Sunday, June 26, 2005

Five Books, Five Minutes

It's that time again, "Five Books, Five Minutes." And summer, supposedly a more laid back season, is the perfect time to pick a book. So visit your libraries and read! (That's an order.)

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

First up was Dona's pick.

Tillie Olsen's Silences

Jim: Amazing book.

Dona: I'd heard of it in that "you should read" kind of way. Ava, Jim and I had a three hour discussion on it this week.

Ava: It's history, it's criticism, it's a resource, it's a review. It's just, as Jim noted, amazing.

Betty: I think if you're interested in writing as a reader or as a writer, you'll come away inspired by this book.

Excerpt page 31:

Twenty years went by on the writing of Ship of Fools, while Katherine Ann Porter, who needed only two, was "trying to get to that table, to that typewriter, away from my jobs of teaching and trooping this country and of keeping house." "Your subconscious needed that time to grow the layers of peral," she was told. Perhaps, perhaps, but I doubt it. Subterranean forces can make you wait, but they are very finicky about the kind of waiting it has to be. Before they will feed the creator back, they must be fed, passionately fed, what needs to be worked on. "We hold up our desire as one places a magnet over a composite dust from which the particle of iron will suddenly jump up," says Paul Valery. A receptive waiting, that means, not demands which prevent "an undistracted center of being." And when the response comes, availability to work must be immediate. If not used at once, all may vanish as a dream, worse, future creation be endangered -- for only the removal and development of the material frees the forces of further work.

Next up was Jim & Kat's choice of U2: The Rolling Stone Files (editor Elysa Gardner).
[No link. It's out of print. Check your local libraries.]

Kat: We'd all enjoyed reading the collection of real time criticism and commentary on the Velvet Underground last week that Jim and I were thinking of what else we could read.

Jim: And though I may be the only one in the world still listening to it, I really enjoy U2's How to Build an Atomic Bomb.

Jess: It was interesting to pick up on early points, some true and some not, that would become regular points repeated over and over by critics. Jon Parles was particularly dense and his early thoughs have become accepted fact for the group.

Kat: Though they may be apt to Bono the person, they aren't describing the group, in my opinion.

Ty: What stood out to me was the ass kissing post The Joshua Tree. I'm not talking about the album reviews here, but the feature stories that tried to sell you on the fact that U2 was still the biggest thing of the moment. There was an article by Anthony DeCurtis on the Zooropa tour when U2 had even ran out fumes --

Kat: The crash of Pop would be just around the corner.

Ty: Yeah and the article's from August of 1993 and U2's supposed to be the most talked about, most happening thing in the music world to read DeCurtis. But correct me on this if I'm wrong, isn't this when Pearl Jam and Nirvana are the big news?

Kat: Right.

Ty: Because Kurt Cobain died in 1994. This is August 1993 that the article's published. And U2's the biggest thing in the music world?

C.I.: Not only has Nevermind already been a number one album, but one month after this article, September, 1993, In Utero will be released. U2 was not the biggest thing in the music world at that point. I enjoyed how DeCurtis rushed to assure you that the Zoo tour had been retooled. If anyone missed it, in March 2003, the Rolling Stone poll found critics, not readers, voting U2 the "honor" of worst tour for the Zoo TV tour. But yeah, the feature's become one long butt smooch for artists at a certain level and DeCurtis isn't known for his keen observations or tough questions.

Jim: I agree with Jess about the themes. Because Rolling Stone's early articles are laying out everything that people now think about the band, whether it really applies to them or not. I enjoyed the book, but I wasn't crazy about.

Rebecca: Because, although it wasn't as stilted as much of the music writing these days, it still was a far cry from the let if fly, let it hang out reporting we read in the Velvet Underground collection.

Kat: And it's interesting because the reviews today are so dispassionate, I'm referring to reviews in general and not in this collection, but when they do a feature story, the same writers turn it up to extreme kiss up, piling on hyperbole and praise that acts don't deserve. There was a schism between the album reviews and the features in this collection. That's what I took away from the book. If I'd chosen differently, I would have chosen Madonna: The Rolling Stone Files because that would have made for a more interesting read simply because most writers felt they could be passionate about Madonna.

Excerpt p. 194 (Bono speaking, from Alan Light's Bono: The Rolling Stone Inteview, "Behind The Fly" March 4, 2003):

Larry asked him [Bill Clinton], "Why would you want to be president?" and he said: "Well, you know, I don't know if the president of the United States can be the one person to turn it all around, but I know one thing: No one else can." What's interesting about him is that he seems very accessible and wants new ideas and wants to be challenged. We told him that we weren't going to endorse him, that wasn't what we did. And if he got in, that we'd be on his back for the next four years anyway, 'cause there is an uneasy relationship between us and politicians. But he knew that. He got that. That's when I realized he's pretty cool.

Jess: Oh how the Bono has fallen. Which brings us to our next book.

Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas

Rebecca: He truly is his worst enemy. The cover photo has him looking hot and sexy, then he opens his mouth and with each word, "I feel I'm slipping away."

Ty: It's like he thinks he's seen as stupid. Like he thinks he has to prove to the world that he's not just a rock & roller getting drunk and getting busted. But does anyone see him that way?

Jess: No, but I don't think anyone will like what they see here. He's played with manipulation throughout the post Joshua Tree career but he's really bragging on it here and it comes off as so crafted that a lot of people may have some dreams die.

C.I.: For instance, Live Aid?

Jess: Right. Where people think, "Oh that moment is so inspired. How marvelous that it just happened." I wasn't watching Live Aid, I'm too young. But I've heard about it and heard about it. My folks did watch and do remember. When I told them about Bono's discussing how he was onstage calculating what he could do for maximum effect, they were really disappointed.

C.I.: I'll give him points for his honesty. I think the book will be an important document, not unlike the interviews where John Lennon goes to town on the Beatles myth. From his foreword, he sees the book, the interviews, as therapy.

Kat: Doubt they worked for him. I'm sorry, he's disgusting now. The band and not Bono was always what I focused on because he's always been irritating to me. But sitting next to Bob Geldof while they shower Bully Boy with praise, I mean, what was that excerpt we did? How he'd be tough on Clinton the next four years because that's what he does? Is Bono, the social justice poster boy, unconcerned about Guantanamo? Is he so in to "save the children from AIDS" that he'll smooch any ass just to get funding? And let me say this on that, pediatric AIDS is the least controversial of any AIDS cause. I give him no points for taking that up.

C.I.: I get your point and it's worth noting. But it's his cause and I'll give him credit for having one. But yes, it is disgusting that he knows no shame currently. Jim pointed out that he still listens to the latest album. Most people don't. They're sick of U2 because Bono's so disappointed them. He should have been a brave voice during a period like this. Instead he's settled on being the Audrey Hepburn, ever smiling, ever gracious. That was Audrey Hepburn and it fit her. Bono's made his name claiming to be the rude voice speaking the truth and those days are long gone.

Dona: He's really become a joke. I don't know anyone besides Jim that bought the new album.

C.I.: I have it. I bought it the first week when it was on sale and I bought the one with no extras because I wasn't going to fork over too much money due to Bono as Repube Friend. I do like it, but it's been some time since I've listened. I think it was after he made one of his many "Bully Boy is okay" statements that I thought, "No, not in my home."

Kat: The album's solid. And I've never seen people run so from a solid album. U2 needs an angry album immediately that deals with the concerns of its core audience. That means pointing the finger at Bully Boy, not licking his boots.

Jim: What disappointing passage are we going with for the excerpt? When he speaks of his current coziness with politicians and notes that "as you get older, your idea of good guys and bad guys changes?"

Dona: How about the time he wastes discussing his weight loss and announcing that he's out of his "fat Elvis" period? Bono, meet Oprah.

Ava: I loved the fact that he saw no contradiction in decrying abusive economic systems that have harmed Africa, while he's setting up his own predatory practices.

Ty: We're going with his latest business venture because it perfectly captures the death of the artist and the emergence of the Bono today.

Excerpt from page 280-281, which is an excerpt of Robert A. Gurth's article for the Wall Street Journal:

Bono, lead singer for rock band U2 and antipoverty activist, is starting a new gig; media and entertainment investing. The 44-year-old rock star is joining Elevation Partners, a new Silicon Valley fund set up earlier this year by veteran technology investor Roger McNamee and John Riccitiello, who in April left his post as president of videogame maker Electronic Arts Inc. for Elevation. The participation of Bono should sharply raise the profile of Elevation, which people famaliar with the fund say initially will raise $1 billion for buyouts and investments in media and entertainment companies, seeking to profit from turmoil in those sectors. Elevation is expected to look for investment opportunities in media and entertainment companies disrupted by the advent of the Internet and other digital technologies.

Kat: And to think, it was Madonna who got dubbed with the "Material Girl" and "no heart" tags.

Ty picked The Portable Dorothy Paker.

Ty: We were going to try our hands at short stories this edition and I knew Parker wrote short stories. I knew she was famous for being funny. And I knew that she left her estate to a man she'd never met but found inspiring, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and that the NAACP gets proceeds from the sale of her writings. For all those reasons, I felt like she was a writer whose work I should know.

Dona: I think we all agreed this was something everyone should pick up. But we all had our own favorite parts.

Betty: I liked the verse and I'm the only one picking that as my favorite part. I really enjoyed "Lines on Reading Too Many Poets."

Ty: "Big Blonde" was my favorite of the short stories.

Jess: And my pick was "The Phone Call." C.I. enjoyed her criticism as did Jim and Ava.

Rebecca: Which is why that's the excerpt. We all split on our favorite part with everyone voting for one poem or one story but Ava, Jim and C.I. were a voting block with one review.

Excerpt page 518 (from Parker's Constant Reader reviews, this one entitled "Far from Well"):

"'That's a very good idea, Piglet,' said Pooh. 'We'll practise it now as we go along. But it's no good going home to practise it, because it's a special Outdoor Song which Has To Be Sung In The Snow.'
"'Are you sure?' asked Piglet anxiously.
'"Well, you'll see, Piglet, when you listen. Because this is how it begins. The more it snows, tiddely-pom --'
"'Tiddely what?' said Piglet." (He took, as you might say, the very words out of your correspondent's mouth.)
"'Pom,' said Pooh. 'I put that in to make it more hummy.'"
And it is that word "hummy," my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader Fwowed up.

Jess: Our final book was C.I.'s suggestion.

Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth by Alice Walker

Betty: I love Alice's writing. Poetry wise, I really only knew Revolutionary Petunias. I really loved this collection.

Rebecca: There's an attitude of poetry, "old," "musty." Alice Walker always manages to connect with her poetry and this was no exception.

Jess: And we need to move beyond obvious thoughts and obvious responses which goes to metaphors and expanding our thought processes. Which goes to a recent column by Patricia J. Williams in The Nation.

C.I.: That no link will be provided to because it's only available online to subscribers. The column is entitled "Just a Theory" and look in your library for the issue with the Watergate/Mark Felt cover.

Jess: We've all talked about how if time permitted, we'd take a week or two off, get away and just go into retreat mode, to quieten the world and listen and think.

Jim: But the world doesn't stop for us.

Rebecca: And let me underline "talked." Talked. Before the community at The Common Ills thinks C.I.'s about to take a week or two off from posting.

Jess: Right, pipe dream. But the thing is we get so caught up in responding to whatever the Bully Boy is doing that we often are left with no time to formulate, let alone to reclaim our humanity.

Betty: And Alice's poetry is all about reclaiming ourselves. I especially enjoyed "Dead Men Love War" and the "They sit/ Astride/ The icy bones/ Of/ Their/ Slaughtered horses/ Grinning."

Kat: And in this period where so many have asked, "Who's writing about the world around us?" this is an important book to read. Bono's not writing lyrics about the world around us. Alice Walker is writing poetry about the world around us.

Excerpt, from page 123, Alice Walker's poem "Why the Way You Have in Mind (Yours and Mine) Is Obsolete" (in full):

The brain
Though encased
In separate
One brain.

Dropping a bomb
One head
Or one million
Is perceived
By all the rest
(Of brain, if not of heads)
To be a
Definitely not
So Smart
It is
An end.

Ava: C.I. wants to add something before we get to our closing paragraphs.

C.I.: Right, I typed in asking Dallas to find something on Bono commenting on pediatric AIDS, thank you for that Dallas. Kat's making a point, earlier, about the way organization he cofounded is promoted, and promoted by Bono. But I know someone's going to have a problem with the remarks and I want something in here to back it up before someone says, "Oh, that's Kat's take." So Dallas found this from Christianity Today, Cathleen Falsani's "Bono's American Prayer." Here's how Bono promotes the organization and its goals

"It brings out the best in the church, like you see today in response to these children suffering HIV," Bono told pastors, parents, and children gathered at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport a few weeks before Christmas as part of an airlift of 80,000 gift boxes to HIV-infected children in Africa, organized by Franklin Graham's Operation Christmas Child. "But if we're honest, it has also brought the worst out of the church. Judgmentalism, a kind of sense that people who have AIDS, well, they got it because they deserve it. Well, from my studies of the Scriptures, I don't see a hierarchy to sin. I don't see sexual immorality registering higher up on the list than institutional greed (or greed of any kind, actually), problems we suffer from in the West.
"This is a defining moment for us: For the church; for our values; for the culture that we live in."

Kat: And that is how he promotes it. Peadiatric AIDS because it's "safe." No worrying about some moralizer saying "They got it because they had sinful sex!" It's safe, it's noncontroversial.
There was a time, in the days of Ryan White, where it had more controversy. These days it really doesn't. And I don't think that the crisis in Africa should be seen as children with AIDS when the epidemic spans all age groups. But it's cuddly and warm and Bono wants to hug it.
I miss the bravery I once I thought I saw in the man.

Which will do it for our "Five Books, Five Minutes." Hopefully, you found something here that interested in you and, if not, maybe thought of something that you'd like to check out of your own library. A few of you have e-mailed suggestions for books to read. Feel free to do so but in terms of reading five books in a week, which is what we've been doing, the decision is really going to come from those of us participating. If one of us says, "There's no way I'm reading ____" then we drop it from our proposed list. Ellie e-mailed again last week to note that she's repeatedly asked that we include James Joyce's Ulysses and that we're ignoring her. We read her suggestion the first time. As Ty said, "It ain't happening."
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