February 15, 2007

Book Review Roundup

I've been reading tons and tons of books over the past few months, and I thought I'd share my impressions of some of them here:

"The Audacity of Hope," by Barack Obama: The second book from the senator and presidential candidate is more than a mere campaign book- for one thing, by all accounts the candidate actually wrote it. Obama lays out his views on the major questions in American political life, and he is clearly a man after my own heart: he tries to see all sides of everything, and most of the time comes out on the left-of-center (but not far left) side. The only drawback? I keep hearing his first book is much better.

"Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas": Klosterman's fourth collection of funny personal and pop culture essays is also his best. Borrowing a tactic from his friend Bill Simmons, Klosterman adds footnotes to some of his old writings, which works especially in a piece where he reviews the bar band scene in his then-hometown of Fargo, one that had me laughing so hard I woke up Becca. In another laugh, the book opens with a profile of Britney Spears in which Chuck shares that only three people alive (including Justin Timberlake, and her gynocologist) have seen her without pants. Since the publication of the book, alas, that fraternity has gotten much larger.

"Third and a Mile: The Trials and Triumph of the Black Quarterback," by William C. Rhoden": Not nearly as incendiary, and thus much better than, his previous book ("Forty Million Dollar Slaves"), the new oral history by New York Times columnist Rhoden presents a look back at all the men who attempted to play quarterback in the National Football League, in the days when most collegiate QBs were told to play more "athletic" positions such as wide receiver. It also revisits such past embarrassments as the Limbaugh/McNabb incident and "how long have you been a black quarterback?" In an age when about a fourth of Philadelphia Eagles fans hate McNabb for no apparent reason, this book is both appreciated and necessary.

The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How To Get It Back," by Andrew Sullivan: After seeing it plugged nonstop on Sullivan's blog for about six months, I figured I ought to finally read the book. In his first book purely about politics (the other three were about gay issues), Sullivan lays out his problem with Bush-era conservatism, and why we're better off returning to a small-government, secular, "conservatism of doubt." Andrew is an eloquent and engaging writer as always, but what he's arguing for really has no history or precedent in the U.S. and besides, in reading it I sort of felt like I was reading an intermural conservative debate that I have no connection with.

"Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City's Movies," by Irv Slifkin. Slifkin, known around town as "Movie Irv," surveys all the major motion pictures set in the City of Brotherly Love, also listing all the city locations glimpsed. Slifkin knows his stuff and there's a lot of local color, but unfortunately, typos everywhere. On a personal note, Irv was sitting next to me during last year's Kevin Bacon interview, and I recognize quite a few of Kevin's responses in his interview that's included in the book.

"Black Like You: Insult and Imitation in American Popular Culture," by John Strausbaugh: The author of "Rock 'Til You Drop," who edited New York Press back when it was really, really good, surveys the history of blackface in this stimulating book. While recognizing the gravity of the form, Strausbaugh also challenges dumb-assed academic thinking on the subject, which is always refreshing to see. I would have liked to see, though, more analysis of more recent cultural phenomena, such as "Chappelle's Show."

"Consider the Lobster and Other Essays," by David Foster Wallace: The footnote-happy humorist contributes hilarious essays on various subjects, including the porn industry, conservative talk radio and, of course, lobsters, in his most recent collection. You'd think the footnotes would be a nuisance, especially in the talk radio essay (when there's more footnote text than standard), but it's never really a problem.

"The Great Book of Philadelphia Sports Lists," by Glen Macnow and Big Daddy Graham. Macnow and Graham, both nighttime hosts on WIP, make lists of everything honorable and dishonorable in the history of Philly sports, with help from some local guests including Phillies announcer Harry Kalas and actress Maria Bello. I had the pleasure of recently meeting Macnow, who is far and away 610's smartest host, and much like on the radio he very much raises the level of discussion above where it normally is. His and Graham's book is also a useful historical primer for non-natives such as myself.

The next few on the shelf: William Gavin's "The Ernesto "Che" Guevara School for Wayward Girls," Dave Hollander's "52 Weeks," Sam Harris' "The End of Faith," and Daniel Jones' "The Bastard on the Couch."

Posted by Stephen Silver at February 15, 2007 08:37 PM
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