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    Sunday, May 28, 2006

    Sunday Book Review Time!

    1. Great moment from the
    WaPo review of Steve Almond's and Julianna Baggott's Which Brings Me to You

    The trouble is Jane's letters sound an awful lot as if they've been written by an award-winning author and writing instructor with an MFA. So, alas, do John's. To say this spoils the fun is to understate.

    Take, for instance, Jane's remembrance of high school boys: "I loved them with primal biology; I loved them because of an internal bent, a moist yearning imprinted heavily on my genes, perhaps passed down through my mother, stunted (and highly polished, too) by her need for romance."

    And here John remembers: "Eve herself, who smelled luxurious from the shower, smoothed down in amaretto lotion, who went off to work in the city and returned with wads of grubby dollar bills and cabernet on her breath, who smoked on the window sill and wore her floppy breasts in scented bras . . . took me up to her rooftop to make love on the hot tar."

    Yo, Jane, John: Quit your day jobs and get fellowships at the Iowa Writers' Workshop!

    2. Review of Locked by Michele Wucker:

    About halfway through Michele Wucker's timely book Lockout, she spends a few days with the 40 finalists competing in the 2005 Intel Science Talent Search. These are formidably bright high school seniors already doing scientific research not just a notch or two above their peers' work but well beyond the understanding of most adults. And, as at most science and math competitions in the United States today, the Intel finalists are disproportionately immigrants or the children of immigrants.

    As Wucker mingles among these foreign-born best and brightest, exploring their personal stories, it's hard to miss her point: We need this talent. And any policy that helps us take advantage of it will be good not only for the immigrants and the United States but also for the world, which will eventually reap the benefits of what these new Americans produce. ...

    Her concern is that our ambivalent attitudes toward foreigners and globalization, combined with our broken immigration bureaucracy, are going to deprive us of this talent. Her case is somewhat exaggerated. In one chapter, for instance, she imagines a day without not just Mexicans but without any immigrants, skilled or unskilled. This is downright silly; no one is thinking of sealing America's borders to top-level scientists. But she's on the money when she argues that we let in too few of these people, that our immigration bureaucracy handles their cases poorly and that, as a result, more and more prospective Americans would now rather immigrate to other countries.

    3. NYT is entertaining my new food obsession. Check out the reviews of Marion Nestle's What To Eat, and Two For the Road by Jane and Michael Stern. I want to go on a food-road-trip of the US with my love, too! (Never. Ever. Going. To. Happen.) But I personally could barely stomach reading Frank Bruni's fast food tour. I mean, some things sounded delicious, but the grease-at-the-put-of-my-stomach-feeling managed to set in, without my having ingested a morsel. Not a good omen.

    4. You must check out the review of Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution by Simon Schama and The Forgotten Fifth: African Americans in the Age of Revolution by Gary B. Nash:

    In his engrossing new history, Simon Schama asks some startling questions: Which side should slaves have rooted for in the American Revolution -- the colonists, who spoke of liberty, or the British, who offered to free rebel-owned slaves willing to serve the crown? For many of them, Schama argues, "it was the British monarchy rather than the new American republic that was more likely to deliver Africans from slavery." As he puts it, "tens of thousands of Africans, enslaved in the American South, [looked] to Britain as their deliverer, to the point where they were ready to risk life and limb to reach the lines of the royal army" -- an "astounding fact" that necessitates retelling the tale of the Revolution "in a freshly complicated way." ...

    The fragile American republic, half-slave and half-free, had its own problems merely staying together. It put off ending the slave trade and ignored its slaves, except to count them as fractions of persons in allocating seats in Congress. Nash charges moral cowardice -- a failure of will by North and South -- and both he and Schama cite chapter and verse about the new republic's lapses. Despite John Adams's republican idealism and religious piety, before the Revolution he had appeared as a lawyer for slave owners; as vice president, he confessed frankly in 1795 that slavery was "a subject to which I had never given any particular attention." Twelve American presidents, including Jefferson, were slave-owners. Benjamin Franklin freed his last slave only in his will. Washington also freed his many slaves by testament at his death, but Martha Washington's slaves -- her property at marriage -- remained in bondage. Not even all Quakers, Schama observes, "were averse to slaveowning." The prewar slave trade largely operated out of liberty-loving Rhode Island. Schama and Nash do not paint a pretty picture, before the Revolution or after.


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