Thursday, September 30, 2010

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman

Since I love most everything by John Krakauer, I knew I wanted to read Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. It’s been on my Amazon wish list awhile, and when I finally got it, it was already out in paperback. Turns out this was great because a few things happened since the book was first published in early 2009 and Krakauer was able to add some snippets in and fill out the story even more.

After just the first five pages I was already sad and depressed. War really sucks. However, I tend to live in my own little world and go about my day, so I felt a bit out of the loop when it came to some of the aspects of the war(s). Krakauer alternates telling us about Pat Tillman with telling us about Afghan history and the war. It would’ve been easy to just think of Tillman as your typical football jock, a rough-and-tough meathead. But Tillman was the opposite. Sure, he was strong and fast and could tackle like any other NFL defensive player, but he also read the classics, wrote in a journal, cried when he was overwhelmed and hiked alone so he could think. For him, football wasn’t about the money (i.e. he turned down a $9 million deal from the Rams and continued to play for Arizona for $500,000), it was about the challenge. He didn’t enlist after 9-11 just to go “shoot ‘em up.” He believed it was his duty. And then when he got to boot camp and was surrounded by a bunch of immature babies, he questioned his decision. When he felt the war in Iraq was illegal (he enlisted to fight in Afghanistan, not Iraq), he thought about quitting. And if he wasn’t so strong willed and committed, maybe he would’ve quit. But he made a deal, and he wasn’t going to break it. He was honorable. His journal entries were amazing and really let you see inside the man he was. He was a true hero, and it’s insulting and criminal the way the Army and the government disgraced him and his family.

I know politics is all about the spin. And I fully learned through Where Men Win Glory just how much spin there is. I work in the media, so I understand, too, what it means to market something. And, sure, it makes sense that a government may have to market a war. I just didn’t realize to what extent the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were marketed. They actually have their own marketing departments; people paid to spin the bad news into good, or if there is no good, do their best to cover up the bad. To use the “rescue” of Jessica Lynch as a means to cover up the fact that the first dozen or so deaths of the war were actually deaths by friendly fire? That takes some serious spin. To burn the uniform of Pat Tillman and force his comrades to lie to the Tillman family (and so many other bad, bad things) as a means to cover up his death by friendly fire? To make his mom fight the government for three years just to get the truth? I have no words; it’s just so sad.

And this whole friendly fire thing? I had no idea how common it was. I knew it happened, but I had this weird notion that it only happened in some confusing ground battle, where amongst all the ruckus, it’s hard to see who’s the enemy and who isn’t. Well, we don't really fight wars like that anymore, do we? It seems friendly fire really happens because these kids are inexperienced, have never shot weapons before, aren’t trained to use radios properly and everything just becomes a big hot mess. All the kids get on the radio at the same time, jam the frequencies and the necessary messages aren’t relayed, so our jets never learn that those tanks they’re dropping bombs on are actually American soldiers. Are you kidding me? Or, the mixed messages from the top commanders - who aren't on the ground themselves - are forced upon lieutenants who, while they disagree, must follow orders and people end up getting hurt. I understand there will be casualties of war, and I understand mistakes will happen and people will die, but after reading this book, I wonder if we’re even learning from our mistakes? Things don’t seem to be getting better.

The book was eye opening and informative. I learned a lot about the war that I think I either glazed over previously or just didn’t know about. Or, I heard the first spinned account of some story (Jessica Lynch) and then when the truth came out, I never heard the less-publicized follow up. And while the war part of the book was most definitely interesting to read, I truly loved learning about Pat Tillman and his strong and charming family. His strength, his truth, his beliefs were heart warming and inspirational and I’m glad I got to know more about him.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Freakonomics: The movie

I loved Freakonomics, the book. Even though the authors were sometimes talking about complicated functions and pieces of cultural life, the everyday language and great humor made the book come off really well. It's one of those books you read where you just want to tell everyone you see about what you just read. Things that people think are related are not. It's pretty cool. I have the sequel on my shelf ready to read.

When I heard they were making a movie out of the book, I wasn't sure how it would come across. But the movie has some pretty important and talented people behind it. Looks good!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

October, here we come.

As I've done last year and the year before, I'd like to take a moment to celebrate the Twins. While it may not be as edge-of-my-seat crazy as last year's game 163 or 2008's tie breaker loss to the White Sox (though I think we forgive Jim Thome by now), I'm actually happy to skip the drama this year and have our team wrap it up a whole three series before the end of the season. The fact that we did this after a pretty depressing first half and without our favorite Canadian and stellar closer, well, once again our scrappy team proves they ain't so scrappy after all.

Now, as always the playoffs will prove to be ridiculous. Yankees or Rays? Really? Like Aaron Gleeman says, Pick Your Poison. I cautiously choose the Rays, because man, do I hate those Yankees. Even if we're close to being the better team, we just lose our mojo around those guys. And while it'd be better to just have to play a five-game ALDS series against them instead of seven games in the second round, I'd rather give another team (ahem, Texas) a chance to beat them first. But the Rays are awesome, too, so I repeat: Ridiculous.

Yet, exciting. Go Twins!

And maybe it's because I'm utterly exhausted today from a night of only 1.5 hours of straight sleep, but this Sports Illustrated article on new fan-favorite Jim Thome made me cry. He's a class act, that man, and I'm so glad he's coming with us to the playoffs. Hopefully his awesome attitude and mega muscles will get us past at least the first round. I'm also glad we get SI at home. That cover is going on the fridge.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Gender Bias and the Written Word

Meghan O'Rourke of Slate asks a very intriguing question: why are women so infrequently heralded as great novelists? I never really thought about it (stupid, I know) until I read this column and began nodding my head over and over. So often women's fiction is considered "rom com," "click lit" or "beach read." Nothing more. But there are plenty of fabulous female authors out there - current ones, even, not just your Brontes, Austens, etc. - so why aren't they considered more frequently on the best-of-all-time lists? Is it because most of our reviewers are men? Is it merely an unconscious movement? Is it because female authors tend to write about female characters? If those "great American novels" had been written by women, would they never have been called great? Should women authors start sending in manuscripts with male pseudonyms? Something to think about at least. A few quotes from the article that I enjoyed:

"In many circumstances, we also simply assume men are more talented: Before the advent of blind auditions, fewer than 5 percent of the players in major American symphonies were women. But after blind auditions began to be held, the percentage of female players soared almost tenfold. Is there any reason to believe our evaluations of literary talent (which almost always happen with full knowledge of a writer's gender) are uninfluenced by that kind of unconscious bias?"

"Studies have shown, for instance, that in the face of subtle discouragement (facial expressions and so forth) candidates perform less well. It's really, really hard to write a book. It takes a lot of time and solitude. In my experience, women are not as good at insisting they need that time and solitude. (I wonder how many female writers have, like me, sometimes wished they were a man so everyone—family, friends, partners—would understand a little better when they go in the room and shut the door for weeks on end.)"

"There's the provocative female writer who was asked if she had an eating disorder because she is naturally skinny, and whom reporters badgered for information about the number of men she'd slept with... There's the author who sent out a proposal about John Lennon and learned that editors worried readers might not believe a woman could write with authority about a musician."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Talking to Girls about Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut

Ed Note: I can now see that once I started reading again after having a baby, I chose to stick to those authors I know. The last five books? Sequels or books by authors I've read before. I guess I find comfort and ease with the familiar. I'm doing it again currently with Where Men Win Glory by John Krakauer. After that one, I'm determined to read someone new.

I read Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield and loved, loved it. It was a sweet, heartbreaking sonnet to his late wife who died suddenly and much too young. Even if I didn’t know the music he was referring to as he memorialized their relationship through songs, I didn’t have to because the writing and the message took over.

I was hoping Talking to Girls about Duran Duran would give me the same feeling. This book is another memoir and it takes a peek insides Rob’s life during the ‘80s. Each chapter relates his experiences to a song/artist – Pat Benatar, Flock of Seagulls, Prince, etc - during a year of the decade. While his writing is still great and his self-deprecating humor still funny, I just couldn’t relate to this book very much. I found myself skimming chapters that meant little to me.

Now, this is not Sheffield’s fault. Once again, the writing is great, I was just born too late to appreciate his musings. Sheffield loved all kinds of music and most of it I’ve never heard of, or had no way of picking out the tune in my head. But, a few of the themes he focused on did resonate with me. I loved his relationship with his younger sisters. You can tell Sheffield learned a lot from these women while growing up, and I can guarantee that’s why he turned out sensitive, respectful and thoughtful. I also understand the way certain songs can stick with you and remind you of certain moments in time – though, I think a memoir about growing up in the ‘90s might hit closer to home with me. The chapter on his relationship with his grandfather was also super sweet. Plus, many of these years coincided with his teenage angst - sitting in his room alone listening to the radio and thinking about life and love - which we've all been through no matter what decade.

Funnily enough, the chapter about the New Kids on the Block (my Duran Duran – the band that all the girls loved and the boys hated and that, while no longer popular, I will defend to the grave my past love for) song Hangin’ Tough was actually the one I could relate to most. Sheffield talks about being 23 and his sister being 13 and the two of them creating mixed tapes for each other. He’d give her tapes with Depeche Mode and she give back something she was most interested it. Make my brother Sheffield and me his sister, same age difference, same music (my brother actually sent me a mix tape with Depeche Mode and I returned with Garth Brooks; I think we both didn't "get" the other's love, but we still shared and created the memory). I was nodding my head and remembering back fondly.

So, if you were a music-loving teenager or early-20-something during the ‘80s, you’ll probably love this book. Or, if you’re just a huge music fan, you could too. I’m just not quite the right demographic to love this book, though I definitely appreciate its sentiment.