Just Another Effin' Observer

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Location: Huntsville, Texas, United States

Sunday, November 13, 2005

I Have A Little List....

A friend of mine read my most recent entry to this blog, and he made what I'm sure he considers a rather astute and pointed observation, to wit: that every book I listed, indeed every book on my currently-in-play bookshelf, is a “conservative” book. I’m not entirely sure how my friend makes the connection between a conservative point of view and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, or Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, both of which titles are on said bookshelf, awaiting their own turn in the bathroom (which is where I do most of my reading, now that my globe-trotting, itinerant rent-a-geek days are in hiatus), but I suppose he does have a point. Simply because, in a larger sense, my friend is entirely correct: the overwhelming majority of the books I read are written from what one might correctly regard as a conservative perspective. But you know what? I’m okay with that. In fact, it doesn't bother me in the least that I read “conservative” books, because I am - true confession time - a conservative.

Whoa! What a load off my conscience! I guess confession really is good for the soul.

In Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, Polonius advised his son Laertes, “To thine own self be true,” and I have always believed that that was pretty good advice, especially considering that his advice to “neither a borrower nor a lender be” proved to be spot-on in my own circumstances. “For surely it will follow, as night follows the day, thou canst not be false to any man.” I assume that that observation would also include women, but since Shakespeare never had to contend with Eleanor Smeal and NOW picketing the Globe Theatre, we can only speculate. In any event, it’s a pretty good rule to play by, so I try. Do I invariably succeed? Of course not; who, in this imperfect world, does? But holding a standard of behavior and occasionally falling short of it is not the same as the attitude that, since we cannot expect to live up to a lofty standard 24/7, we should not even bother to try. “Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good,” is the maxim we frequently hear in this context.

But, in a cynical effort to be “fair” (cynical because I frankly don’t give a fat, furry gerbil’s butt whether I’m “fair” or not, and ‘fair’ in irony quotes because the very concept of ‘fairness’ is, in my mind – if you’ll pardon the expression – horseshit; and you will please note the conspicuous absence of irony quotes around that last word), I will hereby acknowledge that there are several “liberal” books on my reading list, if not yet physically on the shelf. The fact that those titles are not yet on my bookshelf, and the reasons for their absence, is not entirely irrelevant. So I will herewith explain my appalling insensitivity to left-wing authors and the size of their royalty checks.

The reason I tend not to read “liberal” books is a deceptively simple one. It isn’t because I generally don’t care about what liberals have to say on a particular subject (although in the “to-thine-own-self-and-for-surely-it-will-follow” theme I’m embarking on…, I don’t). No, it’s even more basic than that.

You see, I don’t like to get angry. And reading liberal talking points tends to make me angry. Sure, anger is useful when you’re in a kick-ass-and-take-names mood, but I’m just not an ass-kicking kind of guy. On the other hand, I don’t subscribe to the “Make Love, Not War” mindset, mainly because I recognize the fact, driven home over the course of over four decades now, that I couldn’t get laid if my name was Stainmaster. (It’s an obscure reference, I’ll admit, but come on; you’re a clever bunch.) I have always believed that anger is a largely useless, and frequently counterproductive, expenditure of emotional energy. It raises one's blood pressure (widely regarded by the medical profession as a Bad Thing), clouds one’s judgment, and rarely actually accomplishes much. “Don’t get mad, get even,” is one adage that perfectly describes the essential uselessness of anger, and Ivana Trump’s “Don’t get mad, get everything,” is even better. Instead of sitting around fuming, how much better to be relaxing with a cold Rum Collins on the verandah of the beach house in Barbados!

Dorothy Parker (an almost incandescent Leftist herself, but whom I have always enjoyed reading) wrote in one of her more infamous book reviews, “This is not a book to be set aside lightly; it should be hurled with great force.” I know the feeling all too well. It is the almost uniform reaction I have (go ahead, Leftists, say ‘Pavlovian’; I know you want to, and frankly, you wouldn’t be far off-base), whenever I read something like What’s the Matter With Kansas?. So, in order to maintain my much-sought-after equanimity, I tend not to read books from the Left.

But sometimes, you gotta make exceptions. So yes, I do have a list of books from the left side of the political and cultural divide that I fully intend to read, no matter how much I expect them to piss me off.

First on that list is the new book by Bill Press, How the Republicans Stole Christmas. The main reason I have that title on my list is, quite simply, the utter absurdity of the title itself, and the apparent premise behind it. The Republicans didn’t “steal” Christmas, they rescued it from Democrats who are trying diligently to abolish it. What the hell was this guy smoking, and where can I get some? Let’s face it, the world of letters lost a refreshingly twisted point of view when Lewis Carroll died; for someone to offer us another, more contemporary glimpse through the looking glass is most welcome. Even more intriguing is the book’s subtitle: “The Republican Party’s Declared Monopoly on Religion and What Democrats Can Do To Take It Back”. Do you think there’s a chance that ‘Ending their overt hostility to religion’ might be on his list of recommendations? Me neither. But I'm curious to find out, so it's on the list.

Another title on my list is Are Men Necessary?, by Maureen Dowd. I’m going to assume that the question presented in the title is a rhetorical one; I’ve always felt that there was something vaguely dikey about her (“not that there’s anything wrong with that” – Seinfeld, ad nauseum). I’ve seen a lot of pictures of Maureen Dowd floating around the Web in recent weeks, evidently plugging her book. The all seem to be asking, “Wouldn’t you date this woman?” Short answer: uh, no. For my money, Maureen Dowd has been on the wrong end of a camera entirely too much lately. Anyone who has seen both Casablanca and Murder on the Orient Express cannot help but notice that the intervening years were exceedingly unkind to Ingrid Bergman – from ethereal beauty to horse-faced harridan in the space of less than thirty years. Perhaps Ms. Dowd’s hostility toward men is a case of casting them as proxies for Father Time. A rather lengthy profile of her in the Washington Post (complete with photograph that I think pretty much makes my point – and what’s up with those shoes!?) covers a broad range of topics, up to and including her dating history. I closed the browser window when I got to that part; if I wanted that kind of images leaping out of my subconscious in the middle of the night, I’d read Steven King.

If nothing else, buying these books and reading them might give me an opportunity to test something that I’ve been curious about for a long time: Can you really flush a Koran down a toilet? Of course, I would never use an actual Koran; I’d need to find a stand-in. And scientific research is a much better use of my time that just sitting on the throne being angry.

The Rest of the Story...

Saturday, November 12, 2005

So Many Books , So Little Time...

I've been reading quite a bit lately.

Now, anyone who knows me would also know that a phrase like, "I've been reading" carries about the same stop-the-presses impact as, oh, say, "I was breathing the other day...." Like Wal-Mart’s lower prices , I am always reading something. Always®.

Back in my itinerant rent-a-geek days, I generally did the bulk of my reading in bars. After I got off work, I would mosey over to my neighborhood hang-out (it was always the first thing I looked for when I arrived in a new city, after checking into the hotel and locating the office), ensconce myself on a stool in my favorite quadrant of the bar, order a Martini ("and keep ‘em coming"), open my book, and become the World’s Best Bar Customer; i.e., an excellent tipper who seems never to get drunk (in point of fact, I got frickin' ripped, but I drank slowly – a Martini is not a drink that one chugs, unless you want to give the room a new paint job – so the alcohol tends to get more completely metabolized; my patented technique for 'Endurance Drinking'), one whom the bartenders could pretty much ignore all evening long. After a couple of chapters I would have dinner, then call a cab, and go home.

Strangely, this behavior has actually gotten me on the wrong side of more than one of my fellow bar patrons. There was one fellow who asserted that it was rude of me to sit at a bar and do nothing but read. Funny; I had been brought up to believe that behaving oneself, minding one's own business, and not bothering other people was anything but rude. Live and learn.

Another fellow barfly, a woman I'll call Ronnie (since that was her name), first made my acquaintance when she noticed me sitting at the opposite side of the bar, thumbing through a dictionary. (I had just acquired a new copy of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, and I was exploring. I'm a nerd; I do that kind of thing.) She thought I was some kind of nut. I thought she was a loud, brassy, obnoxious strumpet. Then we got to know each other, had some rather entertaining evenings, and found out that we were both right. The most valuable lesson I carried away from that experience was: Never again will I second-guess a first impression.

This essay was going somewhere, but I cannot for the life of me recall where. Oh, yes, now I remember: the summer reading list that I’ve been whittling away at.

Last night, I finished reading Tammy Bruce's The New American Revolution, and I thought it was just swell. At the same time (yes, I can read as many as three books concurrently), I am reading Scalia Dissents, a collection of Justice Antonin Scalia's more fascinating opinions, edited by Kevin Ring. A couple of days ago, I wrapped up Intellectual Morons, by Daniel J. Flynn.

Recently completed books include Madame Bovary's Ovaries, by the father-daughter team of David P. and Nanelle R. Barash (highly recommended); 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America, by the inestimable Bernard Goldberg (the best part is why Al Franken is #37 -- but I won't spoil it!); and Isaac's Storm, by Erik Larsen, about the devastating Galveston hurricane of Septemer, 1900.

And then there is the stack still untouched. Or, in some cases, tasted but not yet devoured. One particular example of that category is 1776, by David McCullough, whom I regard as one of, if not the, best historical writers of this, or any, century. (No disrespect intended toward Victor David Hanson, whose works I devour like, oh, sharp cheddar cheese whenever the stuff is within arm's reach.) Another is Black Rednecks and White Liberals, by whom I regard as one of, quite simply, the best of the best (the precise category is profoundly irrelevant here, he is just flat-out worth reading - even his laundry lists are worth reading), Thomas Sowell. And then there is the latest by Ronald Radosh, Red Star Over Hollywood. (I have read a lot by Ronald Radosh; the man simply does not know how to disappoint a reader.)

My summer reading list is taking me well into autumn. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Books are good. Books are your friends. Books are easier to take into the bathroom with you than a laptop. (Speaking of which, my current bathroom reading - no disrespect intended - is Stet, Dammit! (which I acquired from National Review Books but cannot seem to find a reference to - anywhere), an anthology of Florence King's 'The Misanthrope's Corner, originally published in National Review).

I have never been a huge fan of First Lady Causes (Lady Bird Johnson's Highway Beautification mission left me absolutely cold, and Nancy Reagan's 'Just Say No' campaign required me to say 'No' to everything to which I was most inclined to say 'Yum, Gimme!'), but I can really get behind Laura Bush's mission to promote universal literacy. Because you haven't lived until you have read. (And if you have gotten through your sophomore year of high school, I strongly suggest that you read Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities again, just for the sheer joy of it. Trust me, it's a much better book when your grade doesn't hang on it.)

And if you're reading this right now, I rest my case.

The Rest of the Story...