Books I have been reading…

In November, S took me along with her on an after-school outing with some fellow teachers.  The outing was to a pub near where we live and it seems to be a regular Friday hang out for many of the teachers in S’s school.  It was a good time, nice, clean pub, good beers on tap, good company.  I got engaged in conversation with a math teacher who is a big fan of humor writers.  You know, like David Sedaris.  But also comedians who turn their sets into short books, like John Stewart and Ellen Degeneres. 

Now, I enjoy David Sedaris, but I am not a fan of the comedian books.  And the thing is, I don’t so much enjoy reading David Sedaris so much as I love to hear him read his stuff.  Every year on NPR they have Sedaris on reading excerpts from his brilliant Holidays on Ice.  Right before Christmas I found the audio of the book at Half Price Books and S and I listened to it three or four times during our holiday traveling.  I must warn you, in case you don’t already know, the Macy’s Elf chapters are so funny that they caused me to choke several times and almost crash the car.  Be careful out there.

Anyway, back in the day I used to listen to NPR all of the time.  I used to think talk radio was just the three hours that Rush Limbaugh was on, so I had to fill the rest of my day with Morning Edition, Fresh Air and, my favorite, This American Life.  That is how I first discovered Sarah Vowell, even though I didn’t realize I was discovering her.  I just knew that I liked her little stories and I liked her quirky voice.  A few years ago I was watching C-Span’s Book TV and there was a little woman talking about a book she had written about the presidents who had been assassinated.  It sounded interesting because I am fascinated with the presidents and assassinations and then, after a few minutes of listening to her voice, I realized it was the chick from This American Life, Sarah Vowell. 

I took note of the book but not the name of the author at the time.  I figured I would read it someday and I would just recall the information if I found myself in a bookstore where it was on sale.  Well, I sort of forgot about it.  I knew it was out there in the back of my mind, but I had stopped listening to NPR so much and there were just so many other books to read.  Which brings me back to teacher’s pub night.

The math teacher and I were talking Sedaris and then she asked me if I “totally loved” Sarah Vowell.  The name rang a bell but I confessed that I couldn’t quite place her.  That is when math teacher reminded me of the presidential assassination book.  I got excited, like hearing about a long, lost friend.  Turned out that math teacher “totally loved” Sarah Vowell and had most, if not all of her books.  She offered to loan them to me since she was long finished reading them.  I thought it was a nice offer and took her up on it.

I don’t like borrowing books because it makes me a hypocrite when I hate to loan out my books.  I don’t even like it when S takes one of my books off the shelves to read because she leaves them on the floor or on the back of the toilet or spills coffee on them.  I have loaned out books in the past and never gotten them back.  Or loaned them out and gotten them back years later with the cover ripped off.  But I knew I wasn’t going to go out and buy these Sarah Vowell books because I hadn’t in previous years and they were being offered up to my by math teacher, so I accepted.

When math teacher handed me to books I placed them on the passenger seat of the car.  S then got into the passenger seat and put the books on the floor of the car.  See?  That’s what she does.  I forgot to take the books into the house when we got home because the weather was crappy and I was just trying to get us in the door without getting frozen or soaked.  Two days later I grabbed the books off of the floor of the car, out from under one of S’s travel mugs.  Do you know where I am going with this?  One of the books, a paperback, was stained black with coffee and it’s pages were warped.  It was the book on top of the pile and the others had been spared.  I went into panic mode knowing that I would one day have to return the books and one of them was wrecked.  Only partially my fault, at that.

I immediately jumped into Assassination Vacation because it was the one that most interested me.  The gist of the book is Sarah Vowell going all over the country visiting mementos from the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley.  Odd mementos, like the bullets and bone fragments in museums, the place where the assassins were found, or hanged, the burial sites, and so on.  It is, as weird as this sounds, quite fun reading.  Quirky to be sure, but good fun.  I also learned something I had not known before reading the book: Robert Lincoln, Abe’s oldest son, was with his father when he died, with Garfield when he was shot and showed up in Buffalo to meet up with McKinley just minutes after McKinley was shot.  I love trivia like that. 

I thought Assassination Vacation was brilliant even if I found her fetish of Lincoln undeserved.  She loves the Lincoln that is taught to you in fourth grade history, not the real Lincoln and his blatant violations of the Constitution.  She builds Lincoln up and when she switches focus to Garfield and McKinley, she makes them out to be such lame men that one wonders why anyone would bother killing them.  Vowell describes herself as an atheist who hs replaced God with government making Lincoln her Jesus and the Lincoln Memorial her church.  I suppose that is fine for her, but it is a little childish to me. 

Anyway, I am happy to have finally read Assassination Vacation.  It was well worth the paper it is printed on.  I cannot say the same for The Partly Cloudy Patriot, the second Sarah Vowell book I read.  I suppose it is not fair the order in which I read the books.  I read the great one first even though the other two came first.  Someone else reading Vowell start to finish would have gotten to watch her grow as an author.  I watched her regress.  The Partly Cloudy Patriot is 19 essays, most of which focus on government or history or presidents and a couple that are about Tom Cruise , Tom Landry or popular culture.  In one essay she visits a couple of presidential libraries and then writes advice to President Clinton on what he should do with his library.  She hero worships Clinton although not quite like she does Lincoln.  If Lincoln is her Jesus, then Clinton is just her televangelist who has taken her life savings but she’s still willing to give him more.

With Assassination Vacation, I relayed bits of the book to my mother in phone conversations.  I can still see my favorites parts on the pages and I still get a chuckle over a humorous turn of a phrase.  But with The Partly Cloudy Patriot, the impression I have is fogged.  I know I read it, but it didn’t leave much of an impression.  There were some funny parts but a lot of it was grating and I cannot, for the life of me,  tell you why.  The only essay that stands out in memory is the Tom Cruise one because she came right out and called him creepy… and this was before the Oprah couch stuff.  If you find yourself wanting to read some Sarah Vowell, skip this one.  It is disappointing.

Last but not least, the coffee stained copy of Take the Cannoli.  I never took this book up to my bedside table.  It wasn’t overtly about politics, which meant it wasn’t must read and only muct read books are on my bedside table.  You see, even if I am slipped a heavy dose of NyQuil, I am going to read at least four chapters before I turn out the lights at night.  My bed is my must read place to be.  Take the Cannoli is not must read.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is Don’t Read.  In Assassination Vacation and her work on This American Life, Sarah Vowell is quirky and the quirky works for her.  In Take the Cannoli, Sarah Vowell is trying so very hard to be quirky.  She writes about her “secret” addiction to the first Godfather film and seems to think she is the one who discovered how cool the movie is.  So cool she even titled her book after her favorite line in the movie.

Seriously, The Godfather is a classic for a reason.  Everyone knows how cool it is.  Sarah Vowell is not quirky because she has watched it a tousand times.  She is not quirky because she loves the criminals in it.  She is dorky for thinking that this “secret” love is quirky.  She also has some essays about how embarassing her parents are.  She is cool because she is worldly and lives all cosmopolitan and her dad makes guns and lives in Montanna.  She is obviously so much better and smarter than her dad.  Quirky.  Not so much.  What twenty-something** doesn’t think they are smarter and more worldly than their parents?  The whole book reads like exceptional high school girl writing.  Yes, exceptional for  high school girl, but not an adult in the world of published books.  You know how sometimes you hear some popular singer who is crap and you wonder how in the Hell they ever got a recording contract?  That is how I feel about Take the Canoli.  Who in the Hell read the draft and green-lighted its publishing?    Bad, bad book.  I still feel bad that it is coffee stained, but I feel worse because now I have to go buy a new copy of the crappy book because I cannot return the damaged book back to the math teacher.

Over Christmas I saw that there is a new Sarah Vowell book for sale.  I will, of course, have to read it, just to see if she has progressed or actually regressed.  But I will wait until I find it at Half Price Books or is loaned to me.  I will actually purchase a copy of Assassination Vacation to add to my presidential library though.


**Sadly, I just realized she was probably in her early thirties when she wrote this book, which makes it even worse.


Vince Flynn Shout Out…

I mentioned in a previous post that S had given me a Vince Flynn book for Christmas.  Rush Limbaugh had been talking up the author on his radio show and that got me interested in the author even though I am not much of a fiction fan. 

Well, yesterday I read Protect and Defend.  I read it in a matter of hours because it was too good to put down.  It was better than I had expected and better than I could have inagined.  And it only took me about 75 pages to get past the main character’s stupid name, Mitch Rapp.   The characters in the book are well fleshed out and all of the CIA/spook details give one the feeling that one is not so much reading fiction.  I also loved that Mitch Rapp was a masculine man, not some uber senstive male.  I’d be curious to know how many women love reading Vince Flynn…

I am now on a quest to get all of the Vince Flynn novels that I can get my hands on.  Hopefully they will be just as good as this on.

Books for Christmas…

That is what S gave to me this year.  Books. 

I had made a little list of books that I was interested in and she went out shopping by herself one day last week.  She tried to convince me that she didn’t get me anything off of my list and she even resorted to gift wrapping tricks to throw me off track.  It worked.  I thought she had only gotten me one book when in fact she had gotten me three.

I am most excited about The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression by Amity Shlaes.  I have been waiting for what seemed like so long for it to come out in paperback.  I would have bought it in hardback if I had found it at Half Price Books, but I didn’t.  I don’t buy new books all that often.  Too expensive.  Anyway, I am thrilled to finally have a copy.  I’ll start reading it in a few days, once I finish up with a Lincoln book that I started just before Christmas.  I’ve gotten to hear Amity Shlaes talk about this book on several radio programs and it sounds like it is going to be great.

I don’t mind admitting that I have a total pundit-crush on Mark Steyn.  I find him adorable.  And ever so clever.  Every Thursday he does a guest spot on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show and I hang on his every word.  Now, I’ve only ever read his columns in National Review and his blog posts on NRO, but now I have a copy of his book America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It.  The problem with getting a couple of highly anticipated books at the same time is that I can’t wait to read them and choices must be made.  But I also don’t want to rush through them, they should be savored.

The third book is a bit of risk taking on my part.  I am not a fiction fan, for the most part.  Nor am I much of a popular fiction fan.  But Rush Limbaugh has been pushing the author Vince Flynn on his radio program for at least a year now and it did stir some interest.  I went to the rather elaborate Vince Flynn website but it was difficult to figure out which of his many books is the starting point.  So my Christmas list just ended up saying “a Vince Flynn paperback“.  So, it was totally up to S to make the choice.  She picked Protect and Defend, which looks good.  I hope it is.  Kind of looks like brain candy.  The only problem is that the hero of the book is named Mitch Rapp and I think that is a stupid name.

I will now tell you what I got S for Christmas, just so that you will know that I was able to go toe to toe with her gift giving goodness.  Since S is my most favorite geek in the world, it is only proper that one of her gifts should come from a store called Think Geek (which I will not hyper link since the site only works 20% of the time).  I got her the Rocking With Hawking (as in Stephen) t-shirt that she has been wanting for some time now.  It was supposed to be a surprise, but the package got delivered to our next door neighbor’s house by mistake and he brought it over to our house and handed it right to S.  As soon as she saw the Think Geek return label, she knew what it was.

I also gave her a new Medal of Honor video game.  I think she gets to be a paratrooper or something in this one.  But she sure does love killing the Nazis and she says that the Medal of Honor games are better than the Call of Duty games.  I have no idea because I only think of the Playstation as a football playing machine.

A night with Ike…

That was one wicked wind storm last night.  It sounded like Marine One was landing on our front yard, repeatedly, for several hours.  The power kept flickering.  Branches fell out of trees and blocked the roads.  I found a rather large tree branch on the hood of our car this morning.  No damage, thank G_d, but a whole lot of people in northeast Ohio woke up to damaged cars and houses this morning.  My poor tomato plants did not survive the wind storm.  They were ripped into bits.

Just sitting in my living room, hoping and praying that the power wouldn’t go out during the Steelers/Browns game, I wondered how in the hell anyone in Texas, especially Galveston, rode out Ike in their homes.  Frightening.  I often wonder why anyone would choose to live in a hurricane plagued are or a tornado prone area or along a fault line.  I don’t think I am as tough as those people.  Perhaps I don’t have the fortitude to deal with those things.  Then again, I deal with Lake Erie winters, so I am somewhat tough.  Right?

At this very moment I am listening to a local talk radio program where the host is taking calls from people perplexed by the sudden increase in gas prices.  Of course they are blaming the oil companies, not the huge range of factors caused by the hurricane.  I find that frustrating.

S’s mom and dad are planning to visit this coming weekend.  We are going to take them to the Yankee Peddler festival on Saturday.  Mrs. S has been nagging us to take her for about four years now.  I don’t think that Mr. S is looking forward to it at all.  When we took them to a county fair last summer, they practically jogged us through the whole thing, all the while complaining about the smell of the animals.  Seriously, we were in and out of the Cuyahoga County Fair in a little over an hour.  Now, there won’t be animals at the Yankee Peddler, but it is still pretty much just a huge craft fair.  When we have gone in the past, we usually stay about four hours.  I am willing to bet that this year we do the whole festival in two hours.

Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live as Sarah Palin was priceless.  However, the rest of the show was horrible.  Maybe they used all the funny on the opening skit and that is why all the rest of the skits lacked the funny.  But I am pleased t report that S and I watched Baby Mama (Tina Fey and Amy Pohler)on Friday and it was funny.  I feared that it was going to be one of those movies where all of the funny parts were in the advertisements, but no.

I checked out my stocks this morning and got a little ill.  But then I made the decision not to look again today while there is the Lehman uproar.  I already feel better.  Things ebb and flow and I usually resist getting too caught up in the whirlwind of financial prognostication.  Today should be no exception.

Finished reading Fleeced  by Dick Morris this weekend.  Not a very good book.  Too shallow.  And I got the impression that some of his “down with the tyrants” rants were hollow.  I don’t think he really believes half of what he wrote in that book.  Total waste of my money and time and for that I should slap myself in the face, because I have alwasy avoided his books in the past.

Speaking truth to power…

A phrase that is overused and misused, I think.  But it truly applies to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a Soviet era dissident/writer, who died today at the age of 89.

I do not know why Gulag Archipelago is not required reading in our schools.  Not to mention One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

I recommend the Solzhenitsyn editorial from today’s National Review Online.

Good things…

In effort to prove my contention that I am not an angry person, I will post a few of the things that I am happy about this week.

1. Looking over my current DirecTV bill I found that my NFL Sunday Ticket has automatically been renewed, at the early purchase discount rate, no less.  Yeah!  You have no idea just how much I love football.  Or just how much I love my Pittsburgh Steelers.  If it had not been automatically renewed, I might have had some purchasing guilt over it again this year like I did last year.  It’s kind of a lot of money to spend on watching football when there is really just the one football fan in the house.  Sure, S likes watching Steelers games, but she does not live and die with them like I do.  But, the decision has sort of been made for me and I have a little less guilt.

2.  I am totally enjoying our evening walks with the dogs.  And the dogs are quite pleased as well.  During the walks we’ve gotten to meet more and more of our neighbors and a local police officer who lives on the next street up from ours.  I like participating in the community, even if it is just in a small way.  Also, S has started taking Rummy jogging in the afternoons and they both seem to be enjoying that.  Emma and I get to stay home, which pleases both of us.

3.  The county fairs start next week!  We love county fairs.  Oh, the corn dogs I will be eating…

4.  We found a decent local pie place and last night we tried out some pies.  We bought four different slices to share and sample and they were all pretty good.  When we lived on the other side of town we had a great dessert place that we indulged in, but it is now way too far away for the indulgence.  But now we can at least get a pie fix on this side of town.

5. This morning we watched the trailer for the new Harry Potter movie, due out in November.  Brilliant from the looks of it so far.  The Tom Riddle boy seems like perfect casting.

6. Last Thursday I purchased and then grilled to perfection a Porterhouse steak.  Life is good, very good. 

7.  We are having house guests this weekend, S’s brother and his wife.  Which means we get to show off the house again and I do love that.

8.  A family has moved into the house next door to us.  Mother, father and children.  The house has been vacant since before we bought our house and while I enjoyed the quiet and the privacy, I worried about living next to a somewhat run-down, empty house. 

I thought I would have ten things, but no.  Oh wait, I started reading a really good book last night.  Yeah, that’s #9.  Oh, and in the past two weeks I read biographies of James Madison, James Monroe and John Tyler, so there, that’s #10.

William F. Buckley book…

I just ordered, from National Review Online, an old William F. Buckley book, United Nations Journal: A Delegate’s Odyssey.  

The book is old, I think from the 1970’s, as it was written after he spent three months with the UN General Assembly.  Anyway, National Review has/had 40 copies of this hardcover from Buckley’s personal stash.  They are/were selling them for $15 (including s&h).  Great deal, I must say.

I cannot wait for it to arrive.