BOTM for September

It's easy to rail against the injustices of the Bush Administration with regards to pretty much everything post 9/11. Especially when you're simply following the media rhetoric or the 2-second sound bytes provided by most of the cable news outlets. While I wouldn't completely put myself in that category, lately I've been feeling like whistle: shrill and loud but blowing nothing but air. So I started picking up books and reading what I could to better inform my decision.

Bob Woodward is amazing. How this guy gets his information I'll never know, but get it he does, and he paints a vivid portrait in Bush at War (now a 3-volume series) of the first 100 days in the Bush administration following the devastating attacks on 9/11. And the first thing that comes across is the enormity of the decisions facing a new President when confronted with an unimaginable situation. You're introduced to all the major players in the game, and Woodward really sheds light on the decision process and how events transpired the way they did.

I've heard that Woodward later felt that he was soft on Bush in the book; GWB comes off as someone you may not know from all the parodies and jokes on late-night television: a shrewd, intelligent man with powerful convictions who feels it is his life's mission to rid the world of terrorism. One of the strongest impressions is of all the wheeling and dealing behind the scenes, as Bush's Cabinet form alliances, break them, and fight ferociously for their own agendas. Colin Powell gets the most sympathy, as he struggles to be the voice of reason in a group screaming for an immediate push to Iraq (a push GWB is against, at least in this volume). This is a terrific book, extremely informative. And while my Liberal opinions regarding the war may not have changed, my understanding of the complications involved in the making the decisions the Administration did has. I just picked Volumes 2 and 3 in the series (Plan of Attack and State of Denial) and can't wait to continue.

Elsewhere in September:

  • The Tooth Fairy by Graham Joyce - a coming-of age drama in 1960's England where young Sam has an honest to goodness encounter with the Tooth Fairy, a hideous troll-like creature who may or may not exist in Sam's imagination. As Sam grows up and experiences the ups and downs that are part and parcel of life, his interactions with the Tooth Fairy take on nightmarish proportions. Normally this would seem right up my ally but for some reason I found it a struggle to get through. There's nothing actually bad about he may have simply been the mood I was in (jet-lagged and hung-over in Austin with massive flight delays), but around the half way point of the novel I was reading just to finish and get on to the next book.
  • Rainbow's End by Vernor Vinge - After my lackluster response to The Tooth Fairy I decided to stop reading literary trade paperbacks and get back to one of my original loves - Science Fiction in mass market paperback. Rainbow's End won the Hugo Award for Best Novel this year, so I thought I'd take the plunge. The novel looks at what out lives would be like if we were eternally "jacked in" to the Internet through the use of computer clothes and special contact lenses that "see" the World Wide Web. Mixed into all of this is the rejuvenation of a honored poet, taken from the brink of death and Alzheimer's and thrust into a crazy plot to launch a virus that renders victims completely susceptible to suggestion. Good but not great, Vinge sometimes gets too much going on at once, and you start to feel lost with all the characters, plots, and asides into the world the novel takes place in. Good but not great, I liked it and am intrigued enough to try something else.
  • Deception by Philip Roth - I've been told you don't have to be Jewish to love Philip Roth, but it helps. If that's the case then spin me a dreidel, friends, because ever since I read Goodbye, Columbus years ago I've been hooked. Roth is now one of those authors who remaining books I haven't read I store for those moments when I need to read something I know I'll love. Deception is a short novel told completely in dialog between a young writer living in England and his older, married lover. It's good - full of that great dialog Roth can do so well, but I missed the narrative of his more "conventional" novels (if you can call Roth conventional at all, which I doubt). Deception is a good novel, but I wouldn't place it in his top books, and you're new to his work I would recommend at least 5 other novels before this one.

What? What books would I recommend first? At the very least: Goodbye, Columbus, Portnoy's Complaint, The Counterlife (my personal favorite), The Ghost Writer, and American Pastoral.