Sunday, May 22, 2005

A Note to Our Readers

This edition isn't quite what we planned it. But then they never are.

We thank Folding Star for allowing us to highlight a book chat from A Winding Road. We thank Betty, Rebecca and C.I. for their assistance and input.

Blah-blah-blah, you say, where's Ava and C.I.'s TV review! I want my T.V. review!

We understand that. We love their reviews as well. But we went from a plan to spotlight some books this time out to a literature theme. We forgot to tell them that. Ava and C.I.'s response was along the lines of "Oh, you fuckers!"

So short of asking them to create a review on the spot, we were left without one. That's fine. We'll all live. Maybe not happily, but we'll live.

They're going to try to watch Desperate Housewives tonight. A number of you have e-mailed requesting that. So let the anticipation build on that. They had a good review and it could run here the same way Kat's Korner on Tapestry runs -- it's strong writing. But they pulled the review because they felt it defeated the purpose of this edition. Though saddened, we understand and we'll all work to make sure we're all on the same page much earlier. With Ava and C.I.'s TV reviews, if we have a theme, we need to let them know that when they're choosing which show to watch. Telling them as we're assembling the edition, "Oh by the way, we're going for a literacy, literature theme this week" doesn't cut it.

We thank Kat, as always, for being so damn groovy and happening and for letting us rerun her Tapestry review. That's art. And music is art so we're fine with it bending the theme slightly.

If there was one surprise from this week's e-mails, it was how many of you missed books and music. The e-mails poured in on that after we noted last week that we'd been remiss in our book coverage. Hopefully the above make up for it.

Knowing we were remiss in books, we agreed to find books, all read them (or as much as we could get through) and do a new segment, "Five Books in Five Minutes." This is a rundown of five books. It is not an indepth review. We'd planned to do that via e-mail and then boil down the observations into a concise, brief review. Plans . . . Something we strive for.

What happened instead was a two hour debate and dicussion on each book. We've spared you that but we did include an exchange between Ty and Rebecca because we thought it was to the point of the book being discussed and we thought it was funny. Thank yous go to Rebecca, Betty and C.I. for participating with that article.

This segment will pop up again, we can't say how often.

Our actual roundtable was supposed to be about reading. But when do we ever stick to one topic? As always, it's lively and we hope you enjoy it. Veronica's question inspired our free association. We thank Veronica for her question, Dallas for tracking down links (and we finally told him to take a break and stop hunting or he'd still be tracking down links for that thing), Rebecca, Betty and C.I. for participating. We regret that Folding Star had a prior committment and was unable to take part and hope that next time Folding Star will be able to join us.

Our editorial is our goodbye to Danny Okrent of The New York Times. A goodbye that sometimes seemed would never arrive. Thankfully, it has. We thank Rebecca and Betty for participating in that and Dallas for tracking down links. (C.I. passed on the editorial when we noted we'd be noting The Common Ills.)

Hopefully something here will make you laugh or scream. And yes, we are prepared for the stream of hate mail since Ava and C.I. do not have a TV review up.

-- Jim, Dona, Jess, Ty and Ava

Editorial: Goodbye and good riddance to Daniel Okrent

Our editorial this week is on Daniel Okrent who is, thankfully, leaving The New York Times. Don't let the door hit you where the good Lord split you, Okrent.

"13 Things I Meant to Write About but Never Did" is the title of his latest travesty on readers of The New York Times. Eighteen months he had to deal with their issues. Instead, he lost himself in self-interviews, vacation reports, attacks on the Tonys and attempting to play Danny "Scoop" Okrent.

Critics, "deft" ones, have rightly noted that Okrent did a lousy job. As he attempts to have the last word, he alternately celebrates himself (did anyone doubt that was coming?) and attempts to answer some of the criticism without acknowledging it. Readers of The Common Ills will chuckle especially at some of his "justifications." (Yes, Okrent and Bovino are familiar with The Common Ills.) (Disclosure, CI took a pass on participating in this editorial when we stated we would be citing The Common Ills in this editorial.) These attempts to disarm will delight many who've barely paid attention and will see Okrent as "forthcoming." (Surprising since he "responds" to Randy Cohen's assertion privately and not publicly.) (We're sure Gloria Cooper will turn in tonight with more pleasant thoughts of Okrent.) But the reality is, Okrent once again fails.

"13 Things" should focus on thirteen topics never covered, are we right here? So is it really fair that he wastes readers time by devoting one of the thirteen to wishing he hadn't whined about how hard his job was? (He gets in yet another shout out for Dexter Filkens. As well as for another writer, another male writer. Did anyone else notice the sexist focus in Okrent's columns?) (That's number 12 of his 13, by the way.)

Note number 11, where he thanks the "readers." The same readers he's spent so long spitting on? Well, actually no. The only name check goes to a Wall St. Journal editorial. That's right, Okrent still doesn't have time for the "riff-raff." Public editor? Press representative is far more apt.

Common Ills readers will know that Okrent has long been asked to address the travel section. Finally, after eighteen months on the job, he does so. For one whole paragraph. What a man, what a man, what a mighty, mighty lousy man. And considering how fond he himself was of penning vacation reports, we're honestly surprised that he can only muster one paragraph.

He notes that the Times is currently using more freelancers. And his list is about 13 things he always wanted to write about. Apparently this new development is historical on the part of Okrent. Or could it be, dare we suggest, that once again he's padding out a column?

Reason two especially drew our attention, or rather this section:

No one deserves the personal vituperation that regularly comes Dowd's way, and some of Krugman's enemies are every bit as ideological (and consequently unfair) as he is.

Nasty little girl doesn't know her place. Thank God, Big Bad Dan's around to put her in it?
Okrent is disgusting. Let's break down that critique. "No one" -- no one? No one? Note that he slams Dowd (Safire's given a pass in this sentence). Dowd's the one the sexist old man chooses to slap down. The Times has how many op-ed writers? Six. And the strongest words are reserved for Dowd, the lone female. Let's be blunt, Okrent, you suck.

Or rather, Okrent, you still suck.

In the first item he tries to justify his stance as a First Amendment absolutist. Common Ills readers are aware that C.I. steered readers to that claim by Okrent back in December. How long has it been bothering him? We can say since at least April judging by an e-mail we're looking at. Okrent can justify however he wants. He made the claim and he tossed it aside to out a reader. Strangely, that's not one of the thirteen things he's been wanting to discuss.

Lucky for him people like Gloria Cooper won't put him on the spot.

Okrent' gone and if there's a lesson here, it's that feature writers probably aren't going to be the best judge of a newspaper. Here's another lesson, old white men will write about and highlight . . . old white men. Younger people, who've grown up with diversity, may be different. But when you're dealing with a "free trade absolutist" who happens to be white and a baby boomer and male and not all that interested in women unless he can slap them down, you're not getting anyone who's going to examine the paper for any problems of perception or actual discrimination.

And on that topic, Okrent goes out still silent. Okrent's never addressed those topics.

He was useless. He wrote about "what I want to write about." He outed a reader over a private e-mail. He may have perfected the self-interview but we aren't really sure that's something the "public editor" and "readers' representative" should be proud of.

For complaints from readers, you won't find them in Okrent's final column (unless you consider an editor for The Wall St. Journal to be your average reader). You can, however, find some at The Common Ills. And don't forget to read up on some of the things he never wanted to write about here and here.

For those not in the know, we were Common Ills community members before we were bloggers. (That also goes for Rebecca and Betty who are assisting with this editorial.) And there are others who have critiqued Okrent. Online, they've inlcuded Bob Somerby of The Daily Howler and Atrios. But besides being the offspring of C.I., we're also aware that at The Common Ills, you heard about what Gloria Cooper and Jay-bird never bothered to look into: what did the readers think? You can't judge his tenure as public editor without knowing what readers wanted to addressed. Otherwise, you're acting as though he was an op-ed columnist. He wasn't. His title was "public editor" and he was represented as "readers' representative." He failed.

Those wishing to shine it on for Okrent should speak to some readers before rushing in with their praise for "one of their own."
Final note, he never took up the challenge issued by C.I. In one of his many slap downs of the readers, Okrent claimed that the Times had never promoted the phrase "paper of record." We're aware of that usage because C.I. found it while doing research for a piece we were all working on here. As he rushes to slap Dowd for an Alberto Gonzales assertion, he ignores the fact that he devoted an entire column to whining about readers using the phrases "all the news that's fit to print" and "paper of record." He whimpered that the Times had never promoted "paper of record." He was wrong. He leaves as ill informed as he was when he arrived.

If we weren't so busy celebrating his departure, we'd be upset by that.

Media Roundtable IV

Ava: Another sunday, another roundtable.

Ty: And ain't no Meet the Press going up in the house!

Ava: Since we present this as a transcript, readers have e-mailed requesting that we identify the participants at the start. I'm Ava with The Third Estate Sunday Review. Also with The Third Estate Sunday Review are Ty, whom you just heard, Jim, Jess and Dona. Joining us are Betty of the blog Thomas Friedman is a Great Man, Rebecca of the blog Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude, and C.I. of community The Common Ills. We have a number of topics to address and the one that readers wanted address most was the issue of books. Veronica of San Diego e-mails to say she's glad that there will be more at this site on reading but she wonders how committed we are to reading?

Jim: Well, I mean, we're reading. We're reading online, we're reading newspapers, we're reading magazines, we're reading books for classes.

Dona: Jim's less inclined to pick up a book for himself because he's been taking a literature survey class which had a heavy reading load. Since Ava's the moderator, she rarely gets to weigh in so, as her roommate, I'll note that Ava's always reading a book on pyschology or feminism. What was the Cassandra thing you were reading this week?

Ava: Cassandra's Daughter: A History of Pscychoanalysis.

Dona: Me, I'm more apt to be a supermarket reader. If it's a book that's not being required for a class, I'm the type of reader who's going in for a bag of Tostitos and stopping by the book racks to grab a paperback.

Jess: Paperback reader!

Ava: Jess sang that to the tune of the Beatles' "Paperback Writer."

Dona: That's what I am. I'll grab three to four paperbacks at the grocery store a month. I'm reading Ann Patchett's Truth & Beauty right now. I'll check out books from the library and sometimes join Ava on her trip to a favorite indpendent bookstore. But I'm more likely to, not impulse buy, but associate reading with a basic staple like food. So when I'm running to the store for something we ran out of, I'm always stopping by the book racks.

Jess: I rarely buy books. My folks are big supporters of indendent publishers and once a month they send me a box of books. They know I'll pass some on because with studying I don't have the time to read a boxful of books each month. But I am reading from the box of books they sent. The best one this past semester was probably As'Ad Abukhalil's book entitled The Battle for Saudi Arabia: Royalty, Fundamentalism and Global Power.

Rebecca: I'm more likely to be reading The Nation, Ms., The Progressive, Harper's or In These Times than a book. That's not all the magazines I read, but that's is a list of the ones I never miss. Veronica would probably be very disappointed in my reading habits because I'm not reading a book a month even. Amy Goodman's book with her brother David, Exception to the Rulers, and Jane Fonda's My Life So Far, which I only recently started, are two of the few books I've actually felt the need to purchase.

Betty: I'm reading children's books. Martin Waldman's Tough Princess is a book my kids really enjoy. My mother had read that one to me when I was growing up. I knew it was one I'd have to read to my kids because of the message of empowerment. Of course it was long gone. I finally found a copy used at a bookstore but we read it so much that by this summer, August, it had fallen apart. I found a new edition available online. If you've got children, boys or girls, it's one I'd recommend you make a part of their library. I also read To Hell With Dying by Alice Walker to them a great deal. My sister loves that children's book and loves Alice Walker. I was surprised by how much the kids enjoyed it. The third favorite is Harla Kuskin's City Noise which they really enjoy. Besides that, it's Curious George and some others. I read Amy Goodman's book and Jane Fonda's and enjoyed them but, before that, the last book I'd read for me was Kitty Kelley's The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty.

Rebecca: I read that and even posted on it. Did anyone else read that? Show of hands?

Ava: That's everyone except Jim raising his hand.

Dona: Jim read parts of my copy.

C.I.: I like Veronica's question but wish it was coming a few months back. I feel like I'm always running way behind in reading these days. Besides the books we'll be reviewing in this edition, I'm reading the CodePink book Stop the Next War Now. I finished Goldie Hawn's book recently --

Rebecca: I read that. It was a gift.

C.I.: Early birthday gift? Rebecca has a birthday coming up.

Rebecca: Yes, it was. And I really enjoyed parts of it. I felt Goldie was trying to increase people's ways of thinking from the increasingly narrow way that we seem stuck in. I enjoyed the entire book but parts of it especially made me think. A Lotus Grows in the Mud. And I'm enjoying CodePink's book too. But I wrote this evening, and the roundtable was late starting because I was finishing that. I thought it would be a quick entry taking fifteen minutes but it ended up taking a great deal longer. But I wrote this evening about you, C.I., and Betty. And how Betty has these demands on her like family and work --

Betty: I didn't see it and I checked this evening.

Rebecca: It just went up, I mean just went up, right before I joined everyone on this conference call. But I was talking about the various demands and how blogging isn't anything any of us are paid for. And here's my point in terms of the topic, I'm reading e-mails for about an hour a day. And I know C.I. gets way more than I do so I'm surprised that any reading is going on.

C.I.: With me? Well, I'm multi-tasking. If I'm on a stepper, I'm reading. If I'm cooking in the kitchen, I'm reading. The e-mails are coming in and if I'm going through them, for instance, during a weekday morning while I'm trying to pull together something for the community, I'm reading more than I'm citing. Sometimes, I'm not feeling good in the morning and that results in "link-fests" --

Rebecca: I used your term in the entry.

C.I.: It's the only term for it. And I have no problem with it. That's what I'd planned to do originally, just present the stories in the New York Times, for instance, without any commentary from me. But members like Gina wanted more opinion. Now if I'm tired or feeling sick, I fall back on Kat's "It is what it is." But there are mornings when I'm on my way to work and it hits me that I offered nothing other than links. Hopefully a member had a comment to share and that's up there but if not, it feels like an entry that was phoned in. But, and we're way off topic here, I've usually run that morning, I've come in, showered, gotten ready for the day, and then I'm reading over the print edition of the Times quickly and logging on to Blogger and the e-mail account and flipping back and forth. If I've made breakfest, it's usually not touched and I shove it in the fridge before I leave for the morning.

Rebecca: And it is off topic in some ways but I think it goes to the topic. I noted that Ava and C.I. are really firm in their opinions that every e-mail should be read. I don't get anything like the volume of e-mails C.I. does but I was noting that I can't reply to every e-mail and also post to the blog. There's just not enough time. I think Veronica's question gets to that because if we're reading e-mails that's cutting into time for other reading.

Jess: So are you arguing that e-mails shouldn't be read?

Rebecca: No. But I do have a problem with the attitude that it's my responsibility to reply to each and everyone. At some point, something has to give.

Ava: I understand what you're saying but I know that if we didn't read the e-mails, we wouldn't know, for instance, Veronica's question.

Rebecca: And I agree with that. But I'm saying that, to me, this is the way to address it. Veronica wrote in and instead of long reply answering her question, mention it in an entry. If she's a regular reader, she'll see it. She'll also get more credit for asking the question than she would in a personal e-mail.

C.I.: Obviously, I'm not responding to every e-mail. But I do read everyone because it does go to what we need to be talking about at The Common Ills and that might mean something we're missing, or I'm missing, or something that we've noted but that needs more attention. I understand what you're saying, Rebecca, and agree with it but I do feel guilty if I haven't read every e-mail.

Rebecca: I wrote that in my piece.

Jim: And I agree with Rebecca. I think everyone gets her point. But I really firmly believe that we're, at this site, putting something out. That's the goal. That should be the focus. On my day, I might reply to two people who've written, my day to go through the e-mails.

Ty: On a good day you might reply to two.

Jim: Right. And I'm more likely to reply, because I like debate, to someone who's really unhappy about something that went up. Not because I'm trying to get them to come over to my side but because I like the back and forth. But we've got an automated reply and that's more than enough in my opinion. If we had someone who's sole responsibility was to reply to the e-mails, that would be one thing. But we're all contributing to the edition each week and we're living lives.

Jess: "We used to lead. Chasing down the love we need. Somewhere in the night."

C.I.: Jackson Browne's "Tender Is the Night." Off the Lawyers in Love album. I let the Beatles ref pass without the album because everyone should track it down but if I let that pass, I'll get e-mails asking what was the song Jess quoted.

Rebecca: And you'll answer them. And that's my point. Use a search engine if you don't know the song. Jess gave you three lines. Put them in quotes, google them and you'll find the song. I answer e-mails about Otis Redding because he's one of my favorites but I get e-mails on groups I've never heard of, let alone discussed, and they aren't, "Hey Becky, check this out." They're e-mails asking me about these groups or do I know what CD would be a good one to buy by this group I've never heard of.

Jim: And that's why I see Rebecca's point. We get people writing in all the time asking what their major should be. I don't know what your major should be because I don't know you. I can give a smart ass reply and if you're okay with that, great. But I'm not a forecaster of the economy so if your goal is something that's highly marketable, I'm not able to help you. If you're wanting to do something with your life that's really important to you, you should do it and you don't need me offering validation.

Ava: I agree with the points being made but I do feel that if someone writes in on my day to go through the e-mails, they deserve some sort of reply.

Ty: And I agree with that. Something beyond the automated reply.

Jess: That seems the appropriate thing to do. But I'm thinking about C.I.'s plan for this week and I know it didn't come off.

C.I.: To highlight a chapter of one book each day?

Jess: Yeah.

C.I.: I'm hopeful that I'll be able to do it next week.

Jess: But I know the Daniel Okrent post resulted in the members commenting on Okrent and I know that other things went up because of input. And I guess I'm wondering how often that's the case.

C.I.: I'm not Okrent. It's not "what I want to write about." The Common Ills is a community.
The book thing will go up because I believe firmly in the importance of it. But, and I've noted this at the site, there's never a day that starts out with my thinking, "Here's something important that can be addressed today" and it ends up being addressed because another issue or two comes up. That's the nature of a community and it's really silly, to me, to complain about it. It's a community and it's shaped by input. What's bothering me is that, because of the huge numbers of e-mails, things don't automatically go up anymore. When we were smaller, one person could e-mail about one item and it made it up there. Now that's not always the case. If I've got hundreds of link highlights each day, I'm going with what's mentioned more than once or what, by my understanding of the community, is something that they'll respond to and want to know about. Point, there's now editing going on that didn't go on in the past. If Dona e-mailed to highlight something, it went up. And honestly, that's still the case more often than not for members who've been with the community for some time. But we get a lot of visitors and a lot of e-mail. I'd be doing nothing but posting, and quitting my job, if I noted every link that came in.

Betty: I read one day a week, the e-mails. I thanked Luke of wotisitgood4 here and I hope he saw it but my plans to reply were cut short by calls of "Mommy!" and that's more often the case than not. What's the dead shark joke?

Jess: A shark has to keep moving or it's dead?

Ty: Oh that was funny, Jess!

Jess: (laughing) Well I know what she's talking about, I don't know the joke. It's in Annie Hall.

Betty: Well I have to keep moving. I've got a house to clean, kids to bathe and feed, and that's my priority. I had to go to a recital Wendesday and never had time to blog about Thomas Friedman's column that day.

Rebecca: I noted that because it goes to heart of issue of where do you commit the time.

Ava: So to get back to the topic, Veronica's question was about reading and Rebecca's saying that e-mails interfere with reading.

C.I.: And there's two points there that I'd like to make. First of all, I don't have time to surf the net unless I'm doing research for something. So when members e-mail something in, they're helping not hurting. There are days when I don't have time to go to The Daily Howler. And Dallas or a member will e-mail that in. So that's a plus. They'll find something that I would otherwise miss. The second point, and this is where I have stronger agreement with Rebecca, is that often times due to links or e-mails, I feel I'm too focused on the day's events. Responding or commenting on what just happened in terms of isolation. These things have connections and one of the things that bothers me is that I feel those don't get noted, by me, too often.

Ty: Which is a huge problem if you think about it since Bully Boy's m.o. is distraction. Toss out this or that and get everyone focused on that. There is so much bullshit and I'll find someone coming up to me discussing some non-event and I'll be thinking, even saying, you're talking about one thing. It's much bigger than that. Like someone wants to focus on two victims when there's a nation of victims and that's left unsaid.

Jess: Clean these panties!

Ty: Right. There's not a community in America that hasn't been effected by the Patriot Act. The war on dissent and the war on Arabs in this country goes far beyond two girls. And the reaction of "two little girls!" to me was not unlike the reaction of "Oh no, another white girl's been kidnapped! And isn't she adorable." Highlight the issue but put it in perspective. Instead of being about the issue it becomes this paternalistic bullshit that treats the situation as though it has only to do with two little girls. I'm just as worried about adult Arabs who are being silenced or deported. And that's something you're not going to get out if you're just focusing on two girls.

C.I.: Well in fariness, if you're writing about something, you have to find an entry point. And so do the people who are reading. I have no idea what happened with that but presumably it went beyond the two individuals at some point. And no, that's not a request for e-mails and no, my statements need no clarification.

Rebecca: Agreed. But Ty's right because the issue goes to the abuses of the Patriot Act and, this is me speaking so take it up with me Panty Cleaners, when neither wants to address the Patriot Act and one wants to mock it and other serious issues but then wants to have a snit fit that the whole world didn't turn out to Clean These Panties! there's a problem. It is paternalistic. And there are other issues at play.

C.I.: Moving back to the topic intentionally, on my end, I feel like there's more value in The Nation than in the New York Times, for instance. Not merely because I agree politically with The Nation but also because there's a perspective there and in the Times they're running down events. Of the day. That's the nature of a newspaper versus a magazine. And The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, Clamor, Left Turn, Ms. or what have you can address an issue from a broad vista. Two weekends ago, or three, Laura Flanders was getting at the need to pull the camera back, away from the close up. I think that's a very important point and I think I'm as guilty as anyone else of going for the close up.

Jim: But your piece on Willie Searcy, you focused on the events of that case and you put them into perspective with comments of this is what happens when you have a judge who rules against people and in favor of corporations. That was on May 3rd and it's becoming an issue.

C.I.: That was based on an important story in Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose's Bushwhacked. The entire entry, so give them credit. But it's also true that I wouldn't have learned of it from the daily paper. And there are things that are missed when the focus is on daily events. As a poli sci student, we were encouraged not to get too bogged down, and I think this is what Ty's speaking of, in the daily event or spin.

Ty: Exactly. Here's today's talking points is what I hear too much when I listen to radio. That's why I listen to Democracy Now! and not a lot else, it provides the connections. Laura Flanders demonstrates the connections. Janeane Garofalo's usually attempting to but she gets cut off too much. And a lot of times I'm bothered by the rhetoric. I think Robert Novak did a hideous thing but when I hear "traitor!" I just recoil because that's a charge that, if convicted, comes with the death penalty which I don't support. And by all accounts Valerie Plame was a nice person and she was outed for political reasons. I find that sad and objectionable. But as an African-American male, I'm not going to start screaming "Traitor!" because someone outed a C.I.A. agent. I don't think you're going to find many African-Americans who are going to weep over the outing. They'll say it's wrong. They'll also say that a lot more outings need to take place with the C.I.A. I'm not going to join in the chorus of "traitor" and have it turned back on me when some new war against African-Americans is exposed and the right wants to call some journalist a traitor. Call him a hack, say he did it for no reason other than politics, talk about his teeth even but I do not think the word "traitor" is appropriate.

Jim: And that's a good point. That will come back to bite the left in the butt. Plame was outed for the wrong reason but I don't subscribe to the belief that it is wrong for a journalist to to out a CIA agent. Now Bully Boy's daddy does subscribe to that belief but I don't. There needs to be more sunshine on the CIA, not less. I think it was misjudgement and wrong of Novak to do it. I think he's a creep and needs to get those teeth fixed. But I'm not going to go "Traitor! Traitor!"
If tomorrow Robert Parry wants to out a CIA agent that's doing damage to the country, the right will scream "Traitor!" and then call the left hypocrites for not joining in.

Dona: Well, I think we need to make a distinction here because there's the left and there's partisans on either side. I think Novak should be forced to address his reasoning for the outing. I don't think there's a justification for it. But he should have to address it. And if he were of the left or even a mainstream journalist, look at Gary Webb, he'd have the right coming down on him and lose his job. But at a time when reporters, some good ones, some bad ones, are under attack, and we discussed this in class last month, for their actual reporting, I don't want to join in on the "traitor" screams. Hack, disgusting and con artist more than describe the way I feel regarding Robert Novak.

Ava: So the connections are left out in running down the daily events too often?

Ty: Yeah, I feel they are. I think, and I read Veronica's e-mail and she was clear she didn't just mean read fiction, that a lot of times there are bigger issues than what gets discussed.

Rebecca: Right. Dexter Filkins, to offer an example, I know from my e-mail that there are people who just can't believe that C.I. would question Dexter's reporting on Falluja. "He's won a prize!"

C.I.: He just won another one.

Rebecca: My e-mailers haven't heard of that yet. But the reality is that if you move beyond the daily drama of the doemestic papers, if you read Christian Parenti's book or if you read Dahr Jamail's writings or hear him speak, you're exposed to a lot more than what you're getting. I really can't believe some of the reactions to C.I.'s statements re: Dexter. The piece, the award winning piece, is total fluff. People who've read it appear to have read nothing more. He provides no context.

Jim: It's a disgusting piece of writing. There are innocents being killed around him and he didn't go into that. He didn't go into the fact that people, males of all ages, who attempted to leave Falluja were forced back into the city. It was a seige. A Robert Fisk would attempt to give you a total picture, Filkins just wanted to play cheerleader. What went down in Falluja was horrorific and when you're chasing down the daily events as reported by the mainstream, you may not ever find that out.

Ava: Dallas is on i.m. and hunting down links as I give him references, Common Ills community member Dallas, and he's hunting down links for everything so that we have links. He's got a ton from The Common Ills and the statements that were made here in a roundtable. C.I., do you have a preference?

C.I.: Go with the comments here. It's one link and it's a summary of comments that had already appeared at The Common Ills and that continue to appear there. And I want Dallas' NCR entry highlighted because he does do a great deal of link hunting.

Ava: Agreed, typing it in now. And I'll note that because Dallas helps us so often, we have extended an offer to participate in roundtables but he's stated he's more comfortable being our unofficial researcher.

Jess: I'm surprised that there's been criticism about C.I.'s call on Filkens. Have we gotten e-mail here on it?

Ava: Only in agreement.

Rebecca: "Sex" is in my blog title and that tends to attract a lot of right wingers. In fact, I've backed off some recent sexually frank entries I've been wanting to do just because the trolls are getting on my nerves.

Jess: My parents are old lefties, but the only thing surprising to them about C.I.'s comments on Filkens was that others weren't making them. They've really become huge TCI fans, my Dad even plans to write you.

C.I.: He did and he got a personal reply Friday. And that's, to return to e-mails, is another thing that I would miss out on if I wasn't reading the e-mails. I don't mean Jess' father's comments but a lot of e-mails are from people upset that something's not being addressed. I don't worry about blowing any "credibility." I'm not trying to set myself up in any line of work. But we should be able to address issues within the community that might cause others to back off because they may not be the current popular statement or position. Iraq was one of the main issues to start up The Common Ills and we're not giving to Filkins a pass just because he's being treated like an actual reporter and winning awards. My "credibility" is less important to me than saying, "There's something wrong with this reporting."

Jess: My parents feel like the peace movement is too often being dismised and silenced. Not just by the mainstream and conservatives but by the left.

Ty: Or those centerists passing themselves off as the left.

C.I.: I would agree with that completely. When CodePink's attacked for doing a rally, there's a problem. If someone on the left doesn't want to attend, don't. But to start playing God and saying, "They shouldn't do this!" or, after, "They shouldn't have done this!" is just nonsense.
Focus on what you can do if you don't like what they're doing but stop attempting to muzzle one of the most important activists groups we've seen in sometime.

Ava: We lost Betty for part of this but we have her back on the line so I'm going to go to Betty since she wasn't able to comment for most of this conversation.

Betty: I came in on Filkens so if this has already been covered, I'm sorry for repeating. I read his report. I'm a Common Ills member and C.I. questioned that the day it ran. I clicked on it that day and read it. That is' winning awards doesn't mean that it's good. By that logic, no black woman gave an Academy award worthing performance in a lead role into Halle Berry. Awards don't indicate quality. They indicate word of mouth. Filkins did a one-sided report that treated the destruction of Falluja like a video game. I agree that history will not be kind to Filkins. I've heard it discussed here and at The Common Ills and somewhere else --

C.I.: Ron, of Why Are We Back In Iraq?, blogged on it.

Betty: But otherwise there seems to be a lot of silence. When he's being applauded still for that report I think there should be more criticism. He didn't write reality and while there is silence, he gets to act as though he's the brave reporter.

Jim: Reporting from the Green Zone.

Dona: Exactly.

Jess: My parents feel like Judith Miller is known as someone they shouldn't trust but that a lot of other reporters are getting a huge pass.

C.I.: But the criticism of Miller didn't originate in the mainstream. For a long time, it came largely from the socialist newspapers. I wish I could tell you which ones but I don't know. I have a friend who went to school with Miller and spent forever defending her. So when the criticism started to mount, prior to the invasion, I would hear about it. It gained traction and I think the same thing will happen with Filkins. Though Bill Keller's annoyed by "arm chair media critics," the reality is no one blinks today when Miller's reporting is questioned. Even my friend who went to school with her no longer bothers to mount a defense. I think Filkins will find the same fate awaits him. The prizes only put him in the spotlight and vulnerable to more criticism.

Betty: After the initial story ran, or at least right after the first award, you were silent on it for a bit.

C.I.: Right. I held my tongue. And noted during that initial period that I was holding my tongue. I'd already addressed the report and I could be wrong. My attitude was, since I could be wrong, let him enjoy his moment for the bit. He was back in this country for the first time in forever. But I kept reading that story and reading it and what was coming out, months later, demonstrated, to me, that it was even more false. That's my opinion. I could be wrong. I can always be wrong. I don't think I am on this. I've talked to two reporters in that area and to three more who've been in the Green Zone. I've read up on it which means mainly Dahr Jamail.
I could be wrong but I don't think I am. I believe very firmly that he wrote a great pitch for a screenplay but a lousy version of reality. Since there was a lenthy delay on the time of the events and when it actually made the paper, something like six days, I won't give him a pass for having to meet a deadline. The story was constructed and he's stood by it while accepting awards. He'll have to stand by it when history examines it and I don't think history will applaud it. One more time, I could be wrong.

Jess: My parents clipped that article. They didn't know about The Common Ills then but when they read the article, they felt the same way so I don't think you're wrong. They have a folder they call "war pornogarphy" and they felt Filkens more than earned a right to be included in that folder. I'm sure that's an honor he wouldn't be pleased with. But my Mom says that people like that usually get off. That someone like Judith Miller becomes the lightening rod and the sacrificial lamb while the others who participated will suddenly do a 180 as criticism of the war mounts and that's what they'll get remembered for, not their own part in disinformation and cheerleading.

Betty: And there's so much war pornography. There's so much being shoved at us, overload, that it is hard to address what's actually important. But if everyone's following their own voices and their own leads, then maybe the result says something? I have no idea what I'm trying to say. Until the middle of it, I knew just where I was headed.

C.I.: Okay, well, let's say Rebecca notes The New Republic's cheerleading for war --

Rebecca: Which they did.

C.I.: And you note Thomas Friedman. And Atrios notes someone else and Kos and the diarists there note several people, that the total picture reveals something. Is that what you're getting at?

Betty: Right. It's the total picture and each segment, maybe adds to it.

Ty: Which is why I go to Bob Somerby's site. I don't have to agree with every word up there and disagreed about Lawrence Summers but The Daily Howler is about monitoring the media and holding people accountable. If there's one area I wish he'd touch that he doesn't it would be the mainstream reporting coming out of Iraq. He's more focused on D.C. and that's his voice, so fine, but I'd really love to see him or someone with his instincts bear down on what's passing for reporting.

Ava: And Ty's will be the last word because we swore we'd do only an hour and we've gone way over that. Thanks to Veronica for the question and hopefully she enjoyed our free association as we used her question for a jumping off point. We'll also say thanks to Dallas who's still hunting down links.

Books: Five Books, Five Minutes

When compiling the edition last week, we noted that we should be doing more on books. We support books (unlike Harry Reid -- that is a joke). And one thing we agreed to was that we would all go to a library and grab a book. Why a library? We're mindful that our readers are often on tight budgets. Though we've conducted no readers' survey, we're sure many aren't buying the latest high end item, nor would many want to.

We support libraries. We defend them. And we urge you to utilize the ones in your area.

So by Monday evening, those who were going had gone. (Naming names, Rebecca how could you forget!, Ty, you bastard!, ditto Ava!) (Seriously, all had things come up that prevented them from going.) But we did have five people select books (Jim, Dona, Jess, Betty and C.I.) and the others did track down copies. The rule was, try to read it. If it was useless to you, put it down and move on to another book. We're calling this "Five Books, Five Minutes" because this isn't an indepth look at books.

Jess picked Ed Broth's Stories From a Moron: Real Stories Rejected by Real Magazines. A word to our readers, don't be a Jess! Jess honestly thought these would be real stories rejected by real magazines. This is a comedic work. Jess didn't enjoy it and bailed on page 74. The rest of us that made it through, after cursing Jess, chuckled a few times. But none of us were impressed. It's one joke done over and over. And over. If you like comedic books, we suggest you find one. This isn't one.

Dick Cheney was on the minds of two. Betty and Jim both picked out books on Cheney.

Betty picked out The Dick Cheney Code by Henry Beard. This is a parody. We know that because it's clearly marked on the front cover "a parody." Did we laugh? A lot more than at Ed Broth's book. But it actually was funny. Ty enjoyed the jokes at Skull & Bones and the invented group Deathenpoofs. (We're assuming it was invented.) Dona felt that to really get the humor, you had to read The DaVinci Code. Since only Dona had read that book, we'll take her word on it. Dona said if you've read The DaVinci Code and wondered "Does this thing ever end?" you'd love The Dick Cheney Code.

Dona says this passage will hook any readers of The Da Vinci Code:

Sandra held the 8 Ball a few inches from her face and examined it carefully. Around its midsection was a thin, practically invisible seam. Grasping the ball tightly in both hands, she twisted the top away from the bottom with a firm counterclockwise motion. After one complete turn, the two hemispheres separated smoothly.
"Magic," said Mount.
Franklin whistled softly. Neatly nestled in the hollow core of the upper half of the ball sat a mini compact disc. Sandra removed it. Underneath was another of Dumont's ticket-size manila envelopes. She opened it and removed a plastic access card for the self-storage warehouse across the street and a Master padlock key. On the outside of the envelope, in the by-now-familiar felt-tip pen, Dumont had written:
Franklin groaned. "Here we go again."

That's from pages 75 to 76 and Dona swears it will hook anyone who "waded through" The Da Vinci Code and needs a good laugh.

Jim picked up Dick : The Man Who Is President by John Nichols. We all enjoyed this book and would recommend that you read it. Here's a section detailing behind the scene events during the first Gulf War (pp. 116-117):

Along with Wolfowitz, Cheney liked Rowan's bold thinking. In an interview a decade later, Rowen recalled Cheney telling him to "set up a team [to explore the idea], and don't tell Powell or anybody else." Suddenly, as James Mann has observed, "the defense secretary was quietly campaigning for a war plan different from the one submitted by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."
Famously, Cheney told Colin Powell during this time to "stick to military matters." But it was actually Cheney and his aides who were expanding their job descriptions. Cheney's secret team came up with Operation Scorpion, an elaborate plan that involved sending U.S. troops to remote regions west of Baghdad, from which they could, presumably, threaten Saddam. Schwartkopf got wind of the scheme and pointed out that it would be impossible to suppy troops who were dispatched to the distant deserts of western Iraq. Bush and Baker, who recognized the diplomatic disaster that the plan to despose an Arab leader would create, backed the general, and Operation Scorpion was quickly consigned to the dustbin of history -- although Cheney and Wolfowitz would continue to entertain fantasies about "decapitating" Saddam and imposing "regime change." The Operation Scorpion raised real questions about Cheney's capacity to contribute to the war effort. Schwarzkopf would later express his frustrations with Cheney's Operation Scorpion scheming, observing, "I wondered whether Cheney had succumbed to the phenomenon I'd observed among some secretaries of the army. Put a civilian in charge of professional military men and before long he's no longer satisfied with setting policy but wants to out-general the generals."
Duly chastened, Cheney, whom the Washington Post took to referring to as "the desk-chair warrior," faded from the forefront of the Iraq effort.

It's summer, the seaon of blockbusters and sequels. And the original Darth Vader, Dick Cheney, is back. Read Dick: The Man Who Is President to understand the origins of Darth, er, Dick.

Dona picked Eve Ensler's The Good Body which is a play. We all enjoyed this book. Possibly more than Dick: The Man Who Is President. But then, unlike with Dick Cheney, no one had to die for Eve Ensler to make a name for herself. Ensler is famous as the playwright of The Vagina Monlogues. We found the book to be humorous and involving. Reading the book was a pleasure. Especially for Ty who started reading his copy right after seeing Justin Timberlake and Snoop Dog's "Signs."

Rebecca: Oh, Inch Worm! If he wants to continue to push the lie that he's got a "trouser snake," he'd be smart not to dance around in baggy pants again. Credit that to "Rebecca, blogger and crotch watcher."

Ty: Inch Worm got a pass for ripping off Janet's top [Janet Jackson] and he's still using women to make himself look manly. It's ridiculous. And shame on the women involved for letting some white man objectify them like that. Inch Worm never looked whiter than he does surrounded by people of color. Those Michael Jackson moves were tired a decade ago. Can he do anything besides steal from black artists? As for Snoop Dog, it may be over. He comes off like Little Richard throughout the video and that's not a "street" look anyone's going after.

In her play, Ensler's dealing with body image issues. We'd suggest that Inch Worm read it. Learn to love your shortcomings, Inchworm, embrace them.

Which brings us to our fifth and final book. Artists In Times of War (C.I.'s pick). This book was universally loved. It's written by a youngster named Howard Zinn, remember that name because if the mainstream media ever gets behind him, he could be the hottest thing in publishing.

As most readers know, Howard Zinn is a historian and one of the important voices. If you haven't heard of the book, just the name Howard Zinn should peak your interest. Here's an excerpt from pages 56 - 57.

If you don't know where the terrorists are, I ask, what are you doing bombing Afghanistan and Iraq? There may be a network in the Philippines, in Syria, in Somalia -- who knows where? Clearly, by bombing and bombing we haven't done anything about terrorism. It's as if a crime had been committed, a mass murder, and you're looking for the perpetrators, and you hear that they are hiding out in Cambridge. Bomb Cambridge! Or to get rid of the criminals in this neighborhood -- you bomb the neighborhood! You can do so just on the chance that this might result in killing the criminal. This is what we've been doing in Afghanistan -- and it's absurd, from a pragmatic point of view.
Then on the moral point of view. How many innocent civilians have we killed with our bombing?

The book is composed of three talks and one essay. We'd strongly suggest you check it out.

So, for our five books in five minutes, pick up Zinn, Ensler and Nichols immediately. If you like humorous novels, pick up Beard's The Dick Cheney Code. But take a pass on Ed Broth.

We're providing links for the books (to Powell's Books and Seven Stories Press). You can utilize the links to find additional information on the books. You can also use them to order the books. But we hope you'll visit your local libraries and support them.

Music: Kat's Korner: Carole King's Tapestry

In our salute to good writing, spotlighting a Kat's Korner is a given. Here she's reviewing Carole King's Tapestry.

We asked Kat if there was anything she wanted to add about her review.

Kat: Sally read it at The Common Ills. She saw it online and e-mailed me and we had a three hour conversation about Mrs. Lee, Tapestry and the stickers we put on our notebooks. She said reading the review really took her back.

Kat's Korner: Carole King's Tapestry


Piano lessons. Mrs. Lee. Old. Really old. Never smiled.

Waxy hair, waxy teeth. Breath that could drop a rhino.


Me and Sally were on time. It was Mrs. Lee that was late.

We were supposed to be working on Fantasie in G MajorD. 1.

Sally was showing me this instead.

It's easy, she said.

And it was.


We were in the auditorium. Playing the only part we knew. The part Sally's older brother had shown her.

Over and over.

We got 30 minutes of time.

15 for Sally, 15 for me.

Unless we were working on a piece together.

By the clock on the wall, Mrs. Lee was 20 minutes late.


"SALLY! KAITLIN! What are you doing!"


"That's not what you're supposed to be practicing"


"Stop that!"

I looked Sally. Sally looked at me.


We were kicked out of piano.

Story always makes me smile. Know what else makes me smile? Mrs. Lee's long gone and moved on to an afterlife where I'm sure she continues to torture and dampen spirits. Meanwhile Carole King's Tapestry is still in print.

Oh Kat, of course it is. It's one of the biggest selling albums of all time. Yes, that's true, but,dig it, I'm talking about something else here.

Call it a "songbook" or call it a "folio" but for almost 34 years now, Tapestry has remained in print.

Do you know how rare that is?

Want to find Thriller in songbook? Check a garage sale. Want to find Tapestry? Get over to Hal Leonard, your local music store, your local Tower . . .

The album opens with "I Feel the Earth Move" -- the song Sally and I refused to stop playing much to Mrs. Lee's dismay.

It's an energetic song and one that starts the album off strong. I'd forgotten just how strong the album was until Eli & Ruth were both asking for this review.

I listened to Tapestry for the first time in I don't know how long.

If you have Tapestry and you were alive in the 70s as an adult or child, put on the album right now. Well, not right now, finish reading the review. But after.

Put it on and see if the album isn't more than just a pleasant reminder of a time past.

Tapestry came out when Tricky Dick was in office. These days we have the Bully Boy. Not a great deal has changed, has it? We're fighting another war of choice. The country's discontent is growing.

Listen to the album for right now, not as a relic. See if you don't pick up on some themes.

I do feel the earth move under my feet when I continue to encounter college and high school students joining in the peace movement, fueling it.

Earth's moving but you won't hear about it in the mainstream. We're still the dislocated country King wrote and sang of in "So Far Away." There are so many wonderful moments in each song. Personally I like the way her voice dips on "soon" in "Way Over Yonder."

I love the way the backing voices of Joni Mitchell and James Taylor blend and offer support on "Will You LoveMe Tomorrow." And the quarter note rest right after "morning sun" always grabs me as the melodic song stops for a moment. It fits too. Maybe it was there in the Shirelles original version, I didn't notice it.

But when the narrator is singing doubts and asking questions such as "But will my heart be broken/ When the night meets the morning sun" that break is needed before the third verses desperate hopes come in.

The arrangements on this album are amazing. And at the center of the album is Carole King's voice and piano skills.

There's a freshness to her voice (even now) that's distinct and draws you in. It's not the most perfect voice, but that's part of the charm.

When someone wants to begrudgingly admit to Tapestry's importance as an album, they usually follow it up with, "But she never did another Tapestry."

Well who did?

It's a benchmark, a milestone. Coming on the heels of the loss of the three J's (Janis, Jimi, Jim) and a country in conflict with not only another nation, but also with itself, King's songs of hope in the face of loss reached a receptive audience.

Over the years, some have slammed the album as a retreat. Believe that was Dylan's New Morning. Who of the big names other Jefferson Airplane was still rocking it's radical ass by 1971? Tapestry can be seen as an embrace of the world around and the changes that are coming whether we want them or not. There's not a "Life in the Fast Lane" track on the album.

There is mourning and celebration and embracing life and loss.

One of the key lines may be "Once he reached for something golden and hanging from a tree/And his hand came down empty" ("Tapestry").

Could you have lived through the late sixties and early seventies without having felt that? Could you have looked around you honestly and still believed what you were taught in US history was reflected in the chaos around you?

Tapestry is a snapshot of the period. It also still has something to say today. That's because Tapestry can be summed up as wounded and hopeful. Crosby, Stills & Nash fans can think of it as "Hopelessly Hoping."

Chaos and change abounds on the album: "It's Too Late," "Smack Water Jack," "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow." Hopes there too: "Way Over Yonder," "Home Again," "Where You Lead," "You've Got a Friend." And through it all:

I have often asked myself the reason for the sadness
In a world where tears are just a lullaby

Sad but true, we really haven't come that far from that time period.

And Carole King's wounded, hopeful voice is matched by some passionate and strong piano playing. That's why the folio/songbook remains in print. But the piano did something else,
it brought King into the band. As with Aretha Franklin, King's piano playing made her more than just another "girl singer" standing in front of a microphone while the band played behind her. It gave her a power that a lot of people hadn't seen before for a woman in popular music.


Can you hear that in "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" (after "you came along to claim it" and "'til your kiss helped me name it") and not notice it? The impassioned playing adds to the strength of each song. The power of this album comes not only from the wonderful songs and the very human voice (which is actually quite touching), but also from the powerhouse playing. When the songs are remade, too often the "slow" songs come off tepid and the "fast" ones come off mechanical. That's because, unlike those who would follow, King knew exactly where to punch in and where to take it down a notch.

Throughout Tapestry, she plays like a master, finding just the section to add weight to and just the moment to find stillness. Organic was the word tossed around when this album spent years on the chart and it's a word those attempting to remake some songs would do well to think about. Everything on each track adds to the mood. And the themes (lyrical and musical) create the, well, tapestry that is Tapestry.

So if you've never heard the album, track it down. If you've heard it before, listen again. You'll find not only something that speaks to today but also something that brings back memories.

For me, I'll always think of that early rebellion against the autocrat Mrs. Lee.


Lyrical cutting: Carly Simon, "Tonight the Sun Went Down In Flames"

A number of e-mails have requested another cutting of either collected poems or songs. When Ty noted that, he suggested we go with songs and a vote had Carly Simon coming out as our top choice. We've assmbled cuttings from nine songs and we'll call it "Tonight the Sun Went Down In Flames."

Tonight the sun went down in flames
And the moon rose up in blue
The heavens spoke and called your name
But I'd rather it was you.

Didn't I give you midnight?
Didn't I give you the month of June?
Didn't I make it alright
When everything was ruined?

I remember when you were looking up at me
Like I was the only one
That you would ever want to see.

Remember when we were fresh in love?
Your eyes were pale
Like the moon
We'd sit on the porch in summer
List'ning for the breezes
Spinning melodies up from the river
I dressed you
Up like a God
The one you were.

You held me close to you
I didn't tell you waht to do
We Were burning', burnin', burnin'
You made love to me
We were crying', we were flyin'
We were dyin' in these field
We'd come out here in the softe nights
I was sunbruned under you.

"Come on Girl!"
You said to me, "let's fly away
Follow me where I will go
And we won't worry about tomorrow."

I remember when you were looking up at me
Like I was tthe only one
You'd ever want to see

We jumped into a river on the moon
But the water was too cold.
We tried to buy the morning star
But it was already sold.
I wanted to make it big with you
But my plans must have been too bold.

But I don't regret what I loved you
How I loved you
I will never forget
And in time I'll look back and remember
The boy that I knew when we first met.

Though I'm in it alone, I'm still in it, in love
And Love can be lonely like a sweet melody
But just maybe he feels me like a whisper inside him
Like and angel beside him, keeping him company.

All lyrics by Carly Simon. Below are the song titles, in order (with albums in parenthesis).

"I'd Rather It Was You" (Letters Never Sent)
"Didn't I?" (Have You Seen Me Lately?)
"You Don't Feel the Same" (Hello, Big Man)
"Make Me Feel Something" (Spoiled Girl)
"In Pain" (Come Upstairs)
"One More Time" (Carly Simon)
"You Don't Feel the Same" (Hello, Big Man)
"Back Down To Earth" (Boys in The Trees)
"It Happens Every Day" (Hello, Big Man)
"Fisherman's Song" (Have You Seen Me Lately?)

Folding Star's Lost Within the Pages: Saturday Book Chat

In our salute to reading, we note Folding Star's book chat from March 26, 2005.

Lost Within the Pages: Saturday Book Chat XI

As you probably know already, I haven't been feeling well this week. As a result, I've only managed to get about halfway through the new Elizabeth George novel, With No One As Witness, so far. But I'm happy to note that it's up to her usual standards and I'm enjoying it a great deal.

I'm also waiting for my library to process their copies of Saturday by Ian McEwan. I'm at number one on the hold list, so as soon as they're ready to be checked out, I'll be reading it!

As I noted earlier, my plans to do a post on the best in political non fiction in the past four years were scuttled by the way my week has turned out. It's still in the cards, but I can't say at this point, with my school schedule about to get much heavier, when it will be up.

Having planned to do a vastly different Book Chat, I sat down this afternoon and wondered what I'd talk about. A quick glance around the room answered my question.

You can tell so much about a person simply by browsing through the titles on their bookshelves. The first thing I do when I go to someone's home for the first time is look, even if it's just out of the corner of my eye, for a bookcase.

The books that someone not only reads, but chooses to keep as their own are a glimpse into their entire personality. I love it when I think I have someone pegged pretty closely and then a glance at their bookshelves opens my eyes to a whole different aspect of who they are.

I'm thinking of this because I've been house sitting for friends all week long and their bookcase is here in their computer room, right next to the computer desk. Every time I sit down to check my email or the blogs, my eyes drift over and run across the titles.

I know these two friends very well, so most of what I see comes as no surprise and fits in perfectly with who I know them to be: a handful of music books, mostly on female artists; several books on forensic science, crime, and serial killers; various science textbooks; the entire Harry Potter collection; books on animals; a handful of crime novels, including several by Thomas Harris; what looks to be nearly every book ever written by V.C. Andrews, each copy worn and obviously much read; a biography of Marilyn Monroe; a photograph book on Marlene Dietrich.

All of this, in one way or another, fits in perfectly with my concept of one or both of the friends who live in this house. There are, though, a few surprises. For instance, two poetry collections, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables and a book of Nostradamus' prophecies give me cause to say "Huh?" I can't really picture either of my friends engaged in reading these books.

This is what I'm talking about. It's like an almost illicit peek into someone else's mind, a glimpse of their character that they don't even realize they're putting on display.

It's always amusing to look at someone's books and pretend you know nothing about them, see what insight you'd take away just from what is there on the shelves if you were strangers.

It also makes me wonder what my own books would say about me if they came under inspection! First of all, someone would have to be in my overly crowded bedroom to see them to begin with. I've always been a bit hesitant to spread my books out too far, there's a comfort in going to sleep at night surrounded by them.

No doubt they'd quickly conclude that fiction is my true love, but that I also have a penchant for politics and sociology. But which books would stand out and cause surprise among those who think they know me? It's impossible to say, though I have a few ideas.

For instance, I think most would be truly shocked to discover the book Growing Up Brady in my collection! Yes, the book by Barry 'Greg Brady' Williams of The Brady Bunch. I've probably even shocked you by revealing this about myself.

Someone might no doubt conclude that I had some secret love for the old show, that perhaps I was hooked on the reruns, that I found something comforting and appealing in the simple, sunny Brady lifestyle. That perhaps I even harbored some sort of secret crush on Barry Williams.

The different possibilities of what my possession of the book could say about me are probably endless.

The truth is probably far less interesting than anything that could be guessed: I did like the Brady Bunch reruns when I was a kid, and I bought the book when I was young and read it two or three times. I wasn't enthralled so much at the behind the scenes look at the show as I was with the behind the scenes look at a child actor. At the time, I was going through a phase where I desperately wanted to be a movie star, as so many kids do.

I keep the book today not because I ever plan to read it again, but because it reminds me so strongly of that period of my life and of my dreams at that time.

I'm sure there are other books in my collection that would surprise people who know me and lead to all sorts of amusing speculation.

My point, really, is that the books we surround ourselves with tell stories beyond just the ones within the covers. They tell stories about us, about who we are. We keep each of them for a reason. If you read a book and hate everything about it, you're not likely to just put it back on your bookshelves afterwards, are you?

You keep a book because it's meant something to you.

Some people, like my parents, don't collect many books. My parents have their favorite used bookstore, a place that deals exclusively in paperbacks, where they buy their books, read them, and then trade them in towards more. Even so, my father has a collection of favorite authors whose books he's collected and kept, because they mean something to him.

Of course, sometimes someone's bookshelves may be mere window dressing. The books upon the shelves may mean nothing at all to their possessor, or at least not in the sense that books usually mean something to readers. I had a roommate like this. When we first began sharing a place, I was impressed that my roommate had a decent sized collection of books, mostly on rock music and Russia. It was only over time that I came to realize that he bought the books out of a genuine interest in the subject, but never got around to actually reading any of them.

Bookcases, like people themselves, can be misleading in what they tell you.

But the next time you visit a friend and they have their bookshelves out where you can see them without snooping around, take a look. See what surprises you, see what they have to say about your friend.

Who knows, maybe they'll notice your interest and it will kick off a great discussion on books.

In the meantime, happy reading everyone.
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