Archive for the ‘books’ tag
I’ve never lived in Evanston 1 but places like Bookman’s Alley are why I love to visit. Sad news:
The final chapter is being written in the 31-year history of Evanston’s celebrated used bookstore, Bookman’s Alley. Owner Roger Carlson recently decided to close the doors to his secluded oasis of literary treasures and antique memorabilia.
Citing health issues, declining business, and the urging of his family, the 83-year-old Carlson plans to sell off much of his 60,000-plus books and artifacts — probably by the end of March.
“It seemed I should finally give up, give in and stay home and pester my wife on a 24-hour basis,” Carlson said this week from his usual post behind the desk of his shop, located in an alley off Sherman Avenue in downtown Evanston.
Though hidden from the bustle of downtown traffic, Bookman’s Alley has attracted a loyal following of bibliophiles, drawn to the rare collection and ambiance carefully crafted by Carlson over the years.
“Once you walk in the door, you’re hooked,” said Northwestern University history professor and long-time customer Henry Binford. “It just goes on and on, and it’s all different. Every room is visually and sensually something different.”
(click here to continue reading Owner to close book on Bookman’s Alley — Evanston news, photos and events — TribLocal.com.)
- yet, though who knows, it could happen [↩]
Who is Haruki Murakami? Well, read on…
Murakami has always considered himself an outsider in his own country. He was born into one of the strangest sociopolitical environments in history: Kyoto in 1949 — the former imperial capital of Japan in the middle of America’s postwar occupation. “It would be difficult to find another cross-cultural moment,” the historian John W. Dower has written of late-1940s Japan, “more intense, unpredictable, ambiguous, confusing, and electric than this one.” Substitute “fiction” for “moment” in that sentence and you have a perfect description of Murakami’s work. The basic structure of his stories — ordinary life lodged between incompatible worlds — is also the basic structure of his first life experience.
Murakami grew up, mostly, in the suburbs surrounding Kobe, an international port defined by the din of many languages. As a teenager, he immersed himself in American culture, especially hard-boiled detective novels and jazz. He internalized their attitude of cool rebellion, and in his early 20s, instead of joining the ranks of a large corporation, Murakami grew out his hair and his beard, married against his parents’ wishes, took out a loan and opened a jazz club in Tokyo called Peter Cat. He spent nearly 10 years absorbed in the day-to-day operations of the club: sweeping up, listening to music, making sandwiches and mixing drinks deep into the night.
His career as a writer began in classic Murakami style: out of nowhere, in the most ordinary possible setting, a mystical truth suddenly descended upon him and changed his life forever. Murakami, age 29, was sitting in the outfield at his local baseball stadium, drinking a beer, when a batter — an American transplant named Dave Hilton — hit a double. It was a normal-enough play, but as the ball flew through the air, an epiphany struck Murakami. He realized, suddenly, that he could write a novel. He had never felt a serious desire to do so before, but now it was overwhelming. And so he did: after the game, he went to a bookstore, bought a pen and some paper and over the next couple of months produced “Hear the Wind Sing,” a slim, elliptical tale of a nameless 21-year-old narrator, his friend called the Rat and a four-fingered woman. Nothing much happens, but the Murakami voice is there from the start: a strange broth of ennui and exoticism. In just 130 pages, the book manages to reference a thorough cross-section of Western culture: “Lassie,” “The Mickey Mouse Club,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “California Girls,” Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, the French director Roger Vadim, Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Elvis Presley, the cartoon bird Woodstock, Sam Peckinpah and Peter, Paul and Mary. That’s just a partial list, and the book contains (at least in its English translation) not a single reference to a work of Japanese art in any medium. This tendency in Murakami’s work rankles some Japanese critics to this day.
Murakami submitted “Hear the Wind Sing” for a prestigious new writers’ prize and won. After another year and another novel — this one featuring a possibly sentient pinball machine — Murakami sold his jazz club in order to devote himself, full time, to writing.
(click here to continue reading The Fierce Imagination of Haruki Murakami – NYTimes.com.)
- no relation that I know of [↩]
I’ll have to look for this book, my knowledge of this era is fairly shallow.
The Crimean War was the first major war to be covered by professional foreign correspondents, who reported on the disastrous blundering of commanders and the horrors of medical treatment at the battlefront. Today, we remember fragmentary stories: the charge of the Light Brigade, symbolizing the blundering; Florence Nightingale, for the medical treatment. But the real war has faded away, eclipsed by the two vastly worse world wars that were to come.
Still, the Crimean War — in which three-quarters of a million soldiers and untold multitudes of civilians perished — shattered almost four decades of European peace. It inflamed Russia’s rivalry with the Ottoman Empire over the Balkans, providing the tinder for World War I. And by thwarting Russian’s ambitions in Europe, it made possible the fatal rise of Germany.
In “The Crimean War: A History,” Orlando Figes restores the conflict — which predated the American Civil War by eight years — as “a major turning point” in European and Middle Eastern history. He argues forcefully that it was “the earliest example of a truly modern war — fought with new industrial technologies, modern rifles, steamships and railways, novel forms of logistics and communication like the telegraph, important innovations in military medicine and war reporters and photographers directly on the scene.” The ferocious yearlong siege of Sevastopol “was a precursor of the industrialized trench warfare” of World War I.
The war itself was initiated when religious squabbles over holy places in the Ottoman towns of Jerusalem and Bethlehem prompted Russia to march troops into present-day Romania, threatening the partition of Ottoman lands. In response, the Ottoman Empire declared war, and Britain and France rallied to its defense. The devastating combat around the Black Sea proved unbearable for Russia: two-thirds of the soldiers killed in the war were Russian. After losing Sevastopol, Russia accepted a humiliating peace.
Figes, a renowned professor of history at the University of London, might be thought the loneliest of creatures, the Crimean War buff. But his history is a huge success
(click here to continue reading Book Review – The Crimean War – By Orlando Figes – NYTimes.com.)
Unfortunately, David Mamet, author of such seminal works as Glengary, Glenn Ross and quality films such as The Untouchables, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and The Verdict has become a Tea Party, Know-Nothing conservative Republican. Sad, really.
Anyway, Christopher Hitchens, himself a late-blooming conservative, yet still a critical thinker, eviscerates David Mamet’s autobiography, The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture.
Read, and chuckle
This is an extraordinarily irritating book, written by one of those people who smugly believe that, having lost their faith, they must ipso facto have found their reason. In order to be persuaded by it, you would have to be open to propositions like this:
“Part of the left’s savage animus against Sarah Palin is attributable to her status not as a woman, neither as a Conservative, but as a Worker.”
“America is a Christian country. Its Constitution is the distillation of the wisdom and experience of Christian men, in a tradition whose codification is the Bible.”
Some of David Mamet’s unqualified declarations are made even more tersely. On one page affirmative action is described as being “as injust as chattel slavery”; on another as being comparable to the Japanese internment and the Dred Scott decision. We learn that 1973 was the year the United States “won” the Vietnam War, and that Karl Marx — who on the evidence was somewhat more industrious than Sarah Palin — “never worked a day in his life.” Slackness or confusion might explain his reference to the Scottish-Canadian newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook as a Jewish courtier in the tradition of Disraeli and Kissinger, but it is more than ignorant to say of Bertrand Russell — author of one of the first reports from Moscow to analyze and excoriate Lenin — that he was a fellow-traveling dupe and tourist of the Jane Fonda style.
Propagandistic writing of this kind can be even more boring than it is irritating. For example, Mamet writes in “The Secret Knowledge” that “the Israelis would like to live in peace within their borders; the Arabs would like to kill them all.” Whatever one’s opinion of that conflict may be, this (twice-made) claim of his abolishes any need to analyze or even discuss it. It has a long way to go before it can even be called simplistic. By now, perhaps, you will not be surprised to know that Mamet regards global warming as a false alarm, and demands to be told “by what magical process” bumper stickers can “save whales, and free Tibet.” This again is not uncharacteristic of his pointlessly aggressive style: who on earth maintains that they can? If I were as prone to sloganizing as Mamet, I’d keep clear of bumper-sticker comparisons altogether.
(click here to continue reading and chuckling Book Review – The Secret Knowledge – By David Mamet – NYTimes.com.)
I don’t know much about Alan Lomax, other than he was the son of John Lomax, another famous ethnomusicologist, and that he collected musical artifacts, and hung out with Bob Dylan. This biography sounds interesting…
Years later, when they had gotten to know each other, Mr. Szwed accompanied Mr. Lomax to the Village Gate to hear Professor Longhair. The set began with “Jambalaya.” Lomax vanished. And then, as Mr. Szwed writes in his keenly appreciative, enormously detailed new Lomax biography, “I felt something brush by my leg, and when I looked down there was Alan crawling on the floor toward the bandstand so as to stay out of people’s vision.” Lomax reached the edge of the stage, knelt worshipfully until the set was over and then pronounced Longhair the greatest folk musician in the Western world.
Alan Lomax had astounding energy and enthusiasm. He was both an exhaustive and exhausting force in American music for almost 70 years. When he died in 2002, he left behind at least the following, which Mr. Szwed has dauntlessly tackled as source material: 5,000 hours of sound recordings; 400,000 feet of film; 2,450 videotapes; 2,000 books and journals; numerous prints, documents and databases; and more than 120 linear feet of paperwork. It’s not hard to see why detractors called Lomax “The People’s Republic of Me.”
On the evidence of “Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World” his enemies and admirers were equally well armed. Lomax may not have courted controversy, but his work and methods made argument inevitable.
(click here to continue reading John Szwed’s Biography of Alan Lomax – Review – NYTimes.com.)
Bob Dylan has signed a deal to write six more books for his publisher Simon & Schuster, including two works of autobiography to follow Chronicles: Volume One, the highly-praised memoir of his early years published in 2004.
The prospect of further Dylan memoirs will create great anticipation even though publication date remains tantalisingly unconfirmed. Fans have been agog since Simon & Schuster revealed in 2008 that Dylan had begun work on the next book.
Waterstone’s spokesperson Jon Howells said it was “hugely exciting for any Bob Dylan fan and for any aficionado of rock history” to hear that two more books of memoir were definitely on their way. “Chronicles set a new standard in what people expected from a rock’n’roll autobiography, and was a revelation,” he said. “No one expected him to be so open, and the writing was completely in his voice, and essential reading. Another volume is great, two more is fabulous news.”
(click to continue reading Bob Dylan signs six-book deal | Books | guardian.co.uk.)
Chronicles Volume One was surprisingly good
and of course, Bob is Bob:
Dylan’s publisher has suffered a hiccup in obtaining a follow-up. Hannah Corbett, a spokeswoman for S&S, said the initial arrangement with Dylan had been made on “shifting sands”, with the singer-songwriter “very hard to pin down” on how many books he wanted to write.
The Pope finished reading Keith Richards autobio, Life.
I did too.
I’ve consistently done a horrible job memorializing the books I read and films I watch1 because I’m a damn lazy blogger. Before I started working for myself, which coincidentally was also before the omnipresent distraction of the internet and Netflix, I easily consumed five or ten books a week, every week, for years and years without fail. Those days are gone, but still, I do manage to read a few dozen books a year, too bad I haven’t been more diligent about recording which ones.
Films aren’t so hard – I don’t have a moral objection to posting the blurb about movie with a sentence or two of my own reaction, and in fact, expect to see more of those sorts of blog posts in 2011, but book posts are more difficult.
I assume part of the problem is that I always am juggling ten or fifteen books at any given moment: I keep a stash of books in most places I might snatch a moment or two of leisure time – office(s), bedroom, living room, camera bag, iPad, wherever. Unfortunately, this often translates into me *not* finishing books nearly as often as I finish.
Also, since I have fond memories of being a history student at UT, I catch myself wanting to delve a little too deeply into my reviews, instead of tossing out a few thoughts. I’ve had a blog since 20032, so know myself well enough to be cognizant that long posts are rarely completed. Nobody is issuing me a grade based on the profundity of my thoughts, I need to stop pretending .
Long winded intro aside, new year, new rules. Well, attempted new rules. Check back in a few months, and see.
Keith Richards and James Fox wrote Life, an enjoyable romp through the 1960’s, 1970’s, and beyond through the eyes of the most interesting member of the Rolling Stones. Richards frequently claims the reason he survived his decade of being a junky was because he was never greedy about trying to “get more high”, but a few pages later, Richards is so out of it, he’s nodding off while driving a carload of people. Internal contradictions, and unreliable narrator, in other words. Some of Life is a bit self-serving, especially when Richards boasts of his drug-induced stamina, and some is cringe-worthy such as when describing his relations with women met on tour, but fun nonetheless. By the mid-1980’s, Richards runs out of interesting things to say, and the last chapter is even worse – less recollection directly from Keef and more from various compatriots in his circle, or his son, Marlon.
No matter, the Rolling Stones made three great, desert island records,3 another near great album,4 and a bunch of great songs on various other albums, or as singles, and Keith Richards would be a fun dude to be buddies with, if you could handle it. If they would have broken up as they released Tattoo You, I’d respect them a lot more, since nothing released since then5 has been much good. I cannot really criticize musicians for continuing to do what they love, we’ll just say I’m not interested in the current incarnation of the Stones.
He’s been a global avatar of wish fulfillment for over four decades and managed to eke more waking hours out of a 24-hour day than perhaps any other creature alive (thanks, Merck cocaine and amphetamines!). As Keith puts it: “For many years I slept, on average, twice a week. This means that I have been conscious for at least three lifetimes.”
You better believe it. This cat put the joie in joie de vivre. As the legendary guitarist for the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards has done more, been more and seen more than you or I will ever dream of, and reading his autobiography, “Life,” should awaken (if you have a pulse and an I.Q. north of 100) a little bit of the rock star in you.
“If you want to get to the top, you’ve got to start at the bottom,” he says, “same with anything.” Born in 1943 to parents who met as factory workers, Keith was raised in Dartford, an industrial suburb of London. Through the marshes behind the many “lunatic asylums” that seemed to populate Dartford in disproportionate numbers, Keith learned what it felt like to be helpless and afraid, serving as a daily punching bag for bullies on his way home from school. By the time he fought back and won, he’d discovered a fury in himself for which he would later become infamous. The plight of the underdog was his passionate crusade, and anyone or anything that represented injustice in his eyes was fair game. Kate Moss recounts a hilarious anecdote from 1998 in which Keith, sidestepping the festivities of his daughter Angela’s wedding at his manor house, Redlands, finds he’s short some spring onions he laid on a chopping block while fixing himself a light nosh of bangers and mash. When the thieving guest totters into the kitchen with the greens playfully tucked behind his ears, Keith grabs two sabers from the mantelpiece and goes chasing after the poor guy in a homicidal rage. I won’t even touch on the incident involving shepherd’s pie.
(click to continue reading Book Review – Life – By Keith Richards – NYTimes.com.)
It is 3 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time in the New York office of Keith Richards’s manager, a place that might look ordinary if every wall and shelf were not crammed with some of the world’s most glorious rock ’n’ roll memorabilia. Mr. Richards has a 3 o’clock appointment. “Come on in, he’ll be here in a minute,” an assistant says — and here he comes in a minute, at 3:01. This from a man who once prided himself for operating on Keith Time, as in: the security staff ate the shepherd’s pie that Keith wanted in his dressing room? Then everyone in this packed stadium can bloody well wait. The Rolling Stones don’t play until another shepherd’s pie shows up.
Chalk up the promptness to the man’s new incarnation: he is now Keith Richards, distinguished author. True, he is far from the only rock star to turn memoirist, and far from the only Rolling Stone to write a book about himself — very much about himself. The raven-haired Ron Wood wrote “Ronnie,” in which he described Brian Jones as “me in a blond wig.” Bill Wyman, the band’s retired bass player and bean counter, wrote “Stone Alone,” in which not a 15-shilling demo disc went unmentioned. Now Mr. Richards has written the keeper: “Life,” a big, fierce, game-changing account of the Stones’ nearly half-century-long adventure.
“It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” he says about the book. “I’d rather make 10 records.”
(click to continue reading As Keith Richards Remembers It, and He Says He Remembers It All – NYTimes.com.)
For legions of Rolling Stones fans, Keith Richards is not only the heart and soul of the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band, he’s also the very avatar of rebellion: the desperado, the buccaneer, the poète maudit, the soul survivor and main offender, the torn and frayed outlaw, and the coolest dude on the planet, named both No. 1 on the rock stars most-likely-to-die list and the one life form (besides the cockroach) capable of surviving nuclear war.
Halfway through his electrifying new memoir, “Life,” Keith Richards writes about the consequences of fame: the nearly complete loss of privacy and the weirdness of being mythologized by fans as a sort of folk-hero renegade.
“I can’t untie the threads of how much I played up to the part that was written for me,” he says. “I mean the skull ring and the broken tooth and the kohl. Is it half and half? I think in a way your persona, your image, as it used to be known, is like a ball and chain. People think I’m still a goddamn junkie. It’s 30 years since I gave up the dope! Image is like a long shadow. Even when the sun goes down, you can see it.”
(click to continue reading ‘Life,’ Keith Richards’s Memoir – NYTimes.com.)
You get the idea…
For me, the gossip about Mick Jagger’s “tiny todger”, and Brian Jones beating Anita Pallenberg and that Chuck Berry was kind of a dick, and so on, was less interesting than discussion about the music. Keith Richards figuring out open string tuning, for instance, or that multi-track recording is less interesting than pointing microphones at the wall and collecting what bounced off it.Footnotes:
photograph © Herman Leonard –1 Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington at the Downbeat Club
I’ve always loved this photo, especially Duke Ellington’s expression of unmitigated joy…
Duke Ellington sits at the piano in a blackened theater, a brilliant shaft of light casting him in heroic silhouette.
Billie Holiday (sic – actually this is Ella Fitzgerald) stands before the microphone, lips slightly parted – as if in mid-phrase – smoke billowing softly behind her.
Oscar Peterson performs in close quarters with bassist Ray Brown and guitarist Herb Ellis, Peterson’s hands a blur above the keys of his piano.
The black-and-white images could be the work of only one man, Herman Leonard, perhaps the most revered jazz photographer of the 20th Century and the subject of an exquisitely produced new book, “Jazz ” (Bloomsbury, $65). Though not the first, and probably not the last, published collection of Leonard’s photographs, “Jazz” captures the textural sumptuousness of Leonard’s photography, while crystallizing his personal philosophy about the music.
Leonard, in other words, chose to celebrate the jazz life, rather than demonize it. While many jazz lensmen sensationalized the dark side of jazz – as in those ghastly photos of a drug-ravaged Chet Baker toward the end of his life – Leonard went in the opposite direction. To him, jazz musicians were to be admired, not scorned or pitied. He saw poetry where others saw melodrama; he portrayed romance where others focused on decay.
(click to continue reading A new collection of Herman Leonard’s photography, ‘Jazz,’ portrays the music in a heroic light – chicagotribune.com.)Footnotes:
- Tribune typo labeled this woman as Billie Holiday [↩]
Roger Ebert carted around Studs Terkel and Doris Lessing in 1969 – that would have been a blast, I’m assuming.
Sinking into an overstuffed chair in Studs Terkel’s apartment with her legs curled beneath her, Doris Lessing looked small, vulnerable (and in the best sense) catlike. It was Sunday afternoon and she was sipping brandy and listening to stories about Studs’ trip to South Africa. And you thought: So this, after all, is Doris Lessing. And the next moment you thought: Of course.
Doris Lessing is the sort of novelist the Village Voice is inspired to describe as a “cult author.” That is completely wrong, but it proves a lead. For 20 years, and especially since the publication of “The Golden Notebook” in 1962. Ms. Lessing has given voice to a postwar generation which has reopened questions of politics, sexuality and personal identity.
Out of some misguided sense of modesty, I suppressed an element in this story. When Studs gave Doris Lessing the tour of Chicago, I was the driver. That was because Studs, the quintessential city-dweller, had never learned to drive, and wanted me to drive them around. For three days, Studs showed Chicago to Lessing, and to me.
This was one of the great experiences of my life. We saw the hotel at Grand and Wells which Studs’ mother managed, and where he was raised. And the Biograph Theater, where John Dillinger was shot. And one afternoon we drove through Washington Park.
“Stop here!” Studs said. “You see that tree over there? That’s where Studs Lonigan kissed Lucy Scanlon. That’s where I got my nickname — from ‘Studs Lonigan,’ the Chicago novel by James T. Farrell.”
We got out of the car and walked into the park.
“This is where he kissed her, all those years ago,” Studs said.
(click to continue reading Doris Lessing comes to town :: rogerebert.com :: People.)
Interesting news I hadn’t yet heard…
I’m not entirely dismayed to hear that Ridley Scott is overseeing production of a mini-series based on another seminal PKD novel, The Man in the High Castle, but I’m not all that happy, either. It’s one of the all-time champs of the alternative history subgenre, set in a world where the Third Reich and Imperial Japan have divided most of the world between them, and America has been balkanized into a collection of puppet states and ineffectual enclaves. (This Wikipedia entry has a pretty spiffy map laying out the power blocs in this alternate universe.) It’s a cerebral book, with multiple plotlines converging in a search for the author of an alternate-history novel that upends PKD’s scenario, scandalizing readers (and enraging the Reich) by showing a world where the Axis powers were defeated.
(click to continue reading What the hexagrams said « STEVENHARTSITE.)
Of course, if the BBC mini-series is released on DVD, I’ll see it as soon as I can. BTW, Mr. Hart is accurate, nearly, in his description of the Blade Runner film: the atmosphere and set of the Ridley Scott adaptation are the best parts, and the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is only tangentially related to the finished project. PKD saw some rushes1 and was impressed with the Mise en scèneFootnotes:
- as you probably already know, PKD died before the film was officially released [↩]
I was lucky to have good science teachers in school, but I understand Maggie Koerth-Baker’s point about how physics is often taught in America. Sounds like a fun and educational book…
Physics can seem a lot like a dirty trick. You spend most of junior high and high school being told that there are rules to this thing, that the Universe functions in predictable and rational ways. Apples always fall down from the tree onto Newton’s head. Cars traveling at different speeds crash into each other with a force that you can sit down and calculate on a TI-86.
And then they pull the rug out from under you.
Suddenly, it’s all photons, antimatter, and cats that are simultaneously alive and dead. Even the Universe itself might be just one of many, with every outcome that has ever been possible playing itself out somewhere. It’s confusing. And into that gap in popular knowledge tumbles everybody who bought into What the Bleep Do We Know?
If you’re lost, Marcus Chown can help. His book, The Matchbox That Ate a Forty-Ton Truck, explains how science got from the macro, everyday world of Newtonian Laws to the far-out, quantum reality we know today. More importantly, he makes the latter relevant, piecing together science history, sub-atomic particles, physical cosmology and everyday life. If you read one physics book after graduating from high school—hell, if you read one physics book while in high school—this should be it.
When I say that Chown makes quantum physics relevant, I mean more than simply praise for his ability to connect complex theory to brilliantly simple real-world analogies and mental pictures. Although, that’s awesome.
One of the frustrating things about the way physics is taught in school is the way it disconnects Point A from Point Z.
(click to continue reading Read This: The Matchbox That Ate a Forty-Ton Truck – Boing Boing.)
If you understand physics, you understand your world, simple as that.
David Corn of Mother Jones wants to know why Tony Blair’s new memoir leaves out a meeting with George Bush right before the start of the Iraq War boondoggle. Probably because Blair is aware that public discussion of such a meeting might be next conducted in Nuremberg.1
In his new (self-serving, of course) memoir, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair praises George W. Bush as a man of “genuine integrity and as much political courage as any leader I have ever met.” Yet Blair leaves out of the 700-page tome any mention of a meeting he had with Bush in which the US president proposed a plan to trigger the Iraq war through outright deceit.
… Yet Blair devotes a serious chunk to defending his decision to partner up with Bush for the Iraq war. “I can’t regret the decision to go to war,” he writes. “…I can say that never did I guess the nightmare that unfolded.” He adds, “I have often reflected as to whether I was wrong. I ask you to reflect as to whether I may have been right.”
(click to continue reading Tony Blair’s Big Lie of Omission | Mother Jones.)
But there’s no reference to the meeting Blair held with Bush in the Oval Office on January 31, 2003, less than two months before the war would be launched.
During that conversation, Blair told Bush that he needed a second UN resolution that explicitly authorized military action against Iraq, having promised his Labour Party that he would seek one. Blair explained that the resolution—or, at least, an attempt to obtain the resolution—was necessary political cover for him and, according to a memo written by a Blair aide documenting the meeting, “international cover, especially with the Arabs.” Bush agreed to try to twist arms at the UN, but he informed Blair that he had already selected a tentative start date for the war: March 10. (Ultimately, there would be no such UN resolution.)
But more than politics was discussed. According to the memo, Bush and Blair each said they doubted any weapons of mass destruction would soon be discovered by the UN inspectors then searching for such arms in Iraq. With no WMDs, it could be harder to win support for the war. But Bush had an idea—or two.
The memo notes that Bush raised the notion of provoking a confrontation with Saddam Hussein. “The US was thinking,” the memo said, “of flying US reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted UN colours. If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach” of UN resolutions. A retaliatory attack would then be fully justified; the war could begin. Bush also discussed producing some “defector who could give a public presentation about Saddam’s WMD.” At this meeting, the two men also agreed that it was unlikely that “internecine warfare” would break out between “different religious and ethnic groups” after an invasion of Iraq.
This memo was a startling revelation. Here was the US president hinting at mounting a giant con game to start a war: creating a phony incident to grease the path to an invasion. The memo—portions of which were published in the New York Times and in Philippe Sands’ Lawless World—does not record Blair objecting to this potential subterfuge. (I have read the entire memo.)
Blair could provide a tremendous service to historians (and the citizens of England and the United States) by offering an accurate, eyewitness account of what transpired in the Oval Office that day. What did Blair think of a US president hinting at such trickery to kick-start a war? Did he take Bush’s notion seriously? Did Bush propose any other unconventional ideas? Yet by engaging in Soviet-style revisionism—don’t recognize an inconvenient historical event—Blair doesn’t have to answer these questions. Nor does he have to defend his apparent silence in response to Bush’s suggestion that they cheat their way to an invasion. Nor does Blair have to reconcile his description of Bush—a man of integrity—with the documented record (created by Blair’s own aide). By ignoring this conversation, Blair demonstrates that this book—despite his passionate claims—is not a good-faith and candid accounting of all the trials and tribulations he underwent as the United States and England headed to war.
And then there is this reaction:
A Facebook group entitled ‘Subversively move Tony Blair’s memoirs to the crime section in book shops’ gained more than 1,000 members inside a day. The group’s creator, Euan Booth, said the idea was non-violent direct action against a man he described as “our generation’s greatest war criminal”. His idea found support on Twitter, with a Viz Top Tips tweet suggesting: “Brighten up your day by moving at least one of Tony Blair’s books to the crime section in your local book shop.”
(click to continue reading Tony Blair’s autobiography becomes crime book after Facebook and Twitter campaign | Metro.co.uk.)
More than 10,000 have joined at this moment. The group’s mission statement:
- Well, we could hope anyway – war crimes don’t expire, look at the trouble Kissinger has traveling in the civilized world [↩]
Despite reservations, I’ll probably give in to temptation, and read Christopher Hitchens’ memoir. Maybe on the plane?
Described as “a memoir,” [Hitch-22: A Memoir] is a full-frontal self-portrait, not an apologia; as the author would doubtless want us to note, “Never Apologize, Never Explain” was the title of Edmund Wilson’s 1944 New Yorker tribute to Evelyn Waugh. By turns beguiling, annoying, fascinating and infuriating, Hitch-22 catches the tone, if not the totality, of the man. We learn that the object of his earliest amorous attentions was a classmate named Guy, “a sort of strawberry blond, very slightly bow-legged, with a wicked smile that seemed to promise both innocence and experience.” Later on, after his tastes turned more conventional, Hitchens allowed himself a “mildly enjoyable relapse” with “two young men who later became members of Margaret Thatcher’s government.” Of his two wives, however, he says almost nothing. Readers expecting a full account of our hero’s life and loves—or even of how he went about earning his trench coat—will be disappointed. So too will anyone expecting the kind of tough-minded dissection Hitchens practiced with such panache on the self-serving delusions of Henry Kissinger, Isaiah Berlin, Norman Podhoretz and Conor Cruise O’Brien.
Yet the book is a reminder that even on his worst days, Hitchens still writes well enough to be entertaining. At his best he is an unrivaled polemicist: a “strong writer” whose style leaves a lasting furrow in the reader’s mind and whose arguments, no matter how seemingly wrongheaded, are almost always worth taking seriously. Hitch-22 also has a built-in advantage: all self-portraits are illuminating, though not always in the way the artist intended. You would hardly guess from the brief, warm allusion to O’Brien as “a man of considerable mind” that while alive the Irish writer had been on the receiving end of a comprehensive kicking by Hitchens. Nor would Hitchens’s past relish in repeatedly putting the rhetorical boot into Podhoretz seem credible to anyone encountering the rare, anodyne invocations of the father of neoconservatism here. Hitchens’s new friends on the right might be tempted to trace his earlier lèse-majesté to the malign influence of his former friend, co-conspirator and fellow Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn—himself a conspicuous absence in these pages. But before we examine what Hitchens leaves out, we might consider what he leaves in.
(click to continue reading Changing Places | The Nation.)
Sounds interesting. I find books that merge history and culinary adventures are often fascinating.
Before beginning “The Spice Necklace,” Ann Vanderhoof’s engaging gastronomic memoir-travelogue of the Caribbean, readers should remember that the area they are about to enter is a miniature universe. Each little island—sometimes with only a few thousand inhabitants—is a world unto itself, existing in the same culinary solar system as its neighbors and yet with its own distinct nuances and genealogy.
Caribbean cuisine—whether in Jamaica, Trinidad, Grenada or elsewhere in the archipelago—has both virtues and limits. Whatever the nearby sea and the soil can yield makes for fresh, delicious ingredients, often prepared with gusto and spirited local touches but not always with balance; sometimes native exuberance boils over into excess, especially when it comes to seasoning.
Many of the standby herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables used in sophisticated cuisines elsewhere in the world are native to the Caribbean or are transplants of long standing. Allspice, chilies and breadfruit started in the region or elsewhere in the New World, and curry blends, ginger, mangoes and other ingredients came along with later migrations.
The Caribbean has obvious Spanish, Dutch and French influences, but many others too. The people of Trinidad, to cite but one example, are about equally divided between Afro-descendants of the original slave population and ethnic Indian (and, in smaller numbers, Chinese) citizens whose ancestors worked as indentured field laborers in the 19th century after the slaves were freed.
(click to continue reading Gastronomy Book Review: The Spice Necklace – WSJ.com.)
The Amazon review adds:
While sailing around the Caribbean, Ann Vanderhoof and her husband Steve track wild oregano-eating goats in the cactus-covered hills of the Dominican Republic, gather nutmegs on an old estate in Grenada, make searing-hot pepper sauce in a Trinidadian kitchen, cram for a chocolate-tasting test at the University of the West Indies, and sip moonshine straight out of hidden back-country stills.
Along the way, they are befriended by a collection of unforgettable island characters: Dwight, the skin-diving fisherman who always brings them something from his catch and critiques her efforts to cook it; Greta, who harvests seamoss on St. Lucia and turns it into potent Island-Viagra; sweet-hand Pat, who dispenses hugs and impromptu dance lessons along with cooking tips in her Port of Spain kitchen.
Back in her galley, Ann practices making curry like a Trini, dog sauce like a Martiniquais, and coo-coo like a Carriacouan. And for those who want to take these adventures into their own kitchens, she pulls 71 delicious recipes from the stories she tells, which she places at the end of the relevant chapters.
The Spice Necklace is a wonderful escape into a life filled with sunshine (and hurricanes), delicious food, irreplaceable company, and island traditions.
and as a bonus:
1. Wild oregano is a mainstay in the diet of goats that graze in the hills at the northwest edge of the Dominican Republic–which means the meat comes to the kitchen preseasoned, and infused with flavor.
2.Seamoss is a type of seaweed that is reputed in the Caribbean to be a potent aphrodisiac, the island version of Viagra. It’s dried, boiled until thick, then mixed with milk and spices (such as cinnamon and nutmeg). One restaurant in Grenada calls its version of the milkshake-like seamoss drink “Stay Up.”
3. Nutmeg and mace come from the same tree. When its apricot-like fruit is ripe, it splits open to reveal a lacy, strawberry-red wrapper around the hard glossy brown shell that holds the nutmeg itself. This waxy red corset is mace, and more than 300 pounds of nutmegs are needed to yield a single pound of it.
4. On the Scoville scale of pepper heat, Trinidadian Congo peppers rate about 300,000 units. Even the most fiery Mexican jalapeño only measures about 8,000.
5. Coconut water–the clear liquid inside a young or “jelly” coconut–has the same electrolyte balance as blood and was given intravenously to wounded soldiers as an emergency substitute for plasma during World War II. Coconut water is also better than energy drinks for rehydration, replenishing electrolytes and minerals such as potassium. For the same reasons, it’s used as a hangover cure in the Caribbean.
6. Much of the ground cinnamon sold in North America is actually cassia, which is the variety of cinnamon grown in the Caribbean. Cassia has a stronger, more pungent flavor than true cinnamon. Once a year, the trees are harvested by carefully peeling the bark away from the branches. After the outer layer is removed, the inner bark is dried in the sun. As it dries, it begins to curl into sticks, and then is rolled and pressed by hand to complete the process.
7.The aroma of allspice is a sensuous combination of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper– which leads to the common misconception that it is a blend of several spices. In fact, allspice is a single spice– the dried berry of a tree that is native only to the West Indies and Central America. Jamaica produces 90% of the world’s supply; Grenada, the remaining 10%.
8. To make removing coconut meat from the shell easier, bore holes in two of the eyes of the coconut using a pointed utensil and drain the liquid. Bake the nut in a preheated 400° F oven for 15–20 minutes. This cracks the shell and shrinks the meat slightly, so it virtually pops out.
9. Mauby, a popular West Indian drink, has a proven ability to reduce high blood pressure. It’s made by steeping the bark of a native Caribbean tree with spices such as bay, cinnamon, star anise, and fennel.
10. Vanilla is the world’s second most costly spice (after saffron). Not only do most vanilla flowers have to be hand-pollinated to produce beans, but the beans also have to be fermented and aged to develop their flavor. Straight off the vine, they’re odorless and tasteless.
Utterly fascinating essay by Errol Morris, which dwells a bit on Woodrow Wilson and his wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, who seems to have been the de facto President for quite some time. I’m moderately well read in American history, and I did not realize quite how incapacitated Wilson actually was.
Wilson described himself as “lame” and referred to his cane as his “third leg,” but otherwise he considered himself perfectly fit to be president. There was even talk of a third term. Yet his close associates noticed a change in his personality. He became increasingly suspicious, even paranoid, without having the dimmest awareness of the fact that he was perhaps becoming a different person from what he once was. Stockton Axson, his brother-in-law from his first marriage, wrote that “[Wilson] would be seized with what, to a normal person, would seem to be inexplicable outbursts of emotion.” He was furious at anyone who suggested that he had physical and mental problems, and the last months of his presidency became a graveyard of fired associates. Edith Bolling Wilson, his second wife, had already deposed many of the president’s closest and most effective associates, including Colonel Edward M. House, who had played a major role at the Paris peace talks. Wilson also forced the resignation of Robert Lansing, his secretary of state, who had dared to call a cabinet meeting to discuss the president’s illness.
Phyllis Lee Levin delved into the medical records (with some pushback from Princeton University’s Wilson Papers)
In the preface to her book, Phyllis Lee Levin suggests a counterfactual history, a history with a League of Nations that included the United States. It is one of history’s great what-ifs. What if Edith Wilson had allowed her husband to hand the reins of government to his vice president, Thomas R. Marshall, in 1919? Would there have been no second world war?
Given Marshall’s reasonable temperament, is it not possible that he might have reached a compromise with Henry Cabot Lodge over the degree to which Americans ought to involve themselves in foreign wars, and have thus led the United States to membership in the League of Nations? Such great questions are central to my reconsideration, in the present book, of the role and influence of Wilson’s wife during “one of the most extraordinary periods in the whole history of the Presidency.” Edith Wilson was by no means the benign figure of her pretensions; the president far less than the hero of his aspirations. On closer examination, their lives are a sinister embodiment of Mark Twain’s tongue-in-cheek observation that he “never could tell a lie that anyone would doubt, nor a truth that anybody would believe.”
What if the truth of Wilson’s condition, his anosognosia, had been more widely known? Was it just that the facts of the illness was suppressed? Or did the public want to believe that the president was healthy, that nothing was wrong. That even if the president was paralyzed, “. . . his mind was clear and untouched.” Edward Weinstein also weighed in on these questions. His view was unequivocal. The president had become intransigent, inflexible. There was no willingness to compromise and hence the Treaty [ratifying the U.S. participation in the League of Nations] was doomed.
It is the author’s opinion that the cerebral dysfunction that resulted from Wilson’s devastating strokes prevented the ratification of the Treaty.
I have to read Ms. Levin’s book, sounds fascinating…
ERROL MORRIS: Did you feel, from the very outset, that there was something inherently dishonorable about what they did? That they should have been completely transparent or forthcoming about the extent of his illness? The idea that perhaps they were preserving his policies, a chance for world peace, that it was critical to —
PHYLLIS LEE LEVIN: But, they weren’t doing anything. They weren’t executing anything at all.
ERROL MORRIS: So it was just a grab for power, power for its own sake, by Mrs. Wilson?
PHYLLIS LEE LEVIN: She was probably a very limited woman, intellectually. I’m being very kind. She wasn’t a very educated woman. And she was a very vain woman. She honestly felt that her husband was the only one in the world entitled to be president, even in the shape he was in.
ERROL MORRIS: But who was in control? Was it Wilson? Was it Edith?
PHYLLIS LEE LEVIN: It was a conglomerate of people. Republicans are always blamed for the failure of the peace pact. When the vote came there had to be compromises. But Wilson’s mind was so damaged by his illness that he had to have peace on his terms or not at all. So we didn’t have the peace pact because of him. Henry Cabot Lodge [the leader of Wilson’s Republican opposition] has been made the villain of all time for this. Whereas, he had offered a compromise. What the Wilsons did was just desperately terrible. It was really the grandest deception in the world. It’s really a very shocking story.