Saturday, February 28, 2009

We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work by Jimmy Carter

We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work

Jimmy Carter is going to talk about peace in the Middle East until he dies. He is leaving books for us to use as a road map after he dies. But he'd rather we pay attention now because the situation for Palestinians is unbearable.

I am one who just didn't want to know about it. The conflict has gone on too long, and although on the face of it, it didn't seem fair that Palestinians had to move off land they'd lived on for generations, better minds than mine had made this solution. Or so I thought.

When I saw the television and newswire reporting showing Israeli retaliation for the the latest Palestinian "bombings" in late 2008, my fury was aroused. And I began to read. I realize now that I've always had a responsibility to be informed on this issue, and that better minds than mine had not been the only ones at work here, as usual.

The Collaborator of Bethlehem: An Omar Yussef Mystery by Matt Beynon Rees

The Collaborator of Bethlehem: An Omar Yussef Mystery

Omar Yussef, a crusty grandfather, refuses to mind his own business. Friends run into trouble in Dehaisha, a refugee camp outside of Bethlehem, and he looks into the void.

This book is overwhelming in its pathos, and terrifying in its implications. This old schoolmaster, Omar Yussef, almost goes out of his way to avoid finding evidence of murder in Dehaisha, perpetrated, he believes, by a leader of the resistance. Instead he finds clues just lying about, ignored by the very people meant to serve the people and protect them from harm. His anger and fury come into focus as his family is threatened and blameless friends and colleagues are murdered.

I had not realized that "the gunmen" of the Palestinian resistance were so reviled from within, but it makes eminent sense. This is a novel, of course, but I think Matt Beynon Rees may be speaking to a larger truth here that is difficult to convey to those, like myself, who have turned their face from a conflict that rages with no end in sight, that doesn't make economic or political or humanitarian sense, and is sickening in its reveal of the baseness of human nature.

The author has painted a grim picture of life in the settlements. He is not unkind to Israelis who, in the one appearance they make in this volume, appear rational, albeit destructive. His main character is difficult to like, he is so full of bile at a system that gives him no peace but plenty of pain. But if we walk with him a short way, we begin to see what he sees, and it is indescribably sad.

Related: Sound of Sleep or Invasion?

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Book Business by Jason Epstein

Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and Future

Epstein, former Random House editorial director among other things in his long and illustrious career, treats us to reminiscences about the past and ruminations about the future of book publishing. Especially delicious are recollections of Doubleday's suppression of Drieser's novel Sister Carrie, the first appearance of Nabokov's Lolita, and the genesis of The New York Review of Books.

For me though, Epstein's long experience in book publishing is most interesting when applied to how the industry changed, and continues to change, over the years. I am reassured by his insistence that bookstores, like cinemas, will not entirely disappear in this new world of digital access. Years ago Epstein did not recommend to his children nor their friends to enter the publishing industry because it was an industry in decline. Today he would have encouraged them because publishing is an industry in the middle of enormous changes. I agree. There are opportunities to be seized.

A further thought. The book was published in 2001. The book is dedicated to Judith Miller. Epstein tells a little anecdote about his involvement with the CIA in Africa. Somehow it gets the mind whirling...

Related: Autopsy of the Book Business by Epstein in the Daily Beast and E-Books--This Time It's Real by Osnos in The Platform

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wrack and Ruin by Don Lee

Wrack and Ruin

I adored this book. It had me laughing in public places and snickering into my coffee. All the characters had real flaws but Lee was fair--everyone was flawed. And what's more, I liked them the better for it. Lyndon Song, ex-New York sculptor and brussel sprouts-farmer extraordinaire, and his failed financier brother Woody, make a madcap pair amongst the other odd personages of Rosarita Bay, California.

Lee was much more fluent in this work than in his earlier work, Country of Origin, and it seemed he was having a better time as well. The action and personalities seemed so very Californian to me, and since I live on the east coast, it felt like a trip away. A television series that gives me that same "quirky California" feel is Six Feet Under.

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

How We Decide

Fascinating. The introduction has this author in a flight simulator in Canada. The first chapter discusses Tom Brady of the Patriots making a Superbowl decision. Lehrer goes on to discuss the problems one man had making decisions after the "emotional" portion of his brain was impaired.

While some of the examples Lehrer chooses to illuminate his thesis are familiar from other books on psychology and neuroscience, many are new and absorbing. I came away with insights on how we make decisions under stress, and how psychology experiments are devised to test decision-making.

Lehrer discusses his work: Jonah Lehrer at Powell's.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer

The Tourist

Deceit is thick in the air in this modern spy novel. Shifting shapes, names, loyalties are as loosely moored as ever in the spy industry. While China's interest in Sudan's oil is mentioned, interpersonal human drama is the real center of this absorbing 6th novel from expatriate Olen Steinhauer. The clash of jurisdictions between the CIA and Homeland Security in the USA adds a touch of verisimilitude. Steinhauer does a very good job creating characters one cares about. He did the right thing by modelling his work on the great spy novelists of old.

Steinhauer discusses reaction to his book: Contemporary-Nomad.