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review 2018-04-23 17:14
Insights into a cinephile
Nixon at the Movies: A Book about Belief - Mark Feeney

Mark Feeney's book is a difficult work to describe. At its core it provides its readers with an analysis of Richard Nixon's cinephilia, the consequences of which Feeney gleans in order to explain various aspects of Nixon's psychology. This he does in a series of interconnected chapter-length essays, the majority of which are built around a particular film Nixon watched during his time as president. Feeney uses his examination of these movies as a springboard for an extended exploration into specific aspects of Nixon's life and career, such as his relationship with Ronald Reagan or his time in Congress. Drawing upon his background as a film critic, he weaves together his examination into a study of the films themselves and their related works, which he breaks down not just to draw out the elements that relate to Nixon's life but to illuminate the America in which he lived.

The result is an engrossing read. Though Feeney provides no new details about Nixon's life or his time in office, he draws out connections that deepen our understanding of the man and provide some interesting interpretations of his character. It also has the effect of humanizing the 37th president in a way that that few other books have before, showing how, at his core, Nixon was a person who enjoyed losing himself in movies as much as anyone else. While this is not the first book people should seek out to learn about Richard Nixon, the originality of Feeney's approach and the insights it provides make it one that nobody seeking to make sense of the man can afford to neglect.

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review 2018-04-21 15:39
Nothing too terrifying I'm sad to report
Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places - Colin Dickey

I picked up Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey with the hope that it would be like the 13 Alabama Ghosts books I remember so fondly as a child (they still have the first in the series at the public library in my hometown). I don't fully believe in ghosts but I do fully enjoy reading ghost stories. Tales of haunted places in particular are fascinating because they're usually told with a kernel of truth at the center. However, Dickey seems to contradict himself at every turn in this book by retelling these ghost stories and then almost immediately debunking them. Further compacting the confusion, each chapter ends with a somewhat mystifying takeaway about why there seems to be so many 'ghosts' and 'haunted places' in the United States. (And this is despite the U.S. as we know it being a relatively young country.) He covers the gamut of places that could possibly be haunted. There's the typical cemeteries and old houses but there's also factories and even the rarer entire city haunting (Detroit for example).  Overall, I didn't feel satisfied because I think I was hoping for less analysis and more storytelling. I suppose this might be of interest in terms of a tour guide for places to check out yourself but it wasn't my cup of tea. 4/10

 

Of possible interest: Dickey is a member of the Order of the Good Death started by Caitlin Doughty which I'm sure you'll all remember from earlier blog posts. I have to say that I didn't find his writing nearly as compelling as hers. :-/

 

What's Up Next: Fly on the Wall by Emily Jenkins

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan

 

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-04-20 17:28
The Not-Quite States of America by Doug Mack
The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA - Doug Mack

A book about America’s territories: part travelogue, part history, part investigation of the territories’ political status, this is a lightweight, readable introduction to a complicated topic. Doug Mack takes readers along on his trip through the territories: beginning in the U.S. Virgin Islands, then traveling to American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific, and ending with a trip to Puerto Rico. He even makes a stop in the Marshall Islands and briefly discusses the U.S.’s “freely associated states” of the Marshall Islands, Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia. (These are independent Pacific Island countries that have a special relationship with the U.S., even having U.S. post offices and citizens serving in the U.S. military; as a group, they were best known to me for being the only other U.N. member states to always vote against sanctions for Israel.) Along the way, he shares his research about the territories in an accessible way that provides a good primer for readers new to the topic.

I found this book interesting, educational and easy to read. The author shows readers each territory as a unique place and digs into their histories and the history of U.S. international policies more broadly. He also examines the legal oddities governing the rights of the territories and their residents: for instance, they are eligible for some public benefits on their islands, but never become eligible for others even when living in the mainland U.S. (some of which actual foreign immigrants can receive after several years). Meanwhile mainland Americans can’t vote for president if they relocate to the territories. Mack pushes for opinions on the territories’ political status, and except in Puerto Rico often finds them hard to come by; for the most part, territory residents seem to prefer a flawed status quo to possibly losing individuality by becoming a state, or losing economically by becoming independent.

Mack could have improved the book a bit by being a little more willing to go out of his comfort zone as a traveler. He does meet a variety of people living in the territories, including, in the Northern Mariana Islands, a man who spent several years in another part of the Pacific learning traditional navigation, and a woman who immigrated from China to work in the garment factories. But his only exposure to obeah in the U.S. Virgin Islands is asking a well-off couple (he’s a local but she is a scuba instructor from the mainland U.S.) about it, to which they essentially smile and roll their eyes. Toward the end, he comments with surprising honesty that “In all my travels in the territories, I’d seen countless shacks and set foot in many middle-class houses and gaped from afar at the occasional oceanfront villa.” It doesn’t seem to occur to him to try to get invitations to some shacks as well, and the book gives little sense of how most people live in the territories.

All that said, with the exception of Puerto Rico, the territories are tiny islands about which relatively little has been written, especially in such an easy-to-read, bite-sized format, and this book did an excellent job of filling them out on my mental map. I would recommend it to any American to learn a bit more about some of the furthest-flung parts of the country. It can even be funny: did you know about the U.S. government’s machinations in the 19th century to claim uninhabitated islands for their bird poop?

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review 2018-04-18 18:23
What Happened -- too many facts, not enough Hillary
What Happened - Hillary Rodham Clinton

I bought this a while ago. I was a Clinton supporter. (I have always loved Bernie Sanders and voted for him in the primary, but by the time it got to my state, it didn't matter, and I happily took time off to campaign for Hillary once that was settled.) I strongly believe she got short shrift in the election coverage, and I was too upset until recently to be able to read this. (I actually think my diving into fiction may be a direct result of the 2016 election. I find I am too angry to be functional if I read too much news or even too much political fiction/nonfiction.)

 

While I agree in large part with most of her points about "what happened," I didn't learn much new from this book. I was very touched by her clear adoration for her daughter and her grandchildren, and it is clear that the loss of her mother is still very painful. Some of those chapters are wonderful. I could have lived without an exact play-by-play explainer on every issue on the election. I lived through it and experienced it once. I wanted to know how she felt about these things. The cover promises she's going to tell us, but I didn't get any real insight to Hillary Clinton. Thought she didn't say it this way, I also enjoyed how clearly pissed off she is at Comey - still. Also that she was confused by his actions like the rest of us were. I would say 70% of the book is defensive crouch. I get it, but it may just have been too soon for me even now. I never will need to read an in depth explainer on the emails though -- I doubt anyone reading this book will. Those who read Hillary's book are likely to have understood the email situation LONG before the election and frankly, long before the NYTimes stopped harping about them. (Guess what - reading the apologies and "we'll do better" from the Times didn't make me feel better either - particularly since they've now done away with the Public Editor who was the one clear-headed person at the paper...)

 

I moved to this book because I found my blood boiling at Susan Bordo's feminist coverage in The Destruction of Hillary Clinton (though I will make myself read that because I really want to) and decided to put that one down in favor of reading the candidate's take. I've liked Clinton's earlier books, and like many women I've admired liked Hillary Clinton for years. I respect her, but this book was uneven. Clearly she was very hurt and angry, like the rest of us. When she's down, Hillary argues her case. It's just that I've heard that case before, and I hoped for a more personal look in this book, like promised. I wonder if anyone could write a clear-eyed book about this election, but Hillary and I can't.

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review 2018-04-18 02:53
Tough as They Come by Travis Mills

 

In 2012, Staff Sargent Travis Mills of the 82nd Airborne Division put his back pack down in the worst possible place he could in Afghanistan. That's all it takes to set off the IED which robs him of three, and ultimately all four, of his limbs. He is only one of five soldiers to survive such horrific injuries.

 

But as this book shows, his backpack was also placed in exactly the right place. For as much as Satanic hatred tried to destroy his body and spirit, it did not succeed. It could not. In the great darkness that comes from overwhelming physical and emotional pain, it can only serve to highlight the light that comes from the human ability to bear the unbearable and shine out all the brighter and be seen all the clearer because of the darkness. Because Travis went through the night, cheered and strengthened by one who came to him who had already come back through the black into the light, he serves as a light to others. If he had not gone through hell, he could not show others the way out. Click on the link for the great work this inspired. Certainly not the enemy intended! The darkness wishes to devour us all, but it cannot if we look to such examples as Travis and see the black night rent by their light.

 

Rock on, Travis, and all your brothers who serve as inspirations. God bless you all.

 

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