Friday, March 21, 2008

Vote!

There's a new poll over in the sidebar. The winner of the last poll was The Spymaster's Lady. I should actually be finishing that book tonight.

Cheers!

* This message is brought to you by the patron who shushed me. I didn't know they could do that.

Patron of the Moment: Double Space

While walking a FULL cart of books back to my office...

Patron: Excuse me, do you work here?
Me: [Thinks about what I must look like] Yes.
Patron: Can you help me?
Me:
Sure, what can I do for you?
Patron: I need to double-space.
Me: Where's you're laptop?
Patron: I'm not on a laptop. I'm on a desktop in the lab.
Me: Oh! Those computers do not have Word installed. They only have a viewer. You can't edit documents.
Patron: I just need to double-space. Show me how.
Me: You can't on those computers.
Patron: Can you just double-space it for me.
Me: On those computers, you can't edit a Word document. You can only view and print. If you get a laptop from the Circulation desk you can edit your document.
Patron: Just come double space this for me. They want it double-spaced.
Me: You can't double-space on those computers.
Patron: I don't know how. Please just show me.
Me: I can show you on a laptop, but not on that computer. Come with me to the Circulation desk. After you check out a laptop, I can show you how to double space.
Patron: *sigh* I will figure it out myself. *wanders away*

Despite thinking I was rather clear and helpful at the time, I can't help but think I failed somehow.

Book 12: Where War Lives

TITLE: Where War Lives
AUTHOR: Paul Watson
STARTED: March 5, 2008
FINISHED:March 17, 2008
PAGES: 367
GENRE: Memoir

FIRST SENTENCE: I was born a rebel with one hand.

SUMMARY: [From amazon.com] A Pulitzer Prize — winning journalist takes us on a personal and historic journey from Mogadishu through Rwanda to Afghanistan and Iraq.

With the click of a shutter the world came to know Staff Sgt. William David Cleveland Jr. as a desecrated corpse. In the split-second that Paul Watson had to choose between pressing the shutter release or turning away, the world went quiet and Watson heard Cleveland whisper: “If you do this, I will own you forever.” And he has.

Paul Watson was born a rebel with one hand, who grew up thinking it took two to fire an assault rifle, or play jazz piano. So he became a journalist. At first, he loved war. He fed his lust for the bang-bang, by spending vacations with guerrilla fighters in Angola, Eritrea, Sudan, and Somalia, and writing about conflicts on the frontlines of the Cold War. Soon he graduated to assignments covering some of the world’s most important conflicts, including South Africa, Rwanda, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Watson reported on Osama bin Laden’s first battlefield victory in Somalia. Unwittingly, Watson’s Pulitzer Prize—winning photo of Staff Sgt. David Cleveland — whose Black Hawk was shot down over the streets of Mogadishu — helped hand bin Laden one of his earliest propaganda coups, one that proved barbarity is a powerful weapon in a modern media war. Public outrage over the pictures of Cleveland’s corpse forced President Clinton to order the world’s most powerful military into retreat. With each new beheading announced on the news, Watson wonders whether he helped teach the terrorists one of their most valuable lessons.
Much more than a journalist’s memoir, Where War Lives connects the dots of the historic continuum from Mogadishu through Rwanda to Afghanistan and Iraq.

THOUGHTS: This book was everything I hoped it would be and then some. The "and then some," however, I actually could have done without. Even with the "and then some" this is remarkable work of memoir. Watson's life story is inherently dramatic and his lyrical way with prose makes this book emminently readable.

In reviewing this book, I'm having difficulty deciding whether I should focus on Watson's life, how he writes his life, or how he reflects on his life. In Where War Lives, he does all three and, in many ways, it is impossible to separate them. For someone who has spent most of time under the influence of drugs or in war zones, Watson writes in a calm, almost lackadaisical tone. The writing is smooth and serene, even when the situation being discussed is not. I was wowed by Watson's ability to recount his life with complete candor. He does not shy away from mentioning his faults and selfish, life preserving nature. Watson discusses how there were times he was more worried about getting the picture/story than being careful with the life of his interpreters, drivers, bodyguards, and other local helpers. Watson is a man driven by adrenaline and risk, and he does not apologize for it.

Watson has been to nearly every major war zone and hot spot on the globe over the past two decades. His career is made under a hail of bullets and among the genocidaires. The news we've all read about, he's lived. Somalia, Rwanda, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq: these are just some of the places where Watson has reported. For all his brilliant work, it's hard to believe he is not better known. But, all this work has caused Watson severe emotional trauma. And this, I think, is why Where War Lives was written.

In many ways, this book almost seems as if it's Watson's way of getting back in touch with the world. Having been diagnosed with a severe case of depression and PTSD, Watson describes how he felt jaded and detached from reality. He smoked pot on a bridge in Rwanda, while counting the bodies floating down the river below him. Where War Lives is written with such genuine self-reflection, one has to think that it's a form of mentral health treatment.

Aside from the last few chapters of this book, where Watson attempts to explain complex political situations, I was enthralled. I wrote my senior politics thesis on Clinton's foreign policy as it related to Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, and Kosovo. Aside from Haiti, Watson lived my thesis. In fact, Watson may be the one person in the world who caused my thesis. He took the picture of the American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. Without that image, my thesis (and so many other, more important, things) would never have happened. I believe that is why this book is so amazing to read. Watson blames himself for American inaction in Rwanda and the limited action in Kosovo. Throughout the book, he seems to carry the burdern of death on his shoulders.

In the end, it does not matter that the last few chapters bored me. The rest of the work is the tale of an extraordinary life. Watson writes without sugar coating and in such an eloquent manner he could have been a poet. Where War Lives is fascinating memoir that should not be overlooked.

RATING: 9/10 [Excellent!]

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Book 11: Protect and Defend

TITLE: Protect and Defend
AUTHOR: Vince Flynn
STARTED: March 1, 2008
FINISHED: March 4, 2008
PAGES: 416
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: Mitch Rapp ran his hand along her smooth, naked thigh, up to her waist, and then down along her flat stomach.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] After taking care of a loose end from Act of Treason(2006), Mitch Rapp looks into the destruction of Iran's secret nuclear weapons facility in bestseller's Flynn's predictable eighth thriller to feature the counterterrorism agent. Given the absence of any indication of either a U.S. or an Israeli air strike, Rapp takes the opportunity to persuade the U.S. administration to plot an operation to destabilize the fanatical Iranian regime by having an Iranian dissident group claim responsibility for what he suspects was an inside job by an Israeli spy. When the Iranian government sinks one of its own ships and blames the U.S., Rapp and CIA chief Irene Kennedy travel to Iraq to try to defuse the crisis, only to fall victim to an ambush (reminiscent of one in Tom Clancy's A Clear and Present Danger) that results in Kennedy's abduction. Rapp races the clock to rescue his boss before she's tortured into revealing what she knows. Despite a backstory replete with personal loss, Rapp comes across as a one-dimensional killing machine, willing to do whatever needs doing to complete the mission.

THOUGHTS: I don't think I like Mitch Rapp anymore. I love this series, but Rapp is beginning to grate on me. He spent this novel being whiny and stubborn. There were times I found myself screaming, "STF already!" He sees things now solely in terms of black and white, right and wrong and refuses to acknowledge any other way but his. In some ways, he was beginning to annoy me in his pigheadedness. I like arrogant men, but Rapp was just an asshole in this one. I can understand his emotions, but he just made me want to smack him.

Otherwise, Flynn did a rather good job of keeping the plot afloat. His storyline was inventive and I was impressed by the technical detail of this book.

RATING: 5/10 [Meh.]

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Book 10: Slammerkin

TITLE: Slammerkin
AUTHOR: Emma Donoghue
STARTED: February 21, 2008
FINISHED: March 1, 2008
PAGES: 390
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: There once was a cobbler called Saunders who died for eleven days.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Born to rough cloth in working-class London in 1748, Mary Saunders hungers for linen and lace. Her lust for a shiny red ribbon leads her to a life of prostitution at a young age, where she encounters a freedom unknown to virtuous young women. But a dangerous misstep sends her fleeing to Monmouth and the refuge of the middle-class household of Mrs. Jones, to become the seamstress her mother always expected her to be and to live the ordinary life of an ordinary girl. Although Mary becomes a close confidante of Mrs. Jones, her desire for a better life leads her back to prostitution. She remains true only to the three rules she learned on the streets of London: Never give up your liberty; Clothes make the woman; Clothes are the greatest lie ever told. In the end, it is clothes, their splendor and their deception, that lead Mary to disaster.

THOUGHTS: Hello pretty writing.

I can't think of the last time I enjoyed the narrative writing of a book so much. Donoghue's use of vivid, descriptive language brings this story to life in full Technicolor glory. They way she describes her characters actions, emotions, and clothing can only be described as sumptuous. This was one book I could not put down simply because the writing was so breathtakingly beautiful.

The story Donoghue tells is rather straightforward: a downtrodden girl sells herself (in every way possible) for the love of beautiful clothes. In portraying her character as such, Donoghue has crafted a story with no real protagonist. In fact, most of the characters can hardly be called redeeming. This is a story of vice and how people succumb to its seduction. I may have not "liked" the characters as people, but I loved them as figures of narrative. Donoghue does not feel the need to "pretty" her story; it just is.

Excuse me, I'm off to go run my hands over some snowy white linen.

RATING: 8/10 [Terrific]