Zoology and Org Charts

“Lezende jongen,” by Frans Hals

Greetings, booklings.

A reader of the previous newsletter (hello, @RidgewoodJoe!) commented that copies of one of the books recommended, Liza Cody’s “Dupe,” were now going for $50 on eBay. This was a curious development. Mere weeks earlier, I had purchased my own copy on eBay for $19.90, which isn’t cheap for a used book — but it’s not $50! I had to wonder whether the recommendation had led to an eBay price hike. This was not my intention.

A sinister thought then occurred to me. “If I were an unsavory person, I could make a big lump of dough by recommending old books and then turning around and selling copies on eBay for exorbitant prices under a false user name.” Don’t worry; I’m not evil, and I don’t want to get fired from my job for executing an easily traceable pump-and-dump scheme. (Not YET, at least.)

But @RidgewoodJoe did raise a valuable point. One problem with recommending “hidden gems” is that they can be … hard to find. My hope is that these books can be unearthed at libraries, where gems often linger in the dust. A second hope is that a savvy publisher might take note of such titles and move quickly to reissue the book in question. (This happened once before, and it was very exciting!) A third option would be to put that $50 book on your back-burner list and wait until the market cools down.

I wish I could craft a system wherein my own copy of each book, complete with self-incriminating marginalia, might be mailed free to the first person who comments with a request. But I live a mile away from the nearest post office, and as much as I cherish that institution, my patience for standing in 90-minute lines is nearing an all-time low.

All of which is to say, if anyone has ideas for making out-of-print books more widely obtainable: I’m all ears. Meantime, I’ll try to stick to books that won’t destroy your wallet.


“Winter Love,”by Han Suyin

Fiction, 1962

This rec goes out to all my lesbian zoologists. Make some noise, ladies! Before the rest of you skip forward, I should quickly offer myself as proof that you needn’t meet the above description to savor this silvery, suggestive novella of love and friendship.

The year is 1944, the place is London, and all the young men are at war. We find ourselves at Horsham Science College with a group of women who spend their time dissecting mammals and navigating material privations (bombs go off, pipes freeze) and emotional detonations (ruptured affairs, thwarted têteàtêtes).

It’s a bleakly cinematic book, full of unkempt gardens and smoky cafes. The author, a physician of Chinese and Belgian descent, became famous after publishing “A Many-Splendored Thing,” which was adapted into the William Holden movie. But I think this little novella, which she wrote 10 years after her megahit, is much better!

Read if you like: Sally Rooney, E.M. Forster, the Todd Haynes film “Carol”
Available from: McNally Editions

“The Hard Sell,”by Evan Hughes

Nonfiction, 2022

“Another book on the opioid epidemic? You’re barking up the wrong tree, ma’am, I’ve already got plenty!” you might say. “I’ve even got podcasts and a TV show starring Michael Keaton. You heard me, Michael Keaton. What makes this so special?”

I’ll tell you. The journalist Evan Hughes has selected an under-examined nook of the crisis for his contribution. Rather than focusing on the machinations of Big Pharma, he zeros in ona start-up named Insys Therapeutics, which developed and marketed a fentanyl spray that was intended for cancer patients but“somehow” found its way into the hands of patients suffering from, for example, moderate back pain.

“The Hard Sell” asks (and answers) the question of how this happened. Part of the answer lies in org charts. Hughes shows how Insys constructed a bureaucratic system that allowed each component of the company to blame someone else for malfeasance, in a never-ending ouroboros of buck-passing: The sales reps blamed the managers, the managers blamed the executives, the executives blamed the sales reps and the doctors, the doctors blamed the sales reps, everyone blamed the F.D.A. and so on.

Read if you like: Michael Lewis, procedurals, the Michael Mann film “The Insider,” Jane Mayer
Available from: Penguin Random House

Why don’t you …

  • Say a little prayer for YOUR FUTURE SELF — because that person will be devastated after finishing this slinky and suspenseful detective story written in 1918?

  • Barge into Joshua Cohen’s “The Netanyahus” if your favorite PHILIP ROTH novel is “The Ghost Writer”?

  • Try this short and harrowing page-turner if you secretly relish the feeling of being BEATEN IN AN ARGUMENT by someone smarter than you?

  • Learn how to SKIN A SNAKE?

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