Monday, November 14, 2011

Benjamin Harrison 
by Charles W Calhoun. Times Books, 206 pages.

The latest in my ongoing effort to study America through the lens of presidential biographies, Charles W. Calhoun's Benjamin Harrison manages the amazing act of being as informative as a Wikipedia article without actually revealing all that much about its subject. This may be a result of the scope of the book - it's part of The American President's Series, edited by Arthur M. Schlessinger Jr, and it's probable that the author was working towards a specific word count. But whatever the reason, this is hardly the most comprehensive look at the life of the 23rd President (that honor resides with the 3 volume opus by Harry J. Sievers). This isn't necessarily a bad thing; but the book succeeds in revealing very little about Benjamin Harrison himself. This is a political biography, focused entirely on Harrison's professional actions, rather then his personal life. This sadly contradicts the aim of the American President series which, according to Mr. Schlessinger is to remind us of the humanity behind America's leaders.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
by Michael Lewis. W.W. Norton and Co. 286 pages.
directed by Michael Bennett. Columbia Pictures. 133 min.

Comparing a book to its filmed version is a dangerous pastime: cinema and print are two different mediums and require different storytelling skills. One is visual, the other cerebral. Those that realize this invariably make good films - they steal the book's plot and maybe some of the dialogue, but otherwise they're wise enough to leave the book on the shelf. Moneyball is one such film. Written by Steven Zallian and Aaron Sorkin, Moneyball the movie is a taut character drama of a man against the world. Michael Lewis' book, on the other hand, is a far more complex expose of baseball's underworld and the personas behind both the players and those who put them on the film. Book and film are two different entities that have sprung from the same tree: the closest analogy one could give is that they are a pair of successful fraternal twins.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Saturday by Ian McEwan.
Jonathan Cape, 279 pages.   

Ian McEwan has made a career putting the literary in literary fiction, but with Saturday he outdoes even himself. A novel that manages to be both dense and quiet, Saturday takes us slowly - very slowly - through a day in the life neurosurgeon Henry Perowne, allowing Mr. McEwan to revel in the mundane. Even the act of urinating deserves a paragraph of its own, which may be all you need to know in order to decide if Saturday is for you. Make no mistake: this is an exquisite book that reveals both the poetry and the disquiet in he most mundane of things. But Mr. McEwan is in no hurry to get to his point. Like The Comfort of Strangers, a much earlier novel, this is a book which almost imperceptibly pushes its characters towards an unforseen and startling climax.