Sunday, June 12, 2005

Five Books, Five Minutes

Once more to the libraries, we cried. Five books, five minutes in efforts to encourage people to use their public libraries, to encourage reading and to give you the kind of instant analysis that passes for deep thought on the television networks!

Your book pundits are The Third Estate Sunday Review's Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess and Ava along with C.I. of The Common Ills (and we claim C.I. as a Third Estater), Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude, Folding Star of A Winding Road and Betty of Thomas Friedman is a Great Man.

Jim selected Hunter S. Thompson's Generation of Swine: Gonzo Papers vol. 2 "because C.I. had excerted to note Thompson's death and it also got prominently featured, after C.I.'s post, in the New York Times. When two who disagree on so much agree on one thing, I'm curious."

Betty: I found it riveting reading. I was very, very young during the time period these essays cover and much of it was new to me.

Jess: And it pointed out that there have been bad times for America before and with a little luck we can survive the current damage coming out of the White House.

Rebecca: I enjoyed it but it's the first thing I've read by Thompson and I was wondering why C.I. elected to highlight this over some of the more famous works?

C.I.: As I remember it, I pulled the book off the shelf at random. I hadn't planned to focus solely on it but I ended up reading it. All the way through. And I just thought that this was a book that had a lot to say to today. You have the mechanics in play, the hushing of this scandal or that one. The "message" that has a subtext no one comments on. That was a period where there wasn't a great deal of journalistic bravery, not unlike today, and I felt that was worth noting. We didn't wake up in November, 2000 with Repubes suddenly controlling the message and the medium. His earlier works are strong but it was obvious that everyone would comment on them in the obits the next day. This had the potential to be overlooked. The essays are humorous but they also have a great deal to say.

Excerpt from pages 120-121:

Meanwhile, back in Washington, CIA Chief William J. Casey was filing charges of treason against NBC News, and Ronald Reagan himself put the whack on the Washington Post. . . . When Casey was unable to prevent the Post from publishing a massive Bob Woodward article on the current CIA operations, good old Dutch just smiled and said shucks -- and then picked up the phone and spoke personally with Post publisher Katharine Graham, who called the story back for major cuts and re-editing.
Woodward bristled and bitched, but the lawyers called him paranoid and his piece was eventually gutted, for reasons of national security. It was such a clear case of censorship and journalistic nut-cracking by the White House that even USA Today called it shameful. "The Post gave in," said columnist Michael J. Gartner, "and published a censored article that was five feet nine inches long and that was as bland as it was lengthy.
The collapse of the Post sent a rumble of fear and confusion through the whole journalistic community. It was like spreading rumors in Boston about Larry Bird shaving points, or priests selling fat young boys out of vans behind Fenway Park.
Nobody wants to hear these things. If the Post can be intimidated, who else can feel safe? NBC was still holding, but Casey was pushing for serious criminal penalities and a final decision by Attorney General Ed Meese, who is currently tied up in his own campaign against pornography, and will soon be publishing the findings of his controversial commission's investigation.

Betty picked Goldie Hawn's A Lotus Grows in the Mud. (Co-written with Wendy Holden.)

Betty: I picked it because Rebecca mentioned it and I was interested in it. I like Goldie Hawn and the title told me right away that this was going to be an exploration on some level, like Jane Fonda's My Life So Far, that was about a journey and I enjoy those type of books.

Dona: I really enjoyed this book, I wasn't sure what I would be reading, to be honest. It wasn't a tale of a life lived only on Hollywood sets, obviously. It was informative.

Jess: And getting to larger issues in its way. I think it's great that a book like this is out there for people to enjoy because Hawn's written in her voice about how she sees things and we need more voices, as C.I. always says, but we especially need to hear from voices that don't chant "Destruction! Destruction! Destruction!" all the time. A lot of people might want to dismiss what this book can do but I think it can do it a lot. In chapter after chapter, sentence after sentence, she speaks to our relationships with one another and with the world around us. It's not a wonky book. It is a thoughtful one. I read it early in the week and mentioned it to my dad who picked it up and we both agreed it sounded like my mother. Footnotes are great but sometimes you need someone to pour their heart into something for it to really connect. I think this was a labor of love for Goldie Hawn and Wendy Holden. If it's not, give Goldie another Oscar, because she's as convincing on the page as she is onscreen.

Excerpt from page 358, selected by Jim:

Later that night, I sit around the campfire having dinner with Papa and the crew, learning more and more about elephants. Papa is full of wonderful stories, many of them from firsthand experience. He tells me that when an elephant goes into labor, she is tended to by three or four other female elphants, who act as midwives.
"And when an elephant is dying, the rest of the herd try to hold it up. Using their trunks, they lift and caress and encourage, until they can do no more. Then they hold a funeral. They cover the body with leaves and twigs; they gather around in circles and they weep. Later, they return to draw the tusks, burying them deep in the jungle or smashing them against trees, almost as if to defy the ivory invaders."

Ava picked Nancy Chang's Silencing Political Dissent.

Ty: I was really glad when I got ahold of this one and saw it was only 137 pages of text. We all had busy weeks and this small book on an important topic was easy to read and highly informative.

Betty: We should note that Howard Zinn did the foreword because that will add to interest in the book.

Ty: And I'll note that C.I.'s mentioned this book at least once a month at the site and constantly to us. It's one of those things that you mean to pick up but something else comes along. So I'm really glad Ava made a choice for this week.

Jim: This is just a really strong book and the fact that it's a small book should encourage people to pick it up all the more. The Patriot Act is, sadly, still with us. If you're wanting to know about that and other issues, about our rights as Americans to speak out, this book is a powerful one that you should pick up.

Excerpt from page 92-93, selected by Ava and C.I.:

When the U.S. national security is threatened, our committment to the First Amendment and the democratic values it embodies becomes all the more essential. Crises force us to make decisions on the weightiest of matters -- whether to declare war, whether to take military action and compel military service, whether to curtail our political and personal freedoms, whom to call friend and whom foe. The specter of casualties -- both military and civilian, American and foreign -- looms in the balance. Once made, these decisions are certain to carry long-lasting repercussions extending far beyond the geographical confines of the United States.
Public participation in decision making is the hallmark of a democratic society. Open debate that invites the vigorous presentation of opposing viewpoints both enriches our understanding of the problems we face and challenges us to find innovative solutions. Yet, it is precisely at moments like the present, when the national security is under threat, that First Amendment values are most likely to be abandoned in favor of authoritarian rule. With a growing sense of uneasiness, we have witnessed the Bush administration amass enormous new powers in the months since September 11. And we have witnessed the administration in an effort to maintain a free hand in the excercise of its new powers, employ strategies that are calculated to silence dissent. First, it has questioned the patriotism of those who oppose its policies, thereby fostering a climate of intolerence of dissent. Second, it has sought to discourage political activism by imposing guilt by association. Third, is has restricted access to government information, which has stymied the press, the public, and even Congress in their efforts to hold the executive branch accountable for its actions.

For fiction this week, Dona chose Gore Vidal's 1876.

Dona: I knew Gore Vidal based on his essays and was curious about his fiction. I think that's a point Ruth brought up in one of her Ruth's Morning Edition Reports. Vidal had been on Jack & Bobby and Ruth was surprised that her daughter --

Ava & C.I.: Granddaughter.

Dona: Granddaughter knew of him. But I see that all around. On campus, for instance, his name comes up a lot. Despite reading his essays, I'd never read any of his fiction. This was a book that made me want to explore more of his fiction.

Jess: And this focuses on a stolen election so, having lived through 2000, everyone should be curious about it for that reason. This is a fictional book, but it's based on history. What do they call those?

Betty: Historical novels.

Jess: Right. I enjoyed it. Folding Star is a huge fan of Gore Vidal's work so we'll let FS have the last word on it.

Folding Star: Okay, I'm not exactly impartial when it comes to Gore Vidal, I have to admit. I'd have to say he's my favorite writer. It was through his historical fiction that I first discovered him, and 1876 is a major part of that American chronicle. In 1876, Vidal brings us American politics and society at the time of the country's 100th birthday, just in time for a contested Presidential election that those of us who lived through 2000 would find strangely familiar. What makes this book, and indeed all of Vidal's historical fiction, so amazing is that he manages to breathe life into the people and events that are often treated as dusty relics painted with the black-or-white brush of history. He does this in a way that shatters all the pretentious myths which are taught to us as historical fact. Vidal debunks the idea that our leaders have always been larger than life Gods and grounds them all in a very human light.
Many tend to romanticize the past, but 1876 reminds us that the past isn't much different from the present. 1876 brings to life a corrupt politicalsystem in which the loser in a close Presidential election is picked as the winner by the machinations of back room dealing among the select few. If there were to be a worthy 21st century successor to Vidal in chronicling our country's history, you can easily imagine the 2000 election brought to life in the same way for future generations. In the meantime, reading the book will give you insight into our political system and our leaders, then and now.

Dona selected the excerpt from page 202:

Finally, the President was recognized. Two political types (of the lobby, not the Congress: I've got so I can tell them apart with a glance) emerged from the barrom and, rather drunkenly, presented themselves for Grant's attention. The hero's face did not once lose its puzzled expression while the blue eyes did not, to say the least, invite any intimacy with the strangers.
As Grant got to his feet one of the men seized his hand. The President allowed the hand to be held for an instant. Then he pulled it -- and himself -- away. The two men suddenly were faced not with the President but with the tall detective who had placed his large presence between them and the retreating small figure. In an instant the scene was done.
"Is he stupid?" I asked, genuinely curious.
"No. But limited. Without much curiousity. Yet he has come to know a good deal more about government than most people suspect. But he has -- obviously -- no gift for presiding over the country."
Rebecca picked Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber's Weapons of Mass Deception.

Rebecca: I honestly picked it because of the cover. I read Tom Tomorrow's This Modern World and recognized the art style. I figured that any book smart enough to put Tom Tomorrow on the front cover was one I'd enjoy reading. Ava and C.I. have been especially quiet so I'm thinking, unless they're making notes for their TV review, they should discuss this book.

Ava: We have no idea what we're going to write for our TV review. We know what show we're covering but this will be a pull it together at the last minute thing. But Rebecca's probably correct that we're sitting here focusing on our TV review. Okay, I liked this book. It was straight forward. If you didn't support the invasion, you were probably aware of a great deal of information in this book. But there's been so little from the mainstream --

C.I.: Connecting the dots.

Ava: Precisely. So little connecting the dots that I found myself reading the book and thinking, "Oh yeah, I forgot about when that happened."

C.I.: And for people who were either not sure what to think prior to the invasion or who have begun to realize that we're stuck in a quagmire, sorry Annie Apples, this book will turn them onto some facts that they may not have heard before. I've been quiet because a) I'm thinking about the TV review and b) I wanted to hear what everyone else thought about the books. If I disagreed with anything or felt something important wasn't added, I would've noted it. Also, I'll cop to it publicly, everyone here knows it, my week was so crazy, I never got around to reading 1876. Whether it was getting the e-mail "to Rebecca"

Rebecca: Put quotation remarks around that.

C.I.: From centrist Ed or then the Times reporter, whom I'm not griping about and am glad she weighed in with her take, and dealing with the reaction from the community to that, it's been a crazy week. And thank you to The Third Estate Sunday Review for helping me go through the 603 e-mails on that.

Jim: 604.

C.I.: 602, 603, 604. It was a lot and everyone had a great deal to say in them. So thank you all for that. And of course Betty ended up in the emergency room with one of her children which was probably much more taxing than anything I could whine about.

Betty: Everyone who e-mailed was so nice about that. They all said, "Hey, we understand. Post when you can. Hope your kid is okay." Jess picked the excerpt for this, right?

Jess: Yeah. I think we need to be aware of the propaganda efforts to demonize the environmental movement and for that reason, I selected the passage.

Excerpt from pages 148-149:

Corporate spin doctors, think tanks and conservative politicians have taken up the rhetoric of fear for their own purposes. Even before 9/11, many of them were engaged in an ongoing effort to demonize environmentalists and other activist groups by associating them with terrorism. One striking indicator of this preoccupation is the fact that Congressman Scott McInnis (R-Colorado) had scheduled congressional hearings on "ecoterrorism" to be held on September 12, 2001, one day after Congress itself was nearly destroyed in an attack by real terrorists. (The September 11 attacks forced McInnis to temporarily postpone his plans, rescheduling his hearings to February 2002.)
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Republican congressman Don Young of Alaska speculated publicly that environmental extremists might be the real masters of the attacks. On the Reagan Information Interchange, a web site run by Ronald Reagan's son Michael, columnist Mary Mostert speculated that the culprits were probably "other Americans" -- specifically, "environmentalis and anti-globalist groups . . . . the radicals of the left." Even after it became clear that Islamist fundamentalists were behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, conservative attacks continued. On October 7, 2001, the Washington Times published and editorial calling for "war against eco-terrorists," calling them "an eco-al-Qaeda" with "a fanatical ideology and a twisted morality."

As always, we offer links. You're welcome to order the books from those links, but we do that to provide you with more information about the books we're noting. Your local libraries are wonderful resources and you can show your support by using them. A few e-mailers have noted that in their area, the libraries are small and the collections less than impressive. Most libraries have an inter or intralibrary loan program. Check with your librarian about requesting a book that you're interested in but isn't on your library's shelves.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }