Sunday, June 19, 2005

Five Books, Five Minutes

In our continued support of reading, we offer yet another "Five Books, Five Minutes." In our continued support of public libraries, we checked these books out at our libraries. If you're unable to find a book you're interested in at your local library, check with a librarian about using an inter or intralibrary loan program to obtain the book.

Participating are Jim, Dona, Jess, Ty and Ava of The Third Estate Sunday Review, Kat of Kat's Korner, Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude, Betty of Thomas Friedman is a Great Man and C.I. of The Common Ills.

All Yesterdays' Parties: The Velvet Underground In Print: 1966-1971, Clinton Heylin editor

Jim selected this book.

Jim: The Velvet Underground is a seminal group.

Betty: I'd honestly never heard of them.

C.I.: I have a best of in my collection and that's honestly enough for me. I'm sure Kat and Jim are both far more knowledgeable than anyone else here on The Velvet Underground.

Kat: They were talented and they did have an impact. Nico, John Cale and, of course, Lou Reed all hailed from the group.

Dona: None of whom hits my CD player. But I enjoyed the book and we should note that it's a collection of writings from that time period. I read a lot of books that make it to the supermarkets and a lot of paperbacks. It's really rare for a book that covers, say The Doors, that comes out today to capture a mood from back then. Forget that the writers, I'm including a book by a former Door, check off events, they just don't seem to capture the spirit of the moment. It's sterile writing. Which we have a lot of today. Reading this collection made me think of Kat.

Ava: I was just going to say that! It was like her writing in her music reviews. It was, for the most part, alive and really put you in the room or concert hall or where ever. It really did remind me of Kat's album reviews. And maybe it's because I don't see anyone writing today, doing reviews, that really gets to Kat's level.

Jess: Because they want to waste two-thirds of the album review on a historical summary that tells you nothing about the album.

C.I.: The piece you hated, Ava, I think I know which one it was. It's labeled a "concert review" but it's actually an calender note. It's from The New York Times.

Ava: That's the one I'm thinking about. It was supposed to be a review of them at Max's Kansas City but there was no review of a concert.

C.I.: I don't think it was a review. I think it was a calender note, a "here's who's in town." There's never been a great deal of good music writing coming out of The Times. Jazz & Pop, a collection from that defunct magazine, would make for a good book. The Times just put out a collection of their Beatles writing. They ran an ad, maybe full page, and for a moment, I thought, "Wow, that might be interesting." Then I remembered it was The Times. They put in some sort of tin, like it's those hard cookies that no one really likes.

Kat: I picked the selection for excerpt and since this is a collection, I want to note who it was and where it was from. This is Judy Altman's "Warhol 'Happening' Hits Like A Noisy Bomb" and it appeared in The Philadelphia Daily News on December 12, 1966.

Excerpt page 37:

THEY CAME IN DROVES -- THE WASHED, THE UNWASHED, THE OVERDRESSED, the underdressed, the beat, the neat, the elite.
They came because this was it, the "Velvet Underground" right here in Philadelphia, with pop-artist-turned-filmmaker Andy Warhold and his "superstar" Nico, and his cohorts and hangers-on. It was a "Happening." Philadelphia's first, and now they could see it, right down at the YMCA at Broad and Pine Sts.
The city's avant and not so avant garde crammed themselves into the auditorium on Saturday and Sunday night and they spilled out into the hall.
The Underground films were brief, erratic and nerve-wracking, but everyone was waiting for the "Happening." Then suddenly it happened. The lights went out and huge spots of green and purple floated across the walls. The screen, split three ways, came to life -- a man wiggled his hips, a girl smoked a cigarette, the cameras panned in and out, up and down in huge seasick motions.

Jim: We all recommend that book. Now we're going with Dona's pick, All In My Head which is Paula Kamen's effort, nonfiction, to track down a cure for her headache.

All In My Head by Paula Kamen

Dona: I don't know what to say other than I'm sorry. I thought it would be interesting.

C.I.: Did anybody like this book? No? Okay, well then I'll comment. Paula Kamen is a strong writer and Feminist Fatale was a great book. It gets overlooked somewhat today but it was part of a series of great books from the same period, Susan Faludi's Backlash, Gloria Steinem's Revolution From Within, Marilyn French's The War Against Women, Naomi Klein's The Beauty Myth, etc. Kamen can write. I didn't care for this book at all and I was really surprised. When I got the e-mail, I thought, "Oh this is the book I'll enjoy." That was based on Kamen's name, I had no idea what the book was about. The focus, for me, was too inward. She's better at providing many voices. Without other voices to highlight, it struck me as not all that important.
Susan Sontag, to name but one, has written of illness with more style, Betty Rollin with more passion. This seemed to me to be an attempt at whimsy. It was far too detached and the humor, for me, missed it's mark. It honestly seemed like a bad attempt of a send up of Shirley MacLaine. Maybe it was my mood. I thought I was going to love it. After it started slow, I kept thinking, she'll hit her stride. I never felt she did. I felt she was outside looking in, making semi-clever, semi-pithy remarks. It's the sort of thing Erma Bombeck could have tossed off in a couple of months and made it much funnier. I'm not sure that a comic memoir works when it's not a send-up.

Jim: I found it a chore to get through but I read every page because Dona picked it and kept saying, "You hate my pick!" Then she started reading it and stops after the fifth chapter.

Dona: I wanted to stop before that. It reminded me of a freshman's attempt to wow a professor with off-beat insight. Ava picked the excerpt.

Excerpt page 190:

Some foibles were purely my own. On the advice of one healer, I put geranium oil on my forehead; it was supposed to lift me to a "happier" vibration, but then I applied too much and it dripped into and stung my eyes, inflaming the pani. One night, I repeatedly woke up to the sounds of munching coming from my closet, which I convinced myself I was neurotically imagining. The next morning, in a pain-addled state, I opened the closet door, got on my knees, and found in the back the now-empty white case of my U-shaped buckwheat pillow. It was supposed to relieve muscle

Ava: Maybe it was just us. We've all been touched by illness, Dona's aunt, C.I.'s, among others. But it didn't make it for us as a book. Which brings us to Jess's pick.

Peace Is the Way by Deepak Chopra

Jess: I loved this book.

Kat: There were some interesting concepts. I don't know that I grasped all of them.

C.I.: I would second that. But I enjoyed it as well.

Ava: There were sections I strongly agreed with and sections I strongly disagreed with, C.I. and I were talking about it when we were watching One Tree Hill. Which sounds kind of absurd!

C.I.: We may have been the only people watching One Tree Hill this week that were using the commercial breaks to address Deepak Chopra's theories on peace. Maybe not.

Jim: There were parts that were way beyond my understanding. I could read the book and I could enjoy what I understood. It never bored me or got on my nerves.

Jess: I think we all thought it had something to say and was worth reading. Ty read it twice.

Ty: Right. I was more like Jim in that there were sections that were new to me and I wasn't sur about them. So after I read it and had finished the other books, I went back and read it again. I picked the excerpt.

Excerpt pp. 49-50:

Do we live in a country that stands for peace? Millions of Americans fervently belive they do, and ugly facts will not change their minds. They turn their backs on the damage America creates, almost thoughtlessly, around the world. American corporations that do not want to tolerate being regulated at home move overseas where they can pile asbestos in huge mounds that Asian children play on, sell potent pharmaceuticals over the counter in Thailand without the need of prescriptions, create a lethal gas leak in Bhopal, India, and generally damage the ecology in any way they choose. Being an American means all of those things. It's just as American to be the largest supplier of arms in the world and to send your troops into battle to be killed by these same arms. It's American to promote free markest whatever the cost, as one native culture after another is despoiled and corrupted by the dollar.
Henry James called it a complex fate to be an American, and it still is. I once heard someone say that we are the one country that everyone hates and the one they all want to move to. Last year I saw a documentary on the free market system, which has basically become the new religion in American economic and conservative politics both. One economist after another praised our efforts to open up every foreign country to the American way of life. Free markets were credited with the end of Communism, the rescue of Chile from the iron grip of General Augusto Pinochet, and the general liberation of the world from stifling monopolies and class privilege.
In the midst of painting this rosy picture, the camera went to a street vendor in Thailand selling sandwiches from a car. We followed this man as he left Bangkok and went north to the lush resort areas favored by Western tourists. He ended up at an eerie, ghostly place. It was a ruined hotel and golf course built on a grand scale. Walking through one half-constructed room after another, each now molding and tattered, the man made clear that he once owned this whole complex. He was a budding entrepreneur who had assembled millions of dollars to construct his dream.
The money came from a boom in Thai currency in the early 1990s, which was entirely created by American investors. A few money managers sitting at computers in New York sent the Thai economy into a dizzying rise. None had ever been to Thailand or knew anybody who lived there. Then just as precipitously they became nervous about the Asian currency market, and almost overnight the boom reversed itself into a catastrophic plunge, and a man who on Monday was building a dream resort found himself on Tuesday selling sandwiches from a street stand. The double face of America as the world's best friend and worst enemy was starkly revealed to me.

Ava: Which brings us to my pick.

A Matter of Opinion by Victor S. Navasky

Jim: I was expecting more of a history of The Nation because Victor S. Navasky is the editor.

C.I.: Katrina vanden Heuvel is the current editor. The baton was passed.

Jim: I stand corrected. And we'll note, if you're reading this early enough, you can catch her later this morning on ABC's This Week. Navasky's book was about the role of the press and I did enjoy that. You liked the book a lot.

C.I.: Me? Yes, I did. It'll make great source material for someone who wants to write a history of The Nation, but no it's not the definative history of The Nation.

Betty: Was Naomi Klein even mentioned?

C.I.: She's mentioned at least once, when Navasky is discussing the Nation writers that go on TV, he mentions her as one of them who does. That's all I'm remembering but I didn't reread it. I ordered that book and read it two weeks ago. I'm not remembering Patricia J. Williamson being mentioned at all. I'm a huge fan of Navasky's Naming Names.

Betty: I liked this book but how would you rank it against Naming Names?

C.I.: Naming Names is one of those lightening strikes once books. To me, it read like he'd pour every bit of time and heart into each page. Naming Names is about the red scare and McCarthyism. I really enjoyed this book, and mention it at The Common Ills, but I don't know that he could have gone as deep with this one. We're excerpting the part on objectivity --

Ty: Which you selected.

C.I.: Which I selected, so let me state that I'm not talking about objectivity missing from the book, I'm just noting the huge section of time that's covered in this book. It's a strong book on journalism and the state of it.

Jess: You had told me to watch for the period on being a college professor and I really enjoyed those parts.

C.I.: Yes and that's being covered as well. So in four hundred pages, it's not going to be able to cover everything. In cinematic terms, there are a lot of wide shots with the occassional close up.

Dona: I also found the parts on The New York Times interesting.

C.I.: And that might have made a better excerpt.

Dona: He had an interesting observation -- if The Times hasn't reported on it, it was hard for him to interest them in it. My summary, if the paper of record hasn't weighed in, it hasn't happened. He notedthat the paper's Week In Review was basically a greatest hits of topics the Times had covered during the week.

Jess: I was looking for some things on Naomi Klein's writings or Christian Parenti's and I didn't find any.

C.I.: Yes, that would be a period that there really wasn't a close up for. Someone who's been reading The Nation for a year or two would have enjoyed a discussion of Parenti's international coverage or of Naomi Klein's two parter on James Baker, for instance. The mainstream press ignored Klein's article and its one of the most important pieces, my opinion, that The Nation's done in the last twelve months. I'm not even remembering Parenti being mentioned, Christian Parenti, not Michael.

Rebecca: As everyone knows I have mad lust crushes on both Christian Parenti and Dahr Jamail, I'm almost postive that neither was mentioned. There were sections on Susan Sontag and Gore Vidal that came alive and I'm assuming that even a new reader of The Nation will know of them but I would have liked to have read about Christian Parenti. I was glad that he noted The New Republic was neoliberal but I'd argue that's been generous. He also noted that about The Washington Monthly which I'd agree with but Wally's e-mailed me asking why The Nation's website provides a link to The Washington Monthly? I have no clue.

Jim: I'm surprised that they're providing a link to Washington Monthly. Hearing the discussion on the book, I'm enjoying it more. I liked it while I was reading it, but I think I really like it now. There was a great deal of ground to cover and it's easy to be reading through it and not realize how much registered. Discussing various sections like this now, I'm remembering parts that didn't honestly stick out at the time. I think it's a good discussion book.

Jess: So C.I. and I were, to put it in the easiest terms, thumbs up on the book. Are you saying that too?

Jim: I think we all are, right?

Ava: Yes. I think the book we were expecting was different from what we found but Navasky's book is well worth reading. Maybe Katrina vanden Heuvel will write the one we were expecting. By the way, thank you C.I. for excerpting your critique of The New York Times panel Katrina vanden Heuvel served on. I saw that Friday and I'd been meaning to ask if you knew when that was because I was on the phone with Jess' Dad this week and we were talking about the editorial on Todd Purdum and what other pieces we had really loved. He'd missed that and I couldn't remember when it went up. He called this morning [Saturday] to say he liked that one a great deal.

Jess: Is there anyone here that my parents aren't talking to or e-mailing? Just wondering?

Rebecca: Come on Jess, share the wealth.

C.I.: That wasn't planned as an excerpt. I ended up going there via a tangent, as is so often the case, and I was in hurry but I remember when I posted thinking that Jim would say, "You should have made that its own entry!"

Jim: I would have said that. That's what I told Dona, in fact.

Excerpt from pages 409-410:

[. . .] But before I go there, I want to say a few words about objectivity, which is often (wrongly, in my view) posed as opinion's foe. As far as I'm concerned, when in 1993 Molly Ivins achieved the ripe middle age of forty-nine, she disposed of the objectivity question for all time: "The fact is that I am a forty-nine-year old white, female, college-educated Texan," she said. "All of that affects the way I see the world. There's no way in hell that I'm going to see anything the same way that a fifteen-year-old black high-school dropout does. We all see the world from where we stand. Anybody's who's ever interviewed five eyewitnesses to an automobile accident knows there's no such thing as objectivity."
Here is what two other alumni of that ostensible paragon of objectivity The New York Times (yes, believe it or not, Molly, too is an alumna of the Times) have to say.
First, the Washington columnist Russell Baker wrote in his memoir: "Objective journalism forbade a reporter to go beyond what the great man said. No matter how dull, stupid, vicious, or mendacious they might be, the utterances of the great were reported deadpan, with nary a hint that the speaker might be a bore, a dunce, a brute, or a habitual liar." And, I might add, as far as balance goes, canceling out the misguided quote of one great man with the misinformed quote of another gets the public no closer to the truth or even the issue.
Now, listen to David Halberstam, one of the best and the brightest practitioners of mainstream journalism: "In truth, despite the fine talk of objectivity the only thing mildly approaching objectivity was the form in which the reporter wrote the news, a technical style which required the journalist to be much dumber and more innocent than in fact he was. So he wrote in a bland uncritical way which gave greater credence to the utterances of public officials, no matter how mindless these utterances."

Ty: Now we're up to Betty's pick.

Al-Jazeera by Hugh Miles

Betty: I loved this book. It was crammed with information and it was great to hear a side we don't hear about since Al-Jazeera is usually demonized in this country.

Kat: I loved it too. It's a wonderful companion piece to that documentary. What's the title?

C.I.: The Control Room.

Kat: Right.

Ty: My favorite part was the exchange with Paula Zahn who doesn't have a clue.

Rebecca: After the excerpt and the section on Charlotte Beers and her marketing failures, the part on Paula Zahn probably stood out the most for me.

Excerpt page 266-267:

European stations' evening news reports paid emotional tributes to their journalist colleagues who had died in the Palestine Hotel, while [Tareq] Ayyoub was reduced to a footnote if he was mentioned at all. When news of the death broke across the Arab world, however, there was outcry. Ayyoub became a 'martyr' and his death a deliberate assassination. The Arab press accused the coaltion of stopping at nothing to muzzle Al-Jazeera so as to cover its atrocities. In the Occupied Territories dozens of Palestinian journalists staged a sit-down protest outside the offices of the International Red Cross and the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York wrote an open letter to the Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to remind him that he had an obligation to protect all journalists, that the attack contravened the Geneva Conventions and that there should be an immediate enquiry.
Tareq Ayyoub's distraught widow made an emotional appearance via telphone on Al-Jazeera. She was both overcome with grief and furious. 'My message to you is that from hatred grows more hatred,' she said. 'My husband died trying to reveal the truth to the world. Please do not try to conceal it, not for the sake of American policy, not for the sake of British policy.'

Ty: So to recap, we strongly recommend A Matter of Time, Al-Jazeera, Peace Is the Way and All Yesterdays' Parties: The Velvet Underground In Print 1966-1971.

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