Spun to distraction – surviving life between the primaries and the general election

unspun This is probably the most exciting election year I’ve ever seen. It’s exhilarating and exhausting. Just keeping track of the code words and the spin cycles, not to mention the charges and counter-charges is enough to give even a committed political junky a headache. Enter unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation. Written by the founders of FactCheck.org, this is your guide to separating fact from “disinformation.” While the authors briefly touch on unsavory tactics of consumer sales, the heart of the book is a primer on political deception and the complicity of the news media. If you are suffering from FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) page through unSpun. It’s a quick read filled with tips that will help you maintain your information sanity through the wild ride of the presidential election season.

Gaiman gives it away!

American GodsAnd we like it. To celebrate the seventh birthday of his blog, the wildly inventive Neil Gaiman asked his fans to vote on which of his titles they’d like a free electronic copy of. Now that the voting is over, American Gods is available for online readers at the Harpercollins site for the month of March. Gaiman’s fourth novel tells of an epic struggle between a pantheon of dieties such as Odin, Anansi and Thoth, long thought dead but actually just lying low and doing menial jobs, and an upstart race of New American Gods – gods of television and the credit card, the Internet and the internal combustion engine.

Gaiman is not the first hugely talented author of speculative fiction to offer their work gratis. Kelly Link, Charles Stross, and Cory Doctorow are among a growing group of forward-thinking writers giving away their work via creative commons licensing. And there are other visionary organizations that have been giving books away for over a century! As Gaiman put it in a recent post on his blog: “Libraries are good things: you shouldn’t have to pay for every book you read.” Amen.

Dear Farmer John

veggies7.jpgFor Valentine’s Day I made dinner and invited friends over to watch the documentary The Real Dirt on Farmer John.  It’s the deeply personal story of John Peterson, a creative northern Illinois farmer who suffered from the near loss of his family farm and exclusion by his neighbors. The film narrates the history of the Peterson family and explains how John ended up running the farm at a young age.  During that time he was able to balance running the farm with going to college and enjoying his playful life. Then came the 1980’s and, like so many other farmers at the time, John was in financial trouble. 

The film brilliantly conveys the emotional burdens that John bears after inheriting the family farm: the pride of three generations of farmers as well as the shame of having to make great sacrifices with his land. One of the most personal moments in the film is when John communicates his dread of having to tell his mother about the farm’s financial problems.  His expressive mother brings the family’s memories alive and becomes the reason for John’s persistence with organic agriculture.  Farmer John’s Angelic Organics is wildly successful now due in part to Community Supported Agriculture.  I loved The Real Dirt on Farmer John because it’s a story of small farm success in the age of corporate agriculture. 

Did the FBI go too far …

oppie1.jpg … in 1954?  The FBI amassed a huge file over many years in their investigation of J. Robert Oppenheimer.  Much of the information they gathered – including illegal wiretapping of conversations between Oppenheimer and his lawyer – was used against him at his security clearance hearing.

Twenty-seven years in the making, American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J.  Sherwin details – sometimes in excruciating minutia – Oppenheimer’s fantastic, complicated life. The title, which refers to the god who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mankind only to be tortured and shamed for his efforts,  reflects the feeling that many people share about Oppenheimer’s treatment after he helped develop the atomic bomb in time for it to be used during World War II. His story is ripe for controversy and conflicting opinions.  Did the U. S. use the bomb against a nation prepared to surrender? Why was Oppie treated so badly by the government he so willingly served? Was his trial fair, or even legal? This biography doesn’t provide answers, but it sets forth many a valid question. For more informaton about the authors journey with their subject, you can read a series of question and answers, originally published online in 2005. Or for more about Oppie, view a centennial exhibit developed by UC-Berkeley.

The Other Boleyn Girl

boleyngirl1.jpgI’m a sucker for Tudor tales, so you can bet I’m excited that Philippa Gregory’s wonderful novel, The Other Boleyn Girl, is coming to the big screen this coming weekend (opens on February 29). I’ve certainly read a lot about Anne Boleyn over the years, but Mary Boleyn? This piece of historical fiction was new to me. And, oh, what scandal and intrigue ensue when Anne and Mary (and their brother, George) arrive at King Henry VIII’s court! Was Mary, who was already married to one of Henry’s courtiers, really the favored sister? What scheming took place to make sure that the Howard family rose to power above the Seymours? The book is a fast-paced almost racy read, and certainly worth reading before you see the movie (starring Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson; my excitement knows no bounds!).

What to read next, to keep the Tudor fires burning? There’s certainly no shortage in historical fiction for this slice of history, but if you liked The Other Boleyn Girl, try these two by the same author: The Constant Princess (follows the life of Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII) and The Boleyn Inheritance (lady-in-waiting Jane Boleyn testifies against Anne of Cleves, while her family works to place Katherine Howard on the throne). Or perhaps you, like me, have a bit of a Lady Jane Grey obsession going that started way back in elementary school? Then you won’t want to miss Innocent Traitor, the first novel by respected biographer Alison Weir. It’s a bit meatier than The Other Boleyn Girl, but just as engrossing.

Let’s hear about some other Tudor novels you’ve read …