Kaplan, Robert D. Soldiers of God: with Islamic Warriors on Afghanistan and Pakistan. New York: Random House, 2001.
Reason read: Khomeini died in the month of June.
Soldiers of God provides the historical context for the emergence of the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist network. Given the devastation of September 11th, 2001 the republishing of this book was timely and smart on Kaplan’s part. Robert Kaplan first traveled to Afghanistan and lived among the mujahidin (soldiers of God) back in the mid 1980s. It was on this journey that Kaplan came to witness the rise of the Taliban. More than that, he acquired the colors to paint a vivid picture of a society few Americans see: refugee camps, harsh drought, pervasive illiteracy, militant indoctrination, fierce piety, and ethnic battle lines. In the unity of prayer was practically the only form of democracy; all whispering the name of God one hundred times.
Kaplan digs deep to uncover the hidden side effects of the Soviet invasion – malaria outbreaks, for example. Thanks to stagnant pools of mosquito infested water caused by pervasive destruction of irrigation systems.
Quotes to quote, “The idea of fighting for political freedom is an easy one to grasp until you see in the flesh what the cost is” (p 143) and “After twenty four hours in Querta, my instinct told me that if a man possessed no furniture, he also possessed no useful information” (p 200).
Author fact: According to the back cover of his book, Kaplan is a “world affairs expert.”
Book trivia: Soldiers of God was first published in 1990. Pearl mentioned a newer edition with a updated introduction and final chapter.
Nancy said: Pearl mentioned Soldiers of God as a good book about militant Islam.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “The Islamic World” (p 126).
Halberstam, David. The Best and the Brightest. New York: Random House, 1972.
Reason read: the United States pulled out of Vietnam in the month of March.
Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest is a deep dive into the origins of the Vietnam War. It is a scrutiny of the policies and procedures crafted during the Kennedy administration that led to the consequences in Vietnam. The meat of the book takes place between the years of 1960 and 1965 but flows back and forth to earlier and later times to give substance to the timeline. What really helps the narrative is that Halberstam was a reporter during this time. He was at the heart of the perfect storm: the fall of China, the rise of McCarthy and the outbreak of the Korean War. This trifecta of events had a profound and lasting effect on the White House and domestic politics of the time.
A single line I really liked, “In government it is always easier to go forward with a program that doesn’t work than to stop it all together and admit failure” (p 212). Isn’t that human nature in a nutshell?
Author fact: I cannot help but wonder what books Halberstam would have written had he not been killed in a car accident at the age of 73.
Book trivia: I always love the photographs Halberstam chooses for his books. The photos in The Best and the Brightest are no different.
Nancy said: Pearl called The Best and the Brightest “hefty, riveting and definitive” (p 238). Agreed, agreed, and agreed.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust and More Book Lust. In Book Lust in the chapter called “Vietnam” (p 238) and in More Book Lust in the super obvious chapter called “David Halberstam: Too Good To Miss” (p 112).
What can I say about the previous month? Career-wise it was a busy month. I’m short staffed, budgets were due, accreditation teams loomed large, and my hockey team was breaking new records left and right. On the personal front friends were going through personal crisis after personal crisis (Just so you know, bad things are more than capable of arriving in multiples of five and six, not just three), I’m hip deep in planning a southwest trip with my sister and her sons, my mom’s dog is on Viagra, and! And. And, there was a little road race I always obsess about way too much. Somewhere in there I had a little time to read:
- Monkey’s Raincoat by Robert Crais
- Topper by Thorne Smith
- Giant by Edna Ferber
- ADDED: Flashback by Nevada Barr – in honor of Barr’s birth month. (AB)
- ADDED: White Sky, Black Ice by Stan Jones – on honor of Alaska.
- Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam
- Cherry by Sara Wheeler
- Gemini by Dorothy Dunnett – I admit, I did not finish this one.
- Blackout by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza
- Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov
- The Moor by Laurie R. King
- Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – still reading
- Sharp by Michelle Dean – finally finished
- Calypso by David Sedaris (AB)
- Living with the Little Devil Man by Lina Lisetta
- Hidden Southwest by Ray Riegert
- 1,000 Places to See Before You Die edited by Patricia Schultz
- Exploring the Southwest by Tammy Gagne
- Arizona, New Mexico and Grand Canyon Trips by Becca Blond
Early Review for Librarything:
- Nothing. The book did not arrive in time to be reviewed in March.
I will make a return to racing in two weeks. My last public run was in July. I’m not ready. Simply not. March is also two Natalie Merchant concerts. A return to my favorite voice. Here are the books:
- Monkey’s Raincoat by Robert Crais – in honor of March being a rainy month. Dumb, I know.
- Topper by Thorne Smith – in honor of Smith’s birth month being in March.
- Giant by Edna Ferber – in honor of Texas becoming a state in March.
- Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam – in honor of March being the month the U.S. finally pulled out of Vietnam.
- Cherry: a Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard by Sara Wheeler in honor of March being the month Apsley ended his depot journey.
- Gemini by Dorothy Dunnett – to finally finish the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.
- Blackout by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza – to finish the series started in February in honor of the Carnival festival in Brazil.
- Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the series started in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
- The Moor by Laurie R. King – to continue the series started in January in honor of Mystery Month.
- Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – still reading
- Sharp by Michelle Dean – still reading
- Calypso by David Sedaris – needed for the Portland Public Library reading challenge.
- Living with the Little Devil Man by Lina Lisetta – written by a faculty member.
- Hidden Southwest edited by Ray Riegert – for my May trip.
- 1,000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz – for my May trip…and the 2020 Italy trip.
Rodriguez Julia, Edgardo. The Renunciation: a Novel. Translated by Andrew Hurley. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1997.
Reason read: Puerto Rico’s Hostos Day is in January; to celebrate the birthday of Eugenio María de Hostos.
The year is 1753 in colonial Puerto Rico. Bishop Larra, desperate to bring calm to a slave population on the verge of revolt, arranges a marriage between Baltasar Montanez, a poor slave leader and Josefina Prats, the wealthy and white daughter of the secretary of state. The idea is to make the destitute population believe they can too can marry their way into wealth and equality; to calm black indignation and for a while it seems to work. There is peace in the community because if Baltasar can marry up…. Until Montanez’s true personality comes to light. He is not the hero everyone thinks he is. [As an aside, I tracked all of the different words and phrases used to describe Baltasar: enigma, hero, declasse, upstart, benefactor, traitor, puppet, emancipated slave, peacemaker, verbsoe, rhetorical, slightly pompous, of great intelligence, well-pleased, cynical, intruder, black, cane-cutter, handsome, a figure of profound historical significance…I could go on.] Here is a commentary on not only Puerto Rico’s political climate in the eighteenth century, but a study in human nature. Was the marriage orchestrated by Bishop Larra? Was the bride’s father involved from the beginning? Who holds the lie and who lives the truth?
A word of warning. Obviously, as most arranged marriages go, Baltasar and Josefina’s marriage is not a sexual one. Her enjoyment comes from peeping through the keyhole to spy on Baltasar’s legendary yet unimaginative orgies.
Author fact: Julia has received a Guggenheim fellowship.
Book trivia: The Renunciation is Edgardo Rodriguez Julia’s first English-translated work.
Nancy said: Pearl called The Renunciation “difficult but exhilarating” and if you are interested in colonial Puerto Rico you shouldn’t miss it (Book Lust To Go p 57).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean: Puerto Rico” (p 52).
Didion, Joan. Miami. New York: Vintage International, 1998.
Reason read: Here’s the whole train: Miami has an extremely strong Cuban culture. Fidel Castro was Cuban. Fidel Castro also had a birthday in August. Reading Miami to acknowledge the connection.
It took me some time to navigate Didion’s true focus for Miami. I was expecting an overarching, historical portrait of a city in Florida which is rich in culture and diversity today and yesterday. Instead, Miami started out as a tirade about how Cubans in Miami are often ignored (when they aren’t being misunderstood). Cuban ethnicity is left out of the equation when Anglos describe Miami. The naive gringos err on the side of stereotypes or misconception when trying to describe or name something that is uniquely Cuban. I wasn’t expecting this us against them narrative. It is more accurate to say Didion’s Miami is about the Cuban Exile Community, past and present. Didion moves the reader directly into the eye of a political hurricane which is in a nutshell government conspiracies and corruptions, the underbelly of wheeling and dealing like failed and successful assassinations. Organized crime and car bombs that go boom in the night. Bay of Pigs. Watergate. Ronald Reagan. Nightmares in the light of day. Sunny Miami.
I am distracted easily. Put in front of me a sentence that is too long winded and my mind starts to wander and my eyes jump all over the page, forgetting what I just tried to read. Miami is full of crazy long (in my mind run-on) sentences that drove me to distraction. Case in point: “On the morning of the anniversary ground was being broken for the renovation of the bungalow, an occasion for Claud Pepper, fresh from the continuing debate in the House of Representatives over aid to the Nicaraguan contras, to characterize the landing at Giron as “one of the most heroic events in the history of the world” and for many of those present to voice what had become by that spring the most urgent concern of the exile community, the very concern which now lends the occasion its retrospective charge, the “the freedom fighters of the eighties” not be treated by the Reagan administration as the men of the 2506 has been treated, or believed that they had been treated, by the Kennedy administration” (p 16).
Here is a short quote I liked, “To spend time in Miami is to acquire a certain fluency in cognitive dissonance” (p 99).
Author fact: At the time of Miami’s publication Didion had published a combined ten books, both fiction and nonfiction.
Book trivia: I was hoping for some good photographs of historic Miami but none were included.
Nancy said: Pearl said Miami had gorgeous writing (p 146).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the incredibly obvious chapter called “Miami and Environs” (p 145).
November was a stressful month. The injury that sidelined me for the last half marathon of the season continued to plague me & myself but I pushed through it – ran 70 miles for the month. I don’t think I have ever mentioned this here but…back on January I was a dumbass and agreed to a 1000k challenge. By November 1st I had 267k left to go. I’m now down to 151k. Almost 100 miles. But enough of that. It stresses me out to even think about it.
Here are the books finished for November:
- Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton. I thought of this as a short story because it’s less than 100 pages long.
- Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
- The City and the City by China Mieville (AB)
- Advise and Consent by Allen Drury – confessional: I knew that a fictional political book might bore the crap out of me but what I didn’t expect was outright disgust after the election. I couldn’t stomach the contents of Advise and Consent.
- Then There Were Five by Elizabeth Enright. (AB)
- Love Songs From a Shallow Grave by Colin Cotterill
- Toast to Tomorrow by Manning Coles
- Living Poor by Moritz Thomsen
- Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn (audio and print)
- Baby Doctor by Perri Klass
- The Fifties by David Halberstam
Postscript: it came in too late for me to mention here, but I DID get that Early Review book that I was pining for. I’ll review it next month.