Books acquired in July

Tragedy Day (The New Doctor Who Adventures) by Gareth Roberts (1994)
Birthright (The New Doctor Who Adventures) by Nigel Robinson (1993)
"Doctor Who": The Nemonite Invasion (Dr Who Audio Original 3) by David Roden (2009)
Doctor Who: The Face of the Enemy by David A. McIntee (1998)
Sanctuary (New Doctor Who Adventures) by David A. McIntee (1995)
The Darkest Road (Fionavar Tapestry) by Guy Gavriel Kay (1992)
How the Mind Works by S Pinker (1998)
Twilight (Twilight Saga) by Stephenie Meyer (2006)
Torchwood: Hidden by Steven Savile (2008)
I, Who 3 by Lars Pearson (2003)
I, Who 2: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who Novels and Audios by Lars Pearson (2001)
I, Who: The Unauthorized Guide to Dr. Who Novels by Lars Pearson (1999)
Doctor Who: Asylum by Peter Darvill-Evans (2001)
Parasite (New Doctor Who Adventures) by Jim Mortimore (1994)
Original Sin (New Doctor Who Adventures) by Andy Lane (1995)
Old Goriot (Classics) by Honore Balzac (2003)
Sleepy (New Doctor Who Adventures) by Kate Orman (1996)
Bits of Me are Falling Apart: Dark Thoughts from the Middle Years by William Leith (2008)
Infinite Requiem (Doctor Who-the New Adventures Series) by Daniel Blythe (1995)
Lud-in-the-mist (Millennium Fantasy Masterworks) by Hope Mirrlees (2000)
Wages of Sin by Andrew M. Greeley (1993)
The Crucible (Penguin Classics) by Arthur Miller (2003)
The Time Crocodile: Decide Your Destiny No. 3 ( " Doctor Who " ) by Colin Brake (2007)
Slow Decay (Torchwood) by Andy Lane (2007)
Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis (1974)
Veeps: Profiles in Insignificance by Bill Kelter (2008)
Fables Vol. 5: The Mean Seasons by Bill Willingham (2005)
Set Piece by Kate Orman (1995)
Warlock by Andrew Cartmel (1995)
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann (1971)
Doctor Who: The Many Hands by Dale Smith (2008)
The Plotters (Doctor Who) by Gareth Roberts (1996)
On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1991)
Diary of a Nobody (Penguin Classics) by George Grossmith (2003)
The Turing Test by Chris Beckett (2008)
Torchwood : Border Princes by Dan Abnett (2007)
Doctor Who: A Celebration : Two Decades Through Time and Space by Peter Haining (1995)
Doctor Who: Aliens And Enemies (Doctor Who (BBC Paperback)) by Justin Richards (2006)
More Short Trips: A Collection of Short Stories (Doctor Who Series) by Stephen Cole (1999)
Les Miserables Volumes One and Two by Victor Hugo (1997)
The Prisoner: Shattered Visage by Mark Askwith (2000)
Doctor Who: Autumn Mist by David A. McIntee (1999)
Downtime (Doctor Who) by Marc Platt (1996)
Emma’s War: Love, Betrayal and Death in the Sudan by Deborah Scroggins (2004)
Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars (African Issues) by Douglas H. Johnson (2003)
A History of Modern Sudan by Robert O. Collins (2008)
Doctor Who: The Story of Martha by Dan Abnett (2008)
Decalog 4: Re-generations (New Adventures) by Andy Lane (1997)
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July Books

Non-fiction: 10 (YTD 55)
         

Fiction (non-sf): 4 (YTD 32)
   

SF (non-Who): 7 (YTD 48)
      

Doctor Who and Torchwood: 11 (YTD 27)
          

Comics: 2 (YTD 18)
 

8 (YTD 42/199) by women (Scroggins, Lawrence, Kingston, Hopkinson/Mehan, 4 x Rayner)
2 (YTD 11/199) by PoC (Kingston, Hopkinson/Mehan)
Total page count ~8,500 (YTD 56,600)
Owned for more than a year: 5 (The Hobbit [reread], Misspent Youth, The Lost Heart of Asia [reread], So Long Been Dreaming, Chronicle in Stone)
Also reread: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (YTD 23)

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July Books 34) Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale, by Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook

This book is essential reading, not just for the Doctor Who fan, but for anyone who is even slightly interested in the show, or more broadly who is interested in the process of writing for television.

It is structured as a year-long email conversation between journalist Benjamin Cook and Russell T Davies about the process of writing the fourth season of New Who, from Voyage of the Damned to Journey’s End. (Also briefly including Time Crash.) On the scale of loving or hating RTD, I am sort of in the middle: I respect and admire his achievement in reviving Who in the first place, which I think in the end puts me just slightly on the “love” side of the divide, but I don’t always like his writing, or his public persona. This book reinforced both my positive and negative prejudices about him as a professional, but it grounded them in a much deeper understanding of his personality, and in the awful responsibility of the writer on a show like Who: his loyalty and his guilt circulate around his key colleagues – Julie Gardner, Phil Collinson, David Tennant – and worrying that he won’t produce the goods with adequate quality or promptness.

Vast amounts of draft script are included in the book, much of which made it to screen. I found the roads not taken rather interesting – who was the comedienne who might have played Penny, the companion who never was because Catherine Tate accepted the invitation to return? Imagine if Dennis Hopper had been available? And at the very end of the book, Cook rightly persuades Davies to drop a really awful linking script between Journey’s End and The Next Doctor.

But even more interesting is to see what the fundamental idea of each story actually is. They are not always very strong. The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End is almost entirely about showing rather than telling:

…Daleks, en masse. Lots of gunfire and exterminations. And the biggest Dalek spaceship ever – more like a Dalek temple. Christ almighty! The skies over the Earth need to be changed to weird outer space vistas. Also, visible in the sky, a huge Dalek ship exterior. The size of a solar system! This will probably explode. Like they do.

And Davros.

So the episodes are seen at this point largely as spectacle rather than story; the most effective bit, the end of Donna’s travels with the Doctor, emerges rather late in the day from Davies’ fevered imagination. One may not always like the solutions he comes up with, but the insight into the creative process. Is utterly fascinating and compelling.

(Certain sections of fandom will not be pleased by what he has to say about the internet. Too bad. To paraphrase Neil Gaiman on George R.R. Martin, Russell T Davies is not your bitch.)

There is a surprising amount of death in the book: Christopher Ecclestone’s driver, David Tennant’s mother, Verity Lambert, and most of all Howard Attfield, called from his sick bed to reprise his role as Donna’s father, but unable to complete the scripts. After his death, his scenes are reshot with Bernard Cribbins. The show must go on.

Indeed, that is the bigger lesson from the. Book. If Doctor Who is sometimes less than perfect, it happens basically because The Show Must Go On, and because the writers and producers have determined to put on screen what they can. It is rather amazing that it ended up so well as often as it did.

Anyway, this is probably the most interesting book about Doctor Who that will ever be written. If you are even slightly interested in the subject, get it.

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July Books 33) The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri

This has been on my to-read list for a while. I read Carlyle’s 1849 translation of Inferno many years ago, but this is the 1814 blank verse version by H.F. Cary, in a bargain edition which also includes Doré’s famous engravings of five decades later. Unfortunately it has no footnotes at all, and I think I will need to get another version with more explanatory matter; too much of the text simply sailed over my head.

It is none the less a tremendous literary achievement – to merge Judeo-Christian and classical mythologies, and recent (for 1300) European history, into a fairly seamless world; to construct mappable spaces of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven; and to come out of all this with a reasoned but impassioned emphasis on Love as the driving force behind God and the universe – all these are remarkable things.

I can see why Inferno is the most popular of the three – evil is always more interesting than good or repentance. Oddly enough, though, the one moment when the narrative really grabbed me was towards the end of Purgatorio, when Virgil hands over the role of guide to Beatrice. I don’t know if this is a general finding, or something to do with the translation, or just the mood I was in at the time.

Anyway, I now have a good sense of the overall shape of the story, and will look out for an edition which gives me more explanation of the details.

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July Books 32) The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

An old favourite, of course; but it must be a very long time since last I read it. I anticipated correctly that the lack of female characters would now seem an obvious gap; I had forgotten that there were so many sapient animals – the wolves, the birds, Beorn’s friends. It is well-paced, and generally fair to the reader. I was surprised by how little page space Smaug gets.

Bilbo is a much more interesting character than I had remembered. His moments of heroism are not through violence but through moral strength: in particular, his attempts to prevent the Elves and Dwarves from fighting. That said, the Gollum business and the Arkenstone incident both show certain ambiguities in his heroism.

Gandalf, somewhat to my surprise, comes over as an arch-manipulator. He pulls Bilbo onto the adventure very much against his will, and the battle with Smaug and then the Goblins is almost a proxy conflict for the ongoing Cold War against Sauron/the Necromancer, the point being to consolidate the northeastern corner of the map. But it looks rather like the Battle of the Five Armies is a deliberate rehearsal for the War of the Ring, orchestrated by Gandalf.

I’ve been reading the edition with Tolkien’s own sketches. Let’s be honest: they are not very good – studies of perspective, really, with the humanoid figures barely recognisable as such. The trolls in the picture hide behind the trees, in clear contradiction to the text. Providing the author’s own drawings gives some extra authenticity, but I think they could have been saved for one of the spinoff volumes.

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The Mists of Time

We lucky subscribers to Doctor Who Monthly get to download this for free from Big Finish’s website: a new Companion Chronicle, filling the gap I guess between the third and fourth seasons of the regular BF releases, starring Katy Manning as Jo Grant: The Mists of Time, by Jonathan Morris. It’s quite a decent story – not up to Morris’s impressive best, but exploits both the audio format, and Manning’s ability to mimic both her own younger self and also Pertwee and the other characters, rather well.(And a second actor, Andrew Whipp, is an incidental future archaeologist whose importance to proceedings only gradually emerges.) The ending was signalled a little too far in advance for my taste, and I didn’t quite buy the Awful Secret of the Time Lords, but I imagine Big Finish will get a few more subscriptions out of this one. (See also Morris’s own notes on producing the play.)

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July Books 31) Hidden, by Stephen Savile

The first of the non-printed series of Torchwood audio books, by Stephen Savile and read by Naoko “Tosh” Mori, set before the end of Series 1, so with a full five-member team. I am getting into these, I must say, having enjoyed The Sin Eaters earlier in the month: Naoko Mori has a quiet voice, but is intense when she needs to be, and also is good at doing the others’ accents without sounding like she is taking the piss. The story is a decent variation from the Torchwood standard, with seventeenth-century alchemy and modern genetic research combining to make a respectably sfnal plot, with also plenty of good character moments (Jack and Gwen, ironically enough, getting fewest of these). Anyway, brightened up a few days’ commute; I shall look out for more of these (esp as my reservoir of unheard Big Finish plays is running very dry).

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eBay etiquette

Bought a book on eBay. The seller sent me the wrong one. Now they refuse to send the right one unless I send the other one back first. (Though they say they will refund postage.) Advice?

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Harry Towb, 1925-2009

Harry Towb, a Northern Irish actor who made it moderately big on the British stage and screen, died at the weekend (a few days before his 84th birthday), and I just wanted to acknowledge his two roles in Doctor Who – as Osgood, the lunar controller in episode 1 of The Seeds of Death and McDermott, the old-school plastics factory man in episode 2 of Terror of the Autons. In both cases he gets kiilled off pretty early on, but rather memorably so. Osgood has a fairly standard English accent, but McDermott is the only character ever to appear on Doctor Who sounding like he shares Towb’s Norn Iron origins.


The Seeds of Death

 Osgood bids his farewell as he heads up to the moon…
 
…disappearing in the T-Mat booth…
 
…to find that his management problems…
 
…have been made worse by…
 
…the unseen intruders…
 
…(actually the Ice Warriors)…
 
…who shoot him. And he dies.



Terror of the Autons

McDermott is puzzled by the plastics factory…
 
…and the new advisor with the natty beard…
 
…who wants to show him a new invention…
 
…the chair you can just sink into…
 
…this is the forerunner of the bin that eats Mickey in "Rose"…
 
…and so McDermott dies.

Towb also returned rather bizarrely to play the Brigadier’s aged Italian Uncle in The Ghosts of N-Space, Jon Pertwee’s last outing as the Doctor, in 1996. There are no pictures from The Ghosts of N-Space, but perhaps that is just as well.

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War and sex

Samuel Pepys is at war. Or rather, England is at war with the Dutch; and Samuel Pepys, as senior administrator with the Navy Board, is deeply engaged with it. Last month, in a prolonged battle fought from 1 to 4 June 1666, the British were defeated, though not decisively.

In last night’s diary entry, Pepys tells how he had drafted a new paper on victualling the fleet, and was waiting for the King to come out of chapel to show it to him, when there came “people out of the Parke, telling us that the guns are heard plain. And so every body to the Parke, and by and by the chappell done, and the King and Duke into the bowling-green, and upon the leads [the roof], whither I went, and there the guns were plain to be heard.”

Once again, battle is raging at sea, and the government have no idea how it is going. Pepys hangs around court as long as seems practical (getting some of the King’s food and drink – the latter actually cooled with ice, an unthinkable luxury). But the working day is disrupted beyond repair.

So Pepys checks in with three of his lovers, and ends up going home with his wife. (Who was “twatling” at Lady Penn’s. Whatever that means.)

For future developments, check .

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The solution

Thanks to for pointing the way out of my earlier dilemma, especially given that she has better things to do. I sent my friend more or less the message she suggested, and he replied with good grace, explaining that he was “trying to poke our fusty old Americans back with provincialisms and see if we can shake people out of it.” Well, good luck to him if that is his aim; I suspect this particular route may not work.

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ZDF interview

In the unlikely case that you didn’t catch my ZDF interview from early June and still want to see it, I have uploaded my two-minute segment as a 45 MB .wmv file to http://www.megaupload.com/?d=5QC96YER – it is from a longer programme called “Die EU von A bis Z”, “The EU from A to Z” and my bit is “D for Diplomats (for hire)”. If you don’t have a MegaUpload account it will demand that you type in three letters to prove you are human before allowing you to access the file..

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Linkspam for 25-7-2009

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July Books 30) Shattered Visage, by Dean Motter and Mark Askwith

A graphic novel sequel to The Prisoner, published 20 years later. The Village has been closed for years, but a former Number Two exposes many of its secrets in a Spycatcher-like memoir. Meanwhile Alice Drake, an agent on a sailing holiday from a failing marriage, gets shipwrecked in this place with very weird architecture….

I generally liked Shattered Visage. It is very true to the original TV series visually and psychologically; the characters are beautifully drawn and entirely recognisable. I was a bit disappointed with the ending which felt both rushed and inconclusive. But basically this is a worthy addition to Prisoner canon.

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Etiquette, again

A friend of mine has written a short book about international politics, and sent it to me to ask if I would give him a quote for the blurb. I accepted with some interest – I know my friend really as an activist and was intrigued to discover what he is like as a writer.

Oh dear.

The book is really terrible. There is an offensive joke about Mexicans on the very first page, and it goes on from there. It is meant, I think (I hope) as ironic mockery of white American attitudes towards the rest of the world, but the irony is not very obvious.

Well, giving him a positive quote for the dust jacket simply isn’t an option. I am pondering whether to send a negative quote and daring him to use it, but that carries the risk that he will actually do so. No, I do not want my name on this appalling book.

So, the options are either write to him now and say that I cannot provide him with what he wants, or leave it in the hope that he forgets. (He has a big network, so I am certainly not the only person he has approached.) My energy levels today will determine which course of action I take.

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St Bridget

I was a bit surprised when my morning meditation announced to me that today is the feast day of St Bridget. Back in Ireland, the euhemerised deity is commemorated on 1 February.

When our eldest was a few months old, a chance conversation about names with (which I’m sure she has completely forgotten) alerted me to the existence of St Bridget of Sweden, who it turns out died on this date in 1373, and so is commemorated today.

The Swedish version seems to me not a bad role model to have: true to her own (admittedly somewhat peculiar) visions, moved to Rome in order to put more effective pressure on the Pope to raise the moral tone of the age; something of an activist who would not take no for an answer. I once ended up staying near the church she founded in Rome, though apparently she herself now rests back home in Sweden.

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Etiquette

K, an old friend, got back in touch after a few years yesterday, and while composing my reply to him I googled him and his wife, E, to see what they have been up to recently.

I discovered that they had had a bizarre and unpleasant experience a couple of years ago at the hands of a blogging advice columnist. It seems that E was on the phone to her optician in New York while sitting in a cafe in California, and talking too loudly for her neighbour’s taste. The blogging advice columnist, rather than saying this directly to E, wrote up the incident in a blog entry including E’s full name and phone number, suggesting that readers might like to call her and ask how the new glasses are going. The blog entry, published on a slow news day, got picked up by the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.

This is Not Cool. E made an unconscious mistake, quite possibly with mitigating circumstances of which the advice blogger is unaware (and indeed with one mitigating circumstance – not wanting to leave a small child on her own – which is obvious even from the advice blogger’s account). But the lesson the advice blogger gives us is not “don’t talk loudly on your mobile phone in cafes” but “it’s cool to publish the names and phone numbers of total strangers and urge others to mock them”.

You might have thought that rule #1 for any advice columnist would be that two wrongs don’t make a right. Obviously not.

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Odd

Just been to a working dinner in Brussels: nine participants, of whom six were Germans, one French, and myself and a Manxman. Discussion was of course in English, although all of ud could probably have done it in French, or indeed German.

One of the many ways in which British europhobia is so totally misguided is in failing to realise that, linguistically, anglophones are already so dominant in the EU that it is rather quaint to meet anyone who won’t do a meeting in English.

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Livejournal, Facebook, Twitter, Dreamwidth

How I use social networks – a public note:

Livejournal is my preferred platform still. I normally read all my friends-list, at least skimming it fairly continuously. I also use my friends list as an RSS feed, so catching up with a number of other blogs that way. I will generally add people to my f-list if 1) I have met them in person or 2) they write interesting stuff (or both). I sometimes post locked entries on a restricted filter for the first category, and more rarely on an all-friends filter. As they say, every day is defriending amnesty day for me, and if you take me off your list I will not make an issue of it if we ever meet in person (or in comments on someone else’s journal).

All my public LJ entries get mirrored to Facebook as Notes. Not everyone appreciates this and I will not take offence at people defriending me because they find I am posting too much that they don’t want to read (or for any other reason). Occasionally my posts generate more discussion on Facebook than they do on Livejournal (most recent example: the Bastille Day incident, which is the immediate reason for this post); but I’m not as enthusiastic about using it as a discussion space because it’s only a semi-public forum, and archiving is much less straightforward. Also I have to admit that I check in with Facebook rather irregularly – once or twice a day, but I don’t go the whole way back along my friends-feed, so I will miss things. I am a bit more restrictive in my friending policy on Facebook, and will not add people with whom I have had no previous interactions.

My public LJ entries also get tweeted in summary on Twitter, and I also tweet to update my Facebook status (using the selective Twitter application and the #fb tag). I do not check Twitter every day, and responses to me there may go unnoticed for several days. I will only follow people on Twitter if I know who they are, but of course anyone can follow me (I will block obvious spam accounts).

I am on Dreamwidth but using it only as a backup for my Livejournal, given that my archive is apparently too big for LJarchive to cope with. I check my Dreamwidth reading list once a week at most.

(Also using LinkedIn and a couple of others, but the above are the main ones.)

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July Books 28) The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway

We Belgians celebrate the anniversary of the inauguration of King Leopold I in 1831 today, and I have been doing so by sitting in the garden, ignoring the current internet slapfight, and reading the gripping account of one man’s battle with a huge fish. (And other things too, but that was the book I finished.)

It is very good. Hemingway must be rather easy to pastiche – those sentences that have two or more clauses linked by “and”, moving from statis to dynamic: “Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.” But somehow he gets it just right; as I sat in the garden reading, I was very much out on a small boat in the Gulf of Mexico, wrestling with the marlin, exhaustedly accepting the victory of the sharks. This is, believe it or not, the first Hemingway I have ever read, but it won’t be the last.

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July Books 27) Misspent Youth, by Peter F. Hamilton

This book is about a rich old man who gets rejuvenation treatment in a future Britain subordinated to a federal Europe. Hamilton has a pretty good reputation, but I think that must be based on other works than this. It is an odd mixture of bits which work very well and bits which don’t, sometimes both at the same time.

To start with the less political: this is one of the best treatments I have read of rejuvenation. This is a rather low bar; I am comparing it with Robert J. Sawyer’s Rollback and John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, and a bunch of recent terrible Hugo nominees mostly in the short fiction categories. But I thought Hamilton’s account rang very true: Jeff Baker’s newfound youth totally disrupts his existing relationships, makes him even more of a celebrity than he already was, and enables him to shag every woman he wants to, particularly including his teenage son’s girlfriend, who ends the book impregnated with their genetically engineered embryo. The biggest narrative flaw – and it is a big one – is that none of the characters is particularly nice.

On the political front, the book combines impressive forward thinking with a lazy Europhobia. Hamilton’s depiction of how the internet might be used for political marketing and grassroots mobilisation is very impressive: this was starting in 2001, when he was writing, but that was still several years before YouTube, never mind Twitter. His description of the organisation of the anti-Europe demonstration at the end of the book is reminiscent of this year’s events in Iran and Moldova (and like those, it doesn’t actually achieve the desired result).

Hamilton’s depiction of European politics is repugnant. His near-future Britain uses the euro as currency and has a Blair-like prime minister who is running to be president of Europe. But the restive population is chafing under the yoke of Brussels rule, and is finally invaded from the continent by shock troops arriving via Eurostar. The end of the book has the dying Jeff Baker in a live webcast (reminiscent of Princess Diana’s famous 1995 interview) blaming Europe per se for his demise, without any apparent challenge from other characters or the author. As I said above, this is lazy stuff, barely more advanced than the paranoid fantasies of Andrew Roberts; it’s a shame that Hamilton’s interesting thoughts about the internal wiring of future politics are combined with a cardboard concept of the bigger picture.

This was obviously the wrong place to start reading Hamilton. I would be interested to hear recommendations of which of his other books to try, and also which to avoid.

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July Books 26) Veeps, by Bill Kelter and Wayne Shellabarger

A book of simple facts about the 46 men who have served as vice-president of the USA, pointed out to me by a while back, nicely produced by comics publishers Top Shelf Productions. I have a feeling that a lot of it is taken from Steve Tally’s Bland Ambition, but the authors have been decent enough to provide extensive bibliographies on each. For extra value they add some late twentieth-century also-rans (Curtis LeMay, Thomas Eagleton, Geraldine Ferraro and Admiral James Stockdale, of whom only Ferraro was actually on a major party ticket come the election.)

I did learn a few things from it. I had no idea that Henry A. Wallace was such a loon, or that the LBJ/Humphrey relationship was so poisonous. (I can’t quite get my head around LBJ not endorsing his own VP in as tight an election year as 1968.) I was aware of the character flaws of Daniel Tompkins and Spiro Agnew, but boggled a bit at the details. On the other hand, the entertaining chapter on John C. Calhoun omits the pertinent fact that he resigned a couple of months before the end of his term.

Still, I laughed out loud at the description of Dick Cheney as exuding “the palpable, if unfounded, sense that he has either killed men with his bare hands or hired shadowy others to do it for him in Washington D.C. parking garages very late at night.”

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July Books 25) The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts, by Maxine Hong Kingston

An interesting memoir of life as a Chinese girl growing up in California, very much concentrating on the Chinese family background and history, including untold stories, the nearness of myth and of symbolism, the alienness of the Californian environment (the “ghosts” of the title are non-Chinese people). A good read, also mercifully short.

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