The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, August 23, 2004  

Political and Otherwise

Despite my recent move and the continued search for remunerable employment, I’ve been able to get through several noteworthy books, both new releases and others from the recent past. This burst of reading has been aided by several factors: gifts from Rittenhouse readers from my Wish List, my new-found proximity to the main branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia (which is actually buying new books again, albeit slowly), and a massive diminution of what remained of my already limited social life.

For your consideration:

The Republican Noise Machine, by David Brock. Nobody, absolutely no one, knows more about the inner workings of the right-wing campaign to control both the media and the message than does Brock. While reading this book I alternated between states of astonishment, despair, and anger. And as recent events surrounding the Swift Boat Frauds reveal, the same despicable nonsense remains in the air. Amazing that the lowest of the low are reaching new lows.

Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species, by Laura Flanders. “Cynical” is too kind a word for this gang. Flanders bravely delves into the strange world of the strange women surrounding and serving President Where’s Alabama? with considerable intelligence and humor. With separate chapters on each of the major “Bushwomen” the reader is able to prioritize his anger by selecting which to read first. I went straight for the chapter of Secretary of the Interior Gale “Right to Pollute” Norton. I did, however, catch a few small errors; for example, the pollutant-emissions trading system Flanders criticizes actually originated from within the environmentalist community, not heavy industry and the electric utilities, and has much merit.

Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America, by Steve Almond. So nice to find a kindred spirit. Gee whiz, I thought I was a candy nut. This guy’s insane. Although Almond spends more time than I would have liked describing the manufacturing processes of various candies, his writing on the diminishing number of regional sweets made by small or family companies, and his observations about the influence of the oligopoly of Mars, Hershey, and Nestle, aided and abetted by Wal-Mart, make for great reading. Besides, he’s very, very funny.

Fourteen: Growing Up Alone in a Crowd, by Stephen Zanichowsky. Four more kids than in my family, and one helluva hellacious life he had. Zanichowsky’s limited schooling proves there is such a thing as a “born writer.”

Love Song for W: An Appreciation in Haiku, by David Simons. Haiku: So simple, gracious, beautiful, peaceful . . . and, when done right, powerful.

Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, by Ruth Reichl. The former food and restaurant critic of the New York Times takes the reader through her fascinating childhoold, adolescence, and early adulthood, demonstrating that the adage “do what you love, the money [and happiness] will follow” is worth holding on to.

Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America, by Arianna Huffington. As an admirer of Huffington I was disappointed that her radiant -- and effective – charm, wit, and ability to throw an appropriate barb, so evident from her appearances on television, too often falls flat on the page. Regardless, Huffington’s is a unique, common-sense, and much-needed voice deserving our attention amid the bizarre cacophony that constitutes political discourse today.

Unveiled: The Hidden Lives of Nuns, by Cheryl Reed. A rich and compelling account of the lives of the diminishing ranks of women in religious orders in the U.S., this book will shatter every stereotype the reader might have of who nuns are and what they do and have done. A strike against Reed for the gratuitous use of the slur “cracker” or “crackers” in reference to the Eucharist. And I’m surprised a woman who spent four years interviewing, researching, and living with Roman Catholic nuns doesn’t seem to know the difference between the Ascension (Jesus) and the Assumption (Mary) nor the difference between the Immaculate Conception (Mary) and the Virgin Birth (Jesus) nor the difference between a monstrance (display) and a tabernacle (storage).

Wayne: An Abused Child’s Story of Courage, Survival, and Hope, by Wayne Theodore with Leslie A. Horvitz. A fascinating and ultimately sad account of a person made whole after a childhood of life-threatening misery. A bit muddled in the middle, and a strike against Theodore for the book’s ending, when the author convinces (with a not inconsiderable amount of haranguing) his family to appear of “Sally.”

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