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August 09, 2007

Summer Reading List
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

As I head off into the Great Lakes woods for a week, I've filled my bookbag far too full, and thought I'd share -- and maybe learn what others are reading as well.

Capital S "Serious:"  The Blair Years: The Alastair Campbell Diaries  Only expurgated extracts, apparently, of the diaries kept by Tony Blair's long-time press secretary; and yet, according to the Washington Post reviewer, " this is beyond question the most important and revelatory book so far written about the inner workings of Blair's government. "  Do diaries really count as "serious?"  Maybe not, but what serious points the book loses in format it makes up in sheer length.

Why am I reading it?  Leftover Anglophilia, curiosity, and, as the Post reviewer put it:

As with so much of Blair's career, the big question raised by this book is whether Blair's approach to politics was a paradigm for others to follow or an aberration for others to avoid.

I think I've found the perfect book to read in tandem with it, but to discover that, you'll have to click through.

One more capital S for Serious:  Drew Westen's The Political Brain.  Westen has been flavor-of-the-month in Democratic circles for a little while now, so this book -- though long and reputedly hard slogging -- is a must-read.  Everyone I know claims to be about 50 pages into it, except this Daily Kos reviewer, who looooved it.  Color me curious about the science and skeptical that he's found a prescription no one else has ever thought of.

Serious-Sounding, Yet Frivolous:  Travels With Herodotus by the late Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski.  Kapuscinski was known for his tremendous sense of adventure, his gorgeously smooth prose and engrossing storytelling, and, late in life, a bit too much of of a "white man's burden" approach to his developing-world subjects.  But if you want to read about the roots of conflicts and trends that shape how we live, and get a street's-eye view, in marvelously-honed prose, he's your man.  If, like me, you evaded studying the classics and have never read Herodotus, you'll even learn something.

"Frivolous" Fiction, Yet Serious.  My fellow Ann Arbor parent Peter Ho Davies' novel The Welsh Girl has been much-praised and just nominated for the Booker Prize.  This is a lovely novel and the praise is well-deserved.  But from the point of view of this blog, I also recommend it because of how it casts the 21st-century problem of identity and belonging backward as a shadow over the problems of English and Welsh, Germans and Jews, soldiers and civilians, men and women during World War II.

Just Plain Fun.  You've waited patiently to discover what book I mean to read in tandem with The Blair Years.  Why, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, of course.  Two 21st-century versions of a boy's life.

Check back in two weeks and I'll confess how much I've managed to slog through...


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