Thursday, March 26, 2009

What I've Been Reading

So, since re-reading Gaiman's CORALINE (II.2774) and finally finishing up Graham Hancock's FINGERPRINTS OF THE GODS (II.2775), the books I've been reading have been a miscellaneous lot.

First was XxxHolic: ANOTHER HOLIC (II.2776), a novelization of the 'CLAMP' manga that turns out to be three short stories, not an actual novel. The first is directly derived from a chapter in the manga and episode of the anime (the woman with self-destructive behavior). The second is v. much in the spirit of the manga (a woman gets a cellphone call from her dead friend at the same time every day). And the third ventures far afield (one day Watanuki wakes up and finds he can no longer see spirits -- or Yuko's shop). Interesting, but less so than either the manga (which seems to be building to a climax) or the anime deriving from it.

Next was a book about ex-presidents I'd spotted in Borders but decided it was better to wait and get from the library, CITIZEN-IN-CHIEF: THE SECOND LIVES OF THE AMERICAN PRESIDENTS by Leonard Benardo & Jennifer Weiss (II.2777). It's full of fascinating trivia roughly divided into several topics: the growth of the 'ex-presidency' as a quasi-official institution (they get budget and a staff*), the development of the Presidental Library from FDR & Truman's modest establishments to the bloated policy centers of recent presidents; ex-presidents' fiscal woes (Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Grant, Truman) vs. cashing in (Ford, Reagan, Clinton, &c); attempts by ex-presidents to advise or criticize their successors (something few of them have refrained from trying at one time or another); ex-presidents who re-entered politics (JQ Adams in the House, Tyler in the Confederate Congress, A. Johnson in the Senate); and those who devoted themselves to good works (Carter is the shining example here, but also Hayes,** who devoted himself to black education. Who knew?). An interesting book, but not to be relied upon in its details -- there are a fair number of factual errors and other gaffs, most involving dates and generalizations (i.e., the claim that Tyler and Buchanan were distressed by Lincoln's re-election in 1864 -- Tyler*** having in fact died in 1861).

As for my current book, yesterday I started in on UNCHRISTIAN: WHAT A NEW GENERATION REALLY THINKS ABOUT CHRISTIANITY by David King w. Gabe Lyons, a Xian pollster's attempt to convince his fellow evangelicals just how unpopular they've become over the past decade or two (of the fifteen-to-thirty year-olds he polled, 91% considered Xians anti-gay, 87% considered them judgmental, 85% thought them hypocritical) and why. It's a sincere and well-intentioned effort, but it's mildly troubling that (a) a bunch of creationists tracts turned up on amazon when I clicked on this (as in 'readers who liked this book also liked . . .') and (b) the writer himself displays a lot more of the attitudes he deplores than he realizes -- for example, in his assertion that Xians should be anti-gay ("identify homosexual behavior as morally unacceptable"), or his apparent inclusion of Mormans among the unchurched/nonXians he's polling. And of course it's hard to take seriously anyone who praises Charles Colson -- but to be fair, that's Lyons, in his Afterword, not King himself.

And there's no lack of other books still waiting to be read: the Fimi, the Kane, a book on the Black Sea/Noah's Flood theory, &c. Just today the mail brought TOLKIEN'S HEROIC QUEST, by Robert Rorabeck. Although published in the UK, this slim book (128 pages, plus about another twenty pages of notes and bibliography) seems to have originated as a thesis at Florida State University. A quick glance at the mini-biography of JRRT shows up two errors in a page and a half (why on earth did he use Crabbe as his source rather than Carpenter?), and the bibliography is full of odd little gaffs (for example, the author of the Oak Knoll bibliography is given under W as "Waye, Hammond", rather than under H as "Hammond, Wayne"). This does not mean the book itself won't be insightful and interesting; we'll see.

And after that -- FOUCAULT'S PENDULUM, perhaps?

We'll see.


*Before 1958 they didn't even get a pension. Truman, for example, not only didn't get flown home on Air Force One but had to buy his own train ticket, arriving back in Independence more or less broke, & had to move into his mother-in-law's house.

**who I only knew as the "winner" who set the example for Bush v. Gore way back in the stolen election of 1876.

***the only ex-president known to have committed high treason.


leonard said...

Thanks very much for your comments on "Citizen-in-Chief." (I am one of the authors). The infelicity you refer to with respect to Tyler/Buchanan is regrettable but might be clarified thusly. We write: "Like John Tyler, Buchanan greeted the news of Lincoln's reelection in dark spirits." Indeed, it was a misstatement as we were referring, of course, to Tyler in 1860 (we discuss Tyler's death in 1861 at some length later in the book even). The passage may have actually said originally-- "Like Tyler in 1860," but got edited. No matter, your point is taken. May I ask to which other "gaffes" or "generalizations" you refer as well? Many thanks again for your generous words, Leonard

Anubis said...

"And after that -- FOUCAULT'S PENDULUM, perhaps?"

If you like pseudo-history, go forward!