David Maraniss is one of those people who reminds his readers of what good journalism looks like. He's also one of the better biographers working todaDavid Maraniss is one of those people who reminds his readers of what good journalism looks like. He's also one of the better biographers working today. In this book, Maraniss has produced a solid, informative account of the events that shaped the character of Barack Obama. Overall, this is a critical but positive assessment of Obama's youth. While some of the more irresponsible pundits have combed the book for out-of-context "gotcha" nuggets, anyone who actually reads this book will quickly see through the b.s. spewed out by many of Obama's critics. (This means you, Dinesh D'Souza!)
Maraniss goes back through three generations of Obama's family and carries his story through his subject's formative years, up to the time Obama decides to leave community organizing in Chicago for law school at Harvard. Anyone wanting an account of the future president's political life will be disappointed, given the scope of the book. This isn't to say there is nothing to interest the political junky. Maraniss examines how Obama's development, his Bildung, impacts on how he has approached the presidency.
Although the narrative feels a little exhaustively detailed at times, but overall it is a fascinating examination of a one man's personal and intellectual development. The portrait that emerges is of an intensely cerebral, well-balanced personality.
One fascinating aspect of this book is the way the differences between autobiography and memoir (i.e. "Dreams from my Father) play out. Maraniss analyzes and corrects the narrative set out by Obama in his memoir. He shows how memoir, as a genre, is more concerned with subjectively exploring themes within a life, rather than setting forth a factual and objective account (relatively ojective, within the unavoidable scope of personal bias)....more
A memoir and extended essay on the main themes of his writing life, this is a good reminder of just how important Christopher Hitchens was to intellecA memoir and extended essay on the main themes of his writing life, this is a good reminder of just how important Christopher Hitchens was to intellectual life, both in the States and in Britain. I first read this shortly prior to the author's death and re-read it after. It only improved on the second reading.
As much as anything else, this is a story of Hitchens's ideological development: the role his parents' lives played in it, the experience of the Trotskyist Left of the 1960s, the influence of the various Amises (Martin, Kingsley), Robert Conquest's anti-Stalinism, and so on. Although a man of the Left, Hitchens doesn't fit comfortably in with some of his ideological peers. He supported both Thatcher's Falklands war and the second Bush administration's invasion of Iraq, which made him anathema to some of his erstwhile friends. However, one can argue that these positions were taken in absolute consistency with his principles. In both cases he was supporting conflicts against brutal military dictatorships. Although his insistence on the WMD rationale for the Iraqi war is a little cringeworthy, his support of Kurdish rights is commendable.
Hitchens was disturbed by the reflexively anti-Western stance prevalent within the post-1960s Left. He championed the Western literary and artistic canons, though not uncritically, as can be seen in his writings on the King James Bible. Hitchens extolled the King James translation for its literary merit, even as he argued that "religion ruins everything."
Strangely (but perhaps not unsurprisingly in the context of George W. Bush's "with us or agin' us" America), Hitchens was cast as a conservative. He was certainly proud of his US citizenship and saw America as an expression of Western ideals, to the point that he advocated a sort of American exceptionalism. That said, Hitchens was not an uncritical apologist. Though he supported Bush's toppling of Saddam Hussein, he accused the Bush administration of criminal incompetence. He excoriated the US role in overthrowing the democratic socialist Allende government and advocated that Henry Kissinger be indicted for war crimes.
One of the photos included in the book shows a smiling Hitchens at the tomb of Karl Marx, "the great man." So much for Hitchens the conservative. All of this labeling and mislabeling speaks to the looseness over terms in American political discourse, where liberalism and socialism are conflated and everything is subjected to Nazi analogies. Hitchens was an antidote to this sloppiness. Through his writings and in his life, Hitchens stood as an example of conceptual complexity and intellectual nuance. What's more, the man who emerges from this book is one of good humor and human compassion....more
Black's book is about culture clash. First, it's not soccer, it's football. Second, for Black, football is anAn angry Scotsman coaches youth soccer.
Black's book is about culture clash. First, it's not soccer, it's football. Second, for Black, football is an expression of being, the tooth-and-nail struggle for existence. As such, dirty fouls are to be expected. Third, his players aren't very good or enthusiastic. Fourth, the other adults involved with the program seem more concerned with self-esteem and healthy snacks than with playing the sport-that-is-life.
Anyone who has coached youth sports will find a lot that's familiar. Anyone who has been the relocated outsider will recognize the awkward, ham-handed attempts to fit in.
Michele Morano, a professor of English, braids together memories of her time in Spain, the account of a dying relationship, and musings on the ways laMichele Morano, a professor of English, braids together memories of her time in Spain, the account of a dying relationship, and musings on the ways language structures the way we relate to the world around us.
The connected essays in this book are finely wrought. Reading them, I was transported to my years living in Europe....more
This promised to be a historical narrative and analysis of the Irish in America. Instead, it read like an encyclopedia of prominent Irish-Americans, lThis promised to be a historical narrative and analysis of the Irish in America. Instead, it read like an encyclopedia of prominent Irish-Americans, loosely strung together with some narrative. Yet another book about Irish-Americans that goes ga-ga over those Kennedys....more
I looked forward to reading this, as I'm a big fan of Craig Ferguson. His show is probably one of the more intelligent fixtures on television. He hasI looked forward to reading this, as I'm a big fan of Craig Ferguson. His show is probably one of the more intelligent fixtures on television. He has more authors on his show than any of the other latenight talkshow hosts. His monologues are quirky and subtly subversive.
This book mostly reads like a standard celebrity autobiography, mostly breezy and light. I had hoped Ferguson would have gone a little more in-depth, but I'm sure his publisher didn't want that. Still, he manages to discuss his struggles with drug addiction and alcoholism. He talks about growing up poor in Glasgow, a city he has described as "stabby", with its violence and sectarian hatreds, sort of Belfast East. He gives hints of his politics. In describing a meeting with Mr. and Mrs. Dick Cheney, he mentions that he gets shy around evil people.
The main thrust of the book is Ferguson's love affair with America as a place of opportunity. He lets us know that, before he legally immigrated and became a citizen, he lived here illegally. Like a lot of people, he saw America as a place to remake and realize oneself.
I'd previously known Luis Alberto Urrea work as a journalistic writer, who has produced several good books about life on the US-Mexican border. TurnsI'd previously known Luis Alberto Urrea work as a journalistic writer, who has produced several good books about life on the US-Mexican border. Turns out he's a pretty good novelist, too.
Nayeli lives in the village of Tres Camerones, where there are very few young men. (They've mostly gone north for work.) A drug gang has been nosing around the area, seeing it as a potential place to expand operations. After watching the movie The Magnificent Seven, Nayeli gets the idea to go north and hire men, her own siete magnificos to save her town. She also hopes to find her father. The last contact from him is a crumpled postcard sent from Kankakee, Illinois. She and her companions make a trip to the United States that is part El Norte, part Don Quixote.
This is a very good, character-driven story. I was especially drawn to Nayeli. Urrea manages to cast her as both tough and open to the wonders of the wider world, she has a schoolgirl crushes and a black belt in karate. I also liked Tacho, Nayeli's gay boss; their relationship is very funny and tender. But the most entertaining character in the book is the slum-dweller Atomiko, a deserter from the Mexican army. In true quixotic fashion, he recreates himself as a samurai, armed with a wicked, metal-bound staff.
Together, they encounter the US Border Patrol (sympathetically portrayed), skinheads (scumbags), and the great big, bewildering, wonderful, frustrating United States ("the beautiful North").
I like the various cultural points are interconnected in this book. The movie The Magnificent Seven was a remake of Akiro Kurasawa's Seven Samurai, which was itself an homage to the American Western. Atomiko's samurai lifestyle is inspired by seeing the Kurasawa movie Yojimbo. The spirit of Miguel Cervantes lies behind the story. Before she leaves, Nayeli's aunt gives her a copy of Don Quixote, which she doesn't read. Nayeli's maternal family name is Cervantes. The main characters of the novel, like Cervantes's knight of La Mancha, are all engaged in a quest of self-definition.
I loved this book. It was bittersweet and charming, and it kicked ass....more
I found this to be an interesting book that discusses Chinese-American culture by way of food. Jennifer 8 Lee (The "8" as a middle name signifies goodI found this to be an interesting book that discusses Chinese-American culture by way of food. Jennifer 8 Lee (The "8" as a middle name signifies good fortune.) looks at the way Chinese food, as it is eaten in America, differs from actual Chinese food. For instance, there was a General Tso, but he has nothing to do with the chicken that bears his name. The chicken nuggets in sweet-spicy sauce are an American development.
Chinese food stands as a metaphor for the Chinese-American experience (or for any other immigrant group) and the way that the Chinese have adapted their ways to American culture and how America has been infused with Chinese(ish) culture. There are more Chinese restaurants than there are McDonald's in the United States, and these restaurants act as a conduit for Chinese immigration, legal and otherwise. She also examines how the Chinese have revolutionized the American restaurant experience. They were the first restauranteurs to do carry-out and delivery on a large scale. They also were among the first ethnic restaurants many Americans have eaten at.
This book did go on a bit too long about some of its subjects, but even in these sections yielded some interesting trivia. For example, fortune cookies are actually derived from the Japanese, and many Chinese bakers started making them in California after their Japanese neighbors were interred during World war Two. Also, the writing of fortunes is mostly done by two separate companies and is fraught with problems. People have actually been angered by the fortunes they've found in their cookies.
For the record, the coolest fortune I ever got read, "You have a great love for Chinese food."...more
This book covers the intellectual world of Chinese dissidents, ranging from exile in the West to the heart of China itself. One the way, it looks at dThis book covers the intellectual world of Chinese dissidents, ranging from exile in the West to the heart of China itself. One the way, it looks at dissent in repressively paternal Singapore and in the schizophrenic environment that is Hong Kong.
On reflection, I raised my rating of this book. When I first read it, parts of it put me off, but I realize that I was not so much upset with the book, as such, but frustrated and maddened by the some of the dissidents it covers.
One of the themes that examined in this book is that of collective Chinese identity, what is considered properly Chinese. This has traditionally been the obsession of Chinese rulers, from the philosopher Confucius to the People’s Republic, and might be seen as a source of repressive conformity. Buruma shows how this is also an obsession for dissidents and used as an ideological weapon. Buruma takes odds with the idea, held by Chinese authorities, many Westerners, and not a few dissidents, that the Chinese are culturally incapable of democracy. In China, this line of thought goes, democracy will lead to unrest and chaos. To refute this, Buruma points to Taiwan as an example of a Chinese democracy.
I found this book was much more interesting the closer it got to China. Buruma own analysis indicates why this might have been. Exiles are removed from the ongoing ideological discourse of Chinese society. They are seen by dissidents in China as having little to say that applies to the situation on the ground. As such, the exiles become more and more abstract in their thinking, and often more shrill in their pronouncements. They obsess over squabbles with other exiles and seem slightly sad, dissipated figures.
The places the book really hooked me were the sections on Taiwan, Hong Kong, and mainland China. Buruma is one of the better commentators on East Asian affairs, and it shows here. He gives the reader a detailed view of the ideological cracks and inconsistencies in a China that is pursuing the status of great power and, at the same time, suffers from a deep-seated over-sensitivity to perceived insult or implied weakness. ...more
This is the sequal to Caught Stealing, the second book in the Hank Thompson trilogy, but it easily stands on its own. I liked it a lot.
The character oThis is the sequal to Caught Stealing, the second book in the Hank Thompson trilogy, but it easily stands on its own. I liked it a lot.
The character of anti-hero Hank Thompson is the main attraction of the story. Despite the terrible things Hank is compelled to do, he's fairly sympathetic. He's basically a decent guy who is just trying to salvage a situation gone horribly wrong.
Since the end of the previous book, he has been living the life of a beach bum, hiding out in the Yucatan, but his past comes back to haunt him. He must return to the States in order to protect his parents from a ruthless businessman, sociopathic surfer dudes, and the Russian mafia.
Like Charlie Huston's other work, the story is driven by over-the-top violence, finely drawn supporting characters and the author's impeccable writing....more