Monday, November 29, 2010

What is a Good Book?

As bloggers we spend a lot of time critiquing books. We make judgments. We declare good or bad. Often we have some pretty good reasons. But, what IS a good book? Each reader has their own answer to this question. What I find great someone else will not. Although I try to respect the opinions of others, I find myself getting aggravated with literary elitists and snobs who tend to pan anything and everything that has a hint of popular appeal. I think these types are so far out of the loop that they have no business being taken seriously.

A novel is in the end entertainment. We open a book hoping to fill a moment with action, adventure, romance and fantasy. Often we take something more away. Sometimes the story can touch us, can make us think, or change the way we think, it can enlighten us, tweak our worldview or even change our lives. But, to begin it all we opened the novel with the intention of being entertained. So if we finish a book with a contented sigh, reflect a moment on the joy we took out of it, the moments spent curled up entranced by the words and the story, then that book is a success.

For me a good book is almost assuredly any book I have read cover to cover. I do not finish bad books. If a book succeeded in holding my attention from start to finish then It has done its job and provided me with something worth occupying my time. When reviewing a book it is not impactful to say “I read it so it must have been good".” But often that is how I feel, even when I finish a book with a little ambivalence, I had at least found something to keep me involved.

Let us be honest a novel has many aspects: the story, the writing, the characters. Some writers are magnificent imaginers, they weave great tales. Some are masters of language and use literary flair as a tool to support their stories. Some have deep understanding of manipulating emotion and crafting characters with which we can connect. All of these are parts of a good novel, but not all are required to make a novel good.

Let us look at Twilight. Twilight and Stephanie Meyer are often the butt of many jokes. Many people stoop so low as to call Meyers names and claim she is a terrible writer. But, this can be proven wrong merely by the joy her books have brought to millions of readers. These books, whether you like them or not, are good. Because they have succeeded in entertaining so many people, because they have inflamed the imagination, because they have enticed many people to open, read and finish her works. This is the mark of a good book.

When I review a book here on this blog I cannot tell you if it was good or bad. I can tell you only if I liked it or not. It is my opinion that any book that someone out there can connect with, that brings moments of joy or escapism to any person who can sit with it from start to finish is a good book.

The only question is: Did I Like It?

The answer remains, if I read it, yes I liked it. Something in it was worth liking.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Music Through Generations

As I stood flipping through my Dad’s CD case today I could not help but notice how much his musical tastes influenced my own. I then began contemplating my Grandfather’s musical tastes and saw a direct influence from him to my dad to me. Now don’t get me wrong, I can listen to just about anything from either of their collections and be pretty happy, but there has been an evolution in my musical tastes that includes everything that came before me and contemporary music. This doe not swing both ways. While I enjoy Hank Williams from my Gramps’ collection and Lynyrd Skynyrd from my Dad’s they do not like anything from my generation, and my Grandfather would not listen to the Outlaws or ZZ Top. Just like the previous generation of musical artist influences the next, so does the previous generation of music listener effect those that come later. I wanted to devote this post to trace the lineage of my musical tastes.

I am really interested in new style alternative country music that has its roots in the classic country of my Grandfather’s era. A great example of this evolution:

My Grandpa: Hank Williams

My Dad: Willie Nelson

Me: Scott H. Biram

Each of these artists were influenced by the ones who came before. I remember listening to Willie Nelson with my dad as a youngster, and I can picture my dad hearing Hank Williams on the old stereo in Grandpa’s den through the 60s. So when I grew up and found Scott Biram instantly I fell in love with his style and updated lyrics and slight edginess.

Grandpa: Jimmy C. Newman

Dad: Lynyrd Skynyrd

Me: North Mississippi All-stars

The connection between these bands is undeniable. I love that gritty down south sound. I remember long road trips with Gramps and Jimmy Newman’s Alligator Man blasting in his truck, or cruising canal banks fishing with my pop and listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top. Realizing I have another connection to my Dad and Grandpa through music is very meaningful to me.

Does anyone else have similar stories?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Bush Tragedy–Jacob Weisberg

bush-tragedy-bkblak002484The history of American politics is riddled with presidents who, in their time, were reviled and later vindicated as the pendulum of history swung. George W. Bush hopes to join the ranks of this group which includes men like Harry Truman and Abraham Lincoln. In The Bush Tragedy Jacob Weisberg looks into the relationships surrounding the divisive 43rd President of the United States. He contends that these relationships were the foundation of Bush’s policy making and in the end led him down a dangerous path that divided the nation and embroiled it in war and failure. The tone of the book is strongly psychoanalytical; Weisberg continually hammers home psychological themes in order for the reader to understand George W. Bush. However, some of the finest analysis in The Bush Tragedy lies in the chapters dealing more with politics and less with psychology, the chapters containing W.’s relationships with Karl Rove and Dick Cheney. The Bush Tragedy is an interesting book, it succeeds as a powerful look into the relationships George W. had with the people around him, but it poorly supports its main thesis, which is the supposed competition between father and son.

It is important to note the Jacob Weisberg does not hold a degree in psychology. He is first and foremost a journalist who contributes to periodicals such as Newsweek, the New Republic and The Washington Post. It is important for the reader to know Weisberg’s background and education because complicated psychological themes are invoked many times in the book. When Weisberg speaks of an Oedipus complex the reader should understand that this is the amateur psychoanalysis of a political observer and not the conclusion of a licensed mental health professional. In the introduction to the book he claims no special feeling toward Bush, but it is clear from his affiliations, notably his work for the New Republic, a magazine that caters specifically to causes on the left on the political spectrum, that he has a well-defined sense of his political position. One would surmise that would include a certain antipathy toward a president who so betrayed the democrats and drove a wedge in American politics.

Published in 2008, a year before Bush left office, The Bush Tragedy came at a time that most Americans were looking forward to a future without George W. Bush. The economy was beginning to tank, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had pushed America to the brink, and any promise of peace and prosperity had long since faded. Americans were just getting a glimpse at who might be their future president as the primary campaigns were swinging into full gear. The Bush Tragedy served as a powerful forewarning, in order to avoid another mistake by the American electorate it was important for people to understand why Bush had failed. In the book Weisberg makes a compelling argument, laying out all the information and drawing, for the most part, lucent conclusions.

Weisberg does something refreshing with The Bush Tragedy. He tries very hard to take Bush seriously. He does not paint him as a political caricature, a cowboy, or a clown. Instead he looks seriously at the life of a troubled man. The psychoanalysis in the book often feels like a stretch. Weisberg does not fully flesh out or support his conclusions. He tosses out terms like oedipal complex without fleshing them out or fully investigating them. The reader is left to assume that because Weisberg has described a desire to emerge from his father’s shadow that Bush also held some unnatural desire for his mother; which is the true meaning of an oedipal complex. Weisberg however never makes the latter assertion. Much of the psychoanalysis in the book seems insubstantial, or only partially adequate.

Weisberg’s political analysis is strong and detailed. The chapters which deal with the Bush relationship with Karl Rove and Dick Cheney are superbly researched and well argued. These chapters contain the most insightful look into the Bush White House and his decision making process, or lack thereof. Weisberg portrays Rove as a worshipful political lackey willing to take abuse from Bush in order to leech benefits from the charismatic younger Bush’s spotlight. Weisberg goes in depth explaining their symbiotic relationship. Even likening Bush to the shark and Rove to the remora. In his discussion of the ways Rove led Bush astray during his presidency Weisberg does what he failed to do in earlier chapters, flesh out and support a strong argument. The Rove chapter is thoroughly researched and factually represented. It represents a fine piece of political and historical writing. The Dick Cheney chapter is also very well done. Weisberg penetrates the mind of Cheney, exposing the calculations that eventually secured him a spot as Vice President. He describes Cheney as a secretive mastermind, a description that rings true. His descriptions of the way Cheney successfully used Bush’s own psyche against him are some of the most powerful sections of the book. Weisberg, in these two chapters, paints a picture of a President under the influence of powerful men whispering in his ear, men that would lead the country into tragedy and the presidency into chaos.

A less captivating part of the book was Weisberg’s continual return to Shakespeare and the plays Henry IV and Henry V. Often these comparisons felt forced, and always unnecessary. The use of Shakespeare led to long introductions to chapters that broke up the flow of the book and took the reader totally out of the narrative that was unfolding. This was particularly a shame because otherwise the work was a masterful piece of non-fiction prose. Along with the extraneous use of Shakespeare Weisberg also adds other tangential information. Going so far as to conclude the final chapter of the book by holding forth for pages on Winston Churchill and barely mentioning Bush a single time on the final page.

The Bush Tragedy is an excellent piece of political history. The book contains chapters filled with powerful, fact based, political analysis, and chapters that focus on less substantial psychological assertions. It lost a bit of its power by being published before the end of the Bush’s final term because it was not able to examine his presidency as a whole. It missed some developments for the worse, and some not quite near as tragic as first supposed. As a whole Weisberg succeeded with his analysis and did give the reader a powerful glimpse into the mind of an embattled American President.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What is this blog?

I know I have seriously neglected this bog for little while now and it is definitely bothering me. I have a ton of excuses, I could tell you that this is my final semester for my B.A. and I am working hard, or I could say being engaged to PoseySessions is a full time job. But I wont. I am definitely going to be spending more time working and adding content to this blog very soon. I will be a college graduate in about 3 weeks. Which should in turn give me more free time to do what I love: read and write. But I am running into a fundamental question...

What s this blog?

I was lucky enough to get a few ARCs from Harper Collins, and definitely intend to read and review them. problem is they are all historical non-fiction. I love history, I am a history major (along with political science) This blog was designed more to review fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal and genre YA and MG stuff. fun, light reading, along with tv movies etc etc etc. Well I still want to review that stuff but trying to mingle serious analytical reviewing of historical non-fiction with reviews of fantasy and young adult boos didnt sound good to me. I considered starting another blog for the historical stuff but was dissuaded by PoseySessions. In the end I am gonna take her advice and let my blog reflect exactly what I am, a nerdy fantasy loving history buff who watches too much tv and movies. Maybe in the end everyone will find something they enjoy reading about here on the blog. And i can build up a collection of serious reviews so I will not be turned down for a galley again!

All in all, if you still read, thank you. There will be tons more content soon.
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