Sunday, June 22, 2008

What Happened

I had been eagerly awaiting my copy of this book, thinking it would fill in missing gaps, answer questions, firmly end all (or at least some) of the 'what actually happened?' questions I had about Iraq, the Valerie Plame Wilson leak and Scooter Libby.

In short, this book gives you no insider details, no memorable quotes, no revelations that pull back the curtain and show you 'inside the White House'. Instead, you get pages of Scott McClellan talking about how he stood up to hazing in his university days, how Scott felt confused at times, and endless quotes Scott puts in from pundits and reporters alike who repeatedly call Scott a 'good man'.

Don't get me wrong- I DO think he was put in a difficult position, I do think that he did the best job he could- given the administration he worked in and the hand he was dealt. But does this book deliver anything new? Not at all.

The hype for this book was far better than the book itself. I finished reading it feeling like the movie trailer of this book (because let's face it- they will turn this into a movie at some point), will be the best part of the film. There's just not ENOUGH in the book for the book to be worth reading. Scott hints at possible areas of interest- Colin Powell's views on Iraq, Condi Rice and her enabling ways, the secrecy involving Dick Cheney and just how out of the loop George W. Bush really was on some issues (hello Katrina? I'm talking about you)- but never follows through with any of them. As soon as you find yourself getting interested in the book, it backs away and returns to the dry narrative of Scott discussing yet another time he was "in the Oval".

I suspect if you want a book to lecture you on how to improve Washington, this may be a winner for you. If you are looking for a book that gives you dirt on what happened during formative Bush years in the White House- skip it. I highly recommend Bob Woodward's trilogy "Plan of Attack", "Bush at War" and "State of Denial" instead. These books are far superior in regards to information shared, insider views and writing style.

What Happened, indeed.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

In preparation for the upcoming film, I recently read F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. As a long time Fitzgerald fan (I was an English major, it's in our blood to love him), I was utterly impressed by this work. The story is about Benjamin Button and his strange life. Born as an old man, he slowly ages backwards as the story progresses. Obviously, this causes many issues, especially concerning school (someone who looks fifty simply can't go to college with seventeen year olds!), women, and his family's status in society. Not only does he look old as a child, but he's educated as such, thus as he ages, not only does he become younger, but his brain and maturity change as well. The tale is dark, at times, naturally, but Fitzgerald tells it well.

Fitzgerald is known as a proper wordsmith, weaving a story with an imaculate amount of analogies and word play. His sentences flow easily, keeping the reader intrigued. His description of life in 1860 was written so well that it's almost relatable at times. We still suffer from similar situations, such as wanting to fit in.

As mentioned, the film comes out soon, directed by David Fincher. At first I was worried, wondering how they could expand on this story, however judging by the beautifully done trailer, I think they have it under control.

Read the book online here, or download the audio book here. Both are for free.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Radio On

Once upon a time, radio was a sound salvation. It played all the time, in the kitchen, in the bedroom, on the pool deck, in the car. The tinny pop chug-a-lug wired the air around it with bright-minded echoes of retro romance and fakey fun, filling up the empty blue space that envelops all suburbia with the simplest of all possible remedies for boredom: a beat. - Gina Arnold, Route 666

Sarah Vowell's first book, Radio On is a diary of sorts that documents her experiment: listening to the radio every day for a full year. To some, this may sound simple, but she doesn't simply listen, she engulfs it, understands it, and somehow becomes the radio. Listening to everything from the top ten hits to obscure Native American chants on AM stations, she documents every song and every commercial listened to. An interesting anthropological study of her, if nothing else.

The book was written in 1995, a year after Kurt Cobain passed away and that's what sets the the book on the first page. Being a long time fan of the band Nivana, Vowell discusses how the band didn't just play music, they influenced it, along with a generation of followers. Throughout the book she touches on other musicians she likes (Courtney Love, Smashing Pumpkins) and abhors (Alanis Morissette, Hootie and the Blowfish). She addresses the idea of selling out and how most bands are completely overplayed, leaving the radio full of repetition and nothing new.

As stated, she doesn't just listen to music. Being a great hater of Rush Limbaugh, she frequently tunes into his program to see what he's ranting about. It's an interesting social commentary, listening to her opinions of him, juxtaposed by her vision of Clinton and the time, a president who she didn't always agree with, but ultimately supported. Along the way, she tuned into NPR frequently, namechecking greats such as David Sedaris and Ira Glass (individuals who she later in her life became friends with and works with currently on the program This American LIfe).

What was most interesting to me wasn't just her analysis of the radio (which she, ultimately, gets sick of half way through, yet trudges through like any good writer would), but how the book is very dated. Taking place in 1995, she addresses radio and CDs as the only medium of music. In one scene, during an early recording of This American Life, she notes a new, unfamiliar piece of equipment, a minidisc. Ultimately, I'd love to know what Vowell thinks of the radio today. Although, mostly, it hasn't changed, we still have Rush, we still have repetative top ten hits, but it's not nearly as influential as it was back then. In days of sirius radio where you can listen to whatever you want whenever you want, ordinary channels seem out of date. And regarding politics, I wonder what she thinks of the situation nowadays, or what she thinks of Mrs. Clinton running (and losing) for the democratic candidate. 

As a long time Vowell fan, I will admit this was my least favorite of her few, however I did enjoy it. It was an interesting journey through the world of this medium, something that, admittedly, I rarely listen to. If nothing else, it inspired me. Inspired me to put down the itunes and ipod and turn on the radio for at least right now. Who knows what I'll find on it.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

New Moon

I've noticed recently that there are reviews for both Twilight and Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer on this website, however none for the second book, New Moon. With the fourth book in the series, Breaking Dawn, coming out in less than two months, I figured I'd add the missing review, hopefully convincing others to join me in enjoying this series.

(As a general warning, if you plan on reading the "Twilight" series, please don't read any further as this post may give away some key plot points. I wouldn't want to ruin it for anyone.)

Before starting New Moon, my roommate Megan simply told me to get through the book and that Eclipse (the third book in the series) is much better. I doubted her, wondering how a book that continues the wonderful tale could be disappointing? Boring even?

Megan, like always, was pretty much right.

New Moon continues where Twilight left off. Bella is starting her senior year of high school in Forks. She and Edward are deeply in love and everything seems more than perfect. That is, until a disastrous accident occurs during her birthday party. Edward sees it smart for him to leave her, to get her away from vampires and danger. Naturally, this doesn't sit well for her.

As she learns to piece herself back together, as hard as it is, she becomes rebellious, lost, and friendly with the boy Jacob Black. She learns that cheery Jacob might have some secrets of his own, ones that might effect everything around her.

As I was reading reviews for this book, the most common complaint was that Edward wasn't in it nearly enough. Pathetically, I have to completely agree. I found myself flipping pages to see if I could find his name later on, if I could see any of the Cullens mentioned. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy the story between Bella and Jacob, it's just that it wasn't right. Juliet should be with Romeo, not Paris. 

The story moved slow and I believe that was the main problem. It wasn't bad, it was still interesting and I was still deeply addicted, but it didn't grab me nearly as much as Twilight did. However, Bella's emotions were very relatable. Which brings me back to my highest compliment for Meyer. She writes characters exceptionally well. They're very real, to the point that you feel like you know them. Or are them. I give her so much credit for that. She said on her website that the characters write themselves. I can almost see that happening.