Weekend Book Report

Reader’s note:  I’ve promised myself to read at least one “real” book a week; so far I’ve succeeded!  I purchase the books locally or check them out from my local library, and add these short reports at the end of the week to generate interest and give my assessment.  This website is a personal blog, volunteered and non-monetized, and accept no advertising or donations.

For an archive of Weekend Book Reports, follow this link:  http://dennistownsend.org/weekend-book-report-archives/

Weekend Book Report (9/15/18):  An indulgence in a part-time retirement hobby (political cartooning) and a break from serious subjects was on the docket this week with the enjoyable read of “The Annotated Cartoons of Homer C. Davenport” by Gus Frederick (Liberal University Press, 2013).  Homer Davenport (1867-1912) was a native son of Silverton, Oregon; his mother died when Homer was 3 years old, but she saw that he had artistic talent, and one of her last wishes was to see that her young son received the schooling to develop it.  He became an accomplished illustrator in his own right, and Davenport soon landed a job at The Oregonian newspaper in Portland, and soon found success with the New York Journal and later at the San Francisco Examiner, being recruited there by William Randolph Hearst.  His caricature and skewering of political figures raised the ire of the New York state legislature, who tried to outlaw his cartoons by requiring permission from the subject to be depicted before publication (the bill was summarily dismissed). The book, with nearly 100 cartoons, consists of alternating pages of text with an associated cartoon, and acts as a visit to the political history of the U.S. at the turn of the century during the McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt administrations.   Gus Frederick is a Silverton native and obvious study and fan of Davenport; conducting a talk about his life at the public library during “Homer Davenport Days”, Silverton’s town festival held in the cartoonist’s honor (along with a political cartoon contest).  It’s a fun, quick read, a good overview of history, and a case study in political cartooning, of which this writer is dabbling in.

You can purchase the book by contacting press.liberaluniversity.org.  (Liberal University was a college founded in Silverton in the 1890’s and operated for about seventeen years before folding; the name is kept alive by local townsfolk.)


Weekend Book Report (9/8/18):  Occasionally,  even a dated book will be quite timely; such was the case in this week’s purchase of “The Healing of America – A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care” by T.R. Reid (Penguin Books, 2010). The longtime correspondent for the Washington Post wrote the book in 2009, just prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and has an afterword about it’s enactment published the next year.  Overall, the book is a worthy embrace of the ethical, political, philosophical and practical components of providing universal health care.  Reid, using “real world” experience by taking stiffness of his right shoulder from an old injury to health care systems around the world to be diagnosed and treated, relates his encounters in a humorous, enjoyable fashion.   He identifies four categories of health care systems; “Bismarck” (Germany), “Beveridge” (Britain), “National Health Insurance” (Canada) and the “Out of Pocket Model” ( i.e., “pay or die” – most Third World and poorer countries).  Stressing that the U.S. has all four, depending on who your are (over 65, Veteran, Native American, the employed as well as the working poor) he makes an obvious case of the failings of the for-profit insurance and health care system here, especially pre-ACA (which he describes as helpful but not a solution).  20,000 people die every year in the U.S. due to the lack of health insurance (even today), and most Americans polled would be supportive of universal access to health care in the U.S. – if they only were aware it was a problem (most are not).  But old ways die hard, especially with the benefactors (insurance companies) making a profit with a business model based on not providing a service.  Reid points out the problems with health care systems in other countries as well, and that many (doctors, patients, government) complain about how to make it work and talks of “reform”, but the common denominator he brings to the book is that administrative costs and health care costs, when figured as a percentage of that nation’s GDP (of which the U.S. leads, as well as mediocre health statistics) are considerably less in every other part of the developed world.   It’s an easy read, and will give an understanding of how the various health care systems work globally, and how to fix ours.

It’s available at your local independent bookstore or local public library.

Weekend Book Report (9/1/18):  As you can probably tell by the books I read and review, I like to stay with non-fiction and stick to political, philosophical or scientific pursuits in my reading.  This time, even though it was in the non-fiction section of the local library, I took somewhat of a dare and checked out “Crux – A Cross-Border Memoir” by Jean Guerrero (One World Books, 2018).  Guerrero, who is a reporter for the NPR and PBS affiliate in San Diego, and specializes in border issues, penned this memoir which revolves around her father, weaving the tale of her and sister’s upbringing with an unstable man, and her efforts to find out the elements of truth of his life.  Metaphorically taking the crossing of the frontiers of madness (he suffered from schizophrenia) and sanity, peace and violence, family discord and harmony, personal discomfort and peace, laid against real border crossings from the U.S. and Mexico which was part of her life, she constructs a complicated tale. Unfortunately in her telling, I began to get lost in what seemed to be a ceaseless, albeit lyrical and even poetic refrain of revisited hurt, pain and angst, and found the book weary.  There are those who like it, and you may too, as she won the PEN/Fusion Emerging Writers Prize for her work.  You’re welcome to read it; but I’ll go back to more of my standard non-fiction tastes.

It’s available at your local public library or independent book store.


Weekend Book Report (8/25/18):  This week’s read was easy, and geared more for reference, but was still weighty and no less timely. “On 1984 – Quotes for the Orwellian Future Happening Today”, edited by James Daley (Racehorse Books, 2017) is a handy little book full of quotations from authors of every political stripe and historical and contemporary era, with the subject matter involving the musings and more serious implications of encroaching totalitarianism and fascism that the world has faced and currently faces in various forms.  Five chapters categorize the quotes; “Fake News”, “Bad Hombres”, “Draining The Swamp”, “Order and Strength”, and “Resistance”.   Daley, the editor, makes no apologies about the intent of the book, to counter and make the reader aware of the dangers to freedom and democracy as a result of the election of Trump.  The quotes are telling, and the book, overall, is a good resource to keep handy to cite quotes from the famous, wise and insightful.

It’s available at your local independent bookstore or local public library.

Weekend Book Report (8/17/18):  A break from political matters was in order, so I found this interesting book about another favorite pastime – hiking.  “On Trails – An Exploration” by Robert Moor (Simon and Schuster, 2016) would seem, at first blush, a story of hiking in the woods.  But don’t look for recommendations on hiking boots or places to go here; the author, a Canadian environmental writer that has worked for the New York Times, Harpers and GQ, uses his subject matter in diverse ways – metaphorically and practically.  Humans do not have a monopoly on making paths, which may be obvious, as Moor dives into ancient extinct life forms, such as slime mold, as well as contemporary animals, like ants, to demonstrate that building paths and trails were just as important to those creatures as any other – even 500 million years ago.  Paths evolve in curious ways, he writes, as the original animal trail (be it an elephant or bison) are found to be just as efficient as any highway, and ironically, humans will build them inefficiently to protect from erosion and highlight scenery – an effort not necessarily shared by other humans worldwide.   Moor traveled to many parts of the world to explore how paths and trails evolve (or not), including Newfoundland, where, in a huge open area without trails or paths, he found himself lost, even with a GPS.  His hike on the Appalachian Trail generated his original interest in writing the book, and he also became involved in  earnest plans for an International Appalachian Trail” that would trace the ancestry of the prehistoric super-continent Panagea  from Costa Rica to Morocco.   He sought out and interviewed people (walking with them for days) that have been walking most of their lives, seen by them as an element of freedom (some would call them purposely homeless).  This is an insightful and interesting book for both study of the human element as well as nature in how we get from one point to another.

It’s available at your public library or local independent book store.

Weekend Book Report (8/9/18):  Inevitably while vacation, I end up at book stores, and this short jaunt was no different.  I picked up four books to read, and the first was this interesting work by Boston University Professor of Religion Stephen Prothero.  “Why Liberals Win – Even When They Lose Elections” (Harper Collins, paperback, 2016) is a fascinating and carefully reasoned study of America’s “culture wars” – and why, ultimately, they make us more inclusive as a nation.  The author starts way back in U.S. history with the Puritans (the original conservatives) and their rigid posture over keeping things controlled, up to the contentious election in 1800, where Thomas Jefferson was called an “atheist, a philanderer” and – get this – “a Muslim”, and the political fractures seemed to threaten the new nation.  Additional examples by chapter include the anti-Catholic, anti-Mormon, anti-immigrant movements of the 19th century, as well as the failures of prohibition and the war on drugs.  Prothero makes interesting points that have merit, although conservatives may bristle when reading them; the deployment of “warfare” analogies in their cause against the left, consistently portraying their plight as victims and as an insult to their way of life (i.e., usually Protestant, white and patriarchal).  Liberals win because conservatives take on the fight when their cause is already lost; which provides conservatives incentive to seek out, identify and fight another cause.  The result has been the end of slavery, women’s suffrage, equal rights for women, and same sex marriage.   The author points out an insightful angle; many of the conservative causes used liberal arguments, and much of the liberal push back was from trademark-conservative fear of the role of “big government”, and each chapter explores this.   Prothero’s summary is that once the polarization is displaced by actual conversation for the common good (which he says, always happens, but not without some pain) the country is put in a better place as a result.  Liberals may cheer this book, but conservatives should read it too (despite any immediate offense at the title) to gain insight to see what they’re fighting for – and more importantly, why.

It’s available at your local public library or independent book store.

Weekend Book Report (7/27/18):    While browsing my local book store, I came upon this short and easy read that almost feels like ancient history in light of the other developments that have happened since.  “The Bullies of Wall Street” by former FDIC chair Sheila Bair (Simon and Schuster, 2015), is a three-year old book about the traumatic “Great Recession” of ten years ago; but it’s points and information are more relevant than ever.  Bair, a Bush appointee that has worked in several administrations as a public servant, has divided her work in two sections; the first is in the form of stories (names and places changed) that show the damaging effects that the housing bubble and resulting recession had on a personal level (Main Street); the second half is about her involvement, the mechanics, policies and personalities behind what caused it, and describes even worse behavior (spoiler alert:  there are few kind words for Timothy Geithner, and everybody wanted to dump the bailout on the FDIC) by some in trying to get the economy back on it’s feet.  Competing and feuding agencies, and Congressional resistance didn’t help, either.  It’s a simple book; I found it almost too easy to read at first (especially the stories) , but noticed on the liner notes that it was for “12 and up.”  That’s ok with me; kids should read about this historical event as well, as the financial mechanics leading up to the collapse is made easily understandable.  Bair also makes a case for continued financial regulation – “too big to fail” and “too small to save” are not happy choices when Main Street is affected, and we may not have the competence in the current administration to get through another debacle like this.

It’s available at your local public library or independent book store.


Weekend Book Report (7/23/18):  I drove down the “left” lane with a book  bought at my local independent bookstore a few months ago, and finished it over the weekend.  “Global Discontents – Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy” by longtime linguist and activist Noam Chomsky (Metropolitan Books / Henry Holt Publishing – 2017) is actually a series of interviews with interlocutor (definition: someone engaged in a series of conversations) David Barsamian.  The twelve chapters are similar to a televised interview with a question and answer exchange, and is an easy read, even for the political novice.   Chomsky, now 87, discusses  imperialism, climate change, elections, fearmongering, the Middle East and Israel and a host of other topics, including memories of his childhood in New York City.   As expected from a former opponent of the Vietnam War, an advocate for the Occupy movement and other causes, his comments are highly critical of U.S. involvement in foreign affairs, as well as corporate infiltration and domination of the West’s power structure – at the expense of the environment and human rights.  Also, as expected, his comments are highly effective, simple and logical.  He refers to many of the challenges on the world stage as “dry kindling”, ready to be ignited at any moment and any place that can start a conflagration of human disaster – or lasting change.   Those on the right will bristle, those on the left will cheer, but at any rate the arguments put forth by this long time MIT professor are hard to refute.

It’s available at your local independent book store or local public library.