Sunday, January 5, 2014

2013 Wrap Up (Maybe I'll be better in 2014?)

As much as we'd like to forget the
 movie, some things can't be undone...
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Try to live so that you can always tell the truth.

A good book about breaking from the past.  Jonathan Safran Foer goes to Ukraine in search of "Augustine," a person who he believes saves his grandfather during World War II.  The main character, Alex is enlisted to help Foer find Augustine.  What follows in the novel is an interplay of the past with the present as the characters all attempt to come to terms with history.  And the future.  This book deserves a much more thorough review, but I've been sitting on it for 6 months, so what can you do?  (Fun fact: this happens to be one of my special lady friend's favorite books and I just so happened to have purchased a signed first edition for her for Christmas; also, welcome to 50 Books, Brittany!).

Lee Boyd Malvo
The Making of Lee Boyd Malvo: The D.C. Sniper by Carmeta Albarus & Jonathan Mack

This book was excellent.  Background: Lee Boyd Malvo was one of the D.C. snipers.  He was a kid, basically (17 at the time), operating under the instructions of an older male, John Allen Muhammad.  The book follows Malvo's development from childhood into the D.C. sniper, and then through his rehabilitation.  Fun Fact: Malvo was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences.  What makes the book excellent is that it shows how Malvo was desperate for a father figure; how every time he developed a relationship with an adult figure, his mother would tear the relationship apart; how Muhammad swooped in and became everything Malvo lacked from other adult figures in his life.  The book's aim is not to excuse Malvo's actions, but to explain them.  And, without trying to claim Malvo lacked choice, the book explains why he made his choices.  An important read for anyone interested in mitigation narratives.

Fatal Vision by Joe McGuinness

Jeffrey MacDonald
This book was terrible.  Background:  In 1970, officers were called to Jeffrey MacDonald's house; MacDonald's wife and two daughters had been murdered.  MacDonald claimed that a group of raving/roaming hippies had attacked him and the rest of his family.  This was the beginning of 40 years of litigation, intrigue, and media interest.  After charges were initially dropped and then reinitiated (after a couple of years).  Nine years after the murders, trial began.  It was during the trial that Joe McGuinness (also famous for putting up shop next to Sarah Palin) moved in with the defense team.  He became very close to MacDonald both during the trial and after MacDonald's conviction.  McGuinness became convinced of MacDonald's guilt, and wrote so much in Fatal Vision.  I'll skip discussing the merits of the case.  The book is terrible because McGuinness writes like someone trying to sell millions of books, not uncover any kind of useful truth.  This was predictable merely by looking at the cover (which Brittany disparagingly pointed out had "raised font" for the title).  However, I was drawn to the book because about a year ago I read Errol Morris's account of the MacDonald trial.  Morris believes MacDonald should not be imprisoned given the existence of alternative suspects, one of whom has confessed (and unconfessed) at various points in time.  The book and the case are interesting because of the attention it has received.  In addition to McGuinness's and Morris's books, the case was the subject of a book by Janet Malcom (re: the relationship between journalists and their subjects), a made-for-TV-movie that apparently I can't get my hands on (though I've tried), and an extensive article in the Washington Post (in response to Morris's book).  Oh, and how could I forget: McGuinness wrote a response to Morris's book.  Expect a review of Malcom's book in 2014 and possibly McGuinness's response.  No promises, though.

The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo by Jess Bravin

This book was excellent.  Bravin goes into how the military commissions were set up by the Bush administration and who (more importantly who was not) involved.  Bravin presents a compelling narrative, in which Cheney and Rumsfeld set up the commissions in a rushed power-grab for executive supremacy.  The book also discusses how the line prosecutors coped with the numerous problems in the Guantanamo cases.  I can't recommend this book enough; it reads like a narrative but presents the complexity of problems posed by incarceration and prosecution at Guantanamo. 


Christopher said...

Did you see Blue Caprice?

R.M. Fiedler said...

No, but as I was writing this review I came across it on the interwebs. I added it to my Netflix queue. Honestly, I was a bit surprised that I had heard of the book, read about it online, and then read it without having heard of the movie at all.

Have you seen it?

Christopher said...

No, I kind of wanted to but it seemed like a pretty bummer cinematic experience so I never felt up to it.