Elections in the U.S. never excited me much - partly because I don't get to vote, but mostly due to the general lethargy of American voters. The brutal and breathtaking Democratic race for the nomination between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and the rise and fall and re-rise of Senator John McCain in the Republican field changed that, however. And not just for me.While following the race to the presidency, I could not stop thinking about Thomas Geoghegan's The Secret Lives of Citizens: Pursuing the Promise of American Life. What had inspired this politically apathetic, almost bored citizenry to turn out in record numbers and pitch for their candidates? Another book review two to five years down the road may try to answer that question. In the meantime, Geoghegan's book might hold a candle on what may be going through the minds of this newly excited, interested cadre of voters.The Secret Lives of Citizens chronicles the politically, bureaucratically disgruntled author's move from Washington, D.C., to Chicago in search of a participatory civic life. Geoghegan (pronounced gay-gan) in 1979 is working at the Carter Administration's Energy Department and is a firm believer in the New Deal and unions. He is a self-declared "national Democrat" and an unabashed political idealist - the way teenagers are in their first relationship: madly in love with everything about the affair and deeply disappointed at the end.Tiring from all the hoops he has to jump through to push for energy policies, Geoghegan decides to go after smaller fish. He considers cities where civic participation is a relished norm, a place where people know their representatives and turn out to vote, an urban setting that breathes politics. Chicago quickly climbs to the top of his list.But Chicago is a political animal. There is nothing civic about politics in the Windy City. It does not take Geoghegan long to this find out, but he makes his peace and uses the opportunity to delve into the Founding Fathers, the constitution, the federal structure, causes of voter apathy and the New Deal, among other issues. He muses about the failures of the electoral college and the inequality of equal representation of each state in the U.S. Senate. And all in good, light fun.Geoghegan cannot help himself, however. Eventually he joins the mayoral campaign of Harold Washington - the first of two black Chicago mayors. (The second is Eugene Sawyer, who was elected by the city council to complete Washington's term after he died in office.) Geoghegan's campaign war stories and reverence for the occasion is telling of the 2008 elections.Washington's effort was historic and unparalleled. His staff brought out all the disenfranchised black votes to beat the Democratic machine. Washington clinched the nomination from two white establishment figures: current mayor and son of legendary ex-mayor and party boss Richard J. Daley, Richard M., and incumbent Jane Byrne. Then, Washington beat his own party in the elections, which rallied behind the white Republican candidate. His achievements were not only due to the South Side, but also because the white "elites" of Lincoln Park, who came out to support him.North Chicagoans like Geoghegan were giddy with excitement. They knocked on doors, led rallies, manned telephones. This was a democratic revolution.Now, it seems, the U.S. is on the cusp of yet another revolution. This election is historic in many aspects. The Democrats were down to a woman and a black man until the last primaries. The Republicans might shed Karl Rove politics and redefine their party around McCain. With a slumping economy, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, record oil prices, climate change, renewable energy and the next round of Supreme Court appointments hanging in the balance, the outcome of November elections has the potential to set the agenda for generations. All of this, it seems, has triggered an awakening in the electorate.Geoghegan must be giddy, again. If you too are excited, check out The Secret Lives of Citizens for one politico's take on what motivates people - and why it really, really, truly, seriously matters. Geoghegan's quick, 251-page stream of consciousness will grab you and paint a solid picture of America that is at once different, yet eerily similar. If you believe in, or at least hope for, change through politics, you will find an agreeable guide in The Secret Lives of Citizens, which succeeds in not taking itself too seriously while making a strong case for political participation.
Book reviews are not the easiest things to write in the world. No, this is not an "oh, me, book blogging is so hard" piece. Though, judging from the New York Times Magazine's cover story of Emily Gould last week, that may be appropriate, too. I digress.The books I read motivate me. If I am moved by one, I am compelled to write and talk about it, making sure I entice as many people as possible to check it out and share the experience. And, vice versa for books I dislike. It is tricky, however, to keep your audience interested without giving away the whole book.I became very self conscious about my book reviews during journalism school. (Hence, the lack of my verbose dispatches of old.) Picking the right words to describe a style, characters, the story flow and experience proved harder and harder. Escaping cliches, in other words, became more difficult. And that brings me to today's theme. (This is called burying the lede in journalism.)Reading about some new releases last week, I noticed recurring themes and started to Google them. The results were entertaining - or, from a creativity point of view, dismal. My methodology is to pick a phrase and put it in quotes (e.g., "lively cast of characters") and add the word "novel" next to it (as in: "lively cast of characters" novel).Here are some phrases and searches I found to be especially intriguing and entertaining:"captures the very essence of" novel: But of course, which novel doesn't capture the essence of something or another? From James Bond to Jane Eyre and Fight Club, your quintessential book reviewer phrase."an irresistible story" novel: Apply to any novel or biography. Preferably, use the phrase before the preposition "of" followed by a noun or description. Examples: an irresistible story of love, an irresistible story of two worlds, an irresistible story of justice."lively cast of characters" novel: From the NYT to Amazon, blogs and publishers, this seems to be a phrase that all reviewers fall for at one point or another."inner circle" memoir: Mostly for policy wonks, but applies to rock bands too."washington insider" novel (or memoir): Same as above; applies to John Grisham novels too."not your typical diet book": Or is it? It appears that all your diet books are not your typical diet book."master of suspense" novel: Too many chiefs, not enough warriors? Anyone?"emotionally charged novel": Watch out, the next book might just "push you over the edge." (And this is where I fall in the fold.)"timeless classic" novel: Classic or not, there is plenty of timelessness."the quintessential novel": Precedes descriptions like "the Lost Generation" (Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises), post-World War II New Orleans (John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces) and of the Jazz Age/about the American Dream (F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby), among others.Another test you can run is breaking up and joining phrases:"most gifted storytellers" novel: Care to guess how many gifted storytellers there are?“most innovative storytellers” novel: And innovative ones?"most innovative and gifted storytellers" novel: But combine the two, and you get Dean Koontz, the only innovative and gifted storyteller.Yet, there is hope, dear Millions readers:"combustive movements": Seems to apply only to Hannah Arendt's On Revolution - which, by the way, is a great discourse on "turbulent politics." (I succumb, once again.)"masterpiece in the art of fiction": Or should we say art of magical realism? Presenting: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.Google away and enjoy the folly. And, by all means, please speak loudly when we "fall into the same trap" here at the Millions.
[Editor's note: This week we've invited Megan Hustad, author of How to Be Useful: A Beginner's Guide to Not Hating Work, to dissect our contributors' first-job follies.]Emre writes:The joyous Sunday nights at college became my biggest tormentors upon joining the ranks of working people in New York. I'd get the blues every Sunday around 9 p.m., and in an effort to stave off Monday would stay up really late - usually drinking and watching TV.One such Sunday, I was so preoccupied with reading Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections that I did not even leave my bed the whole day - except, of course, to hit the toilet, get more coffee, make Bloody Marys and nibble on some cheese. The whole day passed and before I realized it, the book was finished, it was 4:30 a.m. on Monday, and I was thoroughly exhausted and depressed by the outcome. I called my boss, left a semi-drunk, highly strung-out message saying something along the lines of, "Dear Boss, it's 4:30 in the morning, I cannot sleep and am terribly depressed. If I come to work tomorrow, I might go crazy. I am taking a mental-health day," and hung up.When I went to work on Tuesday everyone seemed very concerned about my well being. My boss said it was totally OK to take mental-health days as I saw fit. And I thought, "it worked!" Or did it?Megan Hustad responds:I'm going to say yes, it did. Probably. But only because on an average day you were pretty reliable and conscientious. (If you remembered to call in with your regrets at 4:30 a.m., drunk, yes, I'm guessing "conscientious" applies.)You ever notice how some people like to arrive at the office a little late, say, fifteen to thirty minutes late, but every single day? And then there are those who are already stationed, pouring their second cup of coffee, always at 8:55? The first group, often, tends to think they're getting away with something. (Or that being blasé about hauling ass to work in the morning is akin to joining the Wobblies. Subversive!) But truth is, making a habit of fudging procedure generally backfires. (There are brilliant exceptions, but...takes too long to explain here.) When the boom comes down, it comes down hard, and the chronically late types find themselves nitpicked and chastised for minor infractions. Seemingly more buttoned-down types, however, get to deviate wildly from norm on occasion, take huge allowances, or commit major indiscretions, and -- more often than not -- get away with it.Oh, and it's not only that mental-health days are sometimes necessary. Here's a line from John Wareham's 1980 Secrets of a Corporate Headhunter: "Sometimes fail to arrive at all: your absence can be the talisman of your presence." A perfect attendance record won't get you the corner office, he argued, and if you're also seen at every last party, you should probably make a point of not showing up once in a while. (In other words, don't be all Eva Longoria and get dressed for every "hey, there's a new Treo model, we're rolling out the red carpet!!!" event to which you're invited.) I like this advice. Uselessness rating: 2For more information, please see these related posts:Welcome to the Working Week: Megan Hustad Analyzes Our On-the-Job FoiblesWelcome to the Working Week 1: MaxWelcome to the Working Week 3: GarthWelcome to the Working Week 4: Andrew
We all work very hard at The Millions. But writing about books, despite being, uh, serious business, is not necessarily life threatening. Blogging for the 24/7 news cycle is, apparently.Sticking with journalism's good-old "three is a trend" praxis and using three bloggers who suffered heart attacks, two of them fatal, the New York Times published a front-page story Sunday, highlighting the strains and risks of strenuous blogging for Web sites like TechCrunch, Gizmodo, and Gawker, among others.I am beginning to suspect that the Gray Lady is attracted to this hot young thing. A month ago on Sunday the paper published a story about politicos blogging from DC. In what read like a oh-look-at-my-fabulous-blogging-life article, the Times described life in assorted "flophouses" where 20-somethings all cohabitated and blogged together, having parties on Super Tuesday to celebrate - and, of course, write about - the primaries. OK, there's only one flophouse, but the assorted houses do exist.And while DC bloggers help shape the political landscape, their Wall Street cousins are said to be moving markets, according to this academic study. Tip of the day: following financial blogs and short selling stocks accordingly may make you a quick buck - not a bad deal in this economy.Alternatively, you can tune in to The Millions, where we shun heart attacks and continue to post at our leisurely - and hopefully satisfactory - pace.
When I picked up Restless, I expected the usual array of smart, twisted, unfortunate and hilarious characters that traditionally abound in William Boyd novels. I was pleasantly surprised at what I saw instead.Boyd, it seems, opted for a new genre in his last novel. Restless is a mystery that unfolds in a series of letters provided by an aging mother to a confused daughter. Ruth, a single mom and struggling PhD candidate at Oxford, is in a rut. Her inability to make decisions affecting her life and desire to be a good mother create an inescapable conflict and further plunge her to despair.Now, imagine for a second that you are 28 years old and your mother, a frail old British woman who lives in peace tending her garden at a countryside home, sits you down and says: "I used to be a spy, someone is trying to kill me on unfinished business, you will help me get that person." That's what happens to Ruth.And thus the reader is drawn into a historic journey beginning in the 1930s and ending in the late 1970s. Intertwined with Ruth's thesis and her professors is the beginnings of her mother Sally Gilmartin's career. And while the daughter struggles to find emotional satisfaction, the mother's emotions are being abused. Whereas Ruth battles modern day evils attacking the individual, Sally is busy spreading misinformation in New York to draw the U.S. into World War II, being chased by Nazi spies and suspecting her own comrades in the fight against Hitler and communists.And of course there are the Boyd antics: Ruth's son Jochen's German father's brother settles in her house announced; his anarchist girl follows; a student of hers falls in love with her and she fails to handle the situation delicately, and so on. In the meantime, the young Sally is hopping from France to England, Belgium, the U.S. and Canada.Boyd's spy world makes for a read accurately captured in the title: restless. And although I missed the absurd histrionics of the writer in his latest work, a trace of wry humor lingers in the book and the piecemeal narrative tying past and future is, simply put, entertaining and gripping. As with all other Boyd novels I read, Restless left me thinking, really, is this the end, can't I have some more, please?
If con artists were smarter, they'd let people forget previous deeds first. Little more than two years after the James Frey debacle, the literature world is once again awash in breaking news stories of fabricated memoirs.The New York Times reported Monday that Misha Defonseca's Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years is complete bogus. This must be cardinal sin considering that, according to the AP, Defonseca is not even Jewish - real name: Monique De Wael. So, never mind that the "memoir" was translated to 18 languages and made into a feature film, exploiting people's shock and disgust for a handsome profit. The defense? "The story is mine. It is not actually reality, but my reality," says Defonseca.Today, the NYT reports that Margaret Seltzer's gang memoir, published under the name Margaret B. Jones Love and Consequences – where the author purports to be a half-Native American, half-white girl dealing drugs for the Bloods in Los Angeles - is also, ahem, a fake.Add to it the revelations about self-knighted chef Robert Irvine of the Food Network – author of Mission: Cook! - who beefed up his resume to include fictional positions as White House Chef and personal friend of Prince Charles (who picks Charles as a mate anyway?) and you might think non-fiction these days is only as real as Frank Abagnale's Harvard Law degree (Remember Catch Me If You Can?).What is most shocking in Seltzer and Irvine's cases is the lack of fact-checking. If it were not for Seltzer's sister - who alerted the publisher, Riverhead Books, after reading a profile of Seltzer in the NYT – Love and Consequences could have enjoyed some success. Look at Irvine, he even had a TV show.Finding out if the Queen knighted someone should be fairly simple. Finding out the heritage of a person, where they attended school, how many siblings they have and so forth is extremely easy. One would think that after Frey, publishers would take a closer look to the facts in memoirs and make sure that readers don't end up paging through imaginary non-fiction.On the plus side, Seltzer must be quite a writer and actress - after all, she managed to keep up the guise of truth for three years while working on her, err, novel.
Suicide is a funny thing. At least, it is in Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down. Unlike his earlier pop-culture riffs, High Fidelity and About A Boy, Hornby's glance into the lives of four suicidal characters takes a broader look at life, transcending issues such as relationships and maturity in an attempt to portray a multidimensional struggle that revolves around life and death.The novel has a fluid narrative, thanks to short passages told from the points of view of the main characters - Martin, Jess, JJ and Maureen - in rotating fashion. The style not only moves the story along in a quick pace, it also keeps one interested in the characters by providing bits of information about why each one ended up on top of Toppers' House on New Year's Eve. That is, why they picked the most stereotypical night and the most popular building to jump off of in London to end their lives.The gang, which forms rather organically with a little push from Jess, is a most unlikely one. Martin is a washed-up TV presenter, estranged from his wife and daughters after sleeping with a 15-year-old and landing in jail; Maureen is a middle-aged woman with a disabled - "vegetable" - son, Matty. She has withdrawn from life to take care of Matty and talks only to God; Jess is an 18-year-old with a propensity for getting smashed on drugs and booze, an inclination to abuse her parents and a loathing of long words and complicated sentences - as well as literature; and, JJ is an American rock-star-wanna-be whose failed band and relationship left him reminiscing about the not-so-good, good old days and delivering pizzas.It's hard to see why any of the characters, minus Martin, would want to hurl themselves off a building. A Long Way Down is funny like that, it gets one contemplating what circumstances could/should/would justify or call for a seemingly quick and easy end to life. It's also funny because Hornby masterfully groups together four potentially stereotypical and boring, yet in their own right odd and interesting, characters. With their self- and outward-loathing stance on life, they are incompatible from the first moment.Yet they get along. And they need each other like a comatose patient needs life support. Hidden in their interactions and sarcastic humor are hints of despair - of the same vein that any ordinary person might go through at one point or another in life. And though Martin, Jess, Maureen and JJ may be not be alike at all, one is apt to identify with parts of each character. Be it total financial, social and emotional ruin as with Martin, a completely unselfish life lived with remorse as with Maureen, teenage angst borne from a troubled family as with Jess, or plain, downright self-pity and denial as with JJ, one has been there.Hornby gives his audience a chance to reflect on moments of doubt and despair through his characters. And, not to worry, just because the subject is rather grave does not mean you are spared Hornby's brilliant modern-culture observations or his penchant for showing off his knowledge of rock music and contemporary literature. Reading A Long Way Down will make you laugh, and, who knows, maybe you'll be laughing at yourself.
Aspiring writers might want to consider moving to Japan and focusing on thumbing text messages instead of developing intricate story lines or characters. At least, that is what this front page story from the Sunday New York Times seems to be saying.In 2007, five of the top 10 best-selling novels in Japan were written by teenagers, or early 20-somethings, on cell phones. These novels were published in installments on various specialized Web sites. Although the phenomenon emerged in 2000, according to the NYT, it really took off two or three years ago; one of the Web sites hit the one million "cellphone novels" mark last month. Publishers soon recognized the trend and began republishing popular, finished novels, churning out one best seller after another."The sentences are too simple, the stories are too predictable," one of the authors is quoted as saying. Yet, apparently demand for these "tear-jerkers" is on the rise, and, already, there is talk of creating and naming a genre for it. (Yes, the "cellphone novel.") With direct flights from New York to Tokyo at just under $1,000 and new cell phone plans in Japan providing unlimited data transfers, i.e., text messages and Web-posting capability, this might be the best deal available to witty writers who don't care much for style, and, well, errr, the story.Update: Ben translates an excerpt of one of these best-selling cell phone novels and puts the phenomenon in context.
Kevin Sites, author of In the Hot Zone, shed some light to his experiences in an interview with The Millions last week. An edited text of the transcript appears below, please see yesterday's post for more on In the Hot Zone.The Millions: Did you always have the idea of a book when you embarked on the Hot Zone?Kevin Sites: I was hoping that through the course of the journey that all the material we were gathering would transform itself – possibly a book, possibly a documentary. It just so happened that we were able to get both out of the material.TM: How was it different to write the book compared to sending dispatches from war zones?KS: The idea for online reporting was to make it as subjective as possible. For the most part the people I was covering during the journey were front and center in our storytelling: I really wanted to focus on their experiences. In doing the book I was able to look into two story structures: my journey and unique experiences in covering it and the parallel journey of the people I encountered. This was more of a memoir, more of a chance for me to meditate on what I learned instead of just providing observations from all these locations, actually thinking of what they meant in a cumulative sense.TM: Did the book help you put things into context once you removed yourself from those environments?KS: The book allowed me to think of what I had seen, instead of just reporting it. And the truth is, in all these wars, how we define war is really a misinterpretation. We define it as combat, which is probably its smallest component. When really how it should be defined is collateral damage, which is its most dominant feature and goes on for generations. Battles may only last a very short time, but the repercussions rip along for a long time.TM: We saw and read a lot about collateral damage at the beginning of the Iraq War. Why do you think coverage of the greater effects of war are more limited now?KS: We as journalist have a tendency to focus on the inherently more dramatic. We're drawn to the guns and the tanks and the armies and guerilla forces because they are easy to report on. The collateral damage is much more difficult to report on in a compelling way, keeping people interested in refugee camps and the suffering human beings for example – it's our natural tendency to turn away from them because they are harder to see.TM: With so much to cover in Iraq, how did you decide to leave it - albeit temporarily - and go around the world?KS: I'd spent almost the last two years of my life in Iraq, and I hope to go back. But I felt like my mandate was to get beyond the headlines. In most of the places I went, I was the only reporter. The smaller stories also lent themselves to this particular project. I knew I wasn't going to be able to be on the ground very long in any of these locations, so I had to limit my objectives to putting together profiles of people instead of telling the geopolitical story, for which I used the strength of the Web by linking to BBC country profiles.TM: Any odd, uplifting experiences in your travels?KS: I had a chance encounter with the Dalai Lama. That was kind of funny because I was so star struck that I couldn't say anything to him even though he sat right behind me in the plane. Here I am a man covering every war and here's the person who epitomizes world peace in many ways and I couldn't ask his counsel. I felt very sheepish afterwards.TM: You're pretty critical of mainstream media in some of your writing, do you see yourself going back to network news?KS: My major problem with it was the limitations of television news – we had so little time to tell our stories, and more specifically how NBC stepped away from me after the mosque shooting. I don't hate mainstream media and I don't look at the Web as a medium to displace it. I think we're in the same ballgame: we amplify each other's work. I was grateful to do something different, but I still love the impact of television. I would like to continue to be the multimedia reporter that I am, maybe for different sources or maybe one particular company.TM: People point to The Hot Zone as the future of journalism, how was it for you to report for an online outlet?KS: I don't think it's the future, I think it is the present. You see the evolution of this multimedia approach really across the board: every television network has a fairly rich Web site that provides both text and video, and every newspaper is now at a point where they're using still photography in a more animated fashion. Television didn't kill radio, the Internet's not going to kill television or newspapers – it's just going to force them to evolve.TM: Did reporting for a Web publication affect your access to sources, especially in high places?KS: It was interesting because in so many places I traveled as an NBC reporter I had to explain who I was working for. But when I told people I was working for Yahoo! they knew. It also was a double-edged sword because people could access my reporting right away. A Hezbollah source was sort of patronizing: 'What are you, a blog?' And then he goes to the site and the first thing he sees is images of U.S. soldiers because I had just been embedded in Iraq. So it was interesting to face that and explain it.TM: It has been three years since you taped the mosque shooting in Fallujah, what are your feelings about the whole episode – the event itself, the hate mail you received, etc. – now?KS: The hate mail has tapered off. For me that particular incident – I think about it a lot, because I talk about it a lot – I certainly came to peace with what happened there. With one exception: I recently found out by putting in a freedom of information request that one of the insurgents was shot 23 times in the back after I left the mosque and I felt somewhat complicit about it.TM: You write about the U.S. media's decision to self-censor the coverage of the Fallujah mosque event, where are we three years later?KS: It's still going on. When's the last time you saw a wounded or dead soldier or marine? The war has become very sanitized for us in America. There's a problem with that because it doesn't show you the true face of war. I'm not for showing you gratuitous violence but you do have to show that people get killed in war – it isn't a sterile environment and we do have to show the good, the bad and the ugly. When we don't do that, our public and our democracy suffers because the public can't understand what's going on and can't make the informed choices they need to make about those conflicts.TM: Are you yearning to go back to covering conflicts?KS: It wasn't so much conflict that drew me, it's the idea that within conflict you're witness to a lot of different spectrums of human conditions: we struggle with so many different ethical and moral choices within a war, that's fascinating to me. At the same time I don't want become one of these war correspondents that can't come back home again. I think soldiers feel somewhat same way. When you're gone you're constantly dreaming of coming home but when you're here you can't wait to go back.
There are about 30 ongoing conflicts in the world. Contrary to conventional wisdom and blissful ignorance, the big wars since World War II have not been limited to Vietnam, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, or the current wars endearingly known as Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom – i.e., the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.Kevin Sites broke with the Iraq-War pack of journalists in 2005 to embark on an ambitious project: covering all current armed conflicts in one year. He missed a couple here and there, but in the end Sites made it to 21 war zones, some planned (like Somalia), others ad hoc (like the Lebanon-Israel 34-Day War). More importantly, however, Sites went beyond the numbers: his coverage was not about the death toll and the money spent, but about the civilian cost of wars.The damages appeared in written dispatches, photo essays and videos on the Yahoo Hot Zone Web site. The project was unusual not only in its geographic span – after all, with more than 4,300 U.S. troops dead in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Washington Post, and many more injured, how often do we hear about Chechnya or Haiti or Sri Lanka – but also for its journalistic ambition. Sites traveled as a SoJo (solo journalist) utilized all media available, reported for the Web and was not bound by editorial limitations of network TV (his previous employers include ABC, CNN and NBC).Hot Zone gained a steady readership; it got more than 970,000 hits a month, according to a New York Times article. And, it became the front page for stories otherwise only intermittently told.Sites is no stranger to telling the mainstream stories, however. He is responsible for one of the most controversial pieces of journalism to come out of Iraq: the shooting of captured enemy combatants in a mosque during the 2004 Battle of Fallujah. NBC's decision not to air the tape in its entirety showed Sites one of the biggest problems in media: not trusting the public with the information.This lesson, albeit a hard one for Sites who still receives hate mail for being unpatriotic, informed his reporting and style for Yahoo!, where he reported with sincerity, presenting the information without a network filter.It's been slightly more than a year since Sites came back. In the span of four quick months, he compiled his memoirs, Hot Zone stories and videos in a package that includes a book and a DVD documentary: In the Hot Zone – an intimate look into Sites' mind and the world he lived in for a year.In the Hot Zone's best qualities are its quick, newsy style and its ability to add another layer of humanity to war by providing the honest reactions of a Westerner. I couldn't help thinking of the late Ryszard Kapuscinski while reading Sites' account of conflict in Africa. And while Sites does not possess Kapuscinski's lyrical formulation in presenting tragedies, his straight-forward style lends itself perfectly to telling the stories of those most affected by war.Sites accomplishes one of his main goals, "providing more coverage to the world's nameless and voiceless conflict victims," by bringing the story home in a published form after successfully keeping readers abreast of developments in far flung corners of the world.In The Hot Zone is a fresh look at wars that flash across CNN once in a while or make for good feature articles in the weekend edition of your paper. What Sites reminds the reader is that his subjects, whose lives are torn apart by wars, are very real – whether you realize it or not.Tomorrow: An interview with Kevin Sites.
Wednesday night I went to the Barnes and Noble at Union Square to catch a speech by a jack of all trades. The former Daily Show correspondent turned anchor is now everywhere promoting a book - and running for president. Yes, you guessed right, the almighty Mr. Stephen Colbert.Unfortunately for me, Mr. Colbert was AWOL when I had to leave to go to another meetingafter waiting for 20 minutes. Fortunately for all progressive conservatives a video of his speech can be found here."It turns out it takes more than 30 minutes a night to fix everything that's destroying America and that's where this book comes in," Mr. Colbert said about his debut work, I Am America (And So Can You!). "This book is truth - my truth," he said, "I deliver my truth hot and hard, fast and furious."Mr. Colbert, who announced a possible run for president on The Daily Show on October 16th, declared on The Colbert Report on October 16th that he is indeed running for president - in South Carolina. "After 15 minutes of soul searching I have heard the call," he said, "I am doing it."Like his predecessor, Jon Stewart, who in 2004 published the wildly successful America (The Book), Mr. Colbert is excelling in packaging his persona, mock seriousness and witty criticism for a supposedly apolitical generation that allegedly gets its news from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.Comedy Central's two shows carved such a niche that Messrs. Stewart and Colbert went on to host the Academy awards and - to the apolitical youth's surprise and amusement - the White House Press Corps Dinner, respectively. "Stewart-Colbert '08" bumper stickers followed.There is no surprise in Mr. Colbert's presidential aspirations - nor in his thriving business ventures. But both his seriousness and a jokester nation's ability to send him straight to the Oval Office - on the heels of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronald Reagan, you would be an idiot to deny the possibility - make this "joke run" different from its historical antecedents.The difference lies not only in the press' serious wonder at and contemplation of Mr. Colbert's run - as they should - but also in the hype and noise the candidate generated since his announcement, surely beating former Tennessee Senator and Law & Order star Fred Thompson.Consider this, how many candidates could persuade The New York Times' Maureen Dowd to cede her space to a candidate? None - except for Mr. Colbert. And how many "mock-candidates" have appeared on Tim Russert's Meet The Press? You guess right, again - none, except, well, Mr. Colbert.Like all presidential aspirants, Mr. Colbert too explains his stance on issues and outlines his strengths in his book. I Am America should inform all voters in the upcoming primaries, as well as make each reader a better, more patriotic American. And, it should be an easy read; the author proudly announced that he dictated the whole book over Columbus Day weekend. He also added, "Like a lot of other dictators, there's one man whose opinion I value above all others' - mine." Sound familiar?