Showing posts with label barack obama. Show all posts
Showing posts with label barack obama. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ask The Expert...Nonfiction November Style!


Hello, Nonfiction November-ites!  We are in Week 2 of the event, and it's going well for me so far.  I finished At The Mercy of The Mountains last week, and have moved on to 1776 by David McCullough.  It's been a long time since I delved into historical nonfiction, and I'm enjoying the change of pace.  This is definitely a great event for me!  Nonfiction has been woefully absent from my life in the last year or two.

For week 2, we are tasked with any one of three options...

"Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert)."

With that in mind, I am choosing to "Ask The Expert".  Specifically, I'm looking for recommendations on nonfiction regarding American politics.  Let me explain, because that's a pretty broad category!  I enjoy books that provide an inside view into American politics.  I've tried autobiographies (My Life by Bill Clinton, Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama, etc), bipartisan reports (The 9/11 Commission Report), heavily biased political analyses (The Assault on Reason by Al Gore), and books that trended more towards peeping-Tom-expose than behind-the-scenes-informative (In the President's Secret Service by Ronald Kessler).  The list goes on, but that at least illustrates some of the breadth of what I've attempted.

In all that reading, I've realized that I have several desires when I step into this genre.

-Smartly written, analytical writing.  I loved the heavily detailed account of Clinton's presidency in his autobiography; I hated the obviously-pandering-to-the-lowest-common-denominator expose style of Kessler's book.
-Not too dry.  Clinton's book had a lot of detail, but also a human element that kept my interest up (not just Lewinsky, ha).  On the other hand, the 9/11 Report was impressive, but also put me to sleep on several occasions.  It's all detail, no emotion.  Not a bad thing (I mean, consider its purpose), but just not tops on my list of reading options.
-Too heavily partisan.  This is a big one.  It's very hard to write about politics without any sort of partisan bias--I get that.  I'm not asking for every political book to be nonpartisan/bipartisan.  However, I think you can write from a political stance in a way that isn't hateful to the other side.  If you've ever read Gore's Assault on Reason, you know that that is an example of a HEAVILY partisan book...annoyingly so.  And that's coming from a Democrat.  (And since I've mentioned that--yes, I welcome books written from the right as well!  But again, as long as they are not overly hateful to the other side.  Rush Limbaugh suggestions, I can safely assume, will be left at the door.)

Just to give you an idea...without knowing much about them, a few books that have been on my TBR for a while are Pennsylvania Avenue by John Harwood, What Happened by Scott McClellan, and The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder by Vincent Bugliosi (okay, I admit the title of that one is not promising given the above requirements, but reactions from those who have read it are welcomed!).  Autobiographies and biographies also seem to have worked well for me in the past.

So there it is, experts!  I know I gave you a tough assignment, but give it a try.  Lay it on me.  What political nonfiction should I read next?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday (14)



Welcome back, wordy friends!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by BermudaOnion each week. It's an opportunity to share new words you've encountered in your reading, or highlight words that you particularly enjoy.

Here are three of my favorites new-to-me words, from some of my recent reads. All definitions from Dictionary.com.


1. pillion. "A big BSA cycle with jacked handlebars suddenly roared past him in the passing lane, a kid in a T-shirt driving, a girl in a red cloth jacket and huge mirror-lensed sunglasses riding pillion behind him."  (from 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King)

noun
1a pad or cushion attached behind a saddle, especially as a seat for a woman.
2. a pad, cushion, saddle, or the like, used as a passenger seat on a bicycle, motor scooter, etc.
3. a passenger's saddle or seat behind the driver's seat on a motorcycle.

2. inchoate. "At some point, though, they all told me of having reached a spiritual dead end; a feeling, at once inchoate and oppressive, that they'd been cut off from themselves." (from Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama)

adjective
1not yet completed or fully developed; rudimentary.
2. just begun; incipient.
3. not organized; lacking order: an inchoate mass of ideas on the subject.

3. pyrrhic. "I allow myself the relaxation of watching the final part of a documentary on BBC World about Napoleon's pyrrhic victory over Moscow in 1812." (from The Uninvited by Liz Jensen)

adjective
1consisting of two short or unaccented syllables.
2. composed of or pertaining to pyrrhics.

I am guessing this last word is meant to convey that Napoleon's victory was swift and decisive...yes?

What are your new words this week?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday (9)



Happy 12/12/12!  Fun date!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by BermudaOnion each week. It's an opportunity to share new words you've encountered in your reading, or highlight words that you particularly enjoy.

Here are three of my favorites new-to-me words from some of my recent reads. All definitions from Dictionary.com.


1. miscegenation. "In 1960, the year that my parents were married, miscegenation still described a felony in over half the states in the Union." (from Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama)

noun
1. marriage or cohabitation between a man and woman of different races, especially, in the US, between a black and a white person.
2. interbreeding between members of different races.
3. the mixing or mixture of races by interbreeding.

(Never knew there was a formal term for this.)

2. concupiscent. "Call the roller of big cigars, / The muscular one, and bid him whip / In kitchen cups concupiscent curds." (Wallace Stevens, as quoted in 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King)

adjective
1. lustful or sensual.
2. eagerly desirous.

(OK, this is a weird poem.)

3. pastiche. "...because unlike most of those around him he could claim to have actually seen him play and not just the jaded pastiche of his final years when his legs had gone.." (from The Light of Amsterdam by David Park)
noun
1. a literary, musical, or artistic piece consisting wholly or chiefly of motifs or techniques borrowed from one or more sources.
2. an incongruous combination of materials, forms, motifs, etc, taken from different sources; hodgepodge.

(Every time I use a word from this novel, I am impressed with Park's use of language!)

What are your new words this week?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday (8)



Word Nerd Time!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by BermudaOnion each week. It's an opportunity to share new words you've encountered in your reading, or highlight words that you particularly enjoy.

Here are three of my favorites new-to-me words from some of my recent reads. All definitions from Dictionary.com.


1. susurrating. "The mangled lips parted in a last, susurrating pulse of air." (from 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King)

noun (susurration)
a soft murmur; whisper.

2. laity. "Morale was even worse among the laity, black folks like Angela, Shirley, and Mona, the three women I'd met at the rally." (from Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama)

noun
1. the body of religious worshipers, as distinguished from the clergy.
2. the people outside of a particular profession, as distinguished from those belonging to it.

3. fabulate. "The impulse to fabulate is a natural response to a confusing and contradictory world." (from The Uninvited by Liz Jensen)
verb
1. to tell invented stories; create fables or stories filled with fantasy.
2. to relate an event as a fable.

What are your new words this week?

Monday, December 3, 2012

November 2012 In Review

Small Fry demands turkey satisfaction.

November...was crazy.  Reading wise, it was great.  I liked pretty much every book I read (felt a little lukewarm about 1-2, but overall, I'd say I at least liked them).  Some months aren't always like that.  Back in July or so, I felt like I was reading NOTHING but bad books.  Luckily that was before the blog was born, so you did not need to share in my misery.  :)

Just to add a little spice to my monthly wrap-ups, I've decided to name my favorite, and least favorite, book read each month.  Which is really hard this particular month, given that none of my books were very low on the rating scale!  Sooooo:

November 2012 Favorite: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
November 2012 Least Favorite: Landing by Emma Donoghue

With that, let's review the rest of my reading month.

I read and reviewed 7 books (click links for my reviews):
Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama
Being Santa Claus by Sal Lizard with Jonathan Lane
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
The Light of Amsterdam by David Park
Landing by Emma Donoghue
Deadline by Mira Grant
A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle

I also posted 2 mini reviews of past reads:
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
In The Woods by Tana French

And I posted 4 new Small Fry Saturdays!
Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell
Peekaboo Kisses by Barney Saltzberg
Pajama Time! by Sandra Boynton
I'm A T.Rex! by Dennis Shealy

In the midst of all this, I shared deep thoughts about self-published novels, tried to find ways to read without ignoring my husband, talked about my hotly-anticipated 2013 releases, and hosted another giveaway.

Nowadays, I am gearing up for the Christmas season in a big way.  Luckily, I am nearly done with shopping, so now I can concentrate on kissing under the mistletoe and keeping my toddler out of the tree.  :)  And of course, MORE READING!

Do you have any favorite Christmas-themed reads?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday (4)



Word Nerd Time!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by Bermudaonion each week.  It's an opportunity to share new words you've encountered in your reading, or highlight words that you particularly enjoy.

Here are three of my favorites new-to-me words from some of my recent reads.  All definitions from Dictionary.com.


1. legerdemain.   "...Ronald Reagan was doing quite well with his brand of verbal legerdemain..." (from Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama)

noun
1.  sleight of hand.
2.  trickery; deception.
3.  any artful trick.

2. plangently.   "This smell was plangently like that—sickish sweet and decayed sour, mixed together and fermenting wildly."  (from 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King)

adjective
resounding loudly, especially with a plaintive soundas a bell.

3. beldam.  "Hush and shush, for the beldam might be listening!"  (from Coraline by Neil Gaiman)

noun
an old woman, especially an ugly one; hag.

What are your new words this week?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Book Review: Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama

Title: Dreams From My Father
Author: Barack Obama
Publisher: Times Books
Publication Date: July 18, 1995
Source: Received as a gift

Summary from Goodreads:

Dreams from My Father tells the story of Obama’s struggle to understand the forces that shaped him as the son of a black African father and white American mother—a struggle that takes him from the American heartland to the ancestral home of his great-aunt in the tiny African village of Alego. 

Obama opens his story in New York, where he hears that his father—a figure he knows more as a myth than as a man—has died in a car accident. The news triggers a chain of memories as Barack retraces his family’s unusual history: the migration of his mother’s family from small-town Kansas to the Hawaiian islands; the love that develops between his mother and a promising young Kenyan student, a love nurtured by youthful innocence and the integrationist spirit of the early sixties; his father’s departure from Hawaii when Barack was two, as the realities of race and power reassert themselves; and Barack’s own awakening to the fears and doubts that exist not just between the larger black and white worlds but within himself.

Propelled by a desire to understand both the forces that shaped him and his father’s legacy, Barack moves to Chicago to work as a community organizer. There, against the backdrop of tumultuous political and racial conflict, he works to turn back the mounting despair of the inner city. His story becomes one with those of the people he works with as he learns about the value of community, the necessity of healing old wounds, and the possibility of faith in the midst of adversity.

Barack’s journey comes full circle in Kenya, where he finally meets the African side of his family and confronts the bitter truth of his father’s life. Traveling through a country racked by brutal poverty and tribal conflict, but whose people are sustained by a spirit of endurance and hope, Barack discovers that he is inescapably bound to brothers and sisters living an ocean away—and that by embracing their common struggles he can finally reconcile his divided inheritance.

A searching meditation on the meaning of identity in America, Dreams from My Father might be the most revealing portrait we have of a major American leader—a man who is playing, and will play, an increasingly prominent role in healing a fractious and fragmented nation.


My Review:

Happy Election Day, America!  I felt it was only appropriate to hit you with a politically-based book today.  And no, I'm not going to tell you who to vote for--that is not the point of this review!  It's a review, plain and simple.  Pinky swear.

I actually picked this book up on a sort-of dare.  Someone (who will remain nameless) forwarded our family an email that listed all sorts of horrible things that Barack Obama has done or said regarding race, religion, etc.  The email stated that all of these things were true--and if we wanted the proof, just read Dreams From My Father, because Obama wrote it all himself!

And I thought, "Wait...did you just dare me, a loyal maiden of literature, to read a book and fact-check you?  CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!"  So here we are.

The first thing I learned in this book: Barack Obama had no idea, in 1995, that he would be POTUS in 13 years.

Because if he did, he would never have written this memoir.  And that's part of why I enjoyed it.

I can see why the right wing likes to tear this book apart.  I mean, does any sitting American president want to write a book that airs his family's secrets (good and bad)?  That frankly (in a refreshingly non-roundabout way) discusses their personal views and struggles with race and racism?  That kind of admits that they did blow a few times?  Nope, they don't want to do that.  But Barack Obama wrote exactly that book before he went down the politics path, and now here it sits, for the world to judge.

I'm quite disappointed that I didn't read this earlier in Obama's presidency.  I've heard about a lot of the details in news stories (and, ahem, email forwards), especially the ones that caused a media sensation (the Jeremiah Wright controversy, his Kenyan heritage, various quotes on racial politics, etc).  But reading the actual memoir was much different than perusing the latest headlines--it gives you the story from the horse's mouth, so to speak.

Obama's voice is remarkably young and honest in his memoir.  None of this typical political vagueness that we hear from every government figure these days.  But despite his relative youth upon publication, this memoir gives you the opportunity to see how his political, personal, and spiritual preferences awakened throughout his early life.  For example, he admits that in his high school and college years, he often rebelled against white culture, while trying to come to terms with his black identity.  But as he gained a wider range of experiences (as a community organizer in the Chicago projects, and during a long trip to Kenya to reconnect with his family), he started to build a more inclusive vision for how communities need to work together to create change:

"What is our community, and how might that community be reconciled with our freedom?  How far do our obligations reach?  How do we transform mere power into justice, mere sentiment into love?...in the conversation itself, in the joining of voices, I find myself modestly encouraged, believing that so long as the questions are still being asked, what binds us together might somehow, ultimately, prevail." (p 438)

He also freely admits that he was not religious in the early part of his life--he had both Muslim and Christian education, but did not join a church and explore his spirituality until his mid-twenties.

Neither of these admissions (about race or religion) are good for him, politically.  But they're honest--and how often do you hear honesty on the campaign trail?  This is just one of the many ways you can see that, at the time this was written, he did not expect to end up where he is today--and this lack of awareness makes the whole book feel more down-to-earth than your average political memoir..  (He even has a section, during his trip to Africa, where he waxes about how nice it was to be in a place where people recognized and knew how to spell his name.  LOL, if you only knew, dude.)  I've read his second book--The Audacity of Hope--which was published after he entered politics, and that one is MUCH more voter-image friendly (read: uplifting and unlikely to ruffle feathers).

Beyond the general tone of the book, I also enjoyed hearing the story of how Obama's life was shaped by his complicated and far-flung family.  He spends many years trying to chase the dreams that he believes will connect him with his father--a man that he only met once as a boy, and who died before Obama had the chance to truly know him. So much of his life has been shaped by this relationship (or lack thereof).  Despite the book's often-dense musings and descriptions, this family story kept me interested and wondering what discovery would come next.  In the end, you get a detailed oral history from his grandmother, which explains his father's and grandfather's lives through the eyes of Kenya's rocky past.  (As a boring ol' WASP with comparatively uneventful roots in Italy/Ireland/Germany, this was both fascinating and heartbreaking to read.)

Overall, I think any reader (from the right, left, or center) who enjoys political memoirs should give this book a try.  Obviously, you're going to read different messages into it, depending on your political leanings.  But it paints a portrait of a president that you don't often get to see--one of idealism and hope, before the political jockeying of Washington muddies the water.  For that reason alone, it's worth the read.

(Oh, and that email forward?  Nearly every line was either taken out of context or misquoted.  CHALLENGE COMPLETE!  Somebody call Snopes.)
 
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