Wednesday, January 01, 2014

2013 in Books (Martha & Shirley)

In 2013, The Common Ills community was always eager for a good read but didn't find much.  Which was why there were repeated cries for more book coverage at community sites and in community newsletters.  This year, every book on the list was either covered or noted at a community site or in a community newsletter.

How much did such mentions matter?

The more mentions you had, the higher up the list you tended to rank.

Brooke, Tori and KeShawn were among those voting for the book that ended up at number one. When we spoke to them about how they ended up picking their number one book pick, they said that the book sounded interesting, that they wanted to read it, that when they'd forget about it due to daily life, it would pop back up in one of C.I.'s Iraq snapshots or in a column she wrote for one of the newsletters or . . .  KeShawn, "It was just a constant reminder.  By the second month, I got the book."  Brooke added that she too kept forgetting so "at some point when it was in a snapshot again, with the link, I just went ahead and clicked on the link and downloaded it.  This was my first digital book."

Digital or physical pages?  That was actually a debate about one book that made the list.

In looking over the choices, we remember the year far more clearly and hope you will as well.

1) Toby Dodge's  Iraq: From War to a New Authoritarianism by Toby Doge.

How did this end up number one?

We are a community who cares about Iraq.  We may be the only ones who are honest enough to note Tim Arango's revelation, in the midst of his NYT report on Syria, in September 2012 that US President Barack Obama sending US troops back into Iraq.  Of course we'd note that, we are readers!  We're not skimmers, we actually pick up books.  Books of all kinds -- fiction, non-fiction, serious, popular, camp, literary, etc.

But Toby Doge's book had community awareness in a way that few books did.

And those mentions in the Iraq snapshots served as reminders to pick up the book.

If you bothered to do so, you learned so much more than what the US news media has provided.

The Erbil Agreement, for example, is addressed as part of Nouri al-Maliki's seizure of power.  What no one in the US media other than CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq will tell you about Nouri refusing to nominate people to head the security posts so that he can keep control of them, it's in the book.

This is the book that best captures Iraq today.

That said, as C.I. always notes, Iraq is "highly fluid."  Things change all the time.

Sadly, for Iraq, these changes are usually for the worse.

If you want to understand Iraq, you want this book.

2)  Heidi Boghosian's new book  Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power and Public Resistance.

spying on democracy

The executive director of the National Lawyers Guild and co-host of the radio program Law and Disorder Radio wrote one of the community's favorite books for 2013.  10 more votes and it would have reached number one.  It really was close.  Community awareness of the book was boosted by it being quoted in several Iraq snapshots, by the Third Estate Sunday Review book discussion "Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power and Public Resistance" and by Maria's review in El Spirito.  It probably also benefited from the illegal spying scandal revelations via whistle-blower Ed Snowden.  The book explains how we arrived at this time in history when both our personal privacy and our Constitution are in grave danger.

3) My Lunches With Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles.

This book was a surprise.  It had only one community mention.  But what a mention.  In Third's "German sympathizers or agents shot down a plane? Huh?"  That attention grabbing headline resulted from this exchange between film director Henry Jaglom and film director, actor and screenwriter Orson Welles about the actress Carole Lombard (My Man Godfrey, Nothing Sacred, To Be Or Not To Be, Hands Across The Table, Twentieth Century,  etc.) and her then-husband actor Clark Gable:

HJ: Now, Lombard could not have been very bright.

OW: Very bright.  Brighter than any director she ever worked with. She had all the ideas.  Jack Barrymore told me the same thing.   He said, "I've never played with an actress so intelligent in my life."

HJ:  But Gable was certainly not bright.

OW: No, but terribly nice.  Just a nice big hunk of man.  If you're working hard that long -- if you have to be in makeup at five fifteen, and you get home at seven o'clock -- how much brightness do you want?  The guys just wanted to stagger home at seven o'clock -- how much brightness do you want?  The guys just wanted to stagger home -- and, if they could, get laid.  Otherwise, a happy smile and get ready for the next day's work.

HJ: So Lombard was also killed in a plane crash?

OW: Yes.  You know why her plane went down?

HJ: Why?

OW: It was full of big-time American physicists, shot down by the Nazis.  She was one of the only civilians on the plane.  The plane was filled with bullet holes.

HJ: It was shot down by who?

OW: Nazi agents in America.  It's a real thriller story.

HJ:  That's preposterous.  What was she doing on a plane full of physicists?  Do people know this?

OW: The people who know it, know it.  It was greatly hushed up.  The official story was that it ran into the mountain.

JH: The agent had antiaircraft guns?

OW: No. In those days, the planes couldn't get up that high.  They'd just clear the mountains. The bad guys knew the exact route that the plane had to take.  They were standing on a ridge, which was the toughest thing for the plane to get over.  One person can shoot a plane down, and if they had five or six people there, they couldn't miss.  Now, I cannot swear it's true.  I've been told this by people who swear it's true, who I happen to believe.  But that's the closet you can get, without having some security clearance.  No one wanted to admit that we had people in the middle of America who could shoot down a plane for the Nazix.  Because then everybody would start denoucning anybody with a German grandmother.  Which Roosevelt was very worried about.  The First World War had only happened some twenty-odd years before.  They were getting lynched.  And he was very anxious for nothing like that to be repeated.

Alright, you've got our attention.

And the book holds it.  It's transcripts from the two men's recorded conversations.  And others pop up in the conversations.  For example, actor Jack Lemmon (Some Like It Hot, The Great Race, The Apartment, Under The Yum Yum Tree, The China Syndrome, etc.) will be invited to join the discussion, actor Richard Burton (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) will be sent away.

4) Patricia Kennealy-Morrison's Rock Chick: A Girl And Her Music
rock chick a girl and her music

Everyone's invited to legendary rock critic Patricia Kennealy-Morrison's music seminar.  The woman known today for The Keltiad fantasy series -- which we firmly believe should be turned into a film franchise -- didn't begin her career as a novelist.  It was the sixties when she started and music mattered.  Patricia Kennealy Morrison quickly became one of the major rock critics.  Reading this wonderful book, a collection of her past writing, you'll understand why.  And you'll marvel over how the history of rock was able to write Patricia -- along with many other women -- out of the story.  With this book, she reclaims her rightful credit. Third Estate Sunday Review's "Rock Chick: Book discussion" addressed this book.

5) Jay McInerney's Brightness Falls.

This 1993 epic novel caught the community's attention as a result of multiple posts by Mike -- here, here and here.  Does Oprah still have her book club?  Who knows?  Who needs her when we've got Mike.  Like many of you, we went out and picked up the book.  It's haunting.  One of the best novels of the second half of the 20th century.  The ending should leave you in tears.

6)   America's Great Game: The CIA's Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East by Hugh Wilford.

This book benefited from a mention in an Iraq snapshot and from Goldie's review in Polly's Brew.  It came out late in the year, at the start of this month.  We've noticed that the later the book comes out, the lower it appears in the top ten.  It's not easy to release a book in December and get it on to our list because everyone's so busy that reading a thick volume -- and this is physically a big book -- is hard to do during the holiday season.  But this is an important book and it's appearance in the top ten is a testament to that.

7) Penny Marshall's My Mother Was Nuts.

Actress and film director Penny Marshall's book came out late in 2012 (September) and didn't make last year's list.  But as she continued to promote it -- and with the rave Elaine wrote on it in the gina & krista round-robin -- the community became more and more aware of it.  This May, the book comes out in soft cover.  If you can wait that long, pick it up then.  If not, grab it now because this really is a great book.  It's funny and it's fair.  She's not playing kissy-kissy to everyone.  When she has praise, she shares it.  When she doesn't,  oh well.  The woman we all loved as Laverne (Laverne and Shirley) writes a book that's funny and fair and makes you feel like she's sitting across the table from you sharing these stories.  Like what it was like on set of The Preacher's Wife -- one male actor didn't handle the table read well when others were getting the laughs. You'll learn why Debra Winger didn't make A League of Their Own. She was supposed to be the lead (the Geena Davis role) but she walked when one person was cast in the film.  (Guess who?)  Find out how Tom Hanks ended up in that film and how he ended up in Penny's Big.  Who did Penny have to sideline when casting her film Awakenings?  And how did she and Rob Reiner end up married anyway?  All that and so much more is in the book.  Brandon is among 12 community members who insist this is a book you really want to get the audio version of so consider that as well.

8)  Darwin Porter's Marilyn At Rainbow's End: Sex, Lies, Murder, and the Great Cover-up.


Marcia's "Marilyn At Rainbow's End by Darwin Porter" and Rebecca's "books: marilyn at rainbow's end" covered the book and launched a six week debate in the gina & krista roundrobin over whether a summer read requires a physical book.  At the end, about 62% of respondents agreed with Marcia and Rebecca that a page turner works best in physical form and not in digital download.  Has any figure captured us the way Marilyn has.  The actress who died August 5, 1962 (we'll say she was murdered) continues to capture the country. 51 years after her death, you've seen her this month in TV ads for Chanel No. 5 perfume -- the ad starring actress Charlize Theron and the one featuring Marilyn speaking about what she wears to bed.  Many powerful men tried to bury Marilyn.  She refuses to fade away.

9) Jon Krampner's Female Brando: The Legend of Kim Stanley.

This 2006 book came on the community radar when Betty discussed the book she was reading in "The Female Brando."  Jon Krampner argues that stage and TV actress Kim Stanley was the female Marlon Brando.  Stanley also acted in five films -- one of which was a film of the 1966  production of Three Sisters.  Her best known role to most people today is probably in the film Frances which starred Jessica Lange.  Stanley played Frances Farmer's mother in the film and was nominated for an Academy Award.  She lost to Jessica Lange who was nominated for Best Actress for Frances and for Best Supporting Actress for Tootsie.  Stanley was a stage actress with the bulk of her TV appearances coming via television plays. Brando was done with Broadway (and theater) in December 1949 after his sixth Broadway play.  He would go on to act in at least 39 completed films. (1995's Divine Rapture which starred Brando, Debra Winger and Johnny Depp was shut down during filming.)  His acting would result in eight Academy Award nominations (he won twice -- for The Godfather and On The Waterfront).  So, since Stanley made so few films and only was the star in two of them, the book also inspired a variety of theme posts on who was really the Brando female equivalent in film?  Betty offered "Jane Fonda," Rebecca picked "debra winger,"  Elaine offered "Jessica Lange," Mike went with "Marilyn Monroe," for Marcia it's "Charlize Theron," Ann selected "Diane Keaton," Stan argued for "Tuesday Weld," Trina felt the obvious choice was "Faye Dunaway," for Kat it's "Cher" and Ruth went with "Shelley Winters."

10) Linda Ronstadt's Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir.


Community members felt that Ava and C.I. more than nailed the problems with the book in "She sang so much, she wrote so little (Ava and C.I.)."  Community member Barbara noted, "With no more new albums from Linda, I wished she'd written a better book.  But with no more new albums from Linda, this probably is her final statement."  Another member who voted for the book, Brita, wrote, "It's really small, in scope and in reference.  Anyone wanting to devour a book should go find something else.  But if you need light reading, something you can pick up and put down regularly, this is the book.  I read it while spending a week at the hospital with a dying parent.  The book was something I could enjoy as a distraction and didn't require a great deal of concentration."  Russ, however, wrote, "I love Linda.  Heart Like A Wheel [hit album by Ronstadt].  'Don't Know Much' [hit single].  The book for me is a continuation of the music."

Martha and  Shirley have also done the year in books for 20122011, 20102009, 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2005.