Saturday, March 25, 2006

50 Books in 50 Years: Book #6

Book #6: A Wild Sheep Chase, by Harumi Murakami.

I borrowed this book from the library without knowing much about the author other than his book The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was a big favorite of some friends of mine. A little way into it, I realized that it belonged to the special modern subcategory of novels known as the Pynchonesque.

A well written Pynchonesque novel is a delight. A poorly written Pynchonesque novel inspires nothing but the old wanking gesture. Luckily, this is a well written novel.

I'm not sure if there's any point in describing the plot, is there? Suffice it to say that the characters are well worth getting to know, particularly the Sheep Man, who made me laugh out loud (and inspired the author to provide a little sketch).

Impeachment? No, But...

I'm not usually enamored of the way people distinguish between "the theoretical" and "the practical." A theory that's deeply divergent from real, lived experience is often a theory that needs to be radically revised or discarded. (Or, in some cases, is a theory that doesn't have any real purpose other than intellectual diversion: a glorified crossword puzzle.)

But there's some room for this distinction in the case of calls for Bush's impeachment. There's been a fair amount of talk about this lately, most prominently the piece by Lewis Lapham in the March issue of Harper's. Most of the best-known liberal bloggers (such as Matthew Yglesias and Josh Marshall) have cocked an eyebrow at this sort of talk, and rightly so: as a matter of politics, of practical action, impeachment is a non-starter. Gestures toward impeachment (such as that by Michigan Rep. John Conyers) are just that, gestures, as long as the Republicans are in charge. And there are some good reasons why it might be wise to avoid impeachment even if the Democrats were to take overwhelming control of Congress this November. So I agree that it's probably a good idea to set aside this talk, at least for the time being. (Lapham himself apparently understands this; indeed, he starts out his piece by pointing out how unlikely it is that Conyers's resolution will go anywhere.)

But let's not fool ourselves: even if impeachment turns out to be practically infeasible, or politically unwise, it is absolutely warranted as a matter of morality when one considers the way Bush's administration has behaved. The multiple lies and misleading statements used to promote the Iraq war are one obvious grounds for removing Bush from office; the recent spying scandal is another. The Iraq war is more serious in terms of its cost in money and lives; the warrantless spying is more serious in terms of the damage done to the rule of law.

In a healthy political culture, impeachment would indeed be a viable option. But in a healthy political culture, Bush wouldn't have received a major-party nomination for the presidency, in the first place, much less been judicially appointed & re-elected. We need to focus not on the short-term political theater of impeachment, but on the much longer-term task of returning American civic culture to something approximating sanity.

Monday, March 06, 2006

50 Books in 50 Years: Book #5

Book #5: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le petit prince

I'm not sure I ever read this book as a child, though I'm pretty sure I'd seen a stage adaptation of some sort. In any case, I wanted to read it before my children are old enough to have a copy. And since I can read French, I figured I might as well read it in the original language.

It's very French. It's whimsical and melancholy — a good deal more melancholy than I expected, to tell you the truth. The end is really more for parents than children.

That isn't to say that I didn't like it. It's a classic for a reason.

50 Books in 50 Years: Book #4

Book #4: David Kemp with Lawrence Levi, The Film Snob*s Dictionary.

This is a sequel, or a companion volume, to The Music Snob*s Dictionary, and it does for film snobbery what the earlier volume did for music snobbery. That is to say, it provides useful background information for aspiring film snobs, or for anyone who has friends or loved ones who are film snobs. It doesn't pretend to be a comprehensive dictionary of film (God forbid), but provides capsule summaries of many of the current obsessions of movie geeks — Hong Kong martial arts films, John Cassavetes, the Hammer Film studio, and so on.

I suppose that the book would have limited appeal to people who don't socialize with film snobs, but for those who do it's both useful and amusing. I was particularly taken by their neat list of differences between MOVIES and FILMS, to wit:

It's a MOVIE if it's preceded by a trailer for the latest Jerry Bruckheimer epic.
It's a FILM if it's preceded by an announcement from a pear-shaped, balding man down in front who identifies himself as "Michael, the programming director."

Tom Waits will never, ever star in a MOVIE.
Tom Hanks will never, ever star in a FILM.
If you commune with film (or music) obsessives, by all means pick up a copy of the appropriate book.