What I’m Reading 2012
Overview: I’m currently reading five books. Each poses certain challenges (in some cases, self-imposed challenges) to me as a reader, reviewer, critic, historian, and aesthete. While New Year’s Resolutions get broken seconds after they’re uttered, these challenges will form an informal backbone to my reading schedule. As it stands, I want to increase the frequency of my blog posts from bimonthly to weekly. (The same goes for my other blog, Coffee is for Closers.) The positive responses from readers has really inspired me to do more.
As you’ll see with these challenges, I want to “raise the bar” with the Driftless Area Review’s content.
The Book: The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court, by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong
The Challenge: Woodward and Armstrong’s book chronicles the Burger Supreme Court from 1969 to 1975. The Supreme Court decided on many significant cases, including the Pentagon Papers, Roe v Wade, and others. Reading The Brethren has inspired me to write a multibook, deep-reading-style review, focusing on the Supreme Court. For this review, I will also read The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, by Jeffrey Toobin, and Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices, by Noah Feldman.
As a historian, the review will pose a great challenge. The nice thing about the three titles is how each reflects off each other. The Brethren follows the decisions of Hugo Black and William O. Douglas, two long-lasting Justices and FDR appointments. Black died in 1971, paving the way for President Nixon to nominate and appoint William Rehnquist. The Nine examines the Court during the Dubya Years, including the consequences of Rehnquist’s death, Rehnquist having then been elevated from Justice to Chief Justice. The three books reveal the slow movement from a liberal to a conservative agenda. The differing genres will be interesting to evaluate, since Brethren and Nine are works of investigative journalism and Scorpions is popular history. It should prove to be an interesting project.
The Book: Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 2, by Karl Marx
The Challenge: Currently back-burnered for more compelling books. Unfortunately, some sequels are worse than the originals. Unlike Marx’s first volume, Volume 2 is a slow, tedious, bone-dry work, more akin to an economics textbook. In addition, Friedrich Engels edited the present volume following Marx’s death. The work exists as an amalgamation of several of Marx’s notebooks. While the work presents relevant material on the operations of political economy, it is almost too dull to read. The challenge will involve trying to read it without falling asleep.
A further challenge involves me writing more essays in my series Essays on Capital. I want to continue this series, since the first volume presented a rich seam to mine.
The Book: Shadows Walking, by Douglas R. Skopp
The Challenge: Douglas Skopp’s self-published novel is a revelation, a well-written exploration of two doctor’s lives in Nazi Germany. I will review the novel on its own, but it will become part of a larger project. This project involves reading three massive, controversial novels about the Third Reich. Two specifically focus on the Eastern Front: Europe Central, by William Vollmann, and The Kindly Ones, by Jonathan Littell. The third novel – The Tunnel, by William Gass – is technically a “university novel,” but the subject matter associated with the protagonist feeds into the works of Vollmann, Littell, and Skopp.
The final challenge will be psychological, since these four novels survey the darkest aspects of modern history.
The Book: Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, by Simon Schama
The Challenge: This is the second history by Simon Schama that I’ve read. I previously read Rembrandt’s Eyes, his magisterial double biography of Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt von Rijk. As with Rembrandt’s Eyes, Citizens is an epic account, mixing biography, pop culture history, visual culture, politics, foreign policy, and tax law into a compelling page-turner.
French history is a particular enthusiasm of mine. The challenge will be tempering this enthusiasm with the disinterested eye of a historian and bringing to bear my previous knowledge in French literature, historiography, and pop culture.
Blog Feature Revival
This year will see the revival of blog features on long hiatus. The first will be the return of The Art of Reviewing. French theorist Roland Barthes and prolific Gnostic Bardolator Harold Bloom are the first two on the docket.
The limited series 5000 Pages of Kissinger will conclude with my review of Years of Renewal, Kissinger’s final volume of his memoirs. I have the skeleton of a review in place that I wrote several months ago. The Arab Spring of 2011 and the nascent Occupy movement have made it a challenge to contextualize Kissinger’s work without seeming immediately outdated. Both Arab Spring and Occupy have overturned the Nixon-Kissinger paradigm of supporting US-friendly free market dictatorships and absolutist monarchies in the Middle East. These movements, along with the Tea Party movement and Ron Paul’s Small Government Neo-Isolationism, present opportunities for the government that acts in our name (if you’re a US reader of this blog) to reassess its global strategy, foreign policy interests, and free market cheerleading.
For decades, the Nixon-Kissinger paradigm had operated as a given within the global foreign policy architecture. That given is no longer true and no longer equipped to deal with the Middle Eastern calls for freedom and the end of economic inequality. As of this writing, the Arab Spring has become the symbol for freedom and liberation from oppression. The end-result of these protests and coups is still unwritten.
“The Best 80s Sci Fi and Fantasy Films” will continue with an installment on Raiders of the Lost Ark.
While I would like to this blog a major part of my life, creative projects and personal obligations inevitably get in the way. These include a random assortment of personal and professional business.
I am getting married in early October and planning a wedding is a time-consuming endeavor.
On the reviewing front, I have a small pile of books from the Permanent Press I want to get around to reading. I also have a couple novels from Archipelago Books I want to read and review.
My job is second shift and a temporary assignment. Like many, many others who have been displaced, abandoned, or simply eliminated from the free market economy, I have a very real and very pressing goal of achieving full-time employment. (The kind of employment associated with health benefits and paid time off.) Working second shift has made it more challenging to post reviews, but with any challenge, it can be overcome. On that note, if any blog readers like what they see and want to hire me as a writer, I’m all ears. My contact information is in the Submitting Materials section.
Finally, I am working on the last round of revisions for a science fiction thriller. I am planning to resubmit it to a small publisher who showed interest in the work. In my query letter, I described my story as “The Sopranos meet Dune.” I’m making this creative project a priority, since I am nearly finished with the revisions. Overall, I have been pleased, since the revisions have strengthened the novel.