Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A book Review Fiesta.
Ann Coulter's Slander: Lies Liberals Tell about the American Right.
Daniel Flynn's Why the Left Hates America
Peter David's Knight life.
Robertson Davies Fifth Business and High Spirits
Joseph Michael Straczynski's Tribulations
Joseph Pearce's Literary Converts


SEX, LIES AND POLITICS
Ann Coulter's Slander

Now that we are approaching the silly season of elections, let get down and dirty with the shortest political book you might ever see, and possibly the funniest and most honest: Ann Coulter’s Slander. Despite being on The New York Times bestseller list, it has none of the pretentiousness. Coulter writes in clear, plain English, with biting humor and enough footnotes to prove all of her points. The point of the book is explained quite clearly in the subtitle: Lies Liberals Tell about the American Right.

For example: perhaps you’ve heard of the conservative-controlled media; aside from Katie Couric, the media seems to be filled with Democratic Presidential campaign workers, from Dave Matthew of Hardball to Larry King. I won’t cite all of her examples, if only because I don’t have the room; however, there is the simple case of James Carville filling in for Larry King on CNN one time (as though a Democratic attack dog is more objective than anyone else on the planet). Coulter goes on to outline all of the malicious little details reporters don’t let you hear (Al Gore saying “Who are those guys?” when pointing to statues of Washington and Jefferson).

Overall, it’s a fun little book. It’s also slightly frightening when you look at the quantity of the lies Democrats have been telling for about seventeen years (e.g.: there were more articles about Alzheimer’s disease in Reagan’s reelection year than in any year before or since, shadowboxing the “Religious Right”). Coulter almost literally compares IQ points of Democrats and the Republicans that they call stupid, contrasting people point to point. She also goes over the frightening aspect of the mafia-esque political “protection” within Washington; moderate Republican Robert Packwood’s sexual assaults were ignored by NOW (founded by Leftist Betty Friedan) until he was no longer usefully supporting legislation they wanted (like abortion laws).

Again, it’s a good, solid book that anyone can read, from registered Democrats to people who haven’t voted in years. While it is as politicized as a bad episode of Crossfire, Coulter seems interested in one thing above all else: the truth. She distinguishes between the upper class and high-end Liberal elitists and the casual, everyday folk like you (I assume that you, unlike Norman Mailer, don’t go around freeing murderers from prison only for them to kill harmless waiters; and you’re not like Barbara Streisand and Steven Spielberg, trying to fence off a public beach so you can have it all to yourself), although there are times when she feels her audience has everything in common (I’m still at a loss trying to figure out why she believes her audience watches NASCAR races).

As I said, it’s a short book; easy to read, footnoted beyond reproach, and detailed enough to let you keep track of the incidents cited without needing to watch the news (if you’re like me, you find it too depressing).

Election Day is the time of year where you can fool all of the people some of the time, and that’s usually enough to get elected. All Fool’s Day this year is November 8th, so be sure to vote, if only so you have the right to com


A LITTLE KNIGHT READING
Peter David's Knight Life

The perfect politician: honest, trustworthy, hates pre-written speeches, speaks his mind; has combat experience, but fights only as a last resort; kind, courteous, the perfect gentleman. He minces no words, and you know what he’s thinking at all times. To what lengths does one go to get this person?

How about over a thousand years in the past?

Enter Mr. Arthur Penn, who fits the above description perfectly. Penn is short for Pendragon. After a thousand years of rest, King Arthur has come out of retirement. But what is a Once and Future King to do after being reduced from a great historical figure to a mere legend? The Euro-trash of the British Royal Family wouldn’t have him (too honorable), and any declaration of his identity would buy him a free room in a psychiatric ward.

Simple answer: become President of the United States. However, before doing that, building a political history would be a good start, so King Arthur, heir to the throne of the Britons, etc, etc, will settle for being Mayor of New York City.

With his trusty political aide, Merlin, at his side, King Arthur bravely heads out into the political landscape, with Excalibur on his hip, and an interesting collection of political staffers backing him up: including his accountant Percival (or Parsifal, depending on his mood) and his personal aide, Ms. Gwen DeVere Queen. Along the way, Arthur must deal with his sister Morgan le Fey, and his bastard son Modred (a political consultant for the Democratic ticket), in fights that range from a mystical shootout in Hell on Earth (Verona, New Jersey), to a swordfight in the Cloisters.

For some, this may sound like a bad LSD binge, or—for those familiar with his work—Knight Life, the creation of Peter David, New York Times best selling author of some of the most demented novels ever written. During the presentation of King Arthur’s political campaign, David present some interesting solutions to: the lack of voter turnout of young citizens 18-24 (simply tell them not to vote, guaranteeing that they will), gun control (“I prefer a light broadsword myself”) and science (“Scientists believe in nothing, while magicians believe in everything, which is why magicians get so much more done”).

Knight Life is a light, funny novel, part fantasy, part political satire (assuming you don’t consider politics fantasy) and, quite simply, a fun read. All in all, it took me under six hours to read in one sitting. The humor is witty, with just the right amount of truth to it, making it even funnier. Peter David manages to encapsulate the magnificent detail of New York City down to the pond scum in Central park (well, maybe not THAT detailed), as well as integrate King Arthur in such a way as to make it believable that—should he show up one day—this is exactly what would happen.

So, before you head out to the polls next month, crack open Knight Life for a candidate that’s truly medieval, and then try voting for one that isn’t TOO modern. After all, as Robertson Davies once said, “Nothing grows so old-fashioned so fast as modernity, you know.”


WHY DOES THE LEFT HATE AMERICA?
Why the Left Hates America.

When India was first colonized by the British, the locals had a custom of throwing a widow on the husband’s funeral pyre. When Brahmins complained about plans to end the practice, they said those plans violated custom. Sir Charles Napier replied, “My nation also has a custom. When men burn women alive, we hang them. Let us all act according to custom.”
Under Leftist theories of multiculturalism and relativism, Napier was the bad guy; he neither “respected” a culture that set women ablaze, nor treated them as moral equals.
In Why the Left Hates America, Daniel Flynn examines the world of the Left, it’s lies, and the myths it has promulgated, and why we have academics burning flags in front of their sixth grade classrooms, banning students from lectures on campus that disagree with their views, among other horrendous incidents. Unlike other “conservative” books, like Slander, he has no interest in Democrats— the Democratic Party merely leans to the left end of the spectrum. A "Leftist" is Stalin, Noam Chomsky, or Gore Vidal. These are the people who said that we had 9-11 coming to us because we're a "sexist, racist, biased" country, the source of all the world's ills, and praised Osama bin Laden. These are the flag burners at Berekley and the anti-Americans in academia who seem to think that anything is good as long as America looks bad.
Flynn manages to construct an entire ideological history of the Left, from its past overseas to where it landed in established America today. His entire book is well constructed, and filled with factoids rarely heard of: the horrors committed against free speech in the People’s Republic of Berkeley; how Leftist works are praised, even though they’ve been proven lies (like I, Rigoberta Menchu); how “diversity supersedes factual correctness,” turning diversity into one coloring of political opinion; how the American “internment camps” were so popular, the Japanese American Citizens Council wanted them kept open after World War II was over; how the slaughters of other cultures have been deleted from history textbooks, while George Washington has been all but removed from the education plain; that the Unabomber was offered a book deal for being a good eco-terrorist; how former Leftist terrorists from the “Weathermen” hold tenured faculty appointments, and how cop killers make so much money giving lectures.
Flynn has managed to construct an amazing book, with a masterful summary of every lie told about the United States, and how to disprove them with overwhelming evidence, and over forty pages of footnotes. He explodes the myth that the United States is the world’s biggest environmental threat, since NONE of the world’s most polluted cities are in the United States (LA doesn’t even make the cut), and reforesting programs have given the US more trees than there were fifty years ago. He gives the basic facts behind Charles Drew’s death, rids any notion of an “Imperialist” America, and answers John “Taliban” Walker’s question, “What is America good for?”
All in all, it’s a great book, with true stories that make Steven King look like pleasant bedtime reading.



FIFTH BUSINESS, FIRST CLASS

No bombs. No serial killers. No well-earned derogatory comments about the political Left. Any constant reader who is looking for these and other staples of my book reviews, please try your luck again next time. What do I have to offer you? Saints, fools, professors, idiots, evils, magicians, sorcerers, two world wars, and a universe of wonders right next door.

Welcome to the world of Fifth Business, a novel that earns the title of novel. It is not any specific genre, but it encaptures all genres. It is the start of Robertson Davies epic Deptford Trilogy, which traces the path of three men and a snowball, as strange as this might seem. Fifth Business is told from the perspective of Dr. Dunstan Ramsay, professor of history, chaser of saints, and keeper of a secret powerful enough to destroy a local Bill Gates.

The story begins with a snowball thrown at a young Ramsay by the local rich kid. From there, the novel unfolds into an entire life story, following the path of Ramsay’s life from the Canadian backwater of Deptford to the French battlefield of Paschendale, and into a world of wonders our modern age has tried to deny. It is a deceptively easy read, full of detail and subtle humor. Each character is shaped and molded with the craftsmanship and effort of a master writer with a mind twisted ever so slightly from one side of dementia.

Robertson Davies manages to capture the lost idea that the wondrous is just another aspect of reality; he manages to portray this with detail marvelous to behold, resulting in a timeless work of art that reveals the joy and awe within the world in which we live. Davies portrays reality, with all its darkness and light, in a successful counter to an antiseptic age that tries to banish the fear, the awe, and the splendor of simple wonder along with God, myth, and magic. It is not fantasy, but it is fantastic. It captures religion, business, teaching, mythology, economics, warfare, saints, Gods, and monsters, all without leaving Canada (which I suppose could be considered a fictional realm, depending on your point of view).

Of the Deptford Trilogy, which is considered Davies’s best work, Fifth Business is the best. The next two— The Manticore and World of Wonders—are also not bad. If you enjoy Fifth Business, finish the story with the next two; for Fifth Business is only the beginning of the story, ending with a mystery that takes two more books to complete.

A SPIRITED END TO THE SUMMER

Summer reading has usually been defined as books so light that one can drop them in the water and watch them float. this might be something to consider: High Spirits, written by Robertson Davies, author of Fifth Business and The Deptford Trilogy. The book is light enough in content and plotting to float on water, and funny enough to put in a final exam recovery kit. It’s a book of short stories assembled from Davies’s time at Massey College, in the University of Toronto, where he served eighteen years as Master (a Canadian title for Dean). Being a twisted fellow, Davies wrote these ghost stories to be told at the College Christmas party each year.

Yes, you read it correctly: ghost stories for Christmas, an odd idea, and each story is just as odd and as demented as the author. One story has Davies encountering the University ghost, “of which it is justifiably proud;” a ghost that vanished by degrees—a Bachelors, Masters, and a Ph.D—and a table inhabited by a Presbyterian ghost of irritable character. There is also Frankenstein’s cat, the man who discovered immortality through vinegar, the tenor turned into a frog (a story for anyone in a chorus, to be sure), and a story that stands as a warning to all English majors, “Dickens Digested.” Cameos also include the ghost of Queen Victoria and George IV, the three kings (King George the fifth, the sixth, and Prime Minister King), Ibsen, Einstein, a nasty, mercurial little demon, and the Devil himself as he tries to go home for Christmas.

The funniest story in the book (and I write this with the full awareness that some may simply grab the book off a shelf, read through the story, put it on the shelf without buying it or reading anything else) is called “Refuge of Insulted Saints,” in which appears all the saints reduced to simple legendary status by Vatican II. In order to avoid Limbo, all two hundred of them arrive at Massey College, complete with their attributes: dragons, cannons, St. Ursula’s 11,000 virgins (“simply personal staff”). “You need us,” says St. George of Cappadocia, patron saint of England, “to balance the extreme, stringent modernity of your thinking; nothing grows so old-fashioned so fast as modernity, you know.”

Along the way, Davies manages to capture the proper sense of the absurd in everyday college life, and any educational major (and professor) can identify with the comments on academia. He has an equally appropriate sense of how bizarre it looks after the first few dozen hauntings, making fun of his own premise as he goes. The range of topics Davies touches upon is so wide and so varied, it encompasses education, religion, history, literature, and murder. It’s something for everyone, and as funny as Robin Williams off his medication (including the interesting suggestion of placing St. Christopher in the parking lot, allowing everyone to find a place—something that, as every student knows, requires a miracle).



TROUBLES AND TRIBULATIONS

Reporter Susan Randall is going through the worst time of her life, as is LA. It begins with a typical ride-along with a local patrol car, usually a serene, boring assignment; and it is, until she gets shot.

It gets worse: a serial killer is having a fun time in Los Angles, slicing through the homeless population. Each victim is mutilated in a less-than-typical fashion: their hands are sliced in such a way that they riffle like a deck of cards when touched. Susan wants the case, and gets it and everything that comes with it.

“Everything” includes not only the killer sending her e-mails, but a man named Raymond Weil, who keeps showing up: first at the crime scenes, then at the funerals for the victims. Despite his claims of demonic involvement in the murders, Raymond knows more than the police do about the serial killer and makes for a great lead for the story.

That is, until Susan suspects he knows too much.

As the search for the killer proceeds, Susan becomes intrigued by Weil’s life and his continued persistence in relating the demonic to a serial killer. Before too long, she discovers an unnerving secret that causes her to suspect that Raymond shouldn’t know some of the things he knows, especially as the City of Angels slowly becomes more like a city of Hell.

Those of you who are interested in the realm of Science Fiction know the name of Joseph Michael Straczynski, creator of the television series Babylon 5, and writer of over one hundred episodes of miscellaneous TV programs. Straczynski’s style is often marked by creative wit and a keen observation of society at large. Tribulations is no exception. Throughout the novel, he uses his years of experience in Los Angeles with his graceful wit and driving narrative that forces the reader to push on. Despite his claims of atheism, one would hardly suspect it with his knowledge of past demonic incidents—both in theological and pure historical terms.

There is one mistake you should not make before you continue reading: that this is a spiritual novel. Whether you are Freud, the next generation, an atheist theology major, or a Catholic priest, you can enjoy this book. One might say Straczynski is part Walker Percy and part Jeffery Deaver: humorous, thrilling, and just dark enough to qualify as literature by a college English department. Straczynski uses his considerable talents to merge psychology, sociology, and theology into a story that unites profiles of serial killers, the sociology of a riot, and a profile of evil. Truly something for everyone.



And Not To Yield: Literary Converts

After September 11th, saw a vibrant return to patriotic roots; mass rallies of flag-wavers and candle-lighters. There was a return to religious roots: scenes of people at prayer were popular on news reports. For Catholics, Joseph Pearce’s Literary Converts is a timely read that recalls the last 100 years of conversions to Rome by British writers, poets, and playwrights. Maybe you can sympathize with those living in an earlier age when your religion was looked down on. Not only by people who don’t share it, but also by those who believe all religion superstition, completely psychological. Those secularists have been with us since pre-1900, and will continue into this century.

Imagine you are dying. All your life you’ve held admiration for a religion your peers do not particularly like, and you’ve almost converted once or twice. You’ve spent time in jail for illegal homosexual acts, and spent your days writing witty tales and satire. At the end of your days, you’re dying from syphilis. Your friend brings a Catholic priest, and your pain is so deep you have to imply you wish to convert because you can barely speak. He blesses you as per your wishes. The next day, you pass on, fulfilling one of your own quotes, “Catholicism is the only religion to die in.”

So wrote Oscar Wilde.

The opening chapters of Literary Converts begin at the dawn of the 20th century with the death of Oscar Wilde and his opponent, the Marquis of Queensbury, both converts to Rome. The subsequent chapters all cover the lives of Hillare Belloc, Maurice Baring, GK Chesterton, Ronald Knox, Muriel Spark, and Sigfried Sassoon, even touching upon the life of CS Lewis, who was an ‘Anglo-Catholic,’ (In U.S. read Episcopalian, the ruling class religion of many Presidents).

Each chapter follows the conversion and the religious life each man and woman led, and the odds they stood against: Ronald Knox and Hugh Benson converted from the Anglican Church, even though their fathers had both been Anglican Bishops; GK Chesterton, who had defended Catholicism for 20 years without converting, but had to “Pope” without his dear wife (who followed him into the faith soon after); Arnold Lunn, an Atheist who learned about a religion to attack it, and who was himself eventually conquered by it; or Graham Greene, who became possibly the oddest Catholic to ever live. Each life is briefly told from the beginning to the end of their days.

The narrative style of Literary Converts is a continuous flow that mysteriously breaks down near the end. Despite its last chapter problems, Pearce manages to write at least a dozen biographies with an easy grace—and plenty of humor— that glides through decades. The sources are well catalogued, and the events are interesting enough to hold the attention firmly.

For example, history books say that the Fascist Franco won the Spanish Civil War, but hardly ever acknowledge the brutal Communist murder of Spanish priests, the rape-murder of nuns and the wholesale martyrdom of the faithful by the LEFT side of the political spectrum. While still hating Nazism, I now understand why Franco’s people called themselves Loyalists: loyal to king, country, and Church—and why they never gave help to Hitler in World War II-- they had only thrown off one tyrant to a new paganism, they refused to have another.

If I were to answer what is Literary Converts about, I would have to say it is a book about faith. It is a book about those who don’t give up hope in the face of oppressive odds and the gods of science and subjectivism. It is about a secular age declaring war on God, and God winning. It’s about facing a world that kills dreams and then lies when it says “you’re the only one left who believes that!”

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