My Kindle consumption so far has been bargain-priced – I’m signed up with a couple of web sites that publicize Amazon’s daily deals (free or reduced-price), and there are quite a few of them. A lot tend to be fiction, however; I wish there were more non-fiction books in the bargain bin. But beggars can’t be choosers!
Anyway, this weekend I finished a great non-fiction book that I picked up for a fraction of its normal price: The Siege of Washington : The Untold Story of the Twelve Days That Shook the Union by brothers John and Charles Lockwood. This is detailed and well-written history but as colorful and readable as the best fiction. It’s the story of the days immediately following the fall of Fort Sumter. Both the North and the South were still marshaling their forces, but Washington, D.C. — completely surrounded by the slave states of Virginia and Maryland — was at grave risk of attack, and its population still included many Confederate sympathizers who would have welcomed such an action.
President Lincoln and General Winfield Scott, then the respected elder statesman of the U.S. military, made plans to protect the city while waiting for reinforcements to arrive from the north. If the Confederacy had taken the opportunity to attack, it could likely have taken Washington with relative ease, captured Lincoln and changed the outcome of history.
A fascinating story, well-told.
I wish I could praise the other books I’ve dipped into this weekend. I picked up First World Problems: 101 Reasons Why The Terrorists Hate Us fairly early on, and I’ve been looking at it from time to time in between other books. (One of the nice things about an e-reader is that you can easily switch back and forth – heavy reading when you have the time, short essays when you have a little time to kill.) I got the book for free, and in retrospect I’m glad I didn’t pay for it.
It’s a series of curmudgeonly complaints about modern life, with the winking acknowledgement of the title that they’re not really all that big a deal in the larger scheme of things. Individually, they’re sort of clever, but they’re basically all the same thing, delivered in the same tone, and they get monotonous pretty quickly. They’re divided into thematic sections, such as “food,” which is a mistake because it only emphasized the repetition. I finally gave up today and moved the book, unfinished, into a folder and off my home screen. I may give it a second chance one of these days.
I had higher hopes for Laugh Lines: Conversations with Comedians, by Corey Andrew, and while I haven’t yet given up on it I’ve already started skipping around.
The book is a collection of interviews, in Q&A format, with a variety of comics and comic actors, from Dane Cook to Tim Conway, Lily Tomlin to Lisa Lampinelli. It got off on a bad foot with the log-rolling foreword by comic Kathleen Madigan, who grouses about what lousy questions she gets from reporters while promoting her stand-up appearances – and she went to journalism school, so she knows a bad interview when she’s part of one. By contrast, she raves about how great an interviewer Andrew is. Well, her main complaint about the other interviewers is that they aren’t familiar with her oeuvre and therefore ask stupid, uninformed questions. Now, as a reporter, I hate being unprepared for an interview, and there are times when, as a generalist who has to cover a wide variety of topics, I’m self-conscious about doing something for which I feel unprepared. But Madigan comes off more as if she’s offended from an egotistical standpoint, hurt that the reporters aren’t immediately familiar with her and her friends.
Anyway, she sets Corey Andrew up as a keen, prepared and insightful interviewer.
He’s not bad, I suppose, but there’s nothing particularly keen or insightful about his questions, and he sometimes tries too hard his own cleverness into the proceedings. Fortunately, he’s chosen some good subjects – which is why I haven’t given up on the book yet. But “Laugh Lines” is another book I’m kind of glad I didn’t pay for.