Book Digest: July 9, 2007

The Big Eddy Club; American Speeches; Targeting Iran; Passions and Tempers; The Reagan Diaries; Not Remotely Controlled; Everything Is Miscellaneous; American Carnival; A Nail Through the Heart; D.C. Comics Covergirls; The Exception; A Russian Diary

Here’s some inside baseball on big-time journalism’s favorite default mechanism to fill space or air in the event of a slow news day or a lack of imagination: a list. In this present case, I can plead that, given the high volume of books noted in the Book Digest, a mid-season report is a valuable public service. In no particular order, here are my favorite 32 books for the first half of this year:
  • Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties by Robert Stone (Ecco)
  • Returning to Earth by Jim Harrison (Grove Press)
  • Ravel by Jean Echenoz, translated by Linda Coverdale (New Press)
  • House of Meetings by Martin Amis (Knopf)
  • The Gospel of Food: Everything You Know About Food Is Wrong by Barry Glassner (Ecco)
  • Inland by K.C. Frederick (Permanent Press)
  • Mississippi Sissy by Kevin Sessums (St. Martin’s Press)
  • Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcón (HarperCollins)
  • Alligator by Lisa Moore (Black Cat/Grove Press)
  • Finn by Jon Clinch (Random House)
  • United States V. George Bush et al. by Elizabeth de la Vega (Seven Stories)
  • Divisadero by Michael Ondaajte (Knopf)
  • The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish by Elise Blackwell (Unbridled Books)
  • The Opposite House by Helen Oyeyemi (Nan Talese/ Doubleday)
  • Man Gone Down by Michael Thomas (Black Cat)
  • The Pesthouse by Jim Crace (Doubleday)
  • The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Natasha Wimmer (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
  • Up in Honey’s Room by Elmore Leonard (William Morrow)
  • The Goat Bridge by T.M. McNally (Sweetwater Fiction)
  • The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander (Knopf)
  • Endless Things by John Crowley (Small Beer Press)
  • Fellow Travelers by Thomas Mallon (Pantheon)
  • Chemistry and Other Stories by Ron Rash (Picador)
  • Killing Che by Chuck Pfarrer (Random House)
  • Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900 by Jack Beatty (Knopf)
  • A Miracle of Catfish by Larry Brown (Algonquin)
  • The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan (Grove Press)
  • The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber (William Morrow)
  • Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (Graywolf)
  • The Big Girls by Susanna Moore (Knopf)
  • It Can Happen Here: Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush by Joe Conason (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin Press)
  • The Custodian of Paradise by Wayne Johnston (Norton)
Now, on to the next half of 2007.

The Big Eddy Club: The Stocking Stranglings and Southern Justice by David Rose
Book Digest There is nothing new about racism and the American South, and so for a book about injustice in the South to be news, it has to either be written by John Grisham or have a particularly compelling aggregate of facts and characters. Vanity Fair writer David Rose spent some 10 years investigating the case of African-American Carlton Gary, who was convicted and sentenced to death in 1986 in connection with the rape and murder of seven elderly women in Columbus, Ga., in the ‘70s. Gary has been on death row for more than two decades despite widespread reservations about his guilt. Rose frames the dramatic tension between Gary’s putative legal lynching and an earlier lynching in 1912—and suggests unsettling connections.

American Speeches: Political Oratory From Abraham Lincoln to Bill Clinton edited by Ted Widmer
Book Digest This is the second in a two-volume set that anthologizes 83 of the most eloquent and consequential speeches from the end of the Civil War to Bill Clinton's second term. The included orators—Susan B. Anthony, Oliver Wendell Homes, Jr., William Jennings Bryan, Martin Luther King, Jr., and a bunch of presidents—are unsurprising, excepting Malcolm X’s “the ballot or the bullet” speech.

On a personal note, I wonder why Eugene McCarthy’s nomination speech of Adlai Stevenson at the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles in 1960 was not included? Remember Stevenson? Remember Gene McCarthy? Remember who was nominated?

Targeting Iran by David Barsamian
Book Digest In 1953, the CIA deposed a popular leader in Iran and installed the Shah. Ever since, Iran has been a part of U.S. foreign policy—even if most Americans still can’t find it on a map. This slim anthology provides some much-needed background, context, and discussion about today’s U.S.-Iran relations and a possible future U.S. imbroglio. Read it and weep.

Passions and Tempers: A History of the Humours by Noga Arikha
Book Digest It seems there is a boomlet of interest in various noxious subjects and substances—there was Stiff (cadavers) and recently Hubbub (the stench of old England) and now a historical investigation on the humours: you know, blood, phlegm, black bile, and choler—the stuff of our medical science up until the last few hundred years, some of which persists yet today.

The Reagan Diaries by Ronald Reagan, edited by Douglas Brinkley
Book Digest I don’t think I could read the words and thoughts of our 40th president, but having reassessed him due to Richard Reeves’s engaging and incisive book, I think listening to Reagan’s diaries, read by veteran voice Eric Conger, might be interesting—and hopefully, instructive. However, I’m not sure I could handle the 13 hours on this set. Luckily, there is an abridgement of three hours’ duration.

» Listen to an excerpt from The Reagan Diaries at HarperCollins

Not Remotely Controlled: Notes on Television by Lee Siegel
Book Digest Lee Siegal, senior editor at The New Republic, failed blogger, sock puppeteer, and cultural critic, is a somewhat controversial figure whose adversaries are, by my reading, more amusing and useful. Reading this collection of TNR columns on television, the only thing I found interesting was Siegel’s citation of a wonderful quote by Paul Goodman and a labored attack on the politicization of comedy and a scolding of Jon Stewart. Oh, well.

Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder by David Weinberger
Book Digest Apparently another of the Internet’s transformational moments is happening—one that allows experts and visionaries like Weinberger to compose tomes explaining stuff we cannot seem to figure out by ourselves. The kicker here is that, as his publisher asserts, “he shows how by ‘going miscellaneous,’ anyone can reap rewards from the deluge of information in modern work and life.”

Anyone? I’m thinking waving a chicken claw over my computer may be more effective.

American Carnival: Journalism Under Siege in an Age of New Media by Neil Henry
Book Digest I'm pretty sure that, for the most part, only journalists read books about the state of journalism—but so what? We're people, too. Anyway, Neil Henry, who paid his dues at the Washington Post and now has a cushy sinecure at Berkeley's j-school, has written a hybrid memoir that explores the recent degradation of journalism and a decline in so-called professionalism (oy vey, old media lashes out again!). Henry proclaims that's bad news (no pun) for democracy.

Me, I think the increasing economic stratification of the U.S. economy, resembling a Central American country, is the real bad news.

A Nail Through the Heart by Timothy Hallinan
Book Digest A few writers have trolled Southeast Asia to serve up some thrilling, heart-racing fiction, and Timothy Hallinan—who has spent a fair amount of time on the ground in Cambodia and Thailand—has the institutional knowledge and chops to deliver a fine and entertaining story. In this novel we have travel writer Poke Rafferty, who has been successful with a “Looking for Trouble in…” series and is trying to put together a makeshift family with an ex-bar girl and a street kid. He falls into havoc and mayhem as he tries to collect some coupons/favors from his friend, an honest Bangkok cop. The prose is electric and visceral, advancing the story powerfully and sucking you into its wake.

» Read an excerpt from A Nail Through the Heart

D.C. Comics Covergirls by Louise Simonson
Book Digest Sooner or later it had to happen: The ladies had to get their due. In this fun-filled monograph, expert comic-book writer—meaning she writes them as well as writes about them—Louise Simonson looks back at D.C. Comics’s history. She begins with Wonder Woman in the ‘40s and her various personae, as well as Lois Lane, Supergirl, Birds of Prey, Batgirl, and Catwoman—and features the artwork of D.C. Comics’ stable of illustrious maestros.

The Exception by Christian Jungerson
Book Digest This bestselling European novel, written by a young Dane, takes on the issues of personal evil and genocide as four women in a small human-rights nonprofit in Copenhagen are threatened and stalked, so they believe, by a Serbian torturer and war criminal they have exposed. This leads to a ramping-up of tensions among the four coworkers and a boiling-over of suspicions within their own sanctified world.

» Read an excerpt from The Exception

A Russian Diary: A Journalist’s Final Account of Life, Corruption, and Death in Putin’s Russia by Anna Politkovskaya, translated by Arch Tait
Book Digest Bravery is not in short supply (though our cognition of it seems to be). We have soldiers in various hot zones around the world, and police and firemen risking life and limb in the service of their fellow citizens. Increasingly, reporting from various hot zones has become a perilous enterprise, too. Now take heed of bravery of a different sort: Anna Politkovskaya, widely viewed as Russia’s lost moral conscience and the writer of A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya, Putin’s Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy, and A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches From Chechnya, and who was murdered in Moscow late last year, now reports from beyond the grave.

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour exclaims, “Anna Politkovskaya defined the human conscience. Her relentless pursuit of the truth in the face of danger and darkness testifies to her distinguished place in journalism—and humanity. This book deserves to be widely read.”

» Read an excerpt from A Russian Diary

blog comments powered by Disqus