Tuesday, January 01, 2008

2007 in books (Martha & Shirley)

Martha and Shirley with you to take a look back at the year in books.

What was 2007 like for books?

The "good" was brilliant. The rest was so-so or just awful.

In August during a round-table for the gina & krista round-robin, we brought up this general mood in the community on books and C.I. suggested Stephanie Coontz' The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. Enough people took up the suggestion, of "Use this time to grab books you either missed or weren't aware of," for Coontz' 1992 book to come in at number ten. C.I. had tied in the Colonial American tactic of using fear on and against children with the central point of Naomi Klein's then to be released book and it's a sign of both how threadbare 2007 was and how strong Coontz' decade-old-book still is that it spoke to more community members than the bulk of 2007 releases.

Kayla told us, "With few exceptions, I have no need to read a book of previously published columns or essays. Frank Rich is a good example of someone whose weaknesses are on full display when he gathers up his output for the paper [New York Times] and re-releases it in book form. As a general rule, if your last name is not Vidal, Walker or Zinn, you should probably face the fact that your output will not make for a book because it simply doesn't hold up as writing." That's Gore Vidal, Alice Walker and Howard Zinn.

Charlie pointed out the other big problem with 2007, "Pep rallies in transcript form." We ran our take on it past non-Democratic community members because we didn't want to offend. There were no objections, so we'll share it.

As two women who are lifelong members of the Democratic Party and who have voted nothing but straight ticket our entire voting lives, we both felt as though we were back in school, being hustled off the gym and having to sit through a team of boosters in bad polyester outfits the home ec classes had made. We watched as the team stomped and hollered and couldn't help thinking throughout, "If they had any real talent, they'd be cheerleaders or twirlers. Instead they're just yellers. If they had any guts, they'd be trying out for the team and not on the sidelines applauding and squealing with joy." And that's what they did in 2007, yelled at us loudly. They had no insight -- their cheers were old and moldy -- and they had no entertainment value -- their prose was lifeless. But they did reveal the hollowness at the heart of mass conformity. We doubt that was their intention but we also doubted they realized how tacky their uniforms were or how they were way to old to belong to a pep squad. We pictured them pulling out of the school parking lot in their mini-vans, or at least hybrids, with a bumper sticker that read: "My child and money go to the Democratic Party."

The books that made the list did so because they spoke to the community. They grabbed the world we live in and translated it into a worthwhile reading experience.

1) Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism. The clear first choice. Thank you to Eli, Gina, Krista and Beth for helping us with the count. We also thank Beth for doing some research. Klein's book was mentioned at The Common Ills repeatedly in the last months of 2007, however, in terms of citations, it was the third most mentioned book of 2007 (the other two make the list as well). As Beth noted, the book expands on Klein's 2004 essay "Baghdad Year Zero" (Harper's magazine) which is the most cited piece at this site in 2004, in 2005, in 2006 and 2007. As ombudsperson, Beth points out that may have "primed the pump" in the community which made it, far and away, the first choice for the book of 2007; however, there was also another factor that Hilda addressed in a November Hilda's Mix: It was readily available on audio format. Though the clear first choice among the community at large, it was the universal first choice among blind community members. We spoke with Allison who explained, "My husband reads very well but for us to have made it through this book with him reading it out loud to me would have taken weeks. The week it came out, we went to Barnes & Noble to pick it up and then over to the audio books to grab a few other titles. The bulk of our books are in audio form. My husband said, 'Hey, it's on CD.' I knew right away what 'it' was and replied, 'I don't care if it's Howie Mandel reading it, grab it'." It is a big book in any format and Miguel noted that includes translations such as the Spanish version he gave his grandmother for Christmas. What's so free about "free trade"? Klein examines that and what really goes into exporting and importing in this in depth analysis that demonstrates people have to be in a state of shock to be robbed and 'free' traders are more than happy to prey on any crisis. She opens the book with a look at torture experiments conducted by the US government which grabs the reader but also fits with the theme because economic enslavement is torture. [Click here for Third's discussion of this book.]

2) Joshua Key's The Deserter's Tale. Beth says this was the most noted 2007 book at The Common Ills and notes that it got a "push" beginning in 2006. It needs to be noted that the link goes to Overstock.com which a member suggested early on and that, unlike with a book that didn't make the list, Overstock.com is a pleasant experience. You don't wait for the book only to learn that the dealer has a contract with a delivery service whereby packages are only delivered from nine to five, Monday through Friday, and require a signature. That is far from the only reason a book, we all know which one, didn't make the top ten (that book received no votes from any community member) but that remains one of the souring experiences for books in 2007. Why a publisher would enter into such an arrangement is beyond us. But those who do, need to note the delivery policy at their website. Not every member who read the book got it from Overstock.com. Some used Amazon and many noted in their e-mails that they were surprised to find it, within weeks of its release, at their local bookstores. In addition, the book was readily available to many readers at their libraries. Joshua Key tells his story to Lawrence Hill and it holds your interest long before he arrives in Iraq. When the book turns to his experiences in Iraq, you're offered a look at the sameness in everything including the violence. Returning to the US for a brief leave, Key explains to his wife Brandi what is going on there and how he can't return. They and their children go underground in the United States and the sense of being discovered and found at any moment is strong enough that you may have to repeatedly remind yourself, "He makes it to Canada. He make it to Canada." The family does make it to Canada and if you read this book, you loved it. So let's note this from C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot"s:

On November 15th, the Canadian Supreme Court refused to hear the appeals of war resisters Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey? Does he even care? Judging by his column, the answer is no. An over hyped voice of the 'left' gives the greatest gift of all in 2007: The reality of how little the alleged 'left' cares about ending the illegal war. (Give to the DNC! Give to two presidential candidates who refuse to promise, that if elected in 2008, they would pull out the troops by 2013!) That just about sums it all up. In the real world, the Canadian Parliament has the power to let war resisters stay in Canada. Three e-mails addresses to focus on are: Prime Minister Stephen Harper (pm@pm.gc.ca -- that's pm at gc.ca) who is with the Conservative party and these two Liberals, Stephane Dion (Dion.S@parl.gc.ca -- that's Dion.S at parl.gc.ca) who is the leader of the Liberal Party and Maurizio Bevilacqua (Bevilacqua.M@parl.gc.ca -- that's Bevilacqua.M at parl.gc.ca) who is the Liberal Party's Critic for Citizenship and Immigration. A few more can be found here at War Resisters Support Campaign. For those in the US, Courage to Resist has an online form that's very easy to use. Both War Resisters Support Campaign and Courage to Resist are calling for actions from January 24-26.

Make your voice heard so that the Canadian government knows you support Hinzman, Hughey, Key, Ryan Johnson, Patrick Hart, Corey Glass, Kimberly Rivera and all the other over 200 war resisters now in Canada have your support.
[Click here for Third's discussion of Key's book.]

3) Aimee Allison and David Solnit's Army Of None covers war resistance within the ranks and outside. It also makes a strong argument for stopping Bully Boy's escalation by countering the lies of recruiting. Members listed ranked their three choices in the voting and Allison and Solnit's book came in first among teenagers and young adults as well as in the over-fifty group. We're not sure whether that's because it spoke most clearly to those two groups or because it was read in larger number by those two groups. If it's the latter, and you fall in-between young adult and fifty-or-older, we encourage you to grab this book which offers strong visuals as well as text, such strong visuals that we are honestly surprised someone hasn't attempted to make a DVD of the book. (If such a DVD is made, we hope they include footage of the workshops.) Along the way, the authors offer a historical view of today's resistance and that may, as Lucy noted, "sneak by you on first read, but it's one of the details you absorb when you read it again." Wally loved this book and shared how he loaned it to a high school neighbor of his grandfather's. The reaction he shared in the gina & krista round-robin, it caused an earthquake at a local high school, it probably why young readers respond so strongly to this book; however, it is a book for all ages. [Click here for Third's discussion of this book.]

4) Aidan Delgado's The Sutras Of Abu Ghraib: Notes From A Conscientious Objector In Iraq (tie) Camilo Mejia's Road from Ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejia. Those are listed in alphabetic order, please note. Kendrick may have summed it up best when he noted he was ranking one higher than the other in his vote only because he had to, "But, honestly, they're both equally good." Sylvia picked up on that same thread noting, "Because I'm forced to choose I'm going with Camilo but if I was voting tomorrow, it might be Aidan. These are two different books with different strengths." Rachel wrote, "It's easy to place Key's book higher than these two because his came out in February and I've read it and re-read it. It seems like Mejia's book came out and as soon as I finished reading, Delgado's book was out." Delgado and Mejia both served in Iraq. Both attempted to be granted CO status by the US military. Delgado was successful in that and Mejia was not which goes to the need not for a new policy but for the US military to be forced to follow their own written policy. Delgado is an avid reader and his joy in telling the story comes through even the book's darkest moments. Zach feels that this is "only the first of many books from Delgado and that he'll soon be using his experiences to write in the sci-fi or fantasy genre. If you think about that and picture the success he will most likely have, that would mean thirty years from now, a popular author's first book would be his explaining how he turned against an illegal war and that's pretty radical." To make that point isn't to detract from Mejia or Key's books. But Delgado's strength is his story telling ability and a precise use of words and phrases. There are many times in the book where he, the author, is an observer of himself that led both of us to wonder whether he could produce a sci-fi book on doubles? It's a joy to read for the writing alone. Camilo Mejia's book is a joy to read for his ability to convey the struggle he went through. Mejia writes of events as if they are still fresh and being processed. It's a raw book that provides shocks the author reads as if he is still living with. There is no wall between him and the reader. His anguish over what he saw and what he experienced grabs you and, if you're not outraged that the likes of The Nation will not call him -- in their disgusting summer article allegedly telling the story of the Iraqi people -- a "war resister" or a "CO" but only a "deserter," then, apparently like the authors and editors of that bad article, you haven't read the book. The US military violated their own rules with regards to Mejia who was not a US citizen and whose contract had expired. As a non-citizen, he could not be 'stop-lossed' or extended. It goes to the desire to suck-up to the powerful that The Nation can't grasp reality and calls him a "deserter." You get the feeling Koo-Koo Katrina would have recommended Tina Turner and Ike go into couples counseling instead of Tina standing up for herself and ending an abusive relationship. Who do the rules apply for? Mejia's book demonstrates that the rules apply only to those not in power and that when you fight back and stand up to an abusive system, the response from institutions is lies, distortions and condemnation. Never forget The Nation magazine is published by The Nation Institute which says a great deal about that ever disgusting and cowardly periodical. Both men are members of Iraq Veterans Against the War and Mejia is chair so we'll take a moment to swipe this from the "Iraq snapshot"s:

Meanwhile IVAW is organizing a March 2008 DC event:

In 1971, over one hundred members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War gathered in Detroit to share their stories with America. Atrocities like the My Lai massacre had ignited popular opposition to the war, but political and military leaders insisted that such crimes were isolated exceptions. The members of VVAW knew differently.
Over three days in January, these soldiers testified on the systematic brutality they had seen visited upon the people of Vietnam. They called it the Winter Soldier investigation, after Thomas Paine's famous admonishing of the "summer soldier" who shirks his duty during difficult times. In a time of war and lies, the veterans who gathered in Detroit knew it was their duty to tell the truth.
Over thirty years later, we find ourselves faced with a new war. But the lies are the same. Once again, American troops are sinking into increasingly bloody occupations. Once again, war crimes in places like Haditha, Fallujah, and Abu Ghraib have turned the public against the war. Once again, politicians and generals are blaming "a few bad apples" instead of examining the military policies that have destroyed Iraq and Afghanistan.
Once again, our country needs Winter Soldiers.
In March of 2008, Iraq Veterans Against the War will gather in our nation's capital to break the silence and hold our leaders accountable for these wars. We hope you'll join us, because yours is a story that every American needs to hear.

Click here to sign a statement of support for Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan

March 13th through 16th are the dates for the Winter Soldier Iraq & Afghanistan Investigation.
[Click here for Third's discussion of Delgado's book and here for their discussion of Meija's book.]

6) American Freedom Campaign's Naomi Wolf published The End of America: Letters of Warning to a Young Patriot. We worded it that (awkward) way to get in a link for an organization that we both support. If this book made it onto a ballot, it was always their first choice which may indicate that some members have not yet picked it up. Wolf examines the historical steps necessary to turn a free state into a fascist one and applies that to the current state of the United States. It's not a feel-good read. It is a brave and powerful book the sort that Koo-Koo Katrina would condemn, no doubt, as she did some making observations in her really bad Washington Post column that found her inventing a quote to hammer the great Julian Bond with. When Koo-Koo has to create quotes, a fact she left out of her Nation reposting of that hideous column, it goes to her state of mind and considering the magazine's appalling modern day record on race, it's incumbent upon us -- one African-American woman, one White woman -- to note how easy it was for Koo-Koo Katrina to find African-Americans, such as the great Harry Belafonte, to focus on when it was time to slam but how, despite her laughable claim of "I Live In Harlem!", when it's time to churn out her pedestrian musings -- whether on such soft topics as voting, birthday parties for her daughter, American Idol or what have you -- it's pretty much an All White World from Koo-Koo's desk. (Mike coined "Koo-Koo Katrina" and we think it says it all.) Wolf didn't shy from reality, she didn't run from it. She didn't bore us with a post on American Idol that would have been embarrassing if it had appeared in Tiger Beat but was appalling coming from an editor and publisher of a weekly, allegedly political magazine. Wolf wrote a powerful book and demonstrated how strong women can be. When we look back on this decade and think of how much chirpy-crap about "Things aren't that bad" has been put out, we are dismayed to grasp how many women have disgraced themselves. So this book was personally exciting to us because a female name came out with a hard hitting book that demonstrated we don't have to look only to the female attorneys -- Marjorie Cohn, Heidi Boghosian, Dalia Hashad, Nancy Chang and others -- for strength. In a discussion of the book for the round-robin, Gina noted the book's power and wondered why so many other women were so eager to come off weak and/or trivial and C.I. responded, "Well, Wolf's been exploring the 'good' and the 'bad' labels society pins on women her entire career. If she was the least bit nervous about how this book was received, she's got the grounding and knowledge to grasp (a) it doesn't matter and (b) women will get torn apart regardless." Which really goes to the one word we'd used to describe this book: fearless. The book was noted in a TV commentary by Ava and C.I., but Jim tells us it will be a book discussion this month at The Third Estate Sunday Review. If you haven't already picked up the book, there's another reason to. (This is also the highest ranking book on the list that hasn't been the focus of a book discussion at Third yet.) You will not be disappointed.

7) Susan Faludi's The Terror Dream was the subject of a book discussion. There was a complaint on this book in the ballots: Lynda says, "I just wasn't ready for the last page. This book could have had 100 more pages and still held my interest. I think it's one of the books that captures the decade and does so while the decade is in progress meaning as much as I enjoy it, it'll be of even more value when the decade's over and historians and social critics attempt to make sense of this time." Brandon's ballot consisted of only one book and he wrote, "There were other books I enjoyed but, for me, 2007 can be boiled down to The Terror Dream. It captures the sickness in our society, how it took root and how we all suffer from it. It's political, sociological and journalistic. Credit to Ava and C.I.'s weekly work for the last three years. Otherwise, I would have dismissed this book without ever picking it up. While everyone was tagging this or that as 'big issues,' they regularly pointed out that the way we attempt to subjugate and control in our society is a 'big issue.' I agree with Rebecca that their review of Jericho especially could act as an intro to Faludi's amazing book." The Terror Dream traces the governmental and societal response to 9-11 and how it relegated women to the margins which required not only ignoring them but beefing up the so-so and questionable 'contributions' from White men. A must-read and one of our personal favorites of the year as well as one of Dona's who says, "I don't think it could have been published and well received earlier in the decade and I'm not sure how many are ready to hear these truths now. Anyone interested in reality will clutch onto this book tightly." [Click here for the discussion of this book at Third.]

8) Howard Zinn's A Power Governments Cannot Suppress among the most vocal supporters of this book were Miguel and Elaine who each wrote several paragraphs praising it on their ballots. The book is a collection of essays Professor Zinn wrote for The Progressive this decade and if the book has a short-coming it's only that it was published too soon to include his "Are We Politicians or Citizens?" which carries every point in this collection to its natural conclusion. Though not included, because it was written when the essays were being selected, it explains the collection, and Zinn's work. Anyone who hasn't yet picked up the book should start with that essay which will determine how you respond the collection. If you too believe that governments should not be institutions intended to deliver orders but the representation of the people, that they should exist to serve and not suppress, then this collection will speak to you as Zinn explores modern and historical warfare, modern and historic resitance, the costs of speaking out as well as the benefits and what makes for heroism in a society. Miguel and Elaine both called it, in their ballots, "a heroic work." When we called them, they were both amused they'd used the same phrase but, as Miguel asked, "What else would you call it?"

9) Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace. Edited by Maxine Hong Kingston. This 2006 book made last year's list. Many noting it on their ballots this year wrote that they'd only read it after that list. Betty ranked it number one on her list. When we phoned her, she sited another reason it may have been on people's minds: Bill Moyers interviewed Hong Kingston about the book for the Memorial Day weekend. Betty explained, "I don't remember it getting any TV attention prior to that. After I saw the broadcast, I pulled it back off my shelves and re-read it. I'm sure all the books that make the list are worth reading, and I'm looking forward to finding out what else made the list, but as someone who is always reading a book, both to model reading for my children and for my own enjoyment, I'd rank 2007 as a pretty disappointing year for publishing. One of the benefits of that is allowing us to rediscover books we enjoyed or pick up books we'd missed. This is a huge volume and you really have to read it more than once to really appreciate it. It's one of those books that benefits from you living with it and not a quick read." The book features contributions from many who participated in Maxine Hong Kingston's writing workshops on war and peace and demonstrates how, if we use our own voices and tell our own truths, we all have something worth sharing.

10) Stephanie Coontz' The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. Again, C.I. suggested in a roundtable for the gina & krista round-robin and it spoke to enough members to make the top ten. Coontz examines the realities of the American family as opposed to the cultural myths and Lewis wrote, "The key for me was these two sentences on page 277: 'But very few people can sustain values at a personal level when they are continually contradicted at work, at the store, in the government, and on television. To call their failure to do so a family crisis is much like calling pneumonia a breathing crisis'." Goldie and Marlene read the book together and responded to different aspects. For Goldie, "It summed up how we are advertised to constantly and the ads aren't just coming on TV or radio or in magazines or online, it's coming from the government and they're selling something other than reality." Her mother Marlene said, "I read it and just thought of all the feelings of 'we've done it' that I had in the 90s. It seemed like the problems were identified and we'd wised up, especially post Hill-Thomas [Anita Hill's 1991 Senate testimony about Clarence Thomas sexual harassment of her], and now we were ready to roll up our sleeves and build on this knowledge. I honestly feel like the last seven years have been non-stop attempts to destroy that knowledge base and erase it. And, for me, it showed how fragile 'gains' are and can be. Which is why my three votes were for this, Faludi's book and Wolf's book. Take this knowledge base Coontz documented for all of us in 1992 and read Faludi for the response we got from our 'leaders' this decade and then read Wolf to realize just how much work is required to strip us our freedoms."