Election Day Political Books

So it’s Election Day, and I’m hoping that most of you are voting today or already have.  Either way, it’s a good time to review some of my favorite political novels.

There are a lot, but I wanted to highlight four that you may or may not be familiar with.

AdviseandConsent1stEdAdvise and Consent by Alan Drury is a classic.  It is the inside story of  (wait for it) a confirmation battle in the US Senate for a nominee for Secretary of State.  Obviously timely, it was referenced on occasion during the recent Kavanaugh fight.  It is an excellent book. that shows us that cutthroat and ruthless personal politics didn’t start with the Trumps or the Clintons or the Bushes.  It won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a movie with Henry Fonda.

 

TheLastHurrahA second book that is also well known is The Last Hurrah.  It is the story of Frank Skeffington, an old-school ward politician who runs one last time, only to find out that the world has changed when he wasn’t paying attention.  It contains an interesting bit of policy analysis (kind of) about how the New Deal changed the business of ward healers, who had formerly provided assistance to the needy…for a price.  This book was made into a Spencer Tracy movie.

GayplacesmallThe third book is nearly unknown.  It is by Billy Lee Bratton and is considered by many to be the best political novel ever written.  It’s called The Gay Place and it contains three novellas set in Texas in the orbit of an LBJ/Huey Long-like figure and in the era of “Beef, Booze and Blondes” politics in Austin.  It is indeed a great book that shows the political life in the most real sense…how power and personality shape the politics, not policy.

Here’s my favorite quote:

The truly able, it appeared, had only so much time to squander on disillusion and self-analysis. Then those destructive vanities were turned round and put to the business of doing what had got to be done. The truly gifted, as opposed to the merely clever, were too busy running things to be bothered.

sundayThe fourth is a little lighter and has won no awards.  It’s called the Sunday Macaroni Club…and it’s a delightful book that tells the story of a corrupt Philadelphia politician and one of his particular henchmen.  If you have been in politics, you know this guy.  It’s funny and it’s true.  Great beach read.

Oh, I forgot All the King’s Men.  And probably a bunch of other ones.  But for today, there’s your reading list.

Book Review Catch Up: 3 for 1

I got a bit behind in my blogging and book reviewing. You know, life got in the way. But, I am back baby!

I thought I would do a few posts with some mini-reviews of the books that I read over the summer.

immortThe Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

I picked this book up on my first foray to the local library. It got a lot of press and was on a bunch of ‘must read’ lists for the summer. So I figured, why not.

The story is about Gold family, who live in New York City. When they were kids, the 4 Gold children hear about a travelling psyhcic who claims to be able to tell you the date you will die. They go and visit. They don’t really talk about it. Naturally they are skeptical.

This story is about what happens when you know when your last day on earth will be. Will you live life to the fullest? Will you buy into the date and make sure it’s your last day?

I liked this book. It definitely kept me guessing as to what was going to happen next. It was a bit sad, I mean, the book basically deals with the imminent death of the characters. However, it was well written and engaging.

I rated it 4/5 stars on Goodreads.


mansell

The One You Really Want by Jill Mansell

As my husband says, this was what was advertised on the tin. When you pick up a Jill Mansell book you are looking for an easy and fun read. This is what you get here.

For me, it ended up being about friendships – unlikely friendships – and how important it is to have a support system.

It was fun and entertaining. If you are looking for light and fun, this is a read for you.

I  rated it 3/5 stars on Goodreads.


wolitzerThe Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

I had read another novel of hers, The Interestings, and enjoyed it. So I thought I would pick this one up at the local library. Also, there was a lot..A LOT of press and stuff about this when it was released.

So I struggled a bit with this book. I mean, I liked it. I think that it was an interesting premise. But somehow I felt sort of manipulated by the plot. I don’t really know how to explain it other than that.

The book is about what it means to be a feminist, about the dangers of idolizing people and how to find your way in the world. There were parts that were insightful. But there were parts that seemed typical.

I think it’s worth a read.

I rated this 4/5 stars on Goodreads.


 

Karamazov Brothers, Book 9: You’re out of order

no-youre-out-of-order-this-whole-damn-courtrooms-out-of-orderAs we knew from the end of the last book, Dimitry is being accused of…..MURDER-ing his father. This part reminded me of the courtroom scene in And Justice for All. It’s kinda chaotic. Dimitry vacillates between being lucid and cooperating with the investigators and then becomes either withdrawn or belligerent and won’t answer certain questions. Mostly he doesn’t want to disclose where he got the alleged 3,000 roubles he has been talking to literally everyone about. If he was on social media back then he would have 100 posts on Instagram posing with all the cash.

Dostevysky continues to show his mastery of storytelling in this section. Just when you are sick of hearing Dimitry get grilled, he switches to an interrogation with another person with less detail and acknowledges that he will have less detail to spare the reader (the man knows his audience).

What I am finding more and more fascinating, is the depth of the novel. One of the reasons we chose this was because Kurt Vonnegut said that all you need to know about life is in this book. And you know what, I don’t think he was wrong.

Dostoyvesky has these…I’ll call them throwaway lines – lines of dialogue or of thought that are jammed into the middle of other things. And they are brilliant, but innocuous (or at least to me they are). I’ve noticed a few before and didn’t think too much about it. This is the one that caught my eye in this section, Dimitry is speaking:

‘Yes, I see it as a fateful distinction! Anyone can be a scoundrel—and, come to think of it, everyone is—but not anyone can be a thief, it takes an arch-scoundrel to be a thief. All right, let’s not split hairs… It’s just that a thief is more scurrilous than a scoundrel.

I mean, it’s brilliant. The sentiment is  simple but true – anyone can be an ass, but not everyone can stoop to be a thief. But it’s also not forcing a lesson down your throat. I feel like if Tolstoy had wanted to make the same point, he would have spent 100 pages rhapsodizing about it and there would have been a vista and a battle taking place.

The other thing is, and what I find fascinating, is that we knew all this stuff was going to happen. Dimitry mentioned many times about killing his father, had a reputation for being hot-headed, talked about stealing his father’s money. But when he is accused, it does come as a surprise. That’s what is brilliant. It’s almost like, yeah, he talked about it but I didn’t think he would actually do it. (Also, as an aside, he has yet to be convicted of the actual murder.)

Anyway, this continues to be an entertaining and wild ride. On to the next part!

Dmitry Faces the Music

lanoire_detectivesartworkAfter the non-stop, rollicking action of the last section, Dostoevsky clearly felt that he had to pull back on the throttle a little bit and give the reader a break.

In this section, Dmitry is questioned by the prosecutors who are investigating his Father’s murder.  This is no easy task.  It has already been established that Dmitry is impulsive and wild…crazy, most would say.  Add to that the fact that he almost certainly DID kill his Father and every piece of evidence is 100% incriminating, and Dmitry’s mind is hopping around like an exposed wire.

First, he is informed by the prosecutors that he doesn’t have to answer any questions. You have to figure that they sort of wished he would take that route, because unlike many interrogations where the criminal snarls “you can’t make me talk, copper,” Dmitry is more than willing to talk and talk and talk.  And talk.

You have to give the investigators credit, because they doggedly pursue their questioning.  The key issue is one we noted when reading…how exactly did Dmitry go from pawning his guns for 10 roubles and then all of a sudden have 3,000 roubles to throw the party of the century?  And, there’s an empty envelope in the father’s room which formerly held 3,000 roubles?

Dmitry is working all his faculties.  He claims it wasn’t 3,000 roubles but was actually 1,500 roubles and that he had just been boasting about having 3,000.

This section is a little trying.  We are talking a minute examination of Dmitry.  There’s a section where he says he had a purse around his neck and the prosecutors are trying to catch him in a lie.  And they work every detail of that purse.  Where did you get the cloth?  What did you do with it?  Where did you get the needle and thread?

Even inside this tedium, though, the picture between these investigatory bureaucrats ridiculously trying to make sense of the ludicrous story Dmitry is making up as he goes along is pretty funny.

The outright funniest scene is when the investigators inform Dmitry that they will have to strip search him to make sure that he doesn’t have the remainder of the money on him.  Dmitry is trying to present himself as an officer and a gentleman and takes great umbrage at this.  He doesn’t end up totally stripped, but he is standing in front of the investigators and some average citizens in his underwear, wishing he had put a clean pair on that morning.

The second thing is really interesting.  A slight diversion…in listening to the latest episodes of Serial, they mention how defendants in the court are treated differently once they have a prior arrest–it is referred to as having “the stink” on you.

Well, you can see that here.  Dmitry arrives in style, in a carriage, followed by another carriage filled with champagne and fancy snacks.  Now, he leaves in the equivalent of a wheelbarrow.  When he arrived, he was treated…well…like a man bringing free liqour…and he leaves being treated like…well…a man who is suspected of killing his Father.

Dostoevsky is clearly a master of the human condition.  One of the things he has accurately captured is how people can love you, and then something happens and they can instantly switch to “I never liked him anyway.”  Dmitry is one example and the putrefying Starets is another.

On we go.

Sisters Brothers: Book or movie?

p15564646_p_v12_abWelcome to the newest episode of date night with the married book nerds…

So BJ and I went to see a movie last week and we picked Sisters Brothers. Why? Well we both read the book and liked it a lot, and thought why not. Truth be told, it was BJ’s idea, I had no idea it was made into a movie.

Anyway, the good (or bad) thing was neither of us could remember what the book was about or any specific plot details, since we read it back in 2013. We remembered there were two brothers, named Sisters (hence the Sisters brothers….clever, huh?). That’s about all we recalled. So it was almost as if we were watching the film with fresh eyes.

The gist of the book: it’s set in the old west (1850’s Oregon and California) and it’s about the brothers who are following a dude who had done wrong by their boss “The Commodore”. By  nature, the pace of the book is plodding and slow, because these dudes are travelling by horse through rugged country. They meet weird and interesting characters along the way. The main theme of the book is the elder Sisters brother questioning his part in the lifestyle they have – shoot ’em up, killing and whiskey drinking are not really for him.

So, how do you take a plodding plot and internal struggle and put it on the screen in visual form for 2 hours…..

At the time while I was watching the movie, I thought it was ok, but not great. It moved along fine. I was meh about it. The thing is, afterwards when we started talking about it, we both actually liked it more. I think it’s a movie that needs to sit with you for a while and sink in.

I do think that the casting of John C. Reilly as the older brother Eli was spot on. He actually looked exactly like I thought the character would. Riz Ahmed did an awesome job as the stalk-ee Hermann Kermit Warm – I think he actually made the character better than it was portrayed in the book.

So the big question: which was better, the book or the movie? I will just say this and get it out of the way, the book is always better (mostly). I think in this case, as is in most cases, the book had a depth and humour to it that the movie couldn’t capture. However, I think that it was a pretty faithful adaptation with some good additions.

Should you read the book? Of course! Should you see the film? I would say if you like that kind of movie, then yes.

 

Book 8: Dmitry Has Issues

crime sceneBook 8 is one for the ages.  Honestly.  I can only imagine what it was like when this little bombshell dropped in the homes of subscribers to the Russian Messenger.

What I imagine is that it had tongues wagging.  I don’t think people had water coolers, but where ever people gathered, I imagine them saying “did you read that?”

And I can imagine they couldn’t wait for the next issue to show up, kind of like “Who killed JR?”

Essentially, after a long period of time following Aloysha around, we now switch to the opposite side of the spectrum and follow Dmitry while he has what in today’s world would be considered an “episode.”

The objects of the madness are, of course, Grushenka, and money, a related subject.  She’s not on the most stable ground herself—or, she’s the only one in the book who is and she’s running circles around these other dopes.  Either way, Dmitry has a well-known obsession with her.  Like many self-destructive people, he is ready to change…tomorrow.  In fact, his idea is that once has he Grushenka, he will go on the straight and narrow.  They will move to Siberia and live a life of purity and hard work.

Grushenka says she buy into this as well, claiming that she cannot wait to work the dirt with her hands, but she may just be playing the odds after her long-distance soldier crush turned out to be a dud.

So, you’re rolling along, watching this darkly hilarious scene unfold and escalate in intensity and ridiculousness.

Until the end, when the story takes its key turn.

First, I’m not sure how spoilers work in books that were published in 1880, but this is one.  I’m not even sure if it counts because anyone who is reading this book probably knows that Dmitry is accused of killing his Father.

So a couple things about that from a literature standpoint.

First, Dostoevsky does something very interesting when we are in the part of the action where the murder occurs.  Remember, we are in Dmitry’s head.  As we see it, he is spying on his Father and then he wakes up with 3,000 rubles, a bludgeoned servant and blood everywhere, including on a pestle, the purported murder weapon.

We wonder where he got the money and therefore know that something has been omitted, but then we don’t know what until the final part of the section when the police show up and accuse him of murdering his Father.  This is the first time we learn that the Father is even dead.

It is an odd way to frame a mystery, but it moves it into (I assume) a question of consciousness of evil/madness as well as the manifestation of evil, a philosophical whodunit, as in whodunit and who are you and who am I?

The other literary-type thing is that Dostoevsky has chosen to have his key event happen just past the mid-way part of the book.  There have been hints all the way along, which I assume were designed to keep readers reading.  I don’t think, however, that there’s any modern novelist who would have done this.  It certainly would have been a rough day in the MFA workshop.

People are still reading The Brothers Karamazov, so it has to work.  The challenge from a writer’s standpoint is for Doestevsky to pay off all that exposition in the second half of the book–particularly the parts involving Aloysha.

Read on, Macduff.

Karamazov Brothers Book Eight: Yadda yadda yadda

yaddaOk, I don’t even know what to say. You know when your friend has so much drama going on, and someone asks you how they are doing….and you are like, I can’t even. That’s like this part.

Here is the thing, Dimitry is a mess. He is covered in blood and has three thousand roubles in his pocket, and has gone full-stalker mode on Grushenka. How he got here doesn’t really matter. Except…

Dostoyvesky does this brilliant (and annoying) thing where he basically leaves out two huge plot points during the telling of Dimitry’s tale. He is up in a tree looking into his father’s bedroom trying to figure out if Grushenka is there. He does the secret knock he was told (the one Grushekna uses to tell the elder Karamazov that she has arrived) and his father goes running to get the door. Obvs G isn’t in the room. The next thing we know, Dimitry is running down the street, clubbed Grigory in the head with a pestle (after a confrontation), is covered in blood and with the stack of roubles in his pocket.

A bunch of stuff happens, including an orgy-like party involving some Polish soldiers, gypsy singers, someone dressed up like a bear, Grushenka and Dimitry. Just when Grushenka is finally declaring her eternal love for Dimitry, and they are “planning” to run away and get married, the police come in and accuse Dimitry of murdering his father.

What?!!??!?

Ok, so the brilliant part is that no one saw this coming. The irritating part is that I was like, did I miss something? Where did he get the money? Did he kill his father and I somehow missed the subtle clues?

The answer is no. (And as an aside, Dostoyevsky doesn’t do subtle.)

The thing is, it’s not looking good for Dimitry. He was basically running around town like a crazed lunatic, covered in blood, showing around his duelling pistols (eventually pawning them for cash and then buying them back). Everyone for miles around knew that there was bad blood between he and his father. Everyone knew that he was desperate for money. Other than the fact that we (the readers) didn’t see him do it, it totally looks like Dimitry murdered his father. Which makes me think that he didn’t do it. But then, who did?

This is what is brilliant about the writing of this book – you legit don’t know what is going to happen next. It definitely makes for an interesting and compelling read.

And on to the next part of…what crazy thing will happen next!