Coupl’a books

There is nothing very new or exciting out of these, but here are three good books I’ve finished recently:

Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market, Eric Schlosser. Again, this is not a new book, but it is well worth the read. Much has been said about the futility of America’s “war” on drugs, but equally as fascinating are Schlosser’s investigations into California’s migrant fruit pickers and his history of the U.S. pornography trade.

Darkly Dreaming Dexter, Jeff Lindsay. I’ve enjoyed the first three seasons of the Showtime program “Dexter” on DVD over the past couple of months. The series is based on four (so far) books by Lindsay. Due to the relative simplicity of this book and the fact that it became not a movie but a lengthy season of TV, the book and the first season of the show are more similar than in most book-to-screen adaptations. In fact, this is one of the rare instances in which I’d recommend you watch the show first, so as not to spoil the suspense by reading the story. It’s worth a quick read.

Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror, Richard A. Clarke. The best of the lot of my recent reading. Clarke comes across as earnest, not vindictive or bitter. He makes it very clear that his retelling is simply that and not a treatise on each of the important topics discussed. More can be said about these issues, including the rise of the recent Islamic fundamentalism, the impact of U.S. actions overseas on terrorist recruiting and actions, the necessary steps taken by the U.S. on homeland security and the future policy direction of the U.S. as it concerns the Muslim world in general. However, his brief history and explanation of these topics shows how correct some on the more left side of the pre- and post-9/11 world really were (and continue to be), how Clinton did more to address the issue of terrorism than previous Reagan or either Bush (despite his actions being labeled as Wag the Dog in nature at the time) and how much needs to be done to continue to address the serious problem the U.S. faces due to terrorism. I count myself among those who saw through the post-9/11 patriotism to see the real problems facing us — not Iraq — as well understood the pre-9/11 reality that our actions overseas were needlessly creating enemies. It was hard to sit through years of homeland security being run for the purpose of consolidating power and getting reelected and put in the hands of loyal politicians rather than competent managers. It’s gratifying to see it in print from someone as well qualified and well informed as Clarke.

The Cider House Rules, the book

The Cider House Rules, John Irving. If you’ve seen the movie, wait a while and forget it before you read this book. Otherwise, I think you will lack patience for the way things develop. It’s 200 pages, for example, before Homer Wells meets the two people who will take him away from the orphanage for the first time and become major forces in his life. It’s a beautiful ride, though, filled with character detail, ethical dilemmas, abuse, drug use, love, illicit love and general, unsure fumbling around as the characters make their own paths. One present but beautifully understated theme is the characters’ struggle with abortion; Irving is clearly on one side, but he accurately captures the real-world (as opposed to some self-righteous prick’s words from a pulpit) ethical debate from both sides.

I don’t want to say much about this book. I feel more with this book than with others that if I say too much, your experience of reading it will be degraded. Further, Irving (in the later pages, which I do not want to discuss for the latter reason) delves deeply into human emotion and need in a heartbreaking way – I simply do not want to write about it here.

One minor bit of criticism: the whole “Rules” concept – that portion of the title and its application throughout Homer’s life, again in the later pages of the book – that concept felt forced and amateurish. Perhaps it was because of title. Just as with a song, choosing a title that reinforces a concept from the text can overpower the impact of that concept within the text itself. I believe that is true in this case. (I do not believe it is to the point where, as is so obvious with some songs, the writer cannot express himself through the lyrics and makes an overt play at fixing everything by choosing a strong title to influence the listener’s perspective on the lyrics.) The rules narrative came together at the end, but before then, in the mid-to-late stages of the book, the reader was forced to make too much of a minor sub-text. I don’t want to blame it all on the title choice: the way it was written about was a little overbearing as well, but it’s partially just Irving’s tendency to avoid subtlety.

That said, though, I loved this book. I’ve loved everything of Irving’s that I have read so far (Hotel New Hampshire and The World According to Garp). They take me time to get through, much more than other books. There is usually a point maybe two thirds of the way through where I can no longer put it down. This is a twenty-five-year-old book, and I’m behind the times, but if you have not read it I’d encourage you to do so.

One more bit of discussion: I’m not here to review the related movie. However, I hadn’t seen it in a while, so I re-watched it right after I finished the book. It may have won awards, but an Irving novel it is not. The complicated relationships of the book became a single, stale, typically Hollywood love-and-rejection tale. The less-than-normal sexuality that is a staple of the Irving novels I’ve read was almost completely excised (more on that in a second). The searching the book’s characters do to find their way on the morality of abortion, the theme throughout that leads the reader to think it through for themselves given the situations portrayed? This was simplified into a blatant, unpalatable pro-abortion message that, I’d imagine, would only serve to reinforce what people already feel about abortion. In fact, the only screwed-up sexual situation that remained in the movie version was one that was necessary to force the abortion issue. I’d never watch the movie again, if I were you. Just read the damn book.