Sunday, October 31, 2010
Friday, October 29, 2010
The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory by David Plouffe
Maybe it was growing up in
I can’t resist political campaign memoirs. I love, love, love them.*
And this one is fantabulous.
David Plouffe was Barack Obama’s campaign manager, and he’s got a great story to tell.
The first part of the book is the lead-up to the
And it was only then that the story really picked up… Of course, we know how it ends, but this book tells us what plans were being hatched (and foiled) to produce those results.
One of my absolute favorite lines from the book is this one, and I intend to borrow it for frequent use: “Something funky clearly happened here.” (p. 150)
That was a quote from David Axelrod, speaking with Obama after receiving the surprising results of the
Plouffe writes well, and he captures the moments that made the Obama campaign the phenomenon that it was. Even as he describes the lack of glamour—the sleep deprivation, the run-down hotels, the distance from family, the omnipresent concern about blindsiding political attacks—the very intensity of the campaign absolutely seems… glamorous.
Perhaps the appeal of these books is like the appeal of those scaling-Everest memoirs. Someone’s got to do it. Glad it ain’t me, but dang, it’s thrilling to read about.
Here’s the guy himself, in one of the minimalistic videos (described by one of his friends as resembling hostage videos) that provided updates to the campaign’s volunteers:
* Other rip-roaring good campaign memoirs: All’s Fair: Love, War, and Running for President by Mary Matalin and James Carville, and All Too Human by George Stephanopoulos
Hey! Election day is Tuesday! Set your alarm clock just a little early, and go vote, dear people.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
From Booking Through Thursday, here's the question of the week:
In honor of Halloween this weekend:
What reading skeletons do you have in your closet? Books you’d be ashamed to let people know you love? Addiction to the worst kind of (fill in cheesy genre here)? Your old collection of Bobbsey Twin Mysteries lovingly stored behind your “grown-up” books? You get the picture … come on, confess!
Well, anyone who's hung around here for half a minute already knows I'm pretty darn shameless and unapologetic about what I read and what I've read.
For example, my Nancy Drew roots are frequently on full display. (Trixie Belden's in that photo, too.)
I also have fessed up that I have a sordid history (which continues to this day) of reading sensationalist celebrity biographies and "the-nanny-tells-all!" books.
This next thing is also something I've admitted.
But never before has there been photographic evidence.
And I. Do. Not. Apologize!
Friday, October 22, 2010
Get Capone: The Secret Plot that Captured America’s Most Wanted Gangster by Jonathan Eig
From page 1, this book grabbed me. Here’s what did it: the writing style.
Eig’s writing is positively fun to read. He makes the reading effortless (which probably is tough to do on the writing side of things).
And his writing is smart—he uses great turns of phrase and has wonderfully understated comic timing.
Here’s a sample: “As much as any Chicagoan, Sbarbaro embodied the city’s love-hate relationship with bootleggers. He held two jobs—one as an assistant state’s attorney, the other as a funeral home director—so that when he wasn’t putting gangsters in jail, he was putting them in coffins.” (p. 48)
Not only is the writing snappy, but the skillful characterizations bring the bad guys, the good guys, and all of the in-between guys, vividly to life.
Based on the title, I expected this book to focus solely on the plot to take down Capone, but happily, it also provides plenty of background about his rise to power. And the whole thing—the rise, the fall—all of it is captivating and seemingly too strange to be true.
Along the way, I grew wildly fond of the quiet, careful (and Iowa-born!) U.S. Attorney George E.Q. Johnson, whose work eventually led to Capone’s imprisonment for income tax evasion. The author had access to Johnson’s papers, which provided a wealth of detail and insight.
The other fascinating part of this book is the contention that the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was not ordered by Capone, but was instead planned and carried out by William “Three-Fingered Jack” White in retaliation for his cousin’s murder. Eig makes a good case, methinks.
Here’s my ringing endorsement of this book:
I nearly always get creeped out by true crime books, so usually you wouldn’t hear me going, “Great! Gangland killings! Let me read on!”
But I could not put this book down.
Here’s the trailer:
Friday, October 15, 2010
Bliss, Remembered by Frank Deford
Bliss, Remembered is everything a novel should be.
That’s what I thought, about halfway through.
And then. It. Got. Even. Better.
I swear to you, this is a gorgeous book.
It’s a story of long-lost love, recounted by a wonderfully vibrant octogenarian, and by her middle-aged son whose narrative frames his mother’s story (and whose relationship with his mom is utterly charming).
And there are Olympic swimmers and Nazis. OK, are you sold yet?
In 1936, she was on the swimming team that competed in the Berlin Olympics. And while she was there (here comes the secret part)… she met a man. An utterly gorgeous and smart and charming young man named Horst. And they fell in love.
(Poor Teddy had never heard of this dude, and it’s wonderful how he inwardly resents the guy for competing with his father—whom his mom had not yet even met!—for his mom’s affection. Makes me smile.)
Of course, Syndey couldn’t stay in
But as she talks about Horst, it is “bliss, remembered.”
And this book just is so darn good.
At first, it reminded me of Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger and Susan Minot’s Evening, both of which are novels in which a dying woman recalls the one great love of her life. But those books are told through more of a haze, while this book is crisp. And there’s a pert tone to
And her story has become my new favoritest book of the year.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Books read: 4
Hours read: 12
Pages read: 1084
Where I've read since the last update: recliner
What I've consumed since the last update: more water, muffin
What else I've done: read some blogs, checked the Read-a-Thon web site
Saturday, October 9, 2010
... A randomly chosen winner. : )
This is one of the reasons I adore JFK: the man had a certain grace, and besides that, he was quick with a comeback.
Here are the numbers:
Books read: 3
Hours read: 10
Pages read: 818
Where I've read since the last update: kitchen table, ugly recliner
What I've consumed since the last update: red pepper pasta, carrots, 2 glasses of water, pita, baba ghanoush
What else I've done: eaten dinner; done 2 mini-challenges; watched an episode of Community
Books read: 3
Hours read: 8.25
Pages read: 692
Where I've read since the last update: ugly recliner
What I've consumed since the last update: cookie! and a glass of water
What else I've done: not a doggone thing--I've been a reading machine
Books read: 2
Hours read: 7
Pages read: 484
Where I've read since the last update: rocking chair; ugly recliner
What I've consumed since the last update: 2 glasses of water; almonds
What else I've done: visited some book blogs; visited Read-a-Thon central command
It's Hour 9, and I'm a little over halfway through Wait Till Next Year. I keep liking it more and more.
Hours read: 5.75
Pages read: 374
Where I've read since the last update: rocking chair; stairs; kitchen table; cafe
What I've consumed since the last update: that muffin and cappuccino up there
What else I've done: walked to cafe; checked The Face; visited some book blogs
Hours read: 3.5
Pages read: 280
Where I've read since the last update: comfy pretty little chair
What I've consumed since the last update: carrots; baba ghanoush; pita; tofu/sweet potato/spinach curry with rice (see photo); 2 glasses of water
What else I've done: checked Read-a-Thon mission control
Hours read: 3
Pages read: 223
Where I've read since the last update: small comfy chair; standing up (a sign of my unease with the Ellroy book?)
What I've consumed since the last update: not a darn thing
What else I've done: chatted on the phone with a friend; done the Show Me the Books mini-challenge; done the facebook thing
Hours read: 2.5
Pages read: 193
Where I've read since the last update: kitchen table; comfy, ugly recliner
What I've consumed since the last update: breakfast! oatmeal with walnuts and raisins; 2 (3?) cups of coffee; 1 glass of water
What else I've done: Visited facebook; done the Indie Mini-Challenge; visited some book blogs
Friday, October 8, 2010
Saturday, October 2, 2010
Friday, October 1, 2010
Thomas Jefferson by R. B. Bernstein
Here’s the thing:
And I think that’s behind the reason this book has been described as the best short biography of
It just places the information there for the reader to evaluate. I appreciate an author who respects his readers enough to do that.
So, this here reader decided to get all snarky about old T. J. It really isn’t very responsible of me.
Because here’s the other thing: I’d be happy if I could really like Thomas Jefferson. But I just can’t do it.
Here’s how I try to convince myself.
I say: He was bookish! Developed a cataloging system and sold his books to the Library of Congress, for Pete’s sake!
I say: He loved learning and was brilliant! Was instrumental in the founding of the
I say: He was all about the separation of church and state!
I say: I sort of get a kick out of the fact that he kept pulling a “You cannot have the Mango” act and then kept returning to seek political office anyway.
I say: How about that
I say: He wrote the Declaration of
Isn’t that enough?
But then I think these thoughts: Slavery. Hypocrisy. Sally Hemings and the children he fathered with her. Sexism. Debt (he had to sell his books for the money).
And that’s when I start to get all snarly and ornery.
This is one complex situation, and that’s all there is to it.
So here’s the thing: I know
But I still don’t exactly like him.*
But I did like this book!
In addition to its fine-tuned sense of balance, the other outstanding feature of this book is that the author provides just enough background information (without ever seeming condescending) to provide context to a reader who is not well-versed in the early 19th century. (That would be me.)
Wonderful biography. I'm really glad I selected this biography of Jefferson, because I feel like it was truly an even-handed treatment. Anything different would have felt like it either glorified him or focused too much on his flaws.
So -- any negative tone you're picking up here is just me being irritable because there's so much about Jefferson to admire, yet not.
* It makes completely no sense, particularly since JFK was a philanderer, but I still am fascinated by—and, yes, I admire—him. Why’s he get a free pass, while poor
Also, there's this thing going around now with people angry at Jefferson because apparently he wasn't religious enough for their tastes. That's not why I'm ornery about him, though. There are just too many reasons to have mixed feelings about this dude.
Again, I'll say: Complicated!