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andersen continued

So, then:

“In September 2001, real life abruptly and completely flipped into full Bond mode. A wealthy freelancing supervillain in a secret underground lair, four hijacked American jetliners, the Pentagon struck, iconic 110-story Manhattan skyscrapers vaporized — this was precisely the kind of absurd, baroque scheme that Commander Bond trotted the globe trying to prevent. Since then, half our politics and news have concerned fiendish, nihilistic masterminds in their hideouts, charismatic and stateless psychopaths who dream of committing spectacular mass murder for its own spectacular sake, with the battle against them fought by daring, steadfast agents of MI6 and CIA and special ops equipped with fantastic gadgets and licenses to kill.”

And then:

“Bill Ayers and Bernadette Dohrn badly wanted to be revolutionary celebrities, household names, but they never were, not really, in their prime. Even after their nth bombing, the nightly news still had to identify them as ‘a radical group calling itself the Weather Underground.’ Bill Ayers finally became famous when he was a harmless sixty-three-year-old professor, because now out proliferating electronic media are free to focus on the irrelevant, obliged to fill air time and keep viewers and listeners riled by any means necessary. We’ve given the bad guys — a radical group calling itself al Qaeda — an unprecedented opportunity to scare us silly.”

And there’s not much to add; only, that it’s easy enough to enjoy this stuff, and it’s light and amusing, but it’s also grafted on to a story and a character in a way that’s more interested in the talk than the character, which makes True Believers about two-thirds novel and about one-third essay.



September 21, 2012, 10:59am   Comments

kurt andersen, true believers

“There’s been nothing like it since. It’s hard for her and for my children to appreciate how different 1962 was from 1969. I think of each year in the 1960s as distinctly as they think of whole decades. My brother, Peter, born seven years after me, has never considered himself a baby boomer. Our experiences were so different, he thinks because I’d been old enough to know the world as it was in the 1950s and early ’60s, before everything changed, whereas he was still a child when the late ’60s arrived. By the time he got to college in the ’70s, he says, the youth revolution had already cowed the grown-ups into doing away with all the old-fashioned codes of behavior.”

Honestly, it’s been a little while since I read this, which is not the way I like to use this tumblr; more than anything else, this is a way to keep track of immediate reactions, and my reactions to True Believers are no longer immediate. I’ve sat on the book too long. But the thing that strikes me, in looking at the quotes I’ve dogeared and held on to, are how very self-sufficient they are, how little commentary or interpretation they need. Kurt Andersen is charming, engaging; the story he tells is diverting and suspenseful enough; but he has the ability above all to set down absolutely everything he wants to say on a subject, carefully and clearly and nothing more, in a way that would be enviable in most long-form journalistic writing.

Oh, and the book is about the sixties, and I’m looking forward to the time (and it’s coming) when the sixties are not the most special moment for the most special generation.

Random House 07.10.12



September 20, 2012, 10:56am   Comments

david szalay, spring

“The question of the day was — Is the world changing more or less quickly than it was? Alexander said LESS quickly. The world was changing less quickly now than at any point in the twentieth century. Think, he said, of the fact that in 1900 there was no powered flight at all. The Wright brothers and their experiment on the sands at Kitty Hawk were still some years in the future. And not much more than a half century after that, there were supersonic airliners, spy planes photographing from the edge of space and men on the moon — while in the almost half a century since then we have essentially not moved past that point.”

This is not part of the main thrust of the book — it’s a nice bit, with the father of one of the main characters throwing himself into play-outrage over luncheon — but it’s also an interesting bit, in a thoroughly-, carefully-put-together realist novel that’s working to capture a specific moment in recent history. It echoes Kurt Andersen’s recent bit, especially inasmuch as it’s a rendering of a highly-specific just-pre-recession moment, spring 2006, in a three-hundred-year-old form.

Graywolf 01.17.12



January 22, 2012, 11:00am   Comments