most of the gang.

Blood Meridian, Or, The Evening Redness in the West Book Cover Blood Meridian, Or, The Evening Redness in the West
Cormac McCarthy

Based on incidents that took place in the southwestern United States and Mexico around 1850, this novel chronicles the crimes of a band of desperados, with a particular focus on one, "the kid," a boy of fourteen

Book Giveaway for May is Only Hours Away so Enter Today

The Book Giveaway May 2017 happens this week!Image of flowers blooming in a field below the words "Book Giveaway May 2017".

This month I’m giving away Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. All you need to do is subscribe to my newsletter by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, May 17, 2017, to be eligible. (Open only to U.S. residents.)

Actually, there’s something else you have to do if you win. You have to respond to my email notifying you that you’ve won. Last month no one ended up winning the giveaway. None of the winners responded to my email. It’s possible my email went into their spam folder.

So now would be a good time to make sure you whitelist my email, nicolas [at] nicolasbarron [dot] com. Below are links to instructions for whitelisting email addresses on four email services.

OK, subscribe to enter. Confirm your email address, then whitelist mine. That’s all it takes to enter the Book Giveaway May 2017. Good luck!

Book Giveaway May 2017

  • Prize: One copy of Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
  • Drawing: The winner will be selected at random on Thursday, May 18, 2017.
  • How to enter: Subscribe to my newsletter by Wednesday, May 17, 2017. All subscribers to the newsletter as of 11:59 p.m., May 17, 2017, will be eligible to win.
  • Who can enter: Anyone in the United States who’s at least 18 years of age. (I would love to open the giveaway to readers outside the U.S. Unfortunately the legal complications of offering sweepstakes internally preclude my doing so at this time.)
  • Winner selection: The winner of the book giveaway will be chosen at random using
  • Winner notification: The winner will be notified using the email address they used when subscribing to my newsletter. The winner has 48 hours to respond to the winner notification email. After 48 hours, if the first winner of the book giveaway does not respond to the winner notification email, a second winner will be selected at random using The first winner will be ineligible to win in the second drawing. However, the first winner will be eligible to win the next month’s book giveaway provided they are subscribed to my newsletter as of the deadline to enter the following month’s sweepstakes.
  • Prize delivery: The book will be delivered through Amazon. The winner can select between three formats in which to receive the book: Kindle e-book, hardcover, or paperback. Format selection must be made within 48 hours of receiving the winning notification email. If format selection is not made within 48 hours of receiving the winning notification email, a second winner will be selected at random using The first winner will be ineligible to win in the second drawing. However, the first winner will be eligible to win the next month’s book giveaway provided they are subscribed to my newsletter as of the deadline to enter the following month’s sweepstakes.

20 Most Popular Books April 2017

Big news: The Bible is not first on the Most Popular Books April 2017 list.

Image of tulips under the words "Most Popular Books April 2017".

What book supplanted The Bible at number one? Jay Asher’s “Thirteen Reasons Why,” which jumped 15 spots on the list. This comes one month after first appearing on the list after the debut of the Netflix show based on the book.

It’s worth noting “Thirteen Reasons Why” is now the third-most sold book on so far this year.

“Big Little Lies” is another book benefitting from TV. The book first appeared on the list in February when the HBO miniseries of the same name debuted. And now “Big Little Lies” is third on the Most Popular Books April 2017 list.

Four books debut on the list: “The Circle,” “Half Girlfriend,” “The Lost City of Z,” and “American Gods”.

Dave Eggers’ “The Circle” joins other dystopian novels “1984” and “Lord of the Flies” on the most popular list. A movie based on “The Circle” and starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks released on April 28.

“Half Girlfriend” is a 2014 young adult novel by Chetan Bhagat that also has a movie version. “Half Girlfriend” the movie is set for release in the U.S. on May 19, making it likely we’ll see the book on next month’s most popular list.

“The Lost City of Z” also debuts on this month’s list because of a movie release. The film version of the book opened on April 21.

Neil Gaman’s “American Gods” makes the list as the Starz show based on the book aired its first episode on April 30. This is the 2001 book’s first appearance on the list. But had Google Trends existed in 2001, it’s likely the popular “American Gods” would have made the list back then.

Other big news on the Most Popular Books April 2017 list is “The Shack’s” drop. The book, which had a movie version released in March, plummeted 16 spots. It’s possible this is the last time we’ll see the book on the most popular list.

Five books fall off the list from last month: “Before I Fall,” “Frankenstein,” “The Fellowship of the Ring,” “The Girl on the Train,” and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them“. “Before I Fall” debuted at number three in March, so the book dropped significantly in searches to not make the list in April. The other four books comprised the bottom of the Most Popular Books March 2017 list.

This page contains affiliate links. This means I earn a small amount of money if you make a purchase using these links. Visit my Disclosures page for more info.

Based on Google search data for the United States.

1) Thirteen Reasons Why ↑15
2) The Bible ↓1
3) Big Little Lies ↑1
4) To Kill a Mockingbird ↑3
5) The Great Gatsby ↑1
6) Romeo and Juliet ↑2
7) Quran ↑3
8) Hamilton ↑1
9) 1984 ↑3
10) Fifty Shades Darker ↓5
11) The Circle NEW
12) Half Girlfriend NEW
13) Sword Art Online ↓2
14) MacBeth
15) Hamlet
16) The Lost City of Z NEW
17) Fifty Shades of Grey ↓4
18) The Shack ↓16
19) Lord of the Flies ↓2
20) American Gods NEW


Here’s Why Americanah is the Book We Should All Read

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is an immigrant story. But it may not be the immigrant story you expect. Image of a quote from Americanah reading "In America, tribalism is alive and well. There are four kinds—class, ideology, region, and race."

You could say immigrants are having a bit of a moment right now. Seemingly a week cannot pass without the President of the United States saying something about immigrants. And then there’s that whole wall thing.

Of course, Adichie wrote Americanah before the current debate about immigration. The book published in 2013.

And the story is about immigrants from Nigeria, not Mexico or Central America. The story focuses on Ifemelu and Obinze. They began dating in high school. While in college, both try to come to the U.S.

One succeeds, moving to the U.S. This eventually ends Obinze’s and Ifemelu’s relationship. Much of the book is about what did, and what will happen between the two of them.

But as most good books go, there’s more to Americanah than the surface-level story.

The Real Story of Americanah

Americanah is an immigration story. Through Adichie’s sharp, descriptive storytelling we experience what it’s like immigrating to the United States and England.

It’s fascinating, if not infuriating, how citizens of the characters new countries treat the immigrants.

Upon first meeting one of the characters, an American says: “’What a beautiful name…Does it mean anything? I love multicultural names because they have such wonderful meanings, from wonderful rich cultures.'”

You read this and see the rudeness, the ignorance of the American’s words. But then you realize you’ve probably said something similar. Many of us do. We say things like this often out of good intent. We want the recipient of our words to know we’re accepting, open to different cultures.

But when we view our actions from the immigrant’s side, we see how even our best intentions fall short.

Which is why Americanah is a book we all should read. We need to see through an immigrant’s eyes. And not just any immigrant, but an immigrant offering observations on race in America.Image of a quote from Americanah reading "her relationship with him was like being content in a house but always sitting by the window and looking out."

These observations, scattered throughout the book and often expressed through blog posts Ifemelu publishes, help the book excel.

Americanah’s Resurgence

Americanah was a recent addition to my books to read in 2017 list. I added it after spending a snowy President’s Day Weekend with a friend who was reading the book every chance she got.

This friend is someone whose book recommendations I trust. We have similar book taste profiles. She reads books that matter, so when she spoke highly of Americanah, I knew I had to read it.

This happened shortly after the book was selected for the One Book, One New York program. Out of five books that were nominated, Americanah was the majority’s choice.

The program makes available a free audiobook of Americanah and numerous events are planned in New York City through May. A culminating, celebratory event will take place June 1. Here’s a list of One Book, One New York events.

It’s clear the book is having a resurgence. And for good reason. We should all read Americanah.

Americanah Book Cover Americanah
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
May 14, 2013

One of The New York Times's Ten Best Books of the Year Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction An NPR "Great Reads" Book, a Chicago Tribune Best Book, a Washington Post Notable Book, a Seattle Times Best Book, an Entertainment Weekly Top Fiction Book, a Newsday Top 10 Book, and a Goodreads Best of the Year pick. A powerful, tender story of race and identity by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun. Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland. From the Trade Paperback edition.