Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Speaking of speakeasies...

NOW READING: All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

Not just about politics, All the King's Men is so far a whirlwind of hotels, speakeasies, hot days full of bothered crowds, and long drives through the Louisiana night into one scandal or another. It is also a bit of a study of who takes charge of the law, making a reader question the very nature of government, power, relationships, and how those things intertwine. Robert Penn Warren does not flinch at the wild nature of man, and I might add that he is the master of spinning a phrase that really captures the inner, conflicted essence of people who seek power as they try to figure out who they are.

It's thrillingly cynical about the law, which I rather enjoy:

"'No,' the Boss corrected, 'I'm not a lawyer. I know some law. In fact, I know a lot of law. But I'm not a lawyer. That's why I can see what the law is like. It's like a single-bed blanket on a double bed and three folks in the bed and a cold night. There ain't ever enough blanket to cover the case, no matter how much pulling and hauling, and somebody is always going to nigh catch pneumonia. Hell, the law is like the pants you bought last year for a growing boy, but it is always this year and the seams are popped and the shankbone's to the breeze. The law is always too short and too tight for growing humankind...'" - p. 204

On that note, and thinking about the very concept of a speakeasy, I must say that I still cannot for the love of all that is holy believe that there was ever Prohibition. Ever. Just, no. And by the way I wish those who refuse to listen to the "Legalize It" movement to let marijuana be legal would clue into the ridiculousnes, too.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

NOW READING: American Diplomacy, 1900-1950 by George F. Kennan
NOW FINISHED: Julian by Gore Vidal

is stunning and awesome. Perhaps I am just being a snob when I am sometimes surprised that I have never even heard of a book and then it turns out to be amazing and I want everyone to read it. I shouldn't be, though, since often when the masses like something it is less than spectacular. (I won't name any hideous, incredibly obvious examples that are popular at the moment, although I do think it would be funny if people searching for her or her trashtracular crap series were to come across my blog instead. Ha!)

Not usually a fan of historical fiction, I was drawn to Julian because I had decided to finally read Gore Vidal and I liked the idea of the plot: a Roman emperor attempting to squelch the wacky upstart religion of Christianity before it thoroughly took hold. I now plan to read more Gore. He plunges you into this old world much like Umberto Eco does in The Name of the Rose, perhaps even better. Despite the fact that I and many others born in the 20th century are unfamiliar with much of Greek and Roman history, the book is not at all off-putting, and you learn all about the gods and religions, the geography, and the goings on in the politics of the empire without ever being confused or feeling like you are having to learn history in order to read your book. You also learn who's the crazy cult magician, who means well, and who is just the empire drunk. It's good stuff.

Stirring, funny, philosophical, and a compelling drama as well, this novel is not to be missed.

Soon we will be moving on to 'W' -- another political novel! But my brief detour into the non-fiction and non-blog-project American Diplomacy is because I am taking the Foreign Service exam in a few days (I know, yay!) and I was reading a study guide of practice questions that asked about George Kennan's such-and-such political theory and I was like, "Who?" and then later that day while packing up our apartment I discovered that his book was among the paperbacks in the inherited pile I got from Grandma's house after she died at the end of my first year of law school, which pile has been waiting patiently on my bottom shelf, hidden and overshadowed (literally) by law school books for two years. So clearly that was a cosmic sign that I should read that really quick before moving on to All The King's Men!