Sunday, March 11, 2012

Review of New York Times Book Reviews: 3/11/12

Today's edition of the Review of Book Reviews:

Patrick Cockburn has written a personal, poignant review of the late Anthony Shadid's now posthumous book about reclaiming his family's home in the scorched area known as Lebanon. It's one of those classic reviews that explains something interesting and emblematic for a larger insight, but frankly, I'm not reading that book any time soon, am I?

This is a wonderful review of the history of Hawaii and our nation's colonial adventure there. The first paragraph shows how right wing folks see history and the rest of the review of the new book on the subject shows how those right wing folk see history "distorted" by those who "hate America." It's kind of fun to attack the ignorance of such right wing folk, but that would mean less focu the murder, corruption and so on and so forth...

This review by Douglas Copland is at times wacky and disjointed, and too clever by half, but really and essentially a very wise and profound meditation on the state of our culture at this time. He fails to mention the most important American writer who first understood how to write as if unstuck by time: Kurt Vonnegut. But Copland is right on the spot he needs to be to see how combining fiction, non-fiction and time traveling through a fiction narrative can be a liberating force for critical thinking, as well as historical analysis. I wonder if Daniel Bell could have seen that even as he saw everything around the phenomenon Copland is describing. Certainly Vonnegut would have seen the kindred spirit of the writer, Hari Kunzru.

And here is a smart, sharply written review of an Oliver Saks sort of book, perhaps with less whimsy, about people's habits: How they acquire them, how they may change them. I love when the Times gets it right in choosing a book reviewer who really understands the subject matter of a book, and has no obvious ax to grind. That is one example of a good choice for reviewer, yes? Bravo here to psychologist Timothy D. Wilson for that review.

And finally, a disappointing review from the usually perceptive Leisl Schillinger, on the new Wallis Simpson biography. I simply don't buy Simpson as a victim not really wanting to marry the soon to be ex-King. Her love letters to her soon to be ex-husband, the British-American businessman named Simpson, are just part of her grifting ways in trying to keep a door open in case things did not work out with the ex-king. Giving up the kingdom meant giving up some serious power and money, and that is something that would have worried an American who knew poverty as with Wallis Simpson. I am not calling her a femme fatale, either. I am simply saying she and the ex-king deserved each other and theirs was a relatively equal relationship of two people who knew how to grab what they wanted when they wanted to grab. That both were attracted to Nazi ideology is a more interesting perspective from which to begin to view their conduct before, during and after their courtship led to marriage. I think Ms. Schillinger would have been less credulous had she been more familiar with the politics and culture of the 1930s. At some point, though, their story is simply not that important to anyone of my age or younger. It is a footnote at best. It's time to forget about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and better to remember, say, Victor Serge.


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