Saturday, August 29, 2009

EAT REAL in Oakland, CA

The Eat Real Food Festival is happening in Oakland this weekend. For those of you who live close by, I hope you go. There's some really good food there and other good stuff.

Here are some photos from the festival ...

All photos (c) 2009 K. Smokey Cormier

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of the businesses or with Eat Real Food Festival. I'm just a loyal citizen in Oakland.

The folks at California Canoe and Kayak are really nice. I've rented a kayak from them a couple of times and went out with my daughters -- great fun!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Santa Cruz: Back from our annual trip

Ms. Manitoba loves Santa Cruz. I take my daughters there every year before school starts and we have a wonderful time. We go with a long-time friend who is an auntie to my daughters.

This year we wondered if we should go -- there's a forest fire north of Santa Cruz and two of us have asthma. But we decided to head there and leave if it was smokey.

Our tradition is to ride the Haunted Castle first.

It's old timey and not scary to me ... but is for my 12-year old.

My favorite rides: Crazy Surf (I once rode this 7 times in a row), Pirate Ship, bumper cars, Sea Swings (new this year), Logger's Revenge, Ferris Wheel, and the sky ride that takes you from one end of the boardwalk to the other (don't know the name).

I felt like you could see the economy affecting this tourist spot ... the beach didn't have as many people as there were in the past.

I can't ride the Cyclone ... but the others love it.

And a caramel apple is a favorite.

I love the Boardwalk. Love the classic rock they play. Love the arcades -- I get to play pinball which I love! And Skee-ball.

We had two fun-filled days. Then on Friday morning (8/21/09) it got very smokey. We checked out of our motel and left right away. It's supposed to be 90% contained now. It really depends on which way the wind is blowing. Like so many things ...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Book List 2009 August Update

Photograph copyright K. Smokey Cormier

This is what the list looks like now:

Book List 2009

  1. A History of Cambodia - David Chandler
  2. A House in Gross Disorder - Cynthia B. Herrup
  3. A Point of Light - Zhou Mei
  4. A Spy's Revenge - Richard V. Hall
  5. A Will For Freedom - Romen Bose
  6. Agnes Smedley - J.R. & S.R. MacKinnon
  7. Apache Sunrise - Jerome Boyle
  8. Armed Communist Movements in Southeast Asia - Lim Joo Jock, Vani S., Eds.
  9. Asian Labour In The Japanese Wartime Empire - Paul Kratoska, Ed.
  10. Beating the Blues - Thase & Lang
  11. Bird by Bird - Anne Lamott
  12. Black Dog of Fate - Peter Balakian
  13. Captains of Consciousness - Stuart Ewen
  14. Chinese Customs - Henri Dore
  15. Colonial Masculinity - Mrinalini Sinha
  16. Comet In Our Sky: Lim Chin Siong in History - Tan Jing Quee and Jomo K.S., Eds
  17. Daniel Deronda - George Eliot
  18. Dictionary of the Khazars - Milorad Pavic
  19. Extraordinary Popular Delusions - Charles Mackay
  20. Finnegan's Wake - James Joyce
  21. First Person Singular - Joyce Carol Oates
  22. Folklore of Tamil Nadu - S.M.L. Lakshman Chettiar
  23. From Pacific War to Merdeka - James Wong Wing On
  24. Gandhi's Truth — On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence - Erik H. Erikson
  25. How I Adore You - Mark Pritchard
  26. In Pursuit of Mountain Rats - Anthony Short
  27. In The Grip of a Crisis - Rudy Mosbergen
  28. Incursion: From America's Chokehold on the Nva Lifelines to the Sacking of the Cambodian Sanctuaries - J.D. Coleman
  29. Into Cambodia - Keith William Nolan
  30. Kinabalu Guerrillas - Maxwell Hall
  31. King Rat - James Clavell
  32. Kranji - Romen Bose
  33. Labour Unrest in Malaya - Tai Yuen
  34. Life As The River Flows - Agnes Khoo
  35. Living Hell - Goh Chor Boon
  36. Malaya and Singapore During the Japanese Occupation - Paul H. Kratoska, Ed.
  37. Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan - Melody Ermachild Chavis
  38. Minorities of the Sino-Vietnamese Borderland - Maurice Abadie
  39. Nakshi Kantha of Bengal - Sila Basak
  40. Niels Lyhne - Jens Peter Jacobsen
  41. Nonsense - Robert J. Gula
  42. No Cowardly Past - James Puthucheary
  43. Odd Man Out: The Story of the Singapore Traitor - Peter Elphick & Michael Smith
  44. Orientalism - Edward W. Said
  45. Outwitting the Gestapo - Lucie Aubrac
  46. Pearl S. Buck, A Cultural Biography - Peter Conn
  47. People's War, People's Army - Vo Nguyen Giap
  48. Primitive Art - Frank Boas
  49. Prometheus Rising - Robert Anton Wilson
  50. Raffles - Maurice Collins
  51. Reading Lolita In Teheran - Azar Nafisi
  52. Red Star Over Malaya - Cheah Boon Kheng
  53. Rethinking Raffles - Syed Muhd. Khairudin Aljunied
  54. Rosie - Anne Lamott
  55. Sabah Under The Rising Sun Government - Stephen R. Evans
  56. Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye (The Biography Of A Master Film-Maker - Andrew Robinson
  57. Screenwriting 434 - Lew Hunter
  58. Shanghai Refuge, A Memoir of the WWII Jewish Ghetto - Ernest G. Heppner
  59. Sherpas Through Their Rituals - Sherry B. Ortner
  60. Singapore:Journey Into Nationhood
  61. Singapore & The Many-Headed Monster - Joe Conceicao
  62. Singapore The Air-Conditioned Nation - Cherian George
  63. Singapore's People's Action Party: Its History, Organization and Leadership - Pang Cheng Lian
  64. Sisters in the Resistance - Margaret Collins Weitz
  65. Strangers Always A Jewish Family in Wartime Shanghai - Rena Krasno
  66. Stress and Mental Health in Malaysian Society - Tan Chee Khuan
  67. The Art of the Novel - Milan Kundera
  68. The Autobiography of An Unknown Indian - Nirad C. Chaudhary
  69. The Bengal Muslims 1871 - 1906 - Ahmed
  70. The Birth of Vietnam - Keith Weller Taylor
  71. The British Humiliation of Burma - Terence R. Blackburn
  72. The Devil Finds Work - James Baldwin
  73. The Emergence of Modern Turkey - Bernard Lewis
  74. The End of the War - Romen Bose
  75. The Gift - Lewis Hyde
  76. The Lives of Agnes Smedley - Ruth Price
  77. The Old Wine Shades - Martha Grimes
  78. The Malayan Union Controversy 1942-1948 - Albert Lau
  79. The Mak Nyahs Malaysian Male to Female Transexuals - Teh Yik Koon
  80. The March of Folly From Troy To Vietnam - Barbara W. Tuchman
  81. The Mind's I - Hofstadter & Dennett
  82. The Plague - Albert Camus
  83. The Political Economy of Social Control in Singapore - Christopher Tremewan
  84. The Price of Peace - Foong Choon Hon, Ed.
  85. The Remembered Village - M.N. Srinivasan
  86. The Right To Die - Humphry-Wickett
  87. The Rise & Fall of the Knights Templar - Gordon Napier
  88. The Tin Drum - Gunther Grass
  89. The Ugly Chinaman - Bo Yang
  90. The Ultimate Guide to Chinese Tea - Bret Hinsch
  91. The Way of All Flesh - Samuel Butler
  92. Time Bombs in Malaysia - Lim Kit Siang
  93. Virtual Reality - Howard Rheingold
  94. Vietnam: A Long History - Nguyen Khac Vien
  95. Vietnam & America: The Most Comprehensive Documented History of the Vietnam War - Gettleman, et al
  96. Vietnam Moment - Brenda Paik Sunoo and Ton Thi Thu Nguyet
  97. War & Memory in Malaysia & Singapore - P. Lim Pui Huen, Diana Wong, Eds.
  98. Who Won The Malayan Emergency - Herbert Andrew
  99. Witness to an Era - Frank Moraes
  100. Women in the Holocaust - Dalia Ofer, Lenore J. Weitzman, Eds.
  101. Writers' Workshop in a Book - Cheuse and Alvarez
  102. You'll Die in Singapore - Charles McCormac
  103. You'll Never Get Off This Island - Keith Wilson
  104. Your Memory: A User's Guide - Alan Baddeley

What can I say? The fucking list keeps growing. Am I reading fast enough to keep up? Probably not. The only hope I have left is, I've got a two-week vacation coming up, and I plan to pack a minimum of 25 books to take with me. With no tasks to fulfil - no phone calls, email, food shopping or preparation, laundry, doctors' visits, physical therapy, ad nauseam — I should be able to read a minimum of 25 books, don'tchathink? Maybe I should pack 30 books. Sigh.

Book Review mid-2009

Photograph copyright K. Smokey Cormier

Book Review 2009
  1. A History of Modern Indonesia - M.C. Ricklefs

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Well, it's sort of seminal, I suppose. I mean, if you're seriously reading Indonesian history, you're going to come back to this book at some point or other. Warning: If you're Asian, your blood will boil, repeatedly.
    Reread? No. Unless absolutely necessary. There's a limit to how high one's blood pressure should go in the interests of gaining an education.

  2. Between Two Oceans - Murkett, Miskic, Farrell, & Chiang

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? I bought this book under the impression that it was a history of Singapore. It is, sort of, that is to say, it's a military history of Singapore. For those who know anything at all about Singapore, its cultural, commercial, and political history are far more interesting. Nevertheless, this book does make an important contribution to an understanding of WW II in the Pacific theatre.
    Reread? Probly not.

  3. Blood On The Golden Sands - Lim Kean Siew

    Borrowed? Gift.
    Recommended? Lim Kean Siew is/was born and raised in Penang, a small island off the Northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia. He was active in Malaysian politics, and survived WW II, thank goodness. This is a fascinating book, although it could, frankly, have used an editor. Read it only if you have an interest in any of these subjects: history of Southeast Asia, especially Malaysia; the Baba community of Malaysia/Singapore/Indonesia; history of WW II.
    Reread? Probly not.

  4. Clay Walls - Kim Ronyoung

    Borrowed? Gift.
    Recommended? Highly. Kim Ronyoung is the nom de plume of Korean writer Gloria Hahn, and AFAIK this is her first and only novel. It's a very interesting look at the lives of the Korean community in America, told from several points of view.
    Reread? Maybe one day, time permitting.

  5. Force 136:Story of A Resistance Fighter in WWII - Tan Chong Tee

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Highly. This is the tale of Force 136, the force of British-trained saboteurs sent to Malaya to assist in overthrowing the Japanese imperialist aggressors, as told by one of the Asian fighters. The Asian viewpoint on this war is all too rare, and Mr. Tan has written a fascinating book, although the translators might well be faulted for an overly literal (and therefore lacking, literarily) translation.
    Reread? Maybe one day, time permitting.

  6. Gaijin - James Clavell

    Borrowed? Gift.
    Recommended? James Clavell is a surprisingly good writer, given that this book never really won any awards, and is the sort of fiction one reads on summer holidays or long plane journeys. His knowledge and understanding of Asia is extensive. I'm actually impressed, much as I hate to admit it, having read Clavell in my youth and discarded him for writers of a more formidable cadre. I'm beginning to think I may have been hasty in my judgement.
    Reread? It's about 1,000 pages, gimme a break.

  7. I Am America (And So Can You) - Stephen Colbert

    Borrowed? Gift.
    Recommended? Highly. It's Colbert. You'll laugh till you pee.
    Reread? No.

  8. Kempeitai:The Japanese Secret Service Then And Now - Richard Deacon

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? No. Deacon is the nom de plume of one Donald McCormick, a former British Intelligence employee who went on to become a journalist. McCormick's penchant for unsubstantiated claims (at least in this particular book) leads me to believe that, as someone else has said, "it is often difficult to judge the reliability" of his work. His fawning attitude towards the intelligence capabilities and activities of Imperial Japan was also rather revolting to someone reading about the war crimes committed by the myrmidons of Imperial Japan. In other words, this book is definitely NOT recommended. Don't waste your time, or money, on it. Apart from the playing fast and loose with the facts, and the unwarranted admiration of persons unworthy, there is also the complete failure of the writer to place the figures of whom he writes in a well-analyzed political context. Superficial at best, annoying at worst. The Political Cat says "Bag this book and find something more worth your while."

  9. Kempeitai - Raymond Lamont Brown

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Highly. Lamont-Brown's father was a Japanese PoW, and some of the stronger comments he makes about Japanese activities during the war no doubt stem from a certain degree of resentment connected therewith. In the event, he has a good, humanitarian perspective and, while scathing about the Japanese treatment of PoWs, nevertheless writes well and passionately about the activities of the dreaded Kempeitai.
    Reread? Someday, I'm sure.

  10. Krait:The Fishing Boat That Went To War - Lynette Ramsay Silver

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Only to students of WW II, maritime history, Australian/British military history, and the like. The book is a fascinating exploration of the Jaywick Incident, which resulted in horrendous war crimes committed by Japanese Kempeitai officers and military officers against the hapless prisoners of war resident in Changi Gaol, Singapore. These crimes, collectively referred to as "The Double Tenth Incident," later formed the basis of War Crimes Tribunal hearings in Singapore.
    Reread? Probly not.

  11. Lest We Forget - Alice M. Coleman & Joyce E. Williams

    Borrowed? Gift.
    Recommended? For those interested in the treatment of the Japanese (Issei) and Japanese-Americans (Nisei) resident in the U.S. during World War II. Williams is a sociologist and Coleman a writer and poet. Both are German-American in origin, and the book resulted from their own remembrance of, and repugnance toward, the treatment of German-Americans during the First World War. An excellent treatment of the events of that era, and invaluable for those wishing to ensure that injustice is eradicated wherever it sprouts.
    Reread? Someday.

  12. Luntaya Acheiq: An Illustrated Book of Burmese Court Textiles - Punvasa Kunlabutr

    Borrowed? Yes.
    Recommended? Highly. This is a beautiful book, to be enjoyed over a glass of wine. Highly readable, filled with interesting and pertinent facts (including information on how to make your own vegetable-based dyes), and accompanied by colour illustrations second to none. I would buy it for my library if I could afford it, but I can't. In the event, at least borrow it and look.
    Reread? If someone will buy it for me, as often as I can.

  13. Modern Japan, A Historical Survey - Hane Mikiso

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Highly, for anyone interested in Japanese history. Professor Hane was a distinguished scholar in the field, and his book is well worth reading.
    Reread? I need a second or third life, so I'll have time to read, and reread, all the books that catch my interest. Is that too much to ask?

  14. My Island in the Sun - Khor Cheang Kee

    Borrowed? Gift.
    Recommended? Khor Cheang Kee is a Penangite, born and bred, and distinguished himself by publishing a regular column in the local paper for most of his long life. This book is a compilation of his columns, and a charming look at life in Penang, an island which occupies a very special place in my heart. I was overjoyed to read of all the good hawker food discoveries of Mr. Khor, and am pleased to have added the word kedekut to my vocabulary.
    Reread? Afraid not. Time.

  15. Operation Matador - Ong Chit Chung

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Dr. Ong's work on Operation Matador reads rather like an apologia for British Imperial military strategy in Southeast Asia. Interesting enough, and well-researched. Unfortunately, Dr. Ong is not given to in-depth political analysis, of which military history is really only one small part. Thus, while he discusses such issues as The Mukden Incident, and Japan's occupation of Korea, he fails to present them within any more substantial context, which is, I believe, a fatal flaw in his analysis. Nevertheless, if you don't know what the British Imperialists were up to before and during WW II in Asia, this is an interesting and informative book.
    Reread? No.

  16. Rehearsal for War - Ban Kah Choon & Yap Hong Kuan

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? This is a fascinating work about the MPAJA (Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army), the guerillas who fought the Japanese imperialists when the British and Australians turned tail and ran. Although it is not entirely sympathetic to the viewpoint of the MPAJA (being based on British intelligence about the guerillas, and written during the long Emergency when the British turned against these same guerillas who had aided their fight against the Japanese in an effort to quash the nascent Independence movement in Malaysia and Singapore), it is nevertheless a fascinating and hitherto-unknown aspect of the history of these nations and British Imperialism in Southeast Asia.
    Reread? Probly.

  17. Revolt in Paradise - K'tut Tantri

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? K'tut Tantri was born Muriel Stuart Walker, in Scotland. She grew up in Hollywood, USA, and by a series of extraordinary events, found herself in Indonesia — more precisely, Bali — at a time when history was at a great turning point. She was passionately involved in the Indonesian fight for independence. A hotelier in Bali under the Dutch misrule, and during the Japanese occupation, she was tortured by the Japanese (according to her account); she was personal friends with great and important persons, including Duff Cooper and Indonesia's first president, Sukarno. Her book is utterly fascinating. I read it in my teens, and was inspired by her. Upon second reading, I find her at times a little strange and fantastical, but second to none in her love for Indonesia, and especially Bali.
    Reread? Periodically, I'm sure.

  18. Singapore The Pregnable Fortress - Peter Elphick

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Elphick has written a well-researched, and overall excellent, book on the series of events, military and political, that led to the defeat of Great Britain by Japan during WW II, as it culminated in the events of the war in Malaya/Singapore. Although later military historians find fault with some of Elphick's statements, it would not be too unkind or inaccurate to describe their comments as nitpicks. Overall, an excellent book, and highly readable, to boot.
    Reread? Probably.

  19. Soldiers Alive - Ishikawa Tatsuzo

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Ishikawa Tatsuzo was a Japanese journalist who also wrote fiction. This particular work is a fictional account of the Japanese attack on China, based on real events that Ishikawa witnessed. Zeljko Cipris does an excellent job of translation, and the result is a depressing yet interesting look at very important events in world history.
    Reread? Um. Maybe not.

  20. Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce Vol. I - Anthony Reid

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Reid is a well-respected historian whose studies have focused on Southeast Asia, and this is a gem of a book in the field. Highly readable for an academic history. In light of the many efforts of Western scholars to expound on the history of the region, I should mention that Professor Reid's efforts are more simpatico and less jarring to the nerves and blood pressure.
    Reread? Undoubtedly, as time permits.

  21. Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce Vol. II - Anthony Reid

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Volume II of the work reviewed above.
    Reread? Probly.

  22. The Discourses - Niccolo Machiavelli

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Machiavelli really ought to be required reading for anyone interested in politics, history, especially military history, and humanity in general.
    Reread? Periodically, I'm sure.

  23. The Double Tenth Trial - C. Sleeman, S.C. Silkin, Eds.

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Transcripts of the trial of Japanese PoWs involved in the "Double Tenth" incident involving Operation Jaywick conducted by British and Australian forces. The daring sabotage of Japanese military vessels docked at Singapore was a well-kept secret of the war and had hideous consequences for the British/Australian PoWs then interned in Changi Gaol. Well worth reading, but keep your antidepressants close to hand.
    Reread? Probly not.

  24. The Dutch Seaborne Empire 1600 - 1800 - C.R. Boxer

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? An important contribution to understanding of the history of Dutch Imperialism in Southeast Asia. Guaranteed to annoy, however.
    Reread? Probly not.

  25. The Eye Over The Golden Sands - Lim Kean Siew

    Borrowed? Gift.
    Recommended? Mr. Lim, a lawyer and politician born in Penang, describes in detail the effects of WW II on the island. A good look at the history of the Baba community, although probably too esoteric (and rambling) for most, unless you're interested in the particular subject matter.
    Reread? No.

  26. The Gravedigger's Daughter - Joyce Carol Oates

    Borrowed? Gift.
    Recommended? Joyce Carol Oates is a fine writer, even if the book itself is very depressing on some levels. Well worth reading, though.
    Reread? No.

  27. The Jungle is Neutral - F. Spencer Chapman

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Spencer Chapman was one of the British who actually remained behind during the Japanese Occupation of Malaya (today known as Malaysia). This is his account of his years hiding in the jungle and working with the guerrillas of the MPAJA (Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army). Although filled with the jingoism and racism of the time, it is an interesting book. Not recommended for those with strong anti-Imperialist, anti-colonial, or anti-British sentiment, especially if suffering from high blood pressure. Not without medication, anyway.
    Reread? Humph.

  28. The Nanjing Massacre - Honda Katsuichi

    Borrowed? Gift.
    Recommended? A very depressing but factual and enlightening account of the war crimes of the Japanese in China, not entirely limited to Nanjing. My only criticism of this book is that its foreword is a criticism of Iris Chang's excellent book on the same topic, which I strongly feel is unwarranted.
    Reread? No! Geez, how much fucking depression can I handle?

  29. The Origins of The Second World War in Asia and the Pacific - Iriye Akira

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Professor Iriye is an expert in the specific field of American diplomatic history, and this book is a good analysis of the Washington Pact and preceding and subsequent international treaties between the U.S. and other Western powers and Japan. On the other hand, this book views the entire Pacific War in a way that is, frankly, far too sympathetic to Japan and has little, if any, criticism of the militarisation that overwhelmed any democratic reforms attempted during the Meiji Restoration. In essence, it's aimed towards an audience that seeks to understand America's legal position regarding this war, and has little useful information about either the Asian nations or the factors in Japan itself that led to this war.
    Reread? No.

  30. The Pacific War - Ienaga Saburo

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Highly. Professor Ienaga is rightly famous for his unending battle against the misinformation spread by Japanese authorities regarding their war crimes in Asia. This book is an excellent resource for those interested in understanding how and why Japan went to war in WW II. Professor Ienaga's unsparing eye and undimmed critical faculties trace the origins and consequences of Japanese imperialism and militarism. One of the best books on the Pacific war, IMNSHO.
    Reread? As time allows.

  31. The Rape of Nanking - Iris Chang

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Iris Chang's book will surely remain a seminal work on the war crimes committed by the Japanese in Nanjing. Although others have found fault with some of her statements and conclusions, there is no doubt that her passionate commitment to revealing the rapine that resulted in the death of at least 200,000 Chinese at the hands of the Japanese military is well worth reading.
    Reread? Er ... with psychoactive medication.

  32. The Scents of Eden, A History of the Spice Trade - Charles Corn

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? This is a dreadful little book that comprises a great deal of name-dropping coupled with the author's rather jingoistic assessment of the terrible pressures that forced Western imperialists to rape and loot the countries of Southeast Asia in furtherance of their territorial expansionism. One can hardly bear to read how important the author and his opinions are, and how much he has enjoyed the hospitality extended to him by the savages of those lands. Good grief.
    Reread? No.

  33. The Sky Book - Richard Misrach

    Borrowed? Yes.
    Recommended? Highly, if you like art, especially photography. Each photograph is like a painting. Who would've thought photographs of the sky could be so beautiful?
    Reread? Alas, probably not, since it's not part of the Casa de Los Gatos Library.

  34. The War in Malaya - A.E. Percival

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Good grief. This is nothing more or less than General Percival's apologia for the disastrous attempt at "defense" of Singapore during WW II. A greater collection of strategic blunders has rarely been assembled in a single place. Add to that the extreme deficiencies of the writing style and the utterly boring obsessions of the military mind, and one is soon convinced that "military intelligence" is the worst of oxymorons. The emphasis being on the "moron" half of that word.
    Reread? Highly unlikely.

  35. Three Came Home - Agnes Newton Keith

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? This is a delightful and highly readable (despite the undeniably depressing nature of the subject matter) account of the author's (and her family's) experiences as prisoner of war in a Japanese PoW camp. Keith is a gifted writer indeed, and manages to find plenty of humour in a distinctly unhumorous situation.
    Reread? Yes!

  36. Tokyo Rose - Masayo Duus

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Masayo Duus has done a fine job of discovering and telling the history of Iva Toguri, who was one of many persons to be labeled "Tokyo Rose." Duus lays out the case against Toguri with plenty of empathy, and it is clear from reading this that Ms. Toguri was simply a convenient scapegoat for a military obsessed with punishing supposed "traitors," regardless of the lack of evidence for their treason.
    Reread? Perhaps, as time allows.

  37. Wilt on High - Tom Sharpe

    Borrowed? Gift.
    Recommended? Tom Sharpe is one of the funniest writers in the dry style of British humourists, and Wilt is one of his best characters. One never knows when to be shocked, scandalized, or simply incapacitated from laughing. Hijinks at a college involving murder, incompetence, and the best of S&M.
    Reread? Yes. Absolutely.

Next, we publish the updated reading list, which, unfortunately, has managed to accrue even more additions. I despair of finishing the lot, quite frankly.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

You MUST read Zeitoun. Especially if you live in one of those areas -- like I do -- that can be struck by a natural disaster. Most of us do now, don’t you think? With global warming, there are more fierce hurricanes, more tornados. And just the other day I looked at an old National Geographic magazine’s map of where earthquake areas are in the world -- there’s a lot of them! And I live in the San Francisco Bay Area ... so we think about them all the time -- that is when we’re not in a state of denial.

Ms. Manitoba struggles all the time with “must” when it comes to giving advice to other people. Who am I to tell you what to do? Will you forgive me this one time? Because if you do, you will learn some important things by reading this book.

You better hope hope hope and pray (if so inclined) that you are never in a natural disaster of huge proportions like the poor folks in New Orleans were! The natural disaster parts are bad enough ... but what is far worse is the army of “helpers” who come in later: National Guard, FEMA, law enforcement from other areas. That’s when the real tragedy will happen. These people don’t know you. They’ve been told to watch for looters. And like one of the quotes in the front matter of this important book: To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Every person looks like a looter. Or a terrorist if you’re Arab or Muslim.

That's what happened to Abdulrahman Zeitoun. At the time of Katrina, he was (and still is) a citizen and successful businessman in New Orleans. Think of it: you're well-known by your community and a successful businessman -- yet, after Katrina, you are thought of as a looter and terrorist. Without any proof. No evidence whatsoever. No hearing for weeks. No phone call. The phone call. It's that special part of the U.S. judicial system: the phone call. We're taught about this all the time as children: if you're arrested, you get a phone call. The worst serial killer gets a phone call.

Don't count on it after a disaster. In a disaster with our friends from FEMA in control you become one of the Disappeared -- and yes, they are the ones in control -- and now that they are a part of Homeland Security they have even more control and an even worse attitude -- to an employee from FEMA, everyone looks like a looter and a terrorist.

And what about you, woman in your 70s -- do you really think your safe? Read about the tale of Merlene Maten. She was 73 and a diabetic. She and her husband had fled their home before the hurricane and checked into a downtown hotel thinking they would be safer there. After three days, Maten went down to their car in the parking lot next door to get some food they had in the car. She was arrested for looting. It made no sense! Yet she was arrested anyway. Folks, this is what is so striking when you read this book: the “helpers” -- law enforcement, National Guards or whatever -- do not listen to you if you are just regular folks. Remember, you’re a nobody. They don’t listen to your story ... they don’t look at the real facts: your 73 and diabetic and you’re at *your* car getting food. They don’t take the time to see if you really are checked into that hotel next door. They just arrest you.
You better hope hope hope and pray that a disaster doesn’t head your way.

We can fool ourselves sometimes into thinking that the system works pretty well. But in a disaster? Horrible consequences. Nothing works. Or, let me put it another way: it works against you. Remember, you’re a nobody. You’re not wealthy. No one will listen to you. The guy with the hammer sees you as a nail. An excerpt:

... Even if in New Orleans, this machinery was sometimes slow, or poorly engineered, generally it functioned.

But now nothing worked. Or rather, every piece of machinery -- the police, the military, the prisons -- that was meant to protect people like him [Zeitoun] was devouring anyone who got close. He had long believed that the police acted in the best interests of the citiziens they served. That the military was accountable, reasonable, and was kept in check by concentric circles of regulations, laws, common sense, common decency.

But now those hopes could be put to rest.

This country was not unique. This country was fallible. Mistakes were being made. He was a mistake. In the grand scheme of the country’s blind, grasping fight against threats seen and unseen, there would be mistakes made. Innocents would be suspected. Innocents would be imprisoned.

You come to realize too that the priorities by those “helpers” were removing people off the streets -- not matter their reasons for being on the streets -- and building enclosures to put all the people they arrested.

All of this reminds me of Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine. As amazon says:
Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine advances a truly unnerving argument: historically, while people were reeling from natural disasters, wars and economic upheavals, savvy politicians and industry leaders nefariously implemented policies that would never have passed during less muddled times.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is why civilian review boards are so vitally important. All policing powers must be held accountable at all times. Even more so during a disaster. There is just too much temptation for many people that when they are in a situation of power they use it to the detriment of others. I chose my words carefully: “for many people”, not all people. And when a situation is tense, you’re feeling nervous and fearful, the mind leaps. The muscles are jumpy. You overcompensate. You strike with greater force.

I want to thank Dave Eggers for writing this book -- and for all the important things he does with his abundant energy. Good stuff. Thanks. From deep down. I hadn't read any of his books before, glad I started with this one.

The writing is so very good too. The book is a page-turner. It's not depressing at all. The book has a main story -- the story about the Zeitouns -- plus lots of other very interesting stories. Although watch out! If you were mad about how folks in New Orleans were treated before -- WATCH OUT -- you're gonna be furious by the time you finish this book.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ms. Manitoba: Books Read January to July 2009

Dear Readers,

PolCat and I have been doing this for 3 years now ... keeping a list of books we've read and then sometime in July we post our half-year list with short opinions about them. Here's my list of books that I've read since January. I'm including more excerpts this time. Not sure why ... maybe I want you to have more of a taste of the books that I'm recommending.

Anyway, enjoy ... and enjoy your summer of reading ... that is ... for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Film Club - David Gilmour (not the musician)
There is nothing like becoming a parent to humble you. Especially if you’re the type of person who’s got an opinion on everything--like I do, for example. Very humbling. This is a nonfiction story about Gilmour’s attempts to stay connected with his son. His son HATES school. He’s around 15 when the book starts. Gilmour and his ex-wife, the son’s mother, agree to let his son drop out of school and not have to get a job, with certain conditions: no drugs and he has to watch three movies a week with his father. His father chooses the movies. Not all the movies are what critics would describe as “great movies.” But Gilmour picks the movies because they’re special to him in some way (and he describes why they’re special for our benefit) and he hopes they will stimulate conversation with his son. It sounds like a desperate attempt to connect ... but if you care about your kids, you often do desperate-sounding things to reach out. I don’t begrudge Gilmour that. In fact, it worked. It was brilliant.
One troubling ... and distracting thing for me was Gilmour’s drinking. And it bothered me that he was so unaware of it. I kept thinking “What kind of an example is that?” We often don’t like it that we are examples for our children to imitate. But there it is. We are.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
I know that this book needs no help from me ... people are buying it and reading it -- and enjoying it. It's a good good book. I loved it. It had everything I wanted at the time. I had been watching serious things on DVD and wanted to read something that lifted my spirits but wasn't fluffy. Plus, I wanted a story set in a place very different than my own. Boy, did I get that in spades! So the setting was wonderful for me -- lots of outdoors AND it's an island ... I love oceans, rivers, lakes, creeks ... even puddles. So there you go. Yes, and I loved the characters. The story is told in a series of letters. The main character is a writer. The story moves along quickly. There are no wasted words. And the characters made me laugh out loud. What more could you ask from a book? Well ... yes, substance. There's that too. I highly recommend it.

Riding Toward Everywhere - William T. Vollman
There’s a realness to Vollman's writing and adventures that I admire. He is very prolific--good golly, you should see all the books he’s written! This one is about trainhopping. Like the hobos do. I have always wanted to do that. Hop a freight train. I must admit now that I’ve read this book I realize what a romantic notion I had. I no longer want to do it. And, of course, it would be ridiculous for someone like me--who has just had knee replacement--to try it. His stories made me realize how many more people do it than I thought. It’s like the subterranean world of people who live in the subway tunnels under New York City. (And, yes, I do have a book about that on my list to read for 2009: Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City - Jennifer Toth)

Folks, there are so many groups of people who are mistreated in this country! Vollman talks about poor and homeless people -- a subset of all the people who hop trains. How these people are hated, passionately hated, by townsfolk.

Part of why I no longer dream of “catching out” is accidents and danger. Vollman talks plenty of both. But his stories are also laced with the best nature and travel writing. Traveling ... real traveling. Not all that crap about shopping and meals etc.

Vollman explains:
That was the great thing about this sort of ride: breathing the air of reality. In the Gilroy country the evening smelled of garlic; later on, near Santa Barbara, the dawn would smell of anise. Freight train rides are parables. Why have we chosen to live behind walls and windows?
... Reality caresses and stings! For a fact, reality kills; so does reality denied; at least when reality lays hands on me I feel it. I never want not to feel it.

And more:
Much later, near midnight, I went out again. The moon was long gone, but the entire tree was blossoming with stars.
Last excerpt:
... And beside me there came more and ever more stars, brighter and whiter and clearer than I had seen in a long time. Indeed, I had forgotten the stars, as I so often will on those other nights of my life. No matter what I have accomplished and whom I have loved, how much I have lost by missing the stars for so many of my nights! And now I am grey, and who knows when I will die, and never see the stars again? Who would I have been if I could have been alongside these stars always?

In the Skin of a Lion - Michael Ondaatje
Ondaatje is very good. I recommend this book because his writing is so very good, the characters are interesting, the story unpredictable. And you don’t feel like you wasted your time reading this book. I often feel this way about books lately. I’ve dropped several books after about 40 pages this year. Let’s face it, there are a lot of books that really do not deserve our attention. And I’m including the ones that are almost good books. They’re still not good enough. That’s why writing is a cold mistress. You have to work hard to woo readers. Ondaatje’s writing is the best kind of wooing. You’re not aware of it. You’re there in the character’s lives ... kind of like a ghost ... watching. Watching. Holding your breath. Rooting for certain characters. There’s a lot of the story that is about people working and what they do at their jobs. I appreciate this and it’s not boring to boot -- writers don’t write too many stories about our working lives.

Plus, past readers of this biannual exercise in documenting my reading life know that I am prejudiced -- YES I AM -- and proud of it. I am partial to books where the action is set in Canada. Our gentle neighbor to the North. (Have you ever wondered what it would be like if our Northern neighbor wasn’t so gentle?)

The story is primarily set in Toronto during the early part of the twentieth century. The characters include: a dynamiter who works for a lumber company and then in a feldspar mine, an actress, bridge builders (the Prince Edward Viaduct to be exact), a nun who falls off the bridge as it’s being built and is caught by one of the builders -- from the Balkans -- who is hanging below, “a bare-knuckle capitalist” making money from Toronto’s spurt of growth, a searcher hired by a company to find the missing capitalist, a public works commissioner, another actress -- a puppeteer -- her young daughter, and tannery workers. Here’s an excerpt:
Dye work took place in the courtyards next to the warehouse. Circular pools had been cut into the stone -- into which the men leapt waist-deep within the reds and ochres and greens, leapt in embracing the skins of recently slaughtered animals. In the round wells four-foot in diameter they heaved and stomped, ensuring the dye went solidly into the pores of the skin that had been part of a live animal the previous day. And the men stepped out in colours up to their necks, pulling wet hides out after them so it appeared they had removed the skin from their own bodies. They had leapt into different colours as if into different countries.

Hit Parade - Lawrence Block
Good per usual. It’s weird to have a hit man be the main character that we empathize with ... but Block is talented so we do. This book is a collection of short stories about the hit man and his “agent” who gets him the jobs.

Fun Home - Alison Bechdel
This was very good. It’s a graphic novel that weaves several stories together. One of the main two stories is about Bechdel’s father who was a very interesting man -- accomplished renovator and decorator of old houses, director of the family’s funeral home, teacher, lover of younger men. Yet, he presented himself to the world as straight straight straight. The second thread is about Bechdel growing up and how she felt around her father ... and coming out as a lesbian. How the stories loop in and out--expertly done. Highly recommended.

The Gathering - Anne Enright [didn’t finish]
This book really made me feel like a Philistine because I kept thinking “It won the fucking Booker award I should be really liking this.” Oh, there were many reasons why I should like it. My mother was Irish, I should like this book. The writing is good, I should like this book. I read three quarters of the bloody book for Christ’s sake!! And then I stopped. I thought “I’m not really liking this book.” And I put it down.

Songbook - Nick Hornby
I started this book years ago. Would read a little then put it down when some other book nagged at me. So other books have interfered with this particular one. This book is based on a great concept: Hornby takes a favorite song of his and tells you why it’s his favorite. It’s a mix of music criticism and memoir because sometimes he concedes that a song may not be the best one of its genre--but it’s his favorite because it’s associated with something special that happened to him--and he tells you about that special thing. Hornby is a good writer and makes it all work. Now, in the hardback version you also got a cd that included every one of the songs he talks about. But I have the paperback. You may be able to buy the cd separately. Not sure. The book is recommended. Oh, another comment: it’s not as funny as The Polysyllabic Spree or Dirt vs. Housekeeping, or Shakespeare Wrote for Money -- his book reviews. He cut his teeth on Songbook. In those last books mentioned, he let his humor blossom gloriously.

Shakespeare Wrote for Money - Nick Hornby
I LOVE HORNBY. He’s so interesting and funny. And a damn good writer too. This trilogy: The Polysyllabic Spree, Dirt vs. Housekeeping, and now Shakespeare Wrote for Money -- they’re brilliant and I’m so sad he’s not writing these reviews anymore ... I hope it’s just temporary.
... a novel I had just abandoned by a senior, highly regarded literary figure ... It wasn’t just the opacity of the prose that led me to abandon the novel, however; I didn’t like the characters who populated it much, either. They were all languidly middle class, and they drank good wine and talked about Sartre, and I didn’t want to know anything about them. This is entirely unreasonable of me, I accept that. But prejudice has to be an important part of our decision-making process when it comes to reading; otherwise, we would become overwhelmed. For months I have been refusing to read a novel that a couple of friends have been urging upon me, a novel that received wonderful reviews and got nominated for prestigious prizes. I’m sure it’s great, but I know it’s not for me: the author is posh -- posh English, which is somehow worse than posh American, even -- and he writes about posh people, and I have taken the view that life is too short to spend any time worrying about the travails of the English upper classes. If you had spent the last half century listening to the strangled vows and the unexamined, usually dim assumptions that frequently emerge from the mouths of a certain kind of Englishman, you’d feel entitled to a little bit of inverted snobbery.
And yet another Excerpt:
I recently discovered that when my friend Mary has finished a book, she won’t start another for a couple of days--she wants to give her most recent reading experience a little more time to breathe, before it’s suffocated by the next. This makes sense, and it’s an entirely laudable policy, I think. Those of us who read neurotically, however--to ward off boredom, and the fear of our own ignorance, and our impending deaths--can’t afford the time.
Brilliant! Describes me to a tee.

X Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker - Alex Cox
Boring. Didn’t finish. He directed Repo Man and Sid & Nancy among others. He tells how he got each one made. I thought it would be interesting but it wasn’t.

The Graveyard Book (Young Adult) - Neil Gaiman
Oooooo, this was good. A novel with lots of pictures ... but not really a graphical one. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It’s about this young boy who grows up in a graveyard and only he can see the spirits of the people who were buried there. He’s adopted by a couple who are spirits. Very interesting. He must stay in the graveyard because there is somone who will kill him (he killed the rest of the boy’s family) if he leaves the boundaries of the graveyard.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Young Adult)
Graphical novel. Very very good. Alexie is so good at writing about pain and ... amazingly makes it funny sometimes. He’s a good writer and I recommend this book.

The following books by Anne Perry (in the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series):
Paragon Walk
Resurrection Row
Bluegate Fields
Rutland Place
Death in the Devil’s Acre
Cardington Crescent
Still loving the series. Started last year.

Vive la Paris - Esme Raji Codell (Young Adult)
Interesting characters at first. Then several of them got on our nerves (my youngest daughter and myself ... I do not talk in the royal “we”.) However, I do want to recommend a book that she wrote that I read several years ago: Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher's First Year.

After Tupac and D Foster (Newbery Honor Book, Young Adult) - Jacqueline Woodson
I loved this book! I really really wanted to be friends with the three main characters. It’s fresh! (I can see why “fresh” was such a hip word at one time.) The book is serious AND funny. Here’s my first excerpt:
The loudest sound in the world is the soft click of prison gates locking behind you.
Maybe it’s how final it is--the loud slam of the gate, then the quick, gentle click. Then the scary feeling of it all being forever.
So many gates slamming shut. So many locks clicking. One after the other until you’re all the way inside.
And the only way out is at the hands of a prison guard, who has to press a button. And turn a key. Then press another button, and turn another key. All the while staring at each of you. And you know what he’s thinking:
Remember this place good, y’all. We got a spot waiting for you.

Writing doesn’t get any better than that.

Here’s an excerpt, hopefully it’ll give you a real taste of the liveliness of the book:
Neeka took a last sip of hot chocolate, set her cup on my dresser, then lay back on my bed, her head wrapped in one of Mama’s scarves to keep it from getting messy while she slept.
“I get it now,” she said.
I nodded.
“D’s cool. She’s like from another planet. The Planet of the Free.” Neeka sat up on one elbow and looked at me. “I’m gonna g to that planet one day.”
I shook my head and laughed. “We did, girl! We went tonight!”
Neeka held out her hand and I slapped it. And we laughed like we were losing our minds.
Double Identity - Margaret Peterson Maddox (Young Adult)
Very good for its age group. Page turner. Recommended. My 11-yr old recommended it to me (she doing that more and more) and I really liked it ... couldn’t put it down. And we loved talking about it afterwards. Premise of the book: What if you were approaching your 13th birthday and just found out that you had an older sister who had died ... and that you were a clone of that older sister?

a mercy - Toni Morrison
Ahhhhh ... she’s so good. Her writing produces envy in me. Her use of language takes you back in time. You’re there, you’re really there in the 1680s. To read is to enter another world--when the author is successful. An excerpt:
One chance, I thought. There is no protection but there is a difference. You stood there in those shoes and the tall man laughed and said he would take me to close the debt. I knew Senhor would not allow it. I said you. Take you, my daughter. Because I saw the tall man see you as a human child, not pieces of eight. I knelt before him. Hoping for a miracle. He said yes.
It was not a miracle. Bestowed by God. It was a mercy. Offered by a human. I stayed on my knees. In the dust where my heart will remain each night and every day until you understand what I know and long to tell you: to be given dominion over another is a hard thing; to wrest dominion over another is a wrong thing; to give dominion of yourself to another is a wicked thing.

A Field of Blood - Denise Mina
This is a mystery with a very original character -- Paddy Meehan -- set in 1981. She’s working-class, Irish Catholic living in Glasgow, Scotland. She works as a “copyboy” at the Daily News. She wants desperately to be a journalist at the paper. Opportunity comes knockin’. A wee lad is kidnapped by two other young boys and is murdered. Paddy’s fiancĂ© is related to one of the alleged killers -- an 11-year old boy brought up in an extremely neglectful family. Paddy figures things out and scoops a story. I was very interested in the depiction of the working-class Irish Catholic community that Paddy was from. I didn’t know this but massive numbers of Irish immigrated to Glasgow which contributed to the explosive growth of Roman Catholicism in the city. The story moved along very well and the characters were interesting and believable. One thing that was irritating to me -- but believable -- was Paddy’s ongoing self-criticism about eating too much and gaining weight. I have always found this boring and hard to listen to. Recommended.

The Dead Hour - Denise Mina
Another page turner by Denise Mina. Paddy is now on the night shift ... kinda like an ambulance chaser for her newspaper. She and her driver listen to the police radio and go to where the action is. Paddy writes up the stories. The story starts out with what Paddy thinks is a domestic quarrel. Like in Field of Blood, ethics and the violation of ethics is a common subject. Again, you get an inside view of working-class Irish Catholics in a particular community just outside of Glasgow. Hard times are even harder -- it’s set in 1984. There’s an extremely bad recession going on. One in three adults are on disability. Paddy has become the only adult in her family -- they all still live together -- that has a job. Recommended

Undiscovered - Debra Winger
It’s a memoir and I liked it. I read it in one day. That’s unusual for me. It’s not a long book. I’d suggest getting it out of the library, like I did. I’ve always respected Debra Winger. She’s a good writer and I loved her drawings. She’s six years younger than I am so some of the things she writes about -- the passing of her parents, being a parent herself -- I can really relate to. Plus, she lives out in the country which is something I’ve always fantasized about and a lot of the book is about living there. Some excerpts:

The idea of fashioning myself to please men was a constant battle. Part of me loved that juicy feeling of being desired, but the attraction I felt to authenticity was far too fierce to leave me n that other place for long -- and so began a very ambivalent relationship with acting in Hollywood.

Authenticity is not a goal for the faint-hearted. I have started on this journey, and I want to continue with grace.

Ted [Kooser, the poet] once told of coming home from a radiation treatment, and as he neared his home, lined up on the fence was a sight he had never witnessed before: vultures, hunkered down, wing to wing, the length of his yard. He stopped the car, got out, and addressed them.
“Not this time, fellas.”
Betrayal can live inside of you like a poison that feeds on disappointment. It is completely useless for life in the now. It must be mined and wept about and turned into a story with a beginning and an end.