Thursday, July 29, 2010

Courage and Consequence

by Karl Rove

Thumbs up.

In this memoir by Senior Advisor and Deputy Chief of Staff for President George W. Bush, Karl Rove tells his side of what he calls in the book, the many "Myths of Rove."  Starting with his life as a youth and continuing through his days as President of College Republicans; his days as founder and director of Rove+, a direct mail consulting and later public affairs firm; his years working for George W. Bush during Bush's gubernatorial campaign and governorship in Texas; and finally his years in the center of world events, serving President Bush in the White House, Rove shares his story.

The story Rove tells is sometimes exhilarating and inspiring; frequently maddening and frustrating; and even periodically heartbreaking.  I really ran the gamut of emotions while struggling to get through the book.  There were times the emotionally laden material was too much to read in a constant dose, as in Rove's recounting of the events of 9/11 and the days following that horrendous event.  There were times I was so mad at our press or political players that I didn't want to continue the book.

For the most part Rove tells his story well, but there are times I got bogged down in the details.  For much of the book, I was engaged and drawn, but there were a few places during which Rove's lists of various hypocrisies or transgressions by his political opponents became simply lists to wade through.

The book is very well documented, encouraging any cynical or doubting readers to check up on his facts.  I was unfamiliar with the citation style Rove chose.  He does not number his citations, but each end note has a page number and a segment of quoted text, followed by the bibliographical information.  Once I got used to this style, I think I preferred it to the more traditional style.  I was able to concentrate on the text without the distraction of constant end notes; and then later when I chose to read through his citations, the partial quote allowed me to contextualize the information at that time.

Another bonus is the very comprehensive index.  I've already used it to recheck a few things I couldn't remember clearly.

I was left with several primary impressions from the book.  Firstly, Rove very much admired and respected the man for whom he worked.  Rove makes an excellent case explaining why history will include President George W. Bush as one of America's great leaders.

Secondly, Rove loves the political game.  This opinion comes through loudly throughout the book, but I remain a little skeptical of the nobility of this attitude. Let me rephrase that.  I think statesmanship is a noble calling.  I think the academic study of politics and political systems is a noble endeavor.  And I think the ability to articulate for the general public the ideas gleaned from such study is a noble undertaking.  But the game, the political give and take and grab and throw and whatever verbs one chooses to put with American politics today is neither noble nor dignified.  But Rove almost convinces me of its worthiness.

And finally, Rove loves his country.  In one of the end chapters of the book, Rove describes meeting with the Krisstoff family.  Dr Bill and Mrs Christine Krisstoff lost a son, Nathan, a Marine First Lieutenant, to an IED in Iraq;  they saw another son, Austin, follow in his brother's footsteps to fight for his country in the US Marine Corps.  And Dr. Krisstoff, an orthopedic surgeon, at 61, was begging to serve his country by treating the wounded as a Navy doctor.  With the help of the Bush Administration, Dr. Krisstoff was allowed to join the Navy and finally was able to treat wounded Marines on the front lines as part of the Forward Resuscitative Surgical System.   Rove explains how getting to know this family clarified for him the greatness of the American people.
I came to understand, more powerfully and clearly than ever before, what the president meant when he said that in these visits with the loved ones of the fallen "the comforter becomes comforted by the spirit and pride of these families."  And like so many others who have met people like the Krisstoff family over the years, I marveled at how our nation produces people like Nathan, Austin, Bill, and Christine.  To see bravery, sacrifice, and love of country in such personal terms leaves a mark on your soul.  It also deepened, in ways I could never imagine, my love for our country and for Americans who rise in times of consequence and challenge.  As long as this nation produces people like the Krisstoff family America will remain not only the greatest nation on the planet, but the most noble in history's long sweep.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A is for Alibi

by Sue Grafton

Thumbs kind of half way up.

This is not a bad murder mystery.   In fact, the plot was pretty good and kept me guessing until right near the end.  The characters are well done. I could easily picture the personalities Ms Grafton was portraying.

I will probably read another in this Kinsey Millhone series; in fact, I've already requested the next one from the library.

That said, I am tired of a few of the stylistic things Ms Grafton used.  I don't enjoy when an author cannot seem to imagine anyone with traditional morals.   Ms Grafton portrays an attitude of, "How quaint.  Those poor backward folks who have to live that way."  And she uses a pathetic female heroine who is screwed up in her romantic relationships.  Ugh!  I think it is part of the noir detective genre to have such crazy psychoses. I just don't always have much patience for or sympathy toward this style of character.

I also seemed to get bogged down occasionally with the details in this story.  I'm not sure if it was me, or the story, but I found myself reading and rereading the descriptive passages. 

I'll give an update if I find myself enjoying the second one more.

No. 1 Hard

by Oliver Dalrymple, Bonanza Farmer

Thumbs Up.

NO. 1 HARD; Oliver Dalrymple: The Story of a Bonanza Farmer, in a very brief account, tells the story of one of the chief Bonanza Farm managers in the Fargo area in the mid to late 1800s and on into the 1900s.  The story is pieced together from memories of three generations of Dalrymples.  It is told as though to the younger generations. 

The story begins with the Dalrymples farming near Amherst MA, shortly after the Revolutionary War.  It traces their progress west by way of Sugar Grove, PA ; Cottage Grove, MN; and finally Casselton, ND.

The just over fifty page book is full of colorful pictures of westward expansion, innovation, risks, and hard work.  It was a pleasure to read.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Culture Keeping: White Mothers, International Adoption, and the Negotiation of Family Difference

by Heather Jacobson

Thumbs up-------not because it's an especially great read, but because it gets you thinking. This isn't a breezy, cutesy book for white, middle-class adoptive moms to get fun ideas from for embracing your internationally adopted child's birth culture. It's a scholarly book which reads like a master's thesis. It provides the results of the author's research into the subject of how white mothers view their responsibility to help their cross-cultural adopted children identify themselves--as Americans and as members of their birth culture.

She interviewed mothers of adopted children from China and Russia and was able to present insight as to how race, culture and societal pressure affects their parenting differences.

The tone of the book left me wondering if she wasn't anti-cross-cultural adoption, but she never came right out and expressed an opinion either way--remember it's supposed to be a scholarly book just reporting the results of her survey. As an adoptive parent, I grimaced at some sections where it seems she is belittling the "adoption industry" for forcing adoptive parents into spending money to promote the culture of their adoptive children.

However, it was fascinating to hear the responses of some of these women to these questions--some so obviously out-of-touch. Especially interesting was the difference between parenting attitudes about race and culture between the two groups: one which had white children (who could blend into society unnoticed), and one which had children of a notably different racial background. She discussed parenting in African American communities and compared that to parenting a child of another culture/race and that discussion was especially thought-provoking, as none of the traditional adoption literature has included information about how minorities in this country parent. As an adoptive parent myself, I definitely could identify with the issues brought up, and found it a very interesting read.

Painting the American Heartland in Watercolor

By Diane Phalen, North Light Books, Cincinnati, Ohio 1997.

Thumbs up. There is a great deal in this book on setting and composition. In the first section P focuses on tools, paints, and some basic methods: including various uses of papers, erasers, palette knife, and nail file, types of washes, glazing, dry brushing, blotting, spattering and several other techniques that are considered by some to be outside the sphere of "genuine" watercolor.

The next section of the book is a set of fourteen painting projects with palate, technique, and steps that the reader is to work through to develope better skills at watercolor and composing scenes of Americana.

The artist's style seems too comic book like for me, but the methods and discussions she presents are very useful.

Yes, I'll try to get this one for my library too.

Capture the Charm of Your Hometown in Watercolor: Frank Loudin with Marcia Spees

Capture the Charm of Your Hometown in Watercolor: Frank Loudin with Marcia Spees; North Light Books, Cincinnati, Ohio 1998.

Two Thumbs Up!

Loudin presents six chapters on methods, tools, materials, composition, and presentation. His main emphasis throughout the book is to use the techniques he presents to tell a story with composition of elements in the watercolor.

Some of Loudin's work is available at his website. For good examples of what he demonstrates in this book consider "Gloria Minutia," "Piston Ring," "Katydid." While these works are not in the book, Loudin teaches the composition and techniques that will help aspiring watercolor artists to emulate them in creating their own works based on their own compositions.

L's introduction focuses on developing a story and accumulating photos, sketches, and other image scraps to use in a composition. L turns to techniques such as foregrounding, clutter, texture, and materials.

The first chapter is a very well illustrated discussion of creating the story, the nature of perspective and how to use perspective, using scale to create depth, how overlays can refine the composition: using tracing paper for elements in the overlays to identify the best placing in the composition; how mood is created through color values and color  both with the whole composition or with elements like the sky.

L then presents three variations of a specific composition, summer, autumn, winter and takes the reader through an illustrated step-by-step building another variation of the composition.  Through the guide L gives clear advice on techniques and special issues like landscapes, flowers and shrubs, puddles, vehicle tracks; pavement, road and ground texture. L then provides suggestions on other views for different compositions using other artist's works and different media.

This not all of what is in just the first chapter. The presentation and rate of information is well paced and makes great sense.

There are still five more chapters full of good information. Each chapter builds upon the previous with a wealth of advice and direction in building skills. The authors more than satisfy the title of the book.

I definitely want to add this to my library.