Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Summer Reading Guide

With the honorable exception of Prometheus, movies are gonna suck this summer. So if you want to escape the bad crazyness of an election year, the only place to go is your local library. Because socialism is cool.

Dog of the South by Charles Portis
If you've ever lived below the Mason-Dixon Line - I don't mean visited but really lived, bills and all - you'll immediately recognize the flat hell Portis describes in his best book. A sun-baked limbo full of mediocrities outrun by their own ambitions. But Portis is fair with them - which is still pretty brutal - turning the doldrums that passes for life in the land-locked states into high art.

The narrator and star of the show, Ray Midge, is every milquetoast you've ever met but with awareness. He's a loser, he knows it, and really just digs himself deeper trying to fix it. He goes on at what could be tiresome length - Portis spares us - about history and the Civil War and his righteous quest to get that car-and-wife stealing bastard Guy Dupree but every attempt to puff himself up fizzles out because Midge is smart enough to realize how ridiculous it all sounds. In that respect he's a completely fictional creation as few Americans of the South have ever had the capacity to recognize their wretched, pointless existence for what it really is.

Platform by Michel Houellebecq
It's not his newest or most famous but this is arguably Houellebecq's purest. Full of hate for sanctimony and love of life - and that sanctimony is clearly what Houellebecq, through narrator Michel, can't stand about Islam. And he never tires drawing correlations between the reactionary life-denying of Muslim extremists and the stuffy life-denying of urban liberals. "Protestant humanitarian cunts" indeed!

But a polemic does not make for a good novel, which Houellebecq knows or is too good to have to worry about. The characters are what really carries this, the interactions between Michel and Valerie which allow Houellebecq to critique everything from Tom Clancy-esque thrillers to fetish clubs without breaking the narrative flow. This is the sort of novel you don't just read for fun, but to see how novels are done.

Full Spectrum Disorder by Stan Goff
It's out of print but well worth the effort of tracking down a copy. Goff spent two and a half decades in the US Army's many special ops outfits across seven "conflict areas," from Vietnam to Somalia. And he's not shy about telling the awful, ridiculous truth of these misadventures. As America gears up to let JSOC run its foreign policy, this book is an important lesson that, while tactically good, this lot has always whizzed strategy down their leg.

But more than that, Goff is both an excellent writer and thinker. He fits these experiences into a larger thesis about both the American military culture (which really is it's own culture thanks to the all-volunteer aspect) and American culture at large. While stridently partisan Goff is still objective and practical in his analysis, a welcome change from the usual koombayah cant that passes for Leftist rhetoric in this country.

The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich by William L. Shirer
If you only read one book all summer, this should be the one. And not only because it's over 1100 pages. Again, I'm planning a full review for this in the near future but I will say now that if you want to understand modern global politics, you have to go back to where it started. And all of it started with a couple racist romantics in a German beer hall.

To his credit, Shirer doesn't bother with the over-affected "objectivity" that has so strangled American journalism in the past generation. He's clear and comfortable with his bias and why shouldn't he be? These are the frickin' Nazis! They didn't even make the trains run on time - a ludicrous myth that is abolished quite thoroughly in this book - and Shirer's regular skewering of Ribbentrop will leave you in stitches.

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 by Hunter S. Thompson
Not nearly as famous as the other Fear and Loathing but much more relevant. I read it for the first time back in 2008 and the parallels between Muskie and Hillary Clinton were astonishing. And disturbing. If you must indulge the madness of the election year, this will serve to better inform you than all the chatter that substitutes for analysis in this culture because things really have not changed. We're still fighting a lost war at the ass-end of the Earth and a disturbing plurality of people are still cool with it. It's the same suffocating mediocrity of Dog of the South all over again, but here shown as the distinctly American aberration it is.

If that sort of abject nihilism doesn't float your boat, this includes Hunter Thompson at the Republican National Convention doing what everyone fantasizes about - speaking his mind and getting away with it.

And don't forget to buy my books!

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