Monday, March 19, 2012

Monday Review Post, 3/19/2012

There's a settling in process that comes with moving. The boxes get unpacked, you find quirks in the apartment, in the neighborhood, in the car, in your schedule. You start figuring out where the best laundromat is, where the closest grocery store is, where the cheapest gas is. Meanwhile, the rest of life doesn't stop while you're doing all of those things, and so things slip a little. Which is how you end up with a review as late as this. Sorry.

Three books last week, if you count the lent book.

Jason Heller - Taft 2012

William Howard Taft, 27th president of the United States, sandwiched between Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Heller tweaks history a little, and has Taft vanish during Roosevelt's inauguration. He reappears in 2011, just in time to throw the 2012 electoral campaign into turmoil.

Heller is engaged in some light political satire here. He uses the character of Taft as a foil for modern life - Taft is shocked at clothing, at the way that race relations have shifted (less shocked, perhaps, than pleasantly surprised), at food prices, at what we consider to BE food. Ultimately (and I don't think I'm giving anything away here), Taft is induced to run as a third party candidate in the 2012 election, and so we get some musing on electoral politics (especially presidential elections). The concept is interesting, and Taft is a great character to play with here. However, I think Heller's satire is a little too light. The right-wing television pundit is too nice, the race is too genteel, the public is too understanding. I think, mostly, the issue is that Heller focuses almost entirely on the character of Taft, rather than on the world that he's dropped Taft into. This takes the edge off a little. Good satire should have an edge, it needs some bitterness, and a little bite - this lacks that.

This is a man who knows about bites. And a little about bitterness.
There is a website, however, which has "Taft" blogging about the election - - that's worth a look. Heller has a good handle on the "Taft" voice. (Unfortunately, there hasn't been a lot of activity on the site yet.)

Christopher Phillips - Constitution Cafe

Phillips has an interesting project here. Following the ideas of Thomas Jefferson regarding the necessity to re-evaluate the US Constitution on a regular basis, Phillips traveled around the US talking to several groups of people about the Constitution, asking them to propose changes to the text so that it better suits our current needs - so that it makes a "more perfect union." Phillips talks to groups as divergent as a 6th grade classroom and a group of women in prison, some Tea Party members and some illegal immigrants. As a snapshot of the current "state of the Union", the book is well worth a look. The project is well worth considering as well - I can see a history curriculum based around re-thinking the Constitution; understanding where the language came from, what drove the framers and etc, with extensive reading from the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist papers... hmmm. Not this semester, but...

That being said, the premise was more interesting than the book as a whole. I didn't like Phillips' writing particularly, and thought his editorial voice was a little ... overwhelming at times. Some of his historical asides were glosses rather than in depth snippets, and his presentation of Jefferson was a little one sided (Phillips is a big Jefferson fan). Also, I think there needs to be an appendix with the whole text of the proposed new Constitution. Perhaps also a full text of the current Constitution as well?

Lenten book:

Ed Greenwood - The Kingless Land

Greenwood is the author of the Forgotten Realms setting for AD&D. This is an attempt to create a new world, not, perhaps, focused on role playing. Greenwood's world building is clearly on display - new critters, new places, new languages! In the end, though, world building isn't worth anything if there aren't strong characters to people the world, and that is what I found here. I uttered the Eight Deadly Words (I don't care what happens to these characters/people), and did not finish the book. I won't be keeping it.