Category Archives: Good Books

A Life Well-Lived– Joe Bageant

Today’s Daily Kos has a celebration of the life and work of Joe Bageant a self-described redneck and unashamed progressive. A man who worked hard and wrote funny and illuminating commentaries on the war on terror, and those who were expected to actually fight it and pay for it too. He also wrote, ‘Deer Hunting With Jesus’, which was on my list of books to buy and now will be my next purchase.

Darn, he was only 64. It’s not how long you live, it’s how well.

For a celebration of his life from a friend– ‘Joe Bageant– We Don’t Last and There’s No Warranty’

From Hippocrates– Ars Longa Vita Brevis. Joe made the most of it.

Family Values

You know, I have a superstition that any couple who enjoys a successful marriage and decides to cash in on that by becoming celebrity marriage counselors is cruising for a flaming public divorce. But the Man from Mars is still married to the Woman from Venus, so maybe I’m wrong.

I haven’t read ‘Going Rough’, I mean ‘Going Rouge’, I mean… whatever. It’s not on the shelf at the Rochambeau Library yet, but when it is I’ll check it out. Does that make me a socialist freeloading off the communal space? Let’s cut out the middleman, Sarah. Tell me what your percentage is and I’ll mail it to you.

There’s a gothic novel, or maybe a long-running soap opera like Dark Shadows, in the drama of the Palin in-laws. That is, her sister’s ex-husband, a State Trooper, who is deeply hurt by how he is portrayed in the book.

The Palin out-law will be found baring his soul in Playgirl. They never have that magazine at Rochambeau, and the kid’s got nothing I ain’t seen before so I’m not wasting five bucks. I’m more interested in what he says, but you can read that for free on the net.

How to be a Best Seller

According to Alternet, Sarah Palin’s new book is selling at a deep discount on right wing sites even before it’s released. If you read the New York Times bestseller list, look for the little thingy that looks like a dagger, indicating bulk sales. Who’s on your Christmas list?

Mary Gaitskill Interview on Bat Segundo

Mary Gaitskill has a new novel out — after 10 years. She discusses the novel, Veronica, among other things, on the Bat Segundo Show.

Kevin Drum’s Review of “Impostor” by Bruce Bartlett

The review is called George W. Bush is no Ronald Reagan and I’d like to add that in my favorite passage in the review, Drum points out that Ronald Reagan was no Ronald Reagan either. In other words, Reagan’s actual behavior, and many of the things that happened during his administration, were not nearly as small government and “traditionally conservative” as conservatives like to believe. From the article:

What’s more, as Bartlett tacitly acknowledges, Reagan in practice wasn’t as conservative as his supporters remember him being. Sure, he famously cut taxes in 1981, but he raised taxes in nearly every year after that—including corporate taxes. He took a stab at cutting Social Security, but backed off after losing seats in the 1982 election and ended up endorsing a conventional liberal solution that increased payroll taxes and created a massive trust fund. He reduced the growth of domestic spending, but he never eliminated the cabinet departments he had promised to eliminate. In fact, he even added a new one. And he supported expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, an important anti-poverty measure. The reason that even liberals look back on Reagan a little more fondly today than they did at the time is that, in the end, he turned out to be a fairly pragmatic guy. (For more on this, see “Reagan’s Liberal Legacy,” by Joshua Green, January/February 2003.)

This is the reality that true-believer conservatives—Bartlett among them—don’t want to believe. For all the trash talking from right-wing leaders like Grover Norquist and Tom DeLay, the fact is that America is only a moderately conservative country. And despite the electoral success of conservatives over the past decade, that hasn’t changed much. Although party affiliations have shifted as Southern conservatives have migrated to the GOP, Harris polls since the early 1970s show that Americans self-identify as about 20 percent liberal, 35 percent conservative, and the rest in between, and those numbers have been rock-steady for decades. So where’s the conservative revolution?

Well, that’s kind of reassuring. If Kevin Drum is right, we’re still winning, and even with the flop that is Bush, there is hope. Now if we could just get back some of the billions he gave away in tax cuts and restore them for social security….

Poetic Interlude

The Owl Who Comes

The owl who comes
through the dark
to sit
in the black boughs of the apple tree

and stare down
the hook of his beak,
dead silent,
and his eyes

like two moons
in the distance,
soft and shining
under their heavy lashes—

like the most beautiful lie—
is thinking
of nothing
as he watches

and waits to see
what might appear,
briskly,
out of the seamless,

deep winter—
out of the teeming
world below—
and if I wish the owl luck,

and I do,
what am I wishing for that other
soft life,
climbing through the snow?

What we must do,
I suppose,
is to hope the world
keeps its balance;

what we are to do, however,
with our hearts
waiting and watching—truly
I do not know.

—Mary Oliver

from New And Selected Poems, Volume Two © 2005

Joyce Carol Oates: Drawn to Failure

After 37 novels and 23 short story collections, what more is there to say? And that’s just it with Joyce Carol Oates: there’s more, and it’s just as good, if not better, than her other works. I recently read The Falls and am in awe all over again, like I have been dozens of times before after reading her work.

Oates describes herself as “drawn to failure” and in certain respects I can see what she means. How else can you write so many books that actually depict the difficult, deeply flawed nature of humans? You would almost need to be addicted to failure to keep examining and describing and contemplating humanity’s failures the way Oates does.

Indeed, what is most compelling about Oates, and what some readers find unbearably frustrating, is her relentless ability to depict the ambiguity of life — the way people are so adorable and yet so annoying, so gifted and yet so flawed, so loving and yet so hurtful.

As much as Oates is drawn to failure, however, she also has a keen eye for what makes life possible — for what makes people adapt and find their way out of the wilderness of their own past. In The Falls, Ariah Burnaby, widow and single mother with three children, finally manages to honor the life of her husband, even after forcing him out of her mind and refusing to ackowledge him to her children as they grew up. Pride and survivalism caused her to make enormous mistakes (I saw one reviewer calling it “emotional abuse” the way she would not allow the memory of her husband, their father, to be part of their lives) but her children did not give up loving her, and she did not give up loving them, and in the end her pride succumbed.

Oates also has an unparalleled ability to incorporate pivotal social and political events into her novels. The Falls features the events leading up to the now famous Love Canal lawsuits in which families harmed by toxic dumping were finally able to win litigation against the chemical corporations responsible. Oates depicts accurately the brutal way politicians, lawyers, judges, and wealthy corporate bigwigs conspire to make it difficult if not impossible for ordinary citizens to seek protection or remediation from the law.

Below is a quote from Oates which, as a writer of fiction, I find tremendously liberating. It is from the profile of Oates in the back of The Falls:

On the wall above Joyce Carol Oates’s desk is a 1957 quote from the film director Alfred Hitchcock. It says: “It’s only a movie, let’s not go too deeply into these things.” These simple words of advice were given to Kim Novak when she was feeling agitated and despondent on the set of Vertigo. “I thought it was good advice,” says Joyce Carol Oates. “Writers can get too intense and too emotionally involved with their work. Sometimes I tend to get a little anxious and nervous about my writing, and I can make myself unhappy, so I look up at that quote and think, it’s only a book, don’t worry, it’s not your life.”

Sweet Relief!

The Kite Runner — Good Story, Unique, Timeless Subjects

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is a powerful read. It’s about Amir, born and raised in Afghanistan, and the friendship he has with his father’s servant’s son, Hassan, a boy of his same age. Eventually the story gets into the Afghan political upheaval of the 1980′s, when Amir and his father seek refuge in the US. But the narrator returns to Afghanistan in 2001, in search of his boyhood friend.

Knowing only the basics about the history of Afghanistan before starting this novel, I felt like I learned about the struggle firsthand through Amir. The character of Amir has a certain tenderness to him that is utterly disarming and that draws you in, making you feel his love for his father and for his country as if it is your own.

The story captures the essence of those earliest relationships — the selfless friendships that children naturally forge. The father-son relationship in the story is also handled well, with a developing depth to both characters as the story proceeds.

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