Holiday 2001 Books – The Progressive, 12/30/2001

Everybody loves interactive book listmania! Before you read three of my recommendations, see if you can put my reading list in order. Hint: organizing principle – annus horribilis.

A. Dell Golden Deluxe Word Search.
B. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
C. Preventing Violence by James Gilligan
D. Empire by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri
E. Political Fictions by Joan Didion
F. New York Times Tuesday Crossword Puzzles, ed. Will Shortz
G. The Bush Dyslexicon by Mark Crispin Miller.

If you said 1.G, 2.D, 3.E, 4.C, 5.B, 6.F,7A, you are correct and should take something for anti-anxiety and mourning sickness.

Right after Bush II Inauguration, I consoled myself with The Bush Dyslexicon. It’s like Cliff Notes for Slate’s chapbook of Bushisms. Miller dissects Bush’s grammar and syntax and reveals a man illiterate but not ignorant, who could not care less about his shortcomings. The man gives himself goosebumps. I found Miller’s categories – from W’s evident to himself tautologies to his deflective self-appraisals – helpful tools to become a better Bush watcher. I know to think for example, that Bush is reading his speeches better now, not because of the crisis, but because they have increased the font size.

I tried to read the much touted Empire for the deep space of background. What I read I enjoyed, like a boil on my cheek. The two authors, one in an Italian prison, [an untold story], who collaborated via e-mail and could have used a ruthless editor, examine the shift from modern political understandings of sovereignty, nation and people to new networks of communication and control through transnational corporations. But dense.

For ice cold clarifying relief, I cleared my head with Joan Didion’s Political Fictions, a collection of eight of her essays from The New York Review of Books. Sure, sure some of her revelations that politics are inauthentic are obvious, but it’s fun to tour the brain from which Maureen Dowd sprung half-formed. I am glad to have my personal copy of the last piece, “God’s Country”. In it she traces the origins of the spun words, “compassionate conservatism”, “faith-based”, and other themes from Karl Rove’s guru Martin Olavsky and the fun park that is Bob Jones University.

Then there was 9.11. George Bush announced that he believed that fighting terrorism was why God had made him president. I thought his brother had done that. No time for big, dense collections – what to do? Nothing gives a more hopeful blueprint for the times ahead than James Gilligan’s Preventing Violence. It answers clearly that whining media “Why do they hate us?” and urges a view toward violence not in moral and juridical terms, i.e., “How evil was the action and what is the punishment?” but as a public health problem.

Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections is sooo Oprah, a great way to live through airport security lines and I’ll take that book jacket meaning of O if he doesn’t want it. The rest is crossword puzzles and, after Tuesdays, Dell word searches.