Posts Tagged ‘nonfiction’

#CBR Cannonball 25: Dancing under the Red Star: The Extraordinary Story of Margaret Werner, the Only American Woman to Survive Stalin’s Gulag by Karl Tobien

Dancing Under the Red Star: The Extraordinary Story of Margaret Werner, the Only American Woman to Survive Stalin's GulagDancing Under the Red Star: The Extraordinary Story of Margaret Werner, the Only American Woman to Survive Stalin’s Gulag by Karl Tobien
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Side Note: If you can help it, try not to read too many books about death camps too close together. It can get very depressing and then, even worse, you could become numb to the suffering.

My friend let me borrow this book at the same time that she lent me Unbroken, and I was cautiously optimistic about it. But it was a mistake to read the two so close together because I couldn’t help but to compare the writing, and Dancing Under the Red Star, sadly, could not compare.

Karl Tobien, the author, is the son of the book’s subject, Margaret Werner Tobien. In some cases, an author close to the subject is able to add depth to the story by virtue of personal knowledge and a more intimate understanding of the subject. Unfortunately, a lack of writing ability will trump all of that. It’s not that Tobien is a terrible writer; he’s adequate, I suppose. It’s just that his level of writing ability can’t really do justice to his mother’s amazing story.

Margaret Werner moved to Gorky, Russia, when she was a little girl. Her father worked for Ford, and he moved to the factory’s plant in Russia during the Great Depression, hoping to improve his family’s situation. Unfortunately, things were even worse in Russia than they were back home. But Carl Werner was not one to go back on his word, so he kept his family in Russia.

russian yoda

Because he was American, he was eventually arrested and sent to a work camp. His family never saw him again. A few years later, Margaret was also arrested for treason and espionage. She spent ten years working as a prisoner. She survived, and eventually became the only American woman to survive the gulags (and this isn’t a spoiler because it’s right there in the title).

Margaret’s survival is nothing short of miraculous, but Tobien’s telling of his mother’s story is oddly lackluster. He kept emphasizing that his mother was the only American in all of the camps. Who cares? Did she suffer more because she was American? Countless Russians died, too. Were their lives worth less? Stalin’s cruelty knew no bounds; we’ve got that. Does it make him so much more of a monster because he wrongfully imprisoned an American woman?

I also had an issue with the title of the book. It led me to believe that there would be more about dance in it, like in Mao’s Last Dancer. But there was no mention of dance until well into the second half of the book, and it was only a small part of the story even then.

russian breakdancing

Karl Tobein is a Christian, and his mother became a Christian later in her life, too. I can appreciate that the cruelty of the gulag helped her to believe in the existence of God, which primed her to believe in the gospel later on. But the inclusion of so many random references to God, with only brief mentions of Margaret’s later faith in the appendices, made them seem tacked on just for the sake of mentioning God. I’m a Christian, so I can understand that urge, but if Tobien wanted to share her testimony of faith, I wish he would do it straight out and all at once, instead of scattering it throughout the book.

Ultimately, it’s an amazing story that isn’t told very well. I blame his editor.

View all my reviews

#CBR4 Cannonball 22: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken: A World War II Story Of Survival, Resilience, And RedemptionUnbroken: A World War II Story Of Survival, Resilience, And Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve lived in Long Beach pretty much all my life, and have lots of friends who’ve lived in Torrance. I’ve passed by Zamperini Field numerous times without stopping to wonder who it was named after. Well, now I know.

Louie Zamperini was a world-class runner on the way to breaking the barrier of the four-minute mile when, suddenly, his country needed him. He heeded the call and joined the Army’s Air Corps as a bombardier. I just finished reading Catch-22, and I’m glad that I got to read a little of it before reading Unbroken because it helped me to create a backdrop of absurdity for what I was about to read.

Zamperini crashed in the middle of the ocean, survived on rainwater and fish for over a month, and was then captured and tortured by the Japanese.

My parents are Korean, and many people of their generation dislike the Japanese, a propensity passed down to them by their parents before them. I’d always known it was because of the Japanese occupation of Korea, but I’d never learned about the brutality of that occupation. After reading this book, I can understand a little better why my parents have such an aversion to the sound of the Japanese language. What happened in those death camps was inhuman at the basest level.

It makes me really sad and ashamed to know that POWs in American prisons are treated with similar cruelty and lack of dignity (Abu Ghraib, I’m looking at you). Maybe they’re not being starved, but we do know that they’re being humiliated. I get that some of them might have done awful things, but most of them were just following orders. Nothing gives us the right to torture them, no matter what they’ve done to us. This is the one time I’m going to have to disagree with Jack Bauer.

jack bauer

Anyway, Zamperini’s story is nothing short of amazing. The fact that he was able to survive so many different hardships is boggling. Hillenbrand’s writing is strong, precise, and honest, which I really appreciate. I appreciate that she didn’t try to gloss over his struggle with alcoholism after coming home, as well as his conversion to Christianity later in life. She told the story of the real Louie Zamperini without pulling any punches.

He’s still alive, by the way. He’ll probably outlive us all. Louie Zamperini is a survivor if ever there was one.

View all my reviews

My Ten Favorite Books of 2011

I finished a Baker’s Cannonball (that’s fifty-three books) for CBR-III, but I only really finished forty-eight in 2011. But that’s plenty of books from which to choose a Top Ten.

10. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan
y: the last man

This is actually a graphic novel series in ten volumes, and not a single book. But it’s a graphic novel, so it’s a quick and fun read. The premise of the story is that a mysterious plague has caused every male organism on Earth to die: except for Yorick Brown, an aspiring escape artist, and his helper monkey, Ampersand. It explores a lot of gender issues, but does so in a witty and interesting way. There are plenty of meta references and jokes, and a few parts even made me laugh out loud, which rarely happens when I’m reading.

But this is a graphic novel series for grown-ups, and not a comic book for kids, so be forewarned that there are some squicky parts that prudes like me don’t appreciate, including some nudity.

9. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
things fall apart

Culture changes with every generation. The dominant people of one generation can quickly become obsolete and shunned by the next. Things Fall Apart explores what happens when someone cannot let go of the past in order to adapt to the future. Okonkwo, the most powerful man in a remote Nigerian village, is unable to change as the times do, with tragic consequences. This book is a quick read, but a heavy one.

8. John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock by Iain H. Murray
john macarthur: servant of the word and flock

Iain Murray is, in my opinion, one of the finest biographers of our day, and certainly the foremost Christian biographer of our generation. His proto-biography of John MacArthur is a brief but encouraging look at the life of one of my spiritual heroes. Murray himself reminds the reader that a full biography can’t really be finished until the subject’s life and testimony are complete, but this is a great glimpse at what that full testimony will look like when it’s ready to be written.

I can only wonder who will write Murray’s biography when he is gone.

7. John Adams by David McCullough
john adams

John Adams is an historical figure who doesn’t get much play time in the American classrooms of today. But he’s certainly one of the most important patriots who ever lived, and historian David McCullough brings him to life in the pages of this book. Adams was a man of deep integrity and passion, and I appreciate that McCullough chooses to write about men of character instead of those who lived more glamorous and superficially exciting lives.

6. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
high fidelity

This is a book that will speak to anyone who’s ever loved and lost and pined after someone they couldn’t have. Hornby has a knack for writing about common human experiences with a humor and with that makes them seem somehow glorious because of how pitiful they are. Rob Fleming is everyman, and laughing at his romantic misadventures helps you to laugh at your own.

5. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
the hiding place

One of the few books I re-read in 2011, I was surprised at how much richer this book was for me upon re-reading it. Perhaps it’s because I’ve grown to appreciate God’s love and care for His children since I first read it back in high school, but I was very personally encouraged by this book, and the testimony of Corrie ten Boom’s life, especially in how God used her time in a German concentration camp during WWII to teach her more about His power, grace, and love. This is a book that I’ll keep in my heart for the rest of my life.

4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
extremely loud and incredibly close

I hear that the movie version of this book is retaaaaahded, but don’t let that stop you from reading this beautiful, tragic, poignant book. One of the first novels to be set against the backdrop of 9/11, it came under some fire for being “manipulative” because of its setting. But I think time has been kind to it, and I found the story of young Oskar Schell’s search for a way to make sense out of life after losing his father in the 9/11 attacks to be profoundly moving.

3. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
black swan green

What High Fidelity is for relationships, Black Swan Green is for growing up. Jason Taylor is unpopular, unconfident, and uncomfortable. His parents are on the verge of splitting up, the girl he fancies fancies the class bully, and, to make matters worse, he has a stammer that makes King George VI look like Cicero. He’s the Rob Fleming of junior high, and David Mitchell writes this semi-autobiographical character with honesty, compassion, and feeling. It’ll make you look back on the miserable memories of junior-high awkwardness (if you have them. I have them in abundance) with fondness — not because they weren’t really miserable, but because that misery shaped you into the person you are today.

2. Native Son by Richard Wright
native son

Native Son may well be one of the most important works of American literature. It’s well-written, thought-provoking, and harrowing. It tells the tale of Bigger Thomas, a black man ironically forced into a terrible situation by the kindness of people in a class oppressing his own. Part of me wants to say it’s a sad story, but it’s also a very cold story. Wright himself described it best when he said of its creation, “I swore to myself that if I ever wrote another book, no one would weep over it; that it would be so hard and deep that they would have to face it without the consolation of tears.”

1. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller
prodigal god

I guess you could accuse me of copping out because I put a Christian book at the top of my list. But while this book may not change the world at large, it certainly changed my life, and my view of God’s love and grace. We’ve all heard the story of the prodigal son, and we think that the word “prodigal” means “lost” or “wayward.” But what it really means is “wastefully extravagant,” and Keller posits that the real prodigal in this story is the Father, who lavishes his love and riches on a son that doesn’t deserve it. I can’t even write about this book without being moved to tears because I know that God has given me so much more than I could ever hope to deserve. Because of His prodigal love, all the riches of heaven are mine, and there’s not a thing I can do to lose it or earn more of it. This book is a must-read for Christians who want to glimpse into the depths of God’s love for them.

********

What were your favorite books of 2011?

Cannonball 52: 1776 by David McCullough

17761776 by David McCullough
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is a wonder that America exists at all.

When you consider how outmanned, outgunned, and outstrategized these thirteen upstart colonies were when they declared war on England for their independence, it’s scary to think how close this country came to missing its birth.

David McCullough is one of my very favorite biographers, and his 1776 is a gripping, exciting read about how the United States of America united its states and became America.

He describes in detail the gritty battles, the hardships faced on both sides, and both the strategic decisions and happy accidents that won the war.

One of the things I really appreciate about McCullough is that he doesn’t limit himself to reciting facts. He’s telling a story. It’s a true story, but he interprets the facts in a way that helps you to see what Washington was probably thinking when he received this dispatch or that letter. He’s not only telling the story of the Revolutionary War, but of the people who fought it. He really brings history to life on the page.

I still like his biographies the most; McCullough’s at his best when he immerses himself in a person’s life. But his telling of the story of the birth of our nation is a must-read for history buffs and patriots.

View all my reviews

Cannonball 41: John Adams by David McCullough

John AdamsJohn Adams by David McCullough
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s no secret that I loves me some David McCullough. He’s like the Iain Murray of American history.

McCullough takes a lot of flak in some circles because of his narrative writing style, but as a nonacademic history buff (well, as nonacademic as a history buff can get), I appreciate that he’s not just reciting historical facts to his reader. He’s painting a picture of a real man who lived on this earth and happened to do extraordinary things.

And John Adams was a real man who lived on this earth and happened to do extraordinary things.

Adams was a simple farmer with strong convictions about the land where he lived. He believed that he and his fellow colonists ought to be free to pursue a fair living without being bossed around by a king who lived thousands of miles away. He got pulled into politics for the sake of this budding nation, and he served her faithfully, and often without thanks.

He was a man of integrity who was loathe to fight fire with fire when he was attacked, even when people were spreading untrue rumors about him.

abigail adams

Abigail Adams

He shared a remarkable marriage with a remarkable woman. He and his wife Abigail were apart more than they were together for much of their marriage. Adams often traveled abroad as an ambassador to continental European nations, trying to garner support for the budding American nation.

McCullough clearly did his homework. He read tons of letters and documents so that he not only knew what the historical facts were, but also so that he could imagine what Adams must have felt at certain points in his life. McCullough has a rare gift for sympathy that he uses to really get into the lives, heads, and hearts of these historical figures.

I really appreciate that McCullough chooses noble subjects to write about. He could’ve chosen to write about the life of Thomas Jefferson or George Washington. These two were more popular figures at the time, both a magnetic personality and commanding presence. Instead, McCullough chose John Adams, whose opponents mockingly called him “His Rotundity.” He wasn’t dashing or charismatic, but he had integrity. He didn’t own slaves, and he extrapolated the value of freedom to all men, not just to those who were like him. He chose a man of virtue to write about and immortalize, and I respect him more for it.

John Adams was well-written, compelling, and a great in-depth look at the life of a simple man whose country demanded more of him. He was a rare man, and his story inspires courage and duty.

View all my reviews

Cannonball 37: The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom

The Hiding PlaceThe Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine extended an unusual invitation to me: she invited me to go grave-hunting. As it turns out, Corrie ten Boom is buried in Santa Ana, and you can go visit her grave.

I was in high school when I first read her book, The Hiding Place. At the time, I read it more as a Holocaust book than anything else. I remember thinking, “Man, concentration camps suck.” But I don’t remember much else.

Well, before hunting for Miss ten Boom’s grave and standing there wishing I remembered why I thought I ought to admire her, I thought it might enhance the experience to reread the book. Boy, am I glad I did.

I missed so much the first time around. The book isn’t just about the horror of the Holocaust — it’s also about God’s faithfulness, even in the midst of difficult times. Of course the book talks about the amazing ways in which God answered prayers during Corrie’s time in the concentration camps. But it also talks about how He used it to teach her more about Him, and how her faith in Him grew through these terrible trials, and even of how He used various circumstances before Hitler came to power in order to teach her about God’s love.

I was especially impacted by her singleness. I remembered that she died a spinster, but forgot that, at one point, she was deeply in love with someone who ended up breaking her heart. After this happened, her father comforted her by reminding her that, yes, she did love Karel (the young man who ended up marrying someone else), but that God loved him more than even she could. And he encouraged her to pray that God would help her to love Karel with His love. She prayed that prayer and, in years to come, learned to pray it for people who did far worse things to her than disappointing her hopes for marriage.

The Hiding Place isn’t necessarily the greatest work of literature I’ve ever read, but it’s certainly a great testimony of God’s power and faithfulness. It’s easy to see why Miss ten Boom was traveling the world for speaking engagements well into her eighties, until a stroke took her ability to speak in public.

corrie ten boom

And if you ever get a chance, and you’re in the area, visit Corrie’s grave. It’s nothing fancy, and it might take you a while to find it in the section of the graveyard it’s in. But, much like Miss ten Boom herself, it’s simple, unassuming, and faithfully proclaims that “Jesus is Victor.”

View all my reviews

Cannonball 9: The Prodigal God by Tim Keller

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian FaithThe Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

About two years ago, there was a “gospel revelation” at my church. We’d always been a faithful, Bible-believing church, and we thought that God was blessing us because of that. Tim Keller’s book, Counterfeit Gods, played a huge role in showing us our legalism; showing us that we were counting on our own good works to earn God’s blessing instead of trusting that He would bless us by His grace alone. We believed that we were saved by His grace and faith alone, but we secretly believed that, after He saved us, we had to make sanctification and growth in our lives happen by our own power.

Two years later, I’m still learning what it really means to believe that God alone change me and make me more like Jesus. And I can tell that The Prodigal God is going to play a significant role in my continued growth as a Christian.

My pastor had been quoting this book for months before I actually read it, so I was familiar with the basic premise of the book before I began reading it for myself.

inigo & vizzini

Many people have the mistaken notion that the word “prodigal” means “morally loose” or “wayward” or “bad.” But according to Dictionary.com, “prodigal” means “spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.” The son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) was definitely prodigal; he spent his entire inheritance in no time at all.

But Tim Keller’s premise in the book (and the reason for the title) is that no one spends as lavishly, recklessly, and extravagantly as God Himself. He not only gave His own Son to pay for humanity’s debt of sin, but He also continues to give riches of grace to those who believe.

In the book, Keller examines the parable. It’s commonly thought (and preached) that the point of this parable is to show sinners that God will accept them no matter what they do. But this is only partially true. While the story certainly illustrates the sinfulness of the younger son and the mercy and love of the Father, many people overlook a third key character in the story. Actually, the older son is even more important to the story than the younger.

When Jesus told this parable, He was speaking to a group of Pharisees and scribes. They were criticizing Jesus for showing kindness to “sinners.” His audience had much more in common with the older brother than the younger: they were responsible, faithful, diligent, good people. But at the end of the parable, they are outside the party, and they are angry with the Father. And they are angry because He has shown mercy and grace to the irresponsible, selfish, reckless son.

Which one is really the good son? Sometimes, it's neither.

The heart of the older brother is one of outrage at God’s recklessly abundant grace to the undeserving because, in their eyes, it’s unjust. These sinners don’t deserve grace; they don’t deserve mercy or kindness or love. But these older brothers conversely believe that they themselves are deserving; they deserve everything that the Father has to offer. But they don’t think that any of it is because of the Father’s generosity or love. They think it’s all because of their own hard work.

Keller faithfully unpacks the gospel truths contained in this parable with simple language and razor-sharp insight. He points out the common attitudes and thoughts of “older brother” types, and he corrects them with gentleness and an ever-gracious eye.

This book has significantly impacted my own view of my good works and the purpose for them. It has greatly helped me to see the sinfulness of my desire to earn God’s favor, to reject His gifts and earn them so that I may be praised and respected as well as He, and to criticize, scoff at, and belittle others because they are not like me.

But the best part is that it has reminded me that I can’t fight these attitudes by standing outside and working like a dog. No; I need to go into the party and receive grace and blessings alongside my prodigal brother from our prodigal God.

View all my reviews

Cannonball 6: How to Cook Like a Top Chef

How to Cook Like a Top ChefHow to Cook Like a Top Chef by Chronicle Books
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

***WARNING: Long, personal anecdote ahead. For the review, skip ahead to the noted section.***

When I was in my early twenties, we had a Secret Santa gift exchange at my church. We were supposed to give our recipient a small gift every Sunday in December until the big reveal and the final, big gift at the Christmas party.

Week One went by, and I got nothing. During Week Two, I stood about empty-handed and smiling wanly as my friends squealed over their stocking stuffers, guessing who their Santas were. By the time Week Three hit, I finally received something: one of those 99ยข plastic canes filled with M&Ms. With gritted teeth behind a forced smile, I swore that I would have vengeance if the final gift didn’t make up for the winter of my discontent.

bad santa

Who was my Bad Santa???

The party finally rolled around, and everyone started revealing themselves to their recipients. I stood forlornly in the corner, fuming as the festive air of the room was punctuated with shouts of joy and surprise.

Then, my friend H revealed himself. He approached me sheepishly. “Merry Christmas, I’m your Secret Santa, hope you like it,” he rattled nervously. He handed me a hastily-wrapped package.

I carefully undid the paper (I’m not a tearer) to reveal a big, paperback book. Mexican Cooking for Dummies, the cover read.

I was furious.

mexican cooking

Just what are you trying to say about my intelligence?

I didn’t know how to cook; didn’t really care much about it, and was he trying to say he thought I was stupid? Still, I didn’t want to cause a scene or seem ungracious.

“Thanks, it’s great,” I managed between bared teeth.

When I got home, I tossed the book onto a bookshelf and forgot about it.

But, months later, guilt began to set in. He was still fairly new to our church, and my reception to his gift hadn’t been very gracious. And he didn’t really have to participate at all.

I thought I’d show him that I really was grateful by putting his gift to good use. It was almost May, and I thought Cinco de Mayo would be the perfect opportunity to put a Mexican cookbook to good use. But I already had plans for the fifth, so I planned a Doce de Mayo celebration instead, and invited H and a bunch of our friends.

I planned my first-ever meal, complete with appetizers, drinks, soup, main courses, sides, and a dessert. I bought all of the ingredients. I started cooking.

guacamole

Whenever there's a potluck, everyone demands that I make guacamole. It's become the last word in guacamole at my church.

The party was a hit (despite the fact that lunch was served about two hours late), and I was hooked on cooking. And I have H to thank for it. What I thought was a lame gift turned out to be a life-changer.

And, ten years later, H strikes again. He and his girlfriend (also an H) got me How to Cook Like a Top Chef for Christmas.

***REVIEW***

I’ve never before read a cookbook cover to cover, and certainly not in two sittings. But I am a huge “Top Chef” fan, and this book has it all. It’s the latest “Top Chef” cookbook, and it’s filled with recipes, information, technique tips, interviews with chef’testants, and mouth-wateringly beautiful color photos on every page.

fabio's chicken

The recipe I'd been drooling for: Fabio's Roasted Chicken with Herb Roasted Potatoes, Caramelized Cipollini Onions, and Grilled Lemon with Leafy Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

It’s beautiful and glossy, and has recipes that are simple to make for the novice home chef as well as more challenging recipes for the self-made culinary artist.

My only tiny, tiny nitpick is that there just aren’t enough recipes. There’s plenty of material there for the “Top Chef” fan, but not quite enough for the dedicated foodie. I’d rather have another recipe than read about chef’testants’ tattoos.

H, H, and I are planning to get together soon to try out some of these recipes. And if the fate of Mexican Cooking for Dummies is any indicator, then How to Cook Like a Top Chef is going to end up a beat-up volume with food-stained and water-blistered pages — true signs of love in the kitchen.

View all my reviews

Cannonball 2: Groundswell by Charlene Li

Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social TechnologiesGroundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a writer. I’m not a techie. I’m not an entrepreneur. I’m just a girl who hates grammatical mistakes and improprer use of punctuation and enjoys snappy prose.

Well, Groundswell isn’t written for people like me, but it was still an interesting read. Charlene Li does an excellent job of examining the ways in which companies and brands are able to build a groundswell of support for themselves on the internet.

What it really boils down to is listening to your online community and showing them that they matter to you. Your customers are your greatest resource for improving your product, and a disgruntled customer can quickly turn into your biggest fan (and a huge source of free advertising) if you quickly rectify the situation and show them that you actually care.

Come to think of it, Pajiba has done an excellent job of cultivating groundswell. When I first visited Pajiba, it was about a year old, and there were maybe fifty regular commenters and two regular features. Now, they have thousands of fans on Facebooks, hundreds of Eloquents who spend more time commenting than working at their jobs, and has a giant pool of willing writers who are willing to give of their free time to comb the internet for fun links, highlight the funniest comments of the week, and even run a ginormo book club .

I myself shoot out of my chair and do a happy dance on the rare occasions when I happen to make it to EE or get a CBR review featured on the site. It makes me feel like I’m being heard; that people care about my opinion and are willing to have civil conversations about it. It makes me feel like I’m part of a fun, witty, and urbane online community of nerds who, despite their affinity for the scathing, are fiercely loyal to one another and care deeply about each other (see Pink, Alabama).

alabama pink

We miss you, Alabama Pink.

Pajiba has always been good at fostering community. Way back when I was still relatively new to the site, I posted a comment on a thread about music that is inextricably linked to specific scenes in movies, and I mentioned the soundtrack to Billy Elliot. That day, I got a personal e-mail from The Rowles himself, telling me that he, too, loved that movie and was planning to do it justice at a later date (I’m still waiting on that, Rowles, and I doubt that Pajiba will come to an end on that day).

billy elliot

Gets me every time.

I knew right then that Pajiba was all about listening to its community. And the community has really taken on a life of its own. And it’s because Pajiba has listened to its community that it’s able to foster such a positive community. Also, much of the community members love the TV show “Community.” That has nothing to do with this paragraph, but I’d used the word so much in this paragraph that I thought I’d throw it in there one more time.

community

The moral of the story? Watch “Parks and Recreation,” y’all.

parks and recreation

View all my reviews

P.S. Oh, yeah, and Groundswell was a good book, but I love Pajiba more.

Cannonball 43: Spoken From the Heart by Laura Bush

Spoken from the HeartSpoken from the Heart by Laura Bush
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Confession: I voted for George W. Bush. Both times.

Before all the Pajibans I know write me off as a narrow-minded, religious, right-wing nutjob (although I’m afraid that some of you already have), allow me to add that my politics have changed a lot since 2004. Now, I’m an open-minded, religious, right-wing nutjob (yes, we do exist).

But when I think about Bush and how easy it is to vilify him as this money-grubbing idiot who cares more about pleasing corporate America and carrying out a vendetta that his father started, I can’t help but to think that I’m not seeing the whole picture.

puzzle

Is that all there is to him?

I don’t think that any of our presidents have ever failed at patriotism. If you’re even going to run for President at all, I think you have to have at least a modicum of desire to see our nation thrive and prosper.

I don’t agree with many of Barack Obama’s policies, but I have no doubt that he loves this country and is doing what he believes will help it. And even after my politics changed, I still believed that Bush was a patriot and a decent guy, even though I came to strongly disagree with his politics.

So when my girl Jane gave me this book to read, I was determined not to judge Mrs. Bush’s memoir in light of her husband’s politics.

little laura

Laura Bush as a child, on the steps of the house her father built for their family.

It was a pretty interesting read. She had an interesting childhood, and she describes growing up in Midland, Texas, with great care and nostalgia. She described how she came to love books, her family life, the tragedy that shaped her young adulthood, and meeting George.

Then, she starts getting into the political stuff… without really getting into the political stuff. While she drops enough White House trivia to give you a comprehensive picture of life as the First Lady, she also hits all of the major events during her husband’s tenure as President. She could use this memoir as a way to tout her own political ideology, and even to defend her husband’s decisions. She does counter some of the criticisms that were lobbed at him throughout his presidency, though not really from a political standpoint. Instead, she shows us the heart of a wife who loves her husband, and how it aches when he’s faced with impossible decisions.

the bushes

George and Laura Bush.

I still couldn’t avoid the world of politics entirely. There are certain sections where she seems to presume political standpoints (the war in Iraq in particular) that I just couldn’t agree with. But that never got in the way of seeing these events through her eyes.

While this memoir was neither a page-turner nor a mind-changer for me, it did serve to confirm my opinion that, all politics aside, the Bushes seem like nice people. If they were my neighbors, I’d probably go to their barbecues and have a great time. It’s a good reminder that I don’t care as much about people’s politics as I do about their character.

View all my reviews

« Previous entries
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 33 other followers