"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

May 5, 2010

Unsolicited Book Recommendations

Human Smoke, Nicholson Baker

I stumbled across this book in a Building 19. If you hail from anywhere in central New England,  you probably know that B19 prevents a lot of ersatz junk, misprints, irregulars and damaged packaging from going directly to the land fill. Plus, you can drink free "coffee" during the entire rummaging experience.

This book comes at the run up to World War Two with a clear disregard for prevailing myths of heroism. Baker doesn't just indict, in his oddly satisfying approach to history. He allows men like Churchill to condemn themselves, by revealing the motivations that never make it into hagiographic "great men" histories.

Resource Wars, Michael T. Klare

Klare got ahead of the curve (in a manner similar to that of Paul Roberts, with The End of Oil) and outlined the current geopolitical environment before many of the acts now playing out on the stage of history had even cast their leads and supporting players.

Especially important, I believe: his sections on the quiet water war waged by Israel, underlying the fight for colonial control of the West Bank, and his treatment of the foundational causes of the encirclement of Iran.

A Sideways Look at Time, Jay Griffiths

This book slaps you in the moral face - taking on no less than the Enlightenment itself. Griffiths never apologizes, as she savages Bacon, Franklin, the entire scope of Western time making, calendar conventions, and the occidental assault on all things natural. Reviewers often apply the term "uncompromising," when discussing stupid ghost written screeds by Sean Hannity or Regnery authors, when they want to convey hard-headed "toughness." They mean, instead, "thick headed nitwitishness."

Griffiths really doesn't compromise, and she goes after the unquestioned premises that assclowns like Hannity (and Obama) need to sell their case for continued occidental colonial hegemony.

The Transformation of War, Martin Van Creveld

A vital book, even where it works now only as recent history. Too many reviews of this work already cover the basics, so I'll keep it simple. If you want to understand why Clinton, Blair, Bush, Brown and Obama have spent so much time and capital getting around Geneva and domestic war crimes legislation, start with Van Creveld.

Neither Wolf Nor Dog, Kent Nerburn

My wife, who doesn't "do politics," handed this to me after she'd finished it. She never recommends books, or movies, preferring in her own quiet, beautiful way to let me stumble onto insights and delights that we can later share.

She never forces another person's hand. Rare. So damned rare.

She didn't insist that I read it, of course. She just handed it to me.

I didn't want Nerburn's tale to end. Unlike so many white writers who delve into indigenous concerns, he did not pretend detached objectivity. He undertook to tell an Indian man's story, the story of a friend, and how that story and his own life intertwined. He celebrated, and that love and care informs every page.

With sparse language, at turns more ellipsis than text, Nerburn brings Dan (a native elder) to life, transcending the page, to grant three dimensions to both his subject and his environment.

3 comments:

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Nick Baker kicks ass.

About 15 yrs ago I was asked by a female former classmate to participate in her book group, which was 5 women, all of them holders of advanced degrees. My friend, KO, said the group needed male energy in general and particularly my provocative type of such energy. She said she'd already cleared my entry with the 4 others.

I arrived at the first meeting that included me, after getting a copy of the book for that meeting, and reading that book. It was pap; forgettable and useless, trite emotional string-pulling nonsense that Oprah Winfrey would admire and laud endlessly. I held my tongue other than to say the book was devoid of any content other than emotional manipulation.

The group asked me to suggest a book for the next meeting and I picked Baker's The Mezzanine, which I'd read several years before and thought I'd enjoy reading again. I figured it was the perfect counterpoint to the Oprah-esque book I'd just been forced to read.

When we met a month later, only my friend KO had anything positive to say about Baker's book. The general consensus among the XX geneholders was "pointless detail" and "nerd central." One of the ladies, a holder of two PhDs, actually said that Baker's book was completely unrealistic.

"Who actually wastes their time thinking about these things when there are much more important details to consider, like how to keep one's house in order, how to keep one's finances in order, what food to prepare, how to raise one's children?"

I tried to explain to Ms Polydegreed Pragmatist that for some of us humans, the thinking encapsulated in Baker's book was natural, not a refocusing of one's mental energies. I told her that when I read the book, it was the first time I'd realized there was actually another human out there in the world whose mind naturally gravitated toward non-stop observation of all details in one's environment.

The group discussion concluded with KO staying silent, the other 4 ladies attacking me in turns with seriously catty denigrations and man-hating derision.

It was a treat!

Jack Crow said...

I haven't read The Mezzanine, but I'll def. take that as a strong recommendation.

His approach, in Human Smoke, seems similar to what you describe - detailed episodic observations, that, taken together, form a wider network of commentary and narrative.

Ethan said...

Any list of recommendations that starts with Human Smoke is bound to be a good one, so I'll add these to the list. Thanks.