The serendipity of the used bookstore — its ability to provide unexpected pleasures — is gaining attention recently. Even the Washington Post (owned by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos) has noticed. I offer Exhibit A in support.
The death last weekend of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia brought to mind the time when he turned over a stone in the legal rockpile only to reveal an awkward bit of half-smart maneuvering by me — though until now my name was never publicly associated with it.
The case involved the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), a law that allows small businesses and individuals opposing the federal government to recover some of their attorney fees if they prevail and if the government’s position was not “substantially justified.” Promptly, a lot of ink was spilled over the meaning of “substantially justified.”
One of the surprising parts of writing books, for me, has been the amount of performance involved — I mean performance: standing up and putting on a show.
My experience is, of course, framed by the kind of writer I’ve become. I’m “midlist,” which is a term that describes all the writers who fall between those who sell gazillions of books and those who can’t get their books published. Publishers expect midlist writers to go out and hustle the books.
It’s not the best photo of me that’s ever been taken, but there are definite virtues to this one, particularly President Clinton’s savvy placement of the copy of Madison’s Gift that I presented to him.
Our conversation? I said that I imagined that he had not found time to read Lynne Cheney’s biography of Madison. He smiled broadly and said, “I did not.” I presented Madison’s Gift as a superior alternative.
The recent press accounts have been heartening to devotees of the book — which had been disdained as the “printed book” or “hard-copy book,” or even the “dead tree book.” It turns out that lots of readers prefer reading old-fashioned books to new-fangled e-readers.
That’s what college students say. They want to read a “real” book, not more content on a screen.
That’s what sales numbers say, with e-book sales flattening and even dropping off while printed books are doing all right.
Several studies have found that comprehension and retention of information are superior when reading books as opposed to e-books.
Year’s end brings a geyser of lists of the year’s “best books.” I choose to modify this approach to report the best books that I read over the last year, since I get to few newly-issued books — pretty much only ones by friends or ones I’m writing a review of. Otherwise, I’m either reading something for my own research or trying to catch up on the best titles of the 1920s.
So, here goes with what some might call a thumpingly “guy” list:
Over the summer of 2015, the argument over displaying the Confederate flag in public grounds galvanized public opinion. Many conservative Southern Republicans agreed that such displays contradict our basic principles and publicly endorse bigotry. Even South Carolina, birthplace of secession, relented on the Confederate flag.
That argument swiftly metastasized into a full-throated uproar over public statues and place names that honor people whose earlier prejudices ill suit our self-image as nation that blends many peoples together. Even the New York Times, the official explainer of our lives, has christened this year a “purge moment,” one when Americans have begun to rummage through their psycho-historical closet and toss out their emotional bell-bottom trousers and other squirmy artifacts of earlier eras.
After all the fuss about the release of Harper Lee’s second/first novel, Go Set A Watchman, I broke down and read it. My wife, after all, had purchased the book, so I was just maximizing the value of the family purchase.
As I neared the novel’s end, my thoughts were in line with a number of the reviews I had read — not a great novel, but well-meaning. It’s slow getting started, earnest in its intentions, weak on plot, contains some flashes of very fine observation of Southern society, and tussles with the central issue of the late 1950s in the South: how to respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that public schools in America could not be racially segregated.
Coming up to the 41st anniversary of Richard Nixon’s resignation from the Presidency (August 9), we find that he’s still part of our national culture, like a barnacle that simply won’t be scraped off.
He was the heavy in the the first presidential election I remember — the jowly, borderline-scary guy who opposed the cool, collected, in-command John Kennedy. To a nine-year-old, the choice was clear. Who could trust this figure composed of so many dark elements?
I need a break from Nazis, Nazism, SS officers, concentration camps, swastikas, and the crazy guy with the toothbrush mustache. Yeah, this guy.
They’re all powerful symbols, with deep back-story and instant cultural connections that are so useful to writers and movie directors. And, to be fair, the Nazi era represents a moment in human history when the most educated society on the planet managed to come very close to collective insanity. Pretty interesting.