Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Books and More Books!

I've been listening to library books on CD again today to relieve the tedium of cut and pasting Excel sheets and checking billing. My choice was Father Greeley's 2002 novel The Bishop in the West Wing. I was looking forward to another nice little mystery. Patently it would include both wisdom and a certain amount of misguided opinion about his favorite Democratic Party, liberals, and sports teams from Chicago. However, I am willing to sit through the latter for the former, if the proportions are fair.

So far, I'm not even through the first CD and have already had to roll my eyes so much that I've practically been staring at my optic nerves. I mean, okay, it's nice to know that Greeley isn't headed quite as far left as many another in his party, and he does seem to have grasped that politics is local and populist. What he's forgetting is that the reader is his first responsibility, and not all his readers share his politics. The stupidest line yet? Bishop Blackie says the Republicans "don't understand the Irish".

Um. Well. Gee, Father, then I guess the entire O'Brien family since they immigrated here slightly before the Famine has just been delusional about its ethnic identity and involvement in politics, because my dad's side has been Republican since the first time my bunchagreats-grandfather Connie first got a chance to vote. Great-uncle Connie ended up fire chief of their small town and a pillar of the county GOP, if I understand correctly. And when my Grandpa O'Brien went down to Ocala during WWII to teach army kids how to fly and my grandparents registered to vote, that very night the local Democratic chairman showed up on their tiny new doorstep one night to chat.

"But we're not Democrats," said my grandma.

"I know," said the chairman. "I just wanted to see what a Republican looks like."

I've probably said this before, but I can never get over these delusions that some Democratic folks have that all Republicans are rich. My family was never well-to-do. Well, okay, Grandma's family was pretty well off for the county, but she was held to have married beneath her and she and Grandpa had a tough time making ends meet. (Think her family were the Democrats.) Now, my mother's side of the family were FDR Democrats, but I don't know about their political affiliations before that. Maybe it's a function of the fact that Chicago and New York are not Ohio, but still...if Republicans were ever the party of the rich, that was well before Reagan came along. So why would any intelligent person writing about politics persist in this delusion? Is it comforting or something?

Also, Greeley (through his president character) proposed that the Supreme Court should have some check on its powers. All right, I can see that. However, I see heap big problems with his proposal that all decisions have at least a 4/5 majority to pass, and that justices only serve for 12 years. Even worse, the joke about Scalia and the bottom of Lake Michigan wasn't even vaguely funny.

I'd also like to be enlightened as to when it became permissible for non-Floridians to refer to Floridians as "Crackers". I seem to recall this being a rather touchy sort of nickname, best used by those within the group; though I could be worrying over nothing.

*Sigh.* This is not exactly Greeley at the top of his game. This isn't even solidly mediocre Greeley. It's not bad, but it's definitely not aimed at anyone who's not a liberal and a Democrat. There should have been a sticker on the front: "Warning! Donkey Party only! Not intended for external use!" (I hope the Democrats are listening. This lemming-like rush to become lefter than left is embarrassing.)

With a CD, it's not exactly easy to skim past the stupid parts. I don't know if I'm going to give up on Greeley and start on another CD, or grit my teeth through the background and backchat to get to the actual story. I do want to know something about what the other side is thinking, but I'm not sure it's worth the slog.

UPDATE: Well, I managed to get to disk 2. But no. Amusing as it is to set up strawmen in the opposite party for an imaginary candidate to knock down, Greeley's version of a presidential debate just lost me. I was up for the newly planted 'romance in the White House for the widower President' subplot, but I can't subject my ears to the rest of this to get there. On to Across the Nightingale Floor.

Btw, if you're interested in what I'm actually reading-reading, a couple of my Van Gulik books came in yesterday. The Chinese Nail Murders was one of his good ones, with an unexpectedly touching plot. The Willow Pattern has Dee as Lord High Justice in Ch'ang-an, the only authority left in the city in time of plague. Nicely spooky thus far.

I'm looking forward to reading a The Great Wave by Christopher Benfey, a new book on America and Japan's relationship during the Gilded Age, as each affected the other. Not only is the subject interesting in itself and as a prelude to the Boston Worldcon this year. (I am hitting all the sights this time, and the art museums as heavily as the patriotic ones! Mwahaha!) No, I think it will also have something to say about Japan and America's appeal to each other today. (And hey, maybe I can write some post-Rurouni Kenshin fanfic.) This author also sounds good, seeing as he's done books on Degas in New Orleans and Emily Dickinson. (Hey, he lives in Amherst. It's obligatory.)

But first I have to finish my dad's copy of Special Tasks, the memoirs of an old NKVD man and his family. I've only got up to Trotsky's assassination, and there's a lot more to go. Like when he gets out of favor and gets thrown into prison, and his family tries for years to get him out.... Well, like they say, "Garbage in, garbage out!" Of course, the question with such memoirs is always, "How much truth is there going to be in the story told by a professional liar?" In this case...probably most of the really interesting but unsupported claims are faaaaake. But the story's interesting, anyway; you get some kind of idea of what someone like that thinks, or thinks it's plausible to think. It's also a good look at just how small a world the top of the Soviet bureaucracy could be.


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