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The Klaw 100

There’s a meme for personal blogs and online diaries: a list of movies or books or whathaveyou is passed around.  The blogger publishes the list on their blog, marking the books they’ve read or movies they’ve seen.  We haven’t done that ’round here because, for one, this isn’t really a personal blog, and, for two, we don’t really know anyone who keeps that kind of blog anymore, so no one passes them along (thank God).

Anyway, Keith Law–baseball writer, connoisseur and bookworm (he’s Mr Thursday, on HGH, if HGH did anything useful)–has decided to create a list of his favorite 100 books.  He estimates he’s read 400-500 books.  I don’t really know how many I’ve read–I’d guess it’s 30 or so per year, depending on the year.  Far more than that in high school and college, at least double that rate.  Anyway, we’re going to take his list here, and give you a few comments on the books he’s listed that we’ve read.  Or, if we have anything to say about the one’s we haven’t read, maybe we’ll comment on that.

He’s divided his list into 5 parts.  We’re just lumping everything together here, in one overlong post.

98.  The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare, by GK Chesterton. The title of this blog is, in part, a reference to that book.  It’s a comic masterpiece dealing in the existence of God, in rebellion, in fear.  Chesterton’s prose is death-defyingly poetic, and, even more wonderfully, the book wraps up the whole ride in just a touch over 200 pages.  Brief, bright, and beautiful.

90.  The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle. This is, generally, considered the best of the Sherlock Holmes novels, whether written by Doyle or others (in the others category, the excellent The Seven Per Cent Solution reigns supreme).  I haven’t read the book since high school, but I loved the book at the time, and, aside from the iconic Prof Moriarty, the book has everything one could want from the grand detective.

83.  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. I used to read in bed, for at least an hour, every night.  From the time I could read until I got a driver’s license, basically.  Huck Finn was one of the two Mark Twain books I read over and over again (along with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer). Admittedly, I read these books, in part, because I was infatuated with their age–the copies my mother possessed, and allowed her grade school middle son to read, were nearly 100 years old.  If I recall correctly, the Huck Finn was a 1900 edition, and Tom Sawyer 1902.

In the end, I loved Huck Finn more than the excellent Tom Sawyer for it’s extraordinary brashness, the spectacular boldness of the story.  The book is vibrant with conmen and swindlers and children trying to escape the confines of “sivilized” life.  I can only imagine that when I, as a child, asked my mom what “nigger” means, she was both shocked at the question, and relieved that she asked at home, and not at school.

To this day, in my opinion, Twain has found no equal in his ability to capture the voice of the dialects of his characters.

77.  Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison. This is the only Morrison I’ve read, and to be honest, the only reason I haven’t read more of her is because Oprah and I have generally differed on our literary views, and because Morrison, to me, comes off obnoxiously in interviews.  The book is filled with details without being overwhelmed by them, and the imagery–from the nature of breastfeeding to Doctor Street–are haunting.  As always, whenever I think of this book, I really believe I need to get into more Morrison.

75.  Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy. I read this book last summer for the only time–though I vow to re-read it sometime.  The book is the most violent I’ve read.  That violence is crouched in allegory and bizarre, and often confusing events.  I still don’t know quite what to make of the book (though, of course, I’ve still only read it once through), but I will repeat here what I’ve said elsewhere:  when this book is “good”, it’s spectacular.  It’s well worth the read, just to experience the Judge, if nothing else.

67.  Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. Whenever this book is mentioned, I fail to understand whether it’s generally considered a triumph, or a disaster of a book.  Regardless of the opinions of others, I love BNW.  The book successfully anticipated a number of late-20th century political and social (and technological) developments, and maintained a compelling narrative for someone who read the book in 2000 for the first time.

65.  The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler. Chandler, I suspect, is someone who a reader either adores, or cannot be bothered to read.  I fall into the former group.  My Chandler love began with Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? and continued, triumphantly, into his detective stories.  The Big Sleep is the most famous, and, perhaps, the best of Chandler’s considerable work.  Phillip Marlow–the model for all grizzled private detectives–is following a case so twisted and hairy that, even without the red herrings, it can be damn hard to follow.  Even Chandler himself didn’t know who committed all the murders.  For the movie lovers out there, it doesn’t hurt to picture Humphrey Bogart as the leading man, as Bogey played Marlowe in the 1946 version of the book.

57.  Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. I read this in, I don’t know, 5th or 6th grade, for a book report, and loved it.  I ought to read it again.  And, to recycle an old debate from around here, pirates do beat ninjas.

55.  The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett. I haven’t read this, but the movie in outstanding (with more Bogart–who’s to complain?), and the book has a stellar reputation.  I love the detective genre–I’ll get around to this, sooner or later.

53.  1984 (George Orwell) and 52.  On the Road (Jack Kerouac). I must be one of the few Americans who had to read A Brave New World but not 1984 in high school.  OTR is a book I haven’t read, honestly, just to avoid assimilating into the hive mentality at college, which involved romanticizing everything, playing acoustic guitar in public places (especially under trees), and reading this book compulsively.  I’ll read them eventually, but I’m in no rush.

48.  I. Claudius, by Robert Graves. As an advanced level Latin student from 6th grade onward, I’ve both read the book, and seen the exhaustive and mostly excellent series based on it.  Incest, violence, fire, insanity, backstabbing, poisoning–it’s a ludicrous soap opera, set 2000 years ago.  Personally, I don’t have much sympathy for the character of Claudius, who, at times, comes across as both cowardly and clumsy, but the chaos that surrounds him is too fascinating to look away.

41.  Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien. Love the series, and The Hobbit, to boot.  Mrs Thursday loves Fellowship most, whereas I prefer Return. The books work as a sort of Dumas story with gravitas.  Certainly not for weak-eyed readers, as the print tends to be small on these books which clock in at well over 1,000 pages.  Worth the effort of going through at least once, though I imagine I’ve read the series more than any other books, as I tried to do the trilogy on a yearly basis from childhood until college.

38.  Catch-22, by Joseph Heller. Read it.  It’s a fun book, though it wanders a bit in the middle.  The circular nature of the language is downright astounding, and even more impressive, though subtly, is the circular nature of the storytelling.

34.  The Trial, by Franz Kafka. This is not my favorite Kafka, as I think his short stories tend to be stronger than his novels, and I’ve only read The Trial once, and The Castle I haven’t read at all.  The story is disconcerting, at the least, and the stark narration is terrifying.  Dark, dark stuff.

30.  Empire Falls, by Richard Russo. This book came recommended to me by a smart and enthusiastic reader.  Normally, I avoid Pulitzer Prize winners the way I avoid Oprah recommendations, but, hey, it was there.  The climax is startling, for certain, but the trouble of small people in a small town in Maine is discernible.  Excellent book, and probably the most recent on Law’s list, though I prefer other newer books to this one.

17.  The Great Gatsby, by F Scott Fitzgerald. To be honest, when I saw this book at this spot on the list, I was disappointed.  I utterly expected Gatsby to show his face in the top 3.  This book, for me, falls in that myriad list of  books I read in high school, and while I didn’t dislike it, I struggled to grasp the hype.  It deserves a re-read, I suspect.

14.  The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami. Hey, Amazon just delivered this book to me, today!  I’ll let you know how it goes.  Honestly, would have guessed this to make the top 10.

13.  A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. Law mentions that Walker Percy was less than kind in his introduction to this book.  It’s been years since I’ve read the book, but I don’t remember him being particularly mean.  Of course, when I read the book, I was still enthralled with Percy after reading Lost in the Cosmos, which, at the time, I found outstanding.  CoD, is, of course, one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.  Ignatius is vile and lazy and utterly hysterical.  A despical Don Quixote, set in New Orleans.  Book doesn’t have a lot of drive, as it’s just about the meandering adventures of a fat guy, but it entertains enthusiastically.

4.  To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. This has long been my pick for The Great American Novel.  Worth every ounce of praise it’s ever received and then some.  The story is effective for its ability to take a very personal and quirky story and turn it into something universal and culturally significant.  The reader ends up joining the peanut gallery in the courtroom.  I’ve written a bit of fiction in my day, and sometimes, I start to hate my stories for failing to achieve that feat.  Harper Lee is called a one-hit wonder, but to me the title is misplaced.  One-hit wonder implies a failed effort at a second hit.  Lee never attempted to publish another novel.  Which, of course, is an absolute shame.   Anything half as good as her opus is well worth the read.

1.  The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov. I’m intrigued by stories that take a long time to write.  James Joyce famously took more than 13 years to write Finnegans Wake, which is a fascinating book if you’re patient but is an absolute bitch to read.  Virgil famously (among Latin scholars) spent the final 10 years of his life on The Aeneid, which he (probably) failed to complete.  Bulgakov spent (with some interruption) the final dozen years of his life, and the book was completed by his wife.  While Joyce’s Wake is enormously long and riddled with inscrutable, multi-level and multi-language punwork, and Virgil’s masterwork is enormously long (for a poem), and riddled with complex and astonishing wordplay, Bulgakov’s finest is relatively short and straightforward.

The book as all the more incredible for that.  It’s a novel of perfect economy, with no wasted words or sections.  Every phrase advances the plot, and every step the plot takes forward transforms either the characters themselves, or our understanding of them.  There are a number of memorable scenes–the broom-ride, the ball, the conversation between Yeshua Ha-Nozri and Pontius Pilate, and, perhaps, no scene more wondrous than the opener, which is much like that of The Man Who Was Thursday, except that the devil gets involved.  While Blood Meridian’s Judge as Satan is all horror and vile, black, evil, Woland is a tempter, dignified and polite and cunning.  His works are more subtle, but just as damning.  I don’t think I’d call it my favorite book, but Klaw certainly didn’t make a bad choice here.

The Klaw 100: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

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Advice From a Man With a Condo

Bill Conlin is known in these parts (well, “these parts” loosely referring to blogs, though not necessarily this site) as a sort of crotchety old sportswriter.  He overwrites.  He harangues.  He says that Hitler would’ve wiped bloggers from the blessed earth.

Personally, I’ve got a soft-spot for Conlin.  I loved him when I was young.  When I was coming of age, baseball-wise.  Yes, he over-wrote then, too, but he was comfortable in his element, and his columns were more inclined to praise the merits of the bullpen than to lament that catastrophe of the owners.  At this point, he’s cranky more often than not, and when he goes too far, I feel mostly disappointment.  He’s been a good writer for a long time, and I expect better of him.

Every once in a while though, Conlin refinds his stroke.  Today, he writes a column giving advice to young people who want to get into Conlin’s “industry in crisis”.  My favorite bit:

All religious references are out, of course, from Anglican to Zoroastrianism. And never tell a joke that begins, “A Protestant, Catholic and Jew were . . . ” Everybody will laugh but the guy who e-mails the editor.

Other individuals to avoid hooking up to snappy one-liners during your TV appearances include: Charles Manson, Charlie Starkweather, Ted Bundy, The Boston Strangler (unless the line involves a Boston team choking), Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, David Berkowitz (Son of Sam killings) and the Zodiac Killer. Hannibal Lecter is probably OK; he was only a movie.

Nor is it trendy or cool these vigilante days to toss any of these names into your copy and hope they slip past an editor: Genghis Khan, Attila The Hun, Tamerlane, Joseph Stalin, Pontius Pilate, Torquemada, Chairman Mao, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, John Dillinger or Jesse James.

It goes without saying that entendres are finis, both single and double. And be careful, very careful, when writing about any sporting event involving male figure skaters and female professional golfers or basketball players. Not that there’s anything wrong with them.

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The Problem With the Debate

Last night, Bob Costas hosted a live (or partially live) episode of his HBO show, Costas Now, to address the changing sports media landscape.  The press release:

Segment Two: The Internet and Impact of Bloggers. Video package interviews: deadspin.com editor Will Leitch, TV writer and media critic Michael Schur and Washington Post columnist and PTI host Michael Wilbon. Live panel: Pulitzer Prize winning author Buzz Bissinger, Will Leitch and Cleveland Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards.

So, there was a taped roundtable with Will Leitch of Deadspin, Michael Schur of FireJoeMorgan, and Michael Wilbon of ESPN and the Washington Post, which was followed by a live discussion with Leitch, Buzz Bissinger, and, bizarrely, Braylon Edwards.  I haven’t seen the show, but I assume Costas was involved in every segment as well.

The seemingly uniform reaction, at least from blogs (I haven’t found any mainstream opinions on the episode yet), is that Bissinger, simply put, lost his mind.  From MDS at the AOL Fanhouse (who had the first reaction I could find):

Bissinger launched into a profane rant against Leitch, Deadspin, blogs in general and “Big Daddy Balls,” the latter being the name that Bissinger incorrectly used for the blogger who goes by the pen name Big Daddy Drew. Bissinger was completely unhinged. Cleveland Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who for some odd reason was on the panel as well, looked frightened.

“This guy, whether we like it or not, is the future,” Bissinger said, jabbing his finger in Leitch’s direction. “The future in the hands of guys like you is really going to dumb us down to a degree that I don’t think we can recover from.”

Of course, Bissinger couldn’t be bothered to cite even one example of anything “dumb” Leitch has ever written. And neither Bissinger nor Costas seemed to know the difference between a blog post and a blog comment.

Summing up: Costas holds a live panel featuring old-head sportswriter Buzz Bissinger, and new-guy Will Leitch.  Buzz bashes blogging in the person of Will so fervently that Leitch doesn’t even has a chance to defend himself.  Not that he needs to, as the fervor of the attack is absurd enough to sink itself.

Again, I haven’t seen the segment (though I hope someone will post it shortly), so the following comments are based on the idea that the essential uniform reaction from the various commenting members of Blogfrica weren’t, ya know, lying or exaggerating or whatever.  Given the tone (somber) and the (unsettling) lack of swearing and snark, I can only assume that we’re all taking this pretty seriously.

Leitch himself checked in this morning with a couple of salient thoughts, most notably, this leading remark:

Here’s the important thing to remember about Buzz Bissinger, and whatever the heck happened on “Costas Now” about two hours ago: Buzz is not alone. Sure, he might be metaphorically alone, raining spittle on the imaginary demons that clearly haunt him. But if you don’t think that almost every single person — with obvious, clear exceptions — who was on all those panels last night didn’t come up to him afterwards and give him a fist pound and a “yeah, we really struck back tonight!” well, you weren’t there. This really is what many of them think. Though most are a little calmer about it.

Leitch doesn’t indicate who those exceptions might be (though I assume “obvious” and “clear” would work nicely for those who saw the program), but it seems that the segment was designed to publicly hang the appointed representative of Blog.  If, indeed, many of the other panel member congratulated Bissinger on his rantings, the only reasonable conclusion is that the program was less a discussion of the changing face of sport media, and more a reminder of who’s in charge around here, who’s sitting pretty in the press box, and who’s watching athletes from their mom’s basements.  People who share Bissinger’s view possess a mentality of Writers vs Bloggers, Us vs Them.

And there lies the first issue.  There is no “them”, or rather, changing perspectives, there is no “us”.  Sports bloggers have only a few connecting points.  Generally, they all like or love sports.  They have personal interest in the topic about which they write.  Beyond that, though, I’m unsure what there is.  I’m not certain if Orland Kurtenblog and Free Darko have much in common, in terms of content.  Kurtenblog (The KB, to you), consists of enthusiastic fandom for hockey as a sport, which is coupled with frequent, short posts to dissect the news of the game while maintaining the lighthearted spirit that helps make the sport, itself, so wonderful.  Free Darko is more nebulous, interpreting basketball as something poetic and revolutionary, composing posts as manifestos as though the Atlanta Hawks represent something greater, more significant, than one of the better teams in the NBA.  They’re both wonderful blogs, but for totally separate reasons. Any criticism you can apply to Free Darko almost certainly does not apply to the KB, and vice versa.

Criticizing blogs for being inaccurate or inelegant or vulgar on the basis of a few selected posts is like criticizing magazines because of Hustler, or bashing newspapers because of the Weekly World News.  I used to work for an environmental company, and was asked to represent the company at a national meeting for a student’s environmental action group.  Unbeknownst to me, the group had opinions and did work in non-enviromental areas.  One of these areas was (and I assume still is) GLBTQ relations.  They argued against discrimination against queers (their umbrella term) by saying that “everyone is queer”.  They accomplished this feat–of making everyone queer–by defining “straight sex” as “a man having sex with his wife, in bed, man on top, for the purpose of procreation”.  I cannot recall if the procreating has to be successful or not.  Anything else, is, at least a little bit, queer.  This, of course, is a silly tactic, defining your opponent by using incredible narrow terms.

Of course, this is what Bissinger is doing.  He’s trying to reduce the thousands and thousands of blogs out there to some kind of narrow definition of the term, imagining a sports blogger as a Rick Reilly ripoff crossed with cheap tabloid journalism, David Mamet’s vocabulary (but not his plotting), and just a bit of Larry Flint, for flourish.  And while many blogs contain one or more of those elements, hardly any contain all of them.  And far more blogs focus on elements not included in Bissinger’s narrow view.  Blogs, simply put, are far too diverse for any sort of singular criticism to be reasonably applied across most of the board.

Here’s the other problem I have with the apparent nature of the program last night.  There is no discussion from the mainstream media about the changing nature of sports writing.  Rather, there is only a recognition of something different, blogs, and an immense crush against what these blogs fail to do.  For that matter, many blogs, in their criticism of the mainstream media, either ignore or downplay what newspapers do well, and focus instead on what they do poorly, or do not do at all.  What needs to occur that hasn’t, I think, is a thoughtful recognition of the successes and failures of both media formats: blogs and newspapers (including online newspapers).

Bissinger isn’t the man to have that conversation, and, even if it ever takes place in a meaningful way, it seems unlikely that Buzz would care for it.  If it ever happens, I’m not even sure if Leitch is the guy to represent the vast and vaguely associated legions of sports bloggers out there.  He might be, but I’m not sure.  But there are significant differences between journalism and blogging, and it would be nice if the mainstream media could come around and think of blogs as something different, instead of something inferior and dangerous.

UPDATE: I just saw the segment in question (or, at least, most of it) on Awful Announcing.  Even hearing about it, so much this morning, I found the whole thing somewhat shocking.  While haranguing Leitch, Bissinger asks, about blogs, “What does it add?  What does it contribute?”  I’d love to redirect that question to Costas and Bissinger.  What did they add last night, other than bile and venom, to the landscape of sports media?  Bissinger’s hysteria seems, to me, akin to the cries of “Witch!  Witch!” in Salem, MA.  Bissinger didn’t seek to inform anyone about blogs–not even of their faults.  He merely evoked the authority of volume and pronounced blogs a retardant of society.  And I’m unsure why, exactly.

Other posts about this:

Every Day Should Be Saturday: A Brief Statement on Blogging

Awful Announcing: First Reactions to Bob Costas’ Foray Into Sports Media

Deadspin: Friday Night Blights

Fire Joe Morgan: A Few Words on “The Internet”.

Dan Shanoff: Buzz Bissinger vs Will Leitch: The Day After

Dodger Thoughts: The Rime of the Ancient Sportswriter

The Big Lead: “You’re Like Jimmy Olsen on Percocet” and Bob Costas’ Feeble Attempt to Destroy Blogs

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Mr Thursday’s Book Shelf: WHAT IS THE WHAT?

Sometimes, I’m not sure if Dave Eggers is a genius or a nuisance.  He’s definitely a prose-wizard, as the term goes, and while every sentence is written with enough skill and nuance to illuminate the most slippery scenes with depth and humor that writers like myself would die for.  Or kill for.  Or maim, at the least.  His major short-coming, as a writer, however, is that his books contain a lack of what Keith Laws likes to call “narrative greed”.  In Eggers’ novelized autobiography, he runs out of over-arching drive after the depicted the death of his parents.  In a way, this is a useful literary device–that the aimlessness of that book would reflect the emotions of the characters.  However, in Eggers novel You Will Know Our Velocity, Eggers finds himself flopping about without the driving force of plot, yet again.

What is the What unites the power of Eggers’ words with a story to match–that of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the Sudanese Lost Boys.  The story is biographical–it is of Deng’s efforts to survive, torn from his family at a young age and by necessity he marched hundreds and hundreds of miles across Sudan and Ethiopia and Kenya before finally making it to America.  Deng is, at times, overjoyed, lonely, suicidal, frustrated, confused, aroused and desperate.   The villain of the story, which is all one thing but is embodied by war and racism, stupidity, greed, and ignorance, is fully believable, and utterly relentless.  No matter where Deng goes, he is in danger, and he makes mistakes, and suffers the mistakes of others.   Often, there is nothing he can do to improve his situation, and at times, his actions make his life worse.

The book is called a novel though in Deng’s preface, he acknowledges that the book’s events are all true.  However, Deng is unable to recall precisely the events of twenty years ago, and so while Eggers invented nothing, some of the accounts that make up the books early chapters are, we can assume, somewhat fictional recreations.

The title refers to a story told to him by his father, a respected merchant among his people, the Dinka.  When God created the Earth, he offered the Dinka people the choice between the cow, and the What.  The Dinka chose the cow, because they were familiar with it, and saw What as a fool’s choice.  As the book goes on, Deng learns that, perhaps, this parable did not give the wisest advice, and learns to seek the What.

The book is framed by an event of Deng’s life in Atlanta, GA, and so, despite the constant danger, the reader can know that Deng will survive whatever travesty he is experiencing.   Giving the ending away in this fashion does nothing to diminish the impact of the violence and horror that surrounds Deng, however.  His life has been one of surprising hardship, and it is only the passage that matters.

What Is the What?
Dave Eggers
Paperback: 560 pages
Vintage Publishing

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Mr. Thursday’s Book Shelf: PATHOLOGIES OF POWER

“First, to what level of quality can medical ethics aspire, if it ignores callous discrimination in medical practice against large populations of the innocent poor? Second, how effective can such theories be in addressing the critical issues of medical and clinical ethics if they are unable to contribute to the closing of the gap of socio-medical disparity?”
–Marcio Fabri dos Anjos “ Medical Ethics in the Developing World: A Liberation Theology Perspective”

I took a class in college on medical ethics. Professor Peluchon, a tiny blond professora from southern France, tried to explain to my class (mostly pre-med students and one philosophy major who was, uh, me) the intricacies of ethics concerning End-of-Life issues such as euthanasia or palliative care (treatment which alleviates symptoms without treating the underlying cause). She taught about the utilitarian approach of stem-cell researchers and abortion clinics. She focused on topics that will be important to medical practitioners who will work in the suburbs of America in the future.

Now, I don’t like to think of myself as small-minded, but I didn’t even begin to consider the questions of medical ethics that concern over one sixth of humanity. I thought of medical ethics as abortion, palliative care, drug abuse, and just nominally The Tuskegee Experiment. However, I never took my questions to the next step. I never considered the larger picture. I never looked outside of US healthcare needs, and even then, I barely considered America’s destitute. That’s where Paul Farmer comes in.

Paul Farmer is a Harvard and Duke educated doctor and medical anthropologist. He works in one of the best hospitals in the United States, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA. He co-founded an internationally recognized medical non-profit, Partners in Health. He has also dedicated his life to working with individuals in the Central Plateau of Haiti, and he has been doing it for over twenty-years. I first learned about Paul Farmer’s work in Kenya this summer. Another volunteer raved about him as being inspiring and tenacious. Reading his biography and some of his own books not only inspired her to work in a clinic in Western Kenya, but he also inspired her to return to school for a nursing degree.

Pathologies of Power is Paul Farmer’s unveiling of a new worldview. It is a worldview that has been violently apparent to the silent multitude for decades, but ignored by the minority who possess power. Those who die prematurely from disease, those who are sentenced to death by disease, and those who are used or ignored by Western medicine are the focus of this book. Farmer asserts, through individual stories and grandiose theory (liberation theology), that the international community has an inherently flawed view of aid especially concerning healthcare. Structural violence enacted against the world’s most desperate cannot be their fault. It is the fault of the Western market economy. And it is the duty of the West to correct this.

He decries the West for focusing on “the right to vote” as opposed to “the right to survival”. He exposes the hypocrisy of Western leaders who proclaim that sufficient care for those with Multi Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDRTB) is “not cost effective” although they would demand the best care for themselves. He challenges the reader to truly recognize that all human beings deserve to be treated with respect.

For example, recently there was a study conducted in Uganda that found that circumcision reduces risks for HIV transmission in heterosexual couples. That’s all good. What wasn’t widely reported was that participants (who participated under the promise that they would receive medical care) were not provided any antiretroviral drugs and their spouses or partners were not to be advised of the participants’ HIV status. These individuals were a control group. Those who ran the study believed that their actions were justified for the greater good.

Pathologies of Power forces one to consider the tragic irony of the international aid apparatus. The World Trade Organization is designed to provide guidance on improving healthcare for the world. However, it is restrained by donor states who don’t want to hear that a new TB program in Bolivia will save millions of lives except will be very costly. They’d rather have a program that will save thousands of lives and be “cost effective” or “sustainable”. Paul Farmer rejects this approach. To his (and the book’s) detriment, he is unable to provide an alternative approach to healthcare that improves state apparatus’ from the inside out. He only approves of programs that ensure large influxes of capital into failing health infrastructure. How can progress be maintained? If he has an answer to that question, he does not provide it here.

Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor
Paul Farmer
Paperback: 402 Pages
University of California Press

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Mr Thursday’s Book Shelf: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Over this past summer, at some point, I read my first Cormac McCarthy novel, Blood Meridian, which is a wild sort of Western novel starring a Kid and a Judge and their harrowing deeds.  I didn’t review the book here largely because I didn’t know what to make of it.  At times, the book seemed meandering and lost, which some critics seem to dismiss as a non-problem, but I, however, like a tight, aggressive narrative, which Blood Meridian, at times, failed to provide.  However, the book did possess some spectacular prose and one of the most interesting characters I had ever read.  When the book was good, it was fantastic. 

I assumed I’d re-read Blood Meridianat some point to try to grasp it better, but I didn’t give Cormac McCarthy much thought otherwise, until I saw the trailer for the Coen brothers’ film, No Country for Old Men, which is, in fact, based off a McCarthy novel by the same name.  The trailer is fantastic, and this coupled with the high points of Blood Meridian led to an Amazon package on my front doorstep two days later.

No Country for Old Menis the story of Llewelyn Moss, a sniper in the Vietnam War, who comes across the aftermath of a drug deal gone sour in the Texas border area.  While investigating the scene–two trucks, a few dead bodies–Moss finds a sack full of money.  Over two million dollars.  Soon enough, a cold and vicious man named Anton Chigurh is chasing him, with intentions to reclaim the money and kill Moss.  In the wake of their destruction is Sherriff Bell, an aged, small-town lawman, who is always two steps behind Moss and Chigurh, but provides a moral relief for the story. 

Unlike Blood Meridian and, from what I understand, most of McCarthy’s other works, the language of No Country for Old Men is of a simple, stripped down nature.  Few words are spent on scenery.  Nearly every word furthers the plot, every paragraph a step in the book’s relentless action.  Deep breaths are only occasionally taken with Bell’s occasional diary-like entries, talking about life, and love, and the law. 

For a book with so much action, the climax is strangely indirect, off-stage, as it occurs, and is then re-told from one minor character to Bell, after the events.  To repeat, the action has occurred, and we roughly understand the nature of the climax, but we only get its details after we know its results. 

It would seem that the novels main protagonists are Bell and Chigurh, although Llewelyn Moss seems like the obvious main character at first glance.  But Moss is surprisingly static, by the end, whereas Chigurh and Bell seem to find extra depth.  I honestly don’t know what to make of it.  From page 1 through just before the climax, the book reads as a thriller, and a good one.  From the so-called climax onward, the book is not thrilling, but instead contemplative and reflective.  Such a tonal shift is hard to grasp, even as both tones ring strong and loud. 

No Country for Old Men
Cormac McCarthy
Paperback: 320 pages
Vintage Publishing

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Mr. Thursday’s Book Shelf 9: Birds Without Wings

Mr. Thursday’s Book Shelf: Birds Without Wings

Written by Louis De Bernieres (better known for Corelli’s Mandolin and Nicholas Cage), this is the complementary story of a small, Turkish town’s identity in the face of a new brand new Turkish state. The consequences of World War I, the ascension of Ataturk, and the fall of the Ottoman Empire reflect upon this broken town of Eskibahce in southwestern Anatolia.

The story revolves around Eskibahce (Garden of Eden) and its residents. Muslim Turks and Christians of Greek descent live harmoniously in this out-of-the-way town. Although their religious differences are apparent, it is a regular occurrence for the Muslim women to approach their Christian friends and ask them to pray for them to the Virgin Mary. In the story of Philothei, the most beautiful Greek girl in the village, and Ibrahim the Mad, their religious differences make no difference to the lovers or their families. They are simply a good match.

With the start of World War I and the proclamation of a holy jihad, Muslim boys from the town must march off to war as their Christian friends remain behind to either be sent to work camps or to become out-laws and bandits in the countryside. Bernieres’ description of war electrifies and horrifies. The horrors of trench warfare are illustrated brilliantly and eloquently. Told from a first-person perspective (either experiencing it currently or through recollection) lends to a fuller understanding of the experiences.

Additionally, De Bernieres follows the story of Mustapha Kemal (Ataturk) and his rise through the ranks of the Ottoman military until he becomes the Father of Turkey. He never speaks through Kemal in first-person instead using his own omniscient voice, but he uses fictional village people, merchants, and artisans to express how the international and domestic power struggles affected life on the Anatolian Peninsula.

However, for me, the stories of individual struggles, which are expertly woven together, is the treat of this novel. Rustem Bey, the kindly but proud aristocrat of Eskibahce, and the conflict between his adulterous wife, Tamara, and his “Circassian” mistress, Leyla, is exceptional. The tensions of a man with financial stability and preeminence but who simply wants the true love of a woman is tragic. The appeal for true love is a universal theme. De Bernieres’ understanding of the human condition is the foundation of his expertly crafted prose.

Would I recommend this book? I’m not sure. It is a very slow burner, and it takes a significant number of pages before the plot gets moving.  Nevertheless, Birds Without Wings is a lovely read if you like historical fiction or beautiful prose.

Birds Without Wings
Louis De Bernieres
Paperback: 576 Pages
Vintage Publishing

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