13 August 2008

The Dark Side

This book by Jane Mayer is a cogent account of our government's post-9/11 embrace of torture as an interrogation technique. The purpose is not to document the kinds of torture that have been applied (though there is some of that), but rather to trace the genesis of decisions and policies that led to it. The story of the past seven years is cast as a struggle between the rule of law and the belief that the president is the law (i.e., if the president does it/wants it/orders it, it can't be illegal). The result is a chilling picture of an administration sorely unprepared to govern in a time of crisis, unwilling to tolerate sound advice that runs counter to its assumptions, and a president utterly insulated from dissent and bad news.

While there is nothing new about the broad outlines of this account, Mayer manages to make the details gripping. The book is upsetting and enraging, but at the same time hard to put down--rather like watching a car crash.

Highly recommended.

The Keep

This novel by Jennifer Egan was a good read--stayed up to finish it. A strange, gothic sort of story. You keep thinking you know how things are going to go, but you don't. At the beginning I expected it to be just creepy, but finally it was almost anti-creepy.

Look forward to reading more of Egan's stuff.

07 August 2008

Then We Came to the End

This book by Joshua Ferris made a big splash when it came out last year, and it's easy to see why. A tour-de-force written in the first-person-plural, it's remarkable in that it sustains the tone and humor of satire for the length of an entire novel.

Well, that's not entirely accurate. There's a diversion about halfway through in which the "we" voice takes a break. Still, the feat is remarkable.

Beyond stylistic interest, the book is highly readable, with plenty of sharp and entertaining observations about how we behave at work. It's sort of like the TV show The Office, but in text, so it necessarily has some more emotional depth.

But, frankly, not a whole lot more. This is a book that's fun to read, but doesn't have a lot of staying power.

Well written, well done, but not much to it.

Easy Rawlins/Walter Mosley

I don't remember anymore how I got turned on to Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins detective novels. I remember that Bill Clinton was president but I learned of his famous remark about Mosley being one of his favorite writers after I'd started reading the books. I remember lending them and giving them as presents to friends and to my brother, to combat his belief that my taste only runs to the highfalutin'.

When I find a writer I like, I tend to collect and devour everything I can by him, and when I found Devil in a Blue Dress, I did the same. I think there were about four novels out at the time, and I ate them all up. The subsequent ones came out too slow for me. I read many of the non-Rawlins books, too, and liked them fine, but my addiction was definitely for Easy.

Years passed and I moved on to other things, but recently I noticed that four Easy Rawlins books existed that I had not read. Scandalous! So last week I had the pleasure of remedying that: Six Easy Pieces (a set of linked short stories in which Mouse is (happily) resurrected), Little Scarlet, Cinnamon Kiss, and Blonde Faith.

My Rawlins-fest has left me with few complaints. Happy to have Mouse back, and the older Easy does not disappoint. The books look at recent American history with a sharp race-sensitive perspective, unlike any other writer.

Only, I don't see why Easy had to die.

There, I said it. Mosley may be tired of him, but I'm not.

05 August 2008

Native Speaker

I suppose I bought this book by Chang-Rae Lee because I had heard the author's name and it had won a lot of prizes, but I really didn't know anything about it. As I started to read, I began to dread what was coming: another sad story of immigrant displacement and alienation. And it is (though perhaps not so sad as anticipated), but Native Speaker is also a love story and a thriller, and succeeds rather well at its multiple genres.

Lee is a fine writer. I look forward to reading more of him.

04 August 2008

Manhattan Melodrama

Got this movie as part of a set of non-Thin Man DVDs with William Powell and Myrna Loy. It also stars Clark Gable, who's awfully charming, and Mickey Rooney (playing Clark Gable's character, Blackie, as a boy) who looks and sounds pretty much the same as he does in more recent films where he's an old man.

We had to laugh at the harmony between this movie's title and its plot, since it is probably one of the most melodramatic movies we have ever seen, and yet it's remarkably watchable.

I guess it's hard for a movie with Powell, Gable, and Loy not to be watchable.

City of God

We watched this Brazilian film on DVD from Netflix the other night and weren't sure what to expect. Turned out to be an excellent depiction of life in a Rio de Janeiro favela (slum), with terrific performances, and also a fascinating documentary reflecting on the history of the drug/gang wars in Rio's favelas.

Highly recommended.

01 August 2008

Another Cyclist Killed

Yesterday I was home reading a book when I heard a blaring car horn and then a crash. I live right above Lake Shore Drive, so (unfortunately) that sequence of sounds isn't terribly unusual, but when I got up to look out the window I expected a fender-bender on the Inner Drive and not to see a bicyclist sprawled in the middle of the Outer Drive. I watched as crowds gathered, emergency vehicles arrived, and the cyclist was (finally) zipped into a body bag (I really wanted to know if he was still alive; the body bag told me, finally, that he was not).

It was terribly sad, and, more, I couldn't understand it--what was the cyclist doing on the Outer Drive? News accounts have been no help. The Trib and Sun-Times both posted inaccurate and incomplete stories about the event (one says the cyclist died enroute to the hospital, the other says a man was trying to cross LSD and makes no mention of the bicyclist).

A witness, in the Sun-Times story comments, says,

This report is inaccurate. The cyclist was going northbound on inner LSD when he was hit by a cab (who fled the scene), thrown into southbound outer LSD where he was hit by another vehicle. I live at this site and was there when it happened.
It's not good to disparage the dead by insinuating he was trying to do someting stupid like walking/riding accross outer LSD!

It is frustrating that our local papers are not getting reporters out there to cover this very local story. And meanwhile, this cyclist is assumed by most folks who hear about this to be a suicidal idiot and not a victim of typical motorist carelessness (I don't mean the motorists on the Outer Drive, but the cab on the Inner Drive).