Life and Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee – Wow it’s been a long time since I read a book! This is a pretty weird one. It’s about a guy, in South Africa during the war (I’m going to have to leave “the war” vague cuz I know fuck all about it cuz I’m a bad american). He tries to take his mom to the country to live out her days, things happen, he goes on a weird journey. It’s an extraordinarily odd story, the strongest feeling I can attach to it is actually post-apocalyptic. Traveling between towns, living in the moutnains, avoiding the army, it feels like he’s living after the world done got effed up. It’s actually a cool feeling, so that’s not a bad thing. The book is broken into parts, the vast majority is this weird semi-life of his, then two shorter sections. The first from a different person’s perspective, trying to take care of him, the second back to him finishing out his story. I don’t really know what to think about it. It feels, more than anything, like it’s supposed to have a point. It seems extraordinarily particular to not have some kind of moral before it. The story is very well written. It’s captivating (and short, which helps) and is very carefully written. This was not thrown together to tell an exciting jaunt, it feels very specific. And I can only think that means it should have greater meaning. I’m not sure what that meaning is, though. Certainly there is this idea of living close to nature, living a simple completely isolated life. Not just simple, as minimalistic as humanly possible. In fact, more than is humanly possible as I don’t see anyone surviving this life in the real world. It is as broken down to the bones as any story could be. But I can’t find anything deeper than that. Both the other person’s reaction to him in the second chapter and the finale point to some sort of understanding of this man’s choice of life. But it seems like neither a cautionary tale nor advice. Perhaps his life is presented as pure. But by no means is it presented as good, or even possible for a real person. It’s an odd book and I’m unsure what to think. Very well written, crafted I’d say. But I’m left with a certain lack, after reading it. Like I was peaking through a window to look on a completely different life and, but then the window closed and I just went back to mine, not particularly affected…… Brief update – went to a book club for this (weird, huh?) and was given one idea that I find interesting. That this book is actually a commentary on homeless people. A guy, who goes into things with good intentions, his life goes awry, he ends up a wackaloon who is just trying to survive. The one loose end that theory ties up is the last chapter that involves these weird young people who use Michael K almost as a plaything. Looking at it in the context of how we, as a group, treat homeless people (bum fights?), it becomes more interesting. I’m not sure that that’s a definitive answer, but it’s an interesting thought.
Team of Rivals by Doris Goodwin – Well I finally got to this book! Gawdam is it long. 31 CDs long! Fortunately that’s just a corner of my mp3 player. It’s pretty fascinating. I am, as always, very uneducated about history. So there were aspects of Lincoln’s presidency that I didn’t know about though they must be pretty commonly known. The structure of the book is interesting. Rather than talk about just Lincoln, she talks (with almost equal length!) about his 3 rivals for the Republican nomination for president – Seward, Chase, and Bates. He pulls each of these men into his cabinet (as well as some democrats) in order to have a variety of ideas. Comparing their lives and personalities is really interesting. Lincoln’s greatness is all the brighter for being compared to these men, both in that they were also great, and in that they were sometimes very far from great. Seward in particular is at first his fiercest detractor, then becomes his most loyal ally as secretary of state. Chase, meanwhile, is a fucking asshole and from the beginning to end of Lincoln’s presidency is acting only in his own interest and trying to steal the office. But Lincoln is the star, of course, and it’s astounding the man he was. Granted this book is biased, it’s about his greatness, but wow. I read that Washington book, he was impressive, but he was very very flawed. Lincoln is nearly superhuman, as portrayed in this book. His intelligence and grace and control is just remarkable. I can’t imagine what the country would have been without him, and I’m sad to imagine what else it could have been with more of him. The book also seems to be a lesson in moderacy. I’m not all that moderate. Stewart/Colbert rally aside, I’m pretty firmly in the left camp and think most of the right are either heartless or morons. But here Lincoln is in the midst of slavery, and he argues JUST to stop the spread of slavery to the new states. Not to give them rights, not to let them vote, not to count them equal to a white man, not even to free them. Just stop the spread. Baby steps. That leads to emancipation. And that of course leads to rights, even if it took us 100 years. Yes, we can all absolutely say it was wrong from beginning to end and the “right” thing to do would have been complete equality, immediately. But if the republicans had nominated a “radical” who wanted immediate emancipation, he would have lost, and slavery would have continued for who knows how long. Not only continued, but infected the new states. Lincoln’s moderacy may have saved the cause. I can’t help but imagine the parallel’s to now. Gays should have full rights, we should have full health care, we should take 75% of our defense BS and put it in schools and research. But maybe Dennis Kucinich will never win and if he got nominated would just insure another Bush in the whitehouse. Maybe someone needs to be up there giving us ONLY half assed health care, so in 10 years we’ll have the right one. It’s pretty interesting, I think, even if my nature rebels against it.