Thursday, July 27, 2006

Viking Press is publishing the uncensored version of "On the Road", which, I am loathe to admit, I started reading years ago and never finished. Perhaps I'll pick up the unexpurgated version once it hits bookshelves next year.

A Christian author in Australia has translated the Bible into "Strine." (That's Australian for...Australian.) Here's a taste:

"Out of the blue God knocked up the whole bang lot.... God said 'let's have some light' and bingo – light appeared. ...

"There was this sheila who came across a snake-in-the-grass with all the cunning of a con man. The snake asked her why she didn't just grab lunch off the tree in her garden.

"God, she said, had told her she'd be dead meat if her fruit salad came from that tree, but the snake told her she wouldn't die. So she took a good squiz [look] and then a bite and passed the fruit on to her bloke.

"Right then and there, they'd realized what they'd done and felt starkers [naked]" – so begins Richards' account of the temptation in the Garden of Eden.

Naturally, some people are upset, which is predictable but also quite silly. The Bible, after all, was not written in English (duh), so any translation is bound to be a corruption, if I may use that term, of the original. It's not as though Jesus walked around talking in iambic pentameter.

At least, not as far as we know.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Via Kevin Maney I read about LibriVox, which offers audio versions of classic books--recorded by volunteers--for free. All the books are in the public domain and include "A Christmas Carol" and "Frankenstein."

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Recently I finished reading "Underboss", the late Peter Maas' biography of mob turncoat Sammy "The Bull" Gravano. Like Nicolas Pileggi in "Wiseguy", Mass largely told his story in his subject's own words. Neither Maas nor Gravano exactly tried to whitewash Gravano's crimes--after all, he had made a pretty full confession to federal agents and in federal court--but Maas couldn't seem to avoid some sympathy for his, er, protagonist. After Gravano made his decision to testify against John Gotti, Maas devoted space to describing the praise Gravano received from the FBI agents and the federal prosecutor who worked with him, as well as from the federal judge who sentenced him to a mere five years in prison.

Gravano did make himself out to be an old-school gangster, the last of a dying breed who took seriously the blood oath that was administered to him when he was formally inducted into the Gambino crime family. He nonetheless violated two of the mafia's most important rules with little apparent hesitation--he helped to orchestrate the unsanctioned murder of a boss, Paul Castellano, and of course he testified against Gotti and dozens of other mob figures. Maas doesn't condemn Gravano, but then again, he doesn't need to. Gravano's crimes speak for themselves.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Tony Horwitz has a thoughtful essay in the New York Times today, arguing that Americans who complain about Mexican immigration conveniently forget the major role that Spain played in colonizing the New World, and the subsequent Spanish influence over early American culture.

I mention this because Horwitz is the author of a fantastic book, "Confederates in the Attic", in which he romps through Americans' continued obsession with the Civil War. He camps out with hard-core reenactors who emaciate themselves to mimic the hunger experienced by Civil War soldiers; he discovers that Japanese tourists flock to the South because they love "Gone with the Wind"; and he explores the cultural and racial divides that linger 140 years after the war's end. I highly recommend it.

Slate revisists "The Jungle." What book did you have to read in high school that you'd like to read again?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

In this week's The New Yorker, George Packer reviews Peter Beinart's new book “The Good Fight: Why Liberals—and Only Liberals—Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again.” Packer, author of "The Assassin's Gate: America in Iraq", would seem to have much in commin with Beinart: Both men are liberal hawks of the type whose support for the Iraq war lent it more legitimacy then it might otherwise have had, and both have since offered mea culpas now that things have turned out so badly.

Beinart, you may know, has argued forcefully that serious Democrats must purge antiwar leftists like Michael Moore from their ranks in much the same way that the Cold War liberals cast out communists. He also believes that because Democrats stand, then as now, for social justice, equality and civil rights, they are more credible exporters of American values abroad. They walk the walk, in other words, and try to make sure America does the same.

Beinart apparently fails to convince Packer, who thinks that liberal internationalism may have the same fatal flaws as its neoconservative cousin. Jihadism is not communism, Packer notes, and he is certainly not the first person to point this out, as I discussed a while back on my other blog. Besides, Cold War liberalism also gave us Vietnam, a nationalistic conflict which Packer writes that policy makers misinterpreted because they viewed it through an ideological prism. We would do well, Packer says, to dispense with overarching ideas:

A serious American policy toward Islamism will do well what the Bush Administration has done badly or not at all, and without the triumphalist speeches: modest, informed, persistent support for reformers, without grand promises of regime change; concerted efforts at reconstruction and counter-insurgency that bring to bear the full range of government agencies as well as alliances and international institutions. Since these tasks will fall to the United States one way or another, we should learn to do them better rather than vow never to try again. Large ideas drawn from historical analogies can help as guiding frameworks, but the glamorous certainties they seem to offer are illusions; we still have to think for ourselves.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The most recent book that I’ve finished reading was “The Dain Curse” by Dashiell Hammett. It was just OK. A good detective story needs a good detective as the lead character, and Hammett’s Continental Op is definitely an interesting fellow. Nonetheless, I found that the plot contained too many contrived twists and turns, and I was able to guess who the villain was far too early for my tastes.

It’s worth noting that I’m not a huge fan of crime fiction, but if I see something interesting at a used bookstore or laying on a bargain book table, I’ll pick it up. I've dabbled in Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy. I read “The Black Echo” after reading a profile of Michael Connelly in a magazine; the same article prompted me to read “The Long Goodbye” because Connelly cited it as a big influence on his own work. Both Harry Bosch and Philip Marlow are strong enough characters to make me want to read more of their exploits.

In the world of true crime, my good friend and former co-worker Dave Copeland is hard at work on a book called "Blood & Volume", and you can read an excerpt here.

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Monday, July 03, 2006

Slate has an interesting essay about novelizations of movies, a very curious genre of literature--and I use that term in the broadest sense of the word. In fairness, I must say that I've only ever read one novelization--"Damien: The Omen II" which I read when I was a kid, and I didn't realize when I purchased it that it was a novelization. (I also read the book version of "The Omen" which I supposed was technically a novelization as well. According to Wikipedia, it came out two weeks before the film--the 1976 version--as a marketing gimmick.)

I did buy the novelization to "The Return of the Jedi." I skimmed through parts, because "Star Wars" novelizations did have some interesting backstory.

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