Sunday, November 30, 2008

Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency
(Barton Gellman, 13:43)
A very disturbing and thorough documentation of our precious Darth Vader. This book focuses entirely on the span of time following from Cheney's selection of himself as Bush's VP. His first act of overt evil came directly from the access he gained to naked disclosures from the dozen potential candidates for the VP spot. When Oklahoma governor Frank Keating made a joke about Cheney, his admission that his kids' college educations were paid for by a billionaire was leaked, significantly damaging his career, and according to Gellman, served a role of broadcasting to the whole of Washington elite that Cheney was not to be crossed. The most harrowing disclosures focus on the way that John Yu, David Addington, and Cheney worked to nearly destroy the constitutional bar to unlawful search and seizure, as well as the promotion of torture. Bush was kept unaware, up until the moment that Ashcroft, and all his senior lieutenants, were about to resign en masse. The only bright side of Cheney's drive is its gluttonous overreach provoked a counter reaction that has somewhat tempered his reach.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Rabbi's Daughter
(Reva Mann, 326pp)
A rather sad story, and the hole at the heart of this woman's life gapes through most of the account. To paraphrase Lucinda Williams, Reva Mann "never got enough love, in all her life." The author was a very wild teenager, who claims that she first had sex at 16 on the bima of her father's synagogue; she later was kicked out for dating a goy, and moved in with him for a year, until she turned around and jumped into an ultra-orthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem. Embracing this observant lifestyle alienated her bourgeouis British parents perhaps as much as had her earlier swinging around. She married a baal teshuva kid from Colorado, and had 3 children with him, before in frustration, she pursued infidelities that led to her divorce. Most of the recollections of wantonness do not appear to be resolved in a light of self-acceptance, so that makes the stories harsh, and self-exploitative in a manner analogous to the earlier actions themselves. At the very close of the book, the epilogue does posit a resolution in her commitment to avoid self-destructive behavior, to care for her 3 children, and to continue in her Judaism, observant but not orthodox.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The art of simple food
(Alice Waters, 360pp)
This is the first cookbook I've ever read cover to cover. There's lots of useful information, and tips on how to cook healthy, relatively uncomplicated vegetables (and lots of meat). The one flawed sentence for me is the very first in the introduction, when Alice Waters writes "My delicious revolution began..." The hubris of claiming ownership of a phenomenon that involved a large cast struck a tin note. At the very end of the book, there's no acknowledgements, which may be due to the contested authorship of Waters' earlier books.

Monday, November 17, 2008

East Bay: Then and Now
(Denis Evanosky and Eric Kos, 144pp)
The interesting photos are the archival ones, and yet, sometimes the modern photos are quite banal (I was sure there'd be a Wendy's, and indeed p77 showcases one). The modern photos are also not painstakingly shot to mirror the perspective of the antique ones. One big surprise: the fountain in Marin circle was knocked out in the '40s by a run away truck, and wasn't re-built until 1994.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

(Jacob Baal Teshuva, 336pp)
A beautiful collection of photos of the lamps and stained glass designed, or at least, overseen by Louis Comfort Tiffany. This Taschen press book is a pleasure to page through, and the accompanying text taught me that Tiffany was one of the first to hire women designers, and at one point, his greatest designer was the highest paid woman in America.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

American Pastoral
(Philip Roth, stopped after 5 hours)
I'd had a conversation with someone about how great this book was, and it made me hanker to re-visit. I did end up finding the highlights much as I'd recalled, e.g., the impossibility of ever understanding another person gets very passionate treatment here. I think this book came after Roth's divorce from Claire Bloom, and as an extra fillip, he cast her fat daughter (from her marriage to Rod Steiger) in the role of a weatherman-like terrorist. I stopped listening when the glove factory comes into strong focus. Although it's a fetish of Roth's to painstakingly document the work details of the past century -- Everyman dilated on watch making -- one imperfection is that there's not a strong connection between the line of work and the narrative contour.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Dreams from My Father : A Story of Race and Inheritance
(Barack Obama, abridged, 6 CDs)
This was a re-listening, after 3 years passed. At the very end, the editors tacked on Obama's 2004 DNC (Democratic National Convention) speech, and although that had been the original spark that interested me in his point of view, I think he has sharpened and deepened his message since then, so the closing speech was a surprisingly light landing, rather than the resounding high that so many of us feel right now. The book itself stands as a model of even handed self-reflection.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Audacity of Hope
(Barack Obama, abridged, 6 CDs)
I picked this up at the library on the day of the election, and it was an inspiring and nuanced discussion of the issues that Obama faced in his campaign. I connected to him first when I heard his 2004 DNC speech, and then I read his earlier book in Aug 2005. I don't know why I denied myself the pleasure of hearing his discussion of most of the major political issues. Amazingly, his thinking in this book (from 2006) sounds virtually as mature and sophisticated as he sounds today.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

(Vladimir Nabokov, 191pp)
This light little confection was a natural follow up to Pale Fire, and I'd rate this as lower in the hilarity scale, and not so artful a jewel in its construction. It is narrated by Nabokov himself, from an oblique and remote perspective. Professor Pnin is an amusing boobus, who as the story progresses, proves to be a man with true sympathies, a love for children, and a socially warm nature. Again, I wish I had read with a dictionary at hand, but even the American Heritage had no definition for a term like cathetus.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Berkeley, a city in history
(Charles Wollenberg, recalled when I was at 135pp)
Enjoyable and worth the scan.