Book Review: What to Do With Baby Ashes

Once upon a time, several years ago, I got a comment on my blog from someone I didn’t recognize. Because I was so new to blogging, I immediately clicked follow – and that just-so-happened-to-click moment led to me following one of the most brilliant poets I think I’ve read. She’s more active on Twitter now, if you want to follow Marnie Heenan @MarnieWriting. You can also find her website https://www.marnieheenan.com/

She’s published several poems in many outlets, but I’d like to present to my little corner of the blogosphere a book of poetry that will send you on an emotional ride.

The Book

What To Do WIth Baby Ashes read 2021

What to Do With Baby Ashes
Author: Marnie Heenan
2020
Amazon Link

The subtitle for this book (which isn’t on the cover) is Poems From My Life Before, During, & After Pregnancy Loss.

=O

Before I get much further, yes – this book does get pretty intense. As someone who will probably never become pregnant, I didn’t think it would be hard. I was there for the nature poetry (and whoo boy, can Heenan pull out some beautiful naturalism), and I still got hardcore heart thumpies. If miscarriage/pregnancy loss is going to be too intense for you, you might want to consider how or when you read this.

Non-Spoiler Review

There are two ways to read this book, and I will admit I did both of them because I just felt like the book deserved it.

Also because the story linking the poems was intense enough that I didn’t stop.

Usually when I read a book of poetry, I read one poem a night just before going to bed and then put it down. I happened to read this one in a single sitting (easy to do – it’s short), and HOLY CRAP WHAT INTENSITY. If you read this in one go, it’s like “Oh, this is pretty neat”, then it goes bam-bam-bam with shooting your heart right out of your chest followed by trying to sew it back together with a rusty needle and floss.

I finished it and was like, “Wow, that sent me somewhere.”

After that, I read a poem at a time (or maybe two, something like that).

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Like I do with compilation books, I’m going to talk about my favorite, a standout, and least favorite poem.

Favorite: Family Photo
This last poem in the book wraps everything you just read together. It draws the three sections – Before, During, and After – into a nice, tight bundle, and I love it. It was placed perfectly, and I think it did so much to the overall feel of the chapbook in addition to being intense, raw, and well-written on its own.

Standout: Drive Home
I thought about this one being my favorite, but it’s too perfect a fit for standout. It’s unforgettable. It’s such good stream of consciousness, and it has almost a Faulkner sort of feel. It’s short enough that the stream doesn’t become burdensome, and the emotional intensity of it might have been the climax for me.

Least Favorite: Subtropics
Honestly, this is kind of a bullshit section for me because all the poems were good. I chose this one because it was, once I flipped through it to write this review, the one I remembered the least of. It’s necessary to the story because it marks a shift in the author’s situation, but it’s a poem of nature that leads very quietly into the next scene. That’s all.

Next week:

I’m reading the first craft book I’ve ever read – Colleen Chesebro’s syllabic poetry book! Get hype!

Reading List – April 2021

We’re on to 2021’s second indie book month – and it’s going to be exciting as we delve through some books with female leads!

What to do with Baby Ashes – Marnie Heenan

I’ve followed Heenan online for quite a while. She used to be active in the WordPress scene, but now I keep up with her on Twitter and gaze every so often at her website. You all know I’m not a mom and don’t plan to be, but I’ve kept up with Heenan enough to know that she’s really, really good at poetry, and this book is her first chapbook. I think my heart’s ready to get ripped out. Stick around for the emotion bath.

Amazon Link

A Choice for Essence – Katelyn Uhrich

This summer, I read an anthology called From Ashes to Magic, and that contained one poem about the gods Life and Death that just blew me away. I chose to read Essence because it is told from the perspective of gods reminiscent of those in Greek myth, and I thought it could be as beautiful or interesting as the short I’d read this summer. However, I did note that it’s YA, so I’m not sure how that’s going to play out for me (just ok with YA).

Amazon Link

Marriage Unarranged – Ritu Bhatal

Marriage Unarranged read 2021

Everyone loves Bhatal online. It’s honestly hard to find a sweeter person. And, what’s more, I completely decided to buy this book when she self-described it as “Chickpea Lit”. How cute is that? I’m a sucker for puns, and I’m always looking for books about non-English, non-American cultural norms, and this book seems to be it. What’s more, I trust Bhatal’s experience, interpretation, and craft enough that I’m sure it’ll fulfill my international needs.

Amazon Link

More Reviews

Do you have a suggestion? Comments? I’m currently filled up for my review slots on the blog this year, but you can always submit a request for potential reviews on Goodreads and Amazon!

See my old reviews here

Book Review: John Quincy Adams

You know by sheer internet-based proximity to me that this month contains Andrew Jackson’s birthday. This year I am performing the ghastly deed of reading biographies of his enemies (gasp! shock! betrayal!), and my main man J-Qua was one of Jackson’s most hated.

The Book

513villxs0l

John Quincy Adams
Author: Harlow Giles Unger
2012
Amazon Link

John Quincy Adams, son of that other, more famous president John Adams, served the term just prior to Andrew Jackson. Biographies of Jackson paint him as a self-serving, pompous lunatic, but I have a feeling one could easily paint J-Qua (as I dub him) in a more positive light.

But don’t tell Jackson! He blamed John Quincy Adams for killing his wife (not going to say for sure he didn’t contribute) and, as one knows from the multiple bullet wounds taken and murders committed in the name of Rachel Jackson’s honor, anything hurting Rachel is anathema.

Let’s see this muthaf*cka from a new angle.

Non-Spoiler Review

I’ve known for a while that John Quincy Adams’s diary was extensive, written in daily from the time he was 11 until just before he died at 80 years old. In this biography, Unger mentions that the diary was some 14,000 pages at the time of his death.

And, if you were to write a biography of John Quincy Adams, wouldn’t you necessarily have to read all this? All these thousands upon thousands of pages of bellyaching about one’s own thoughts and self-rationalizations? These pages that will inevitably convert you to seeing eye to eye with the man?

The answer is probably, and I think Unger fully went into the pro-Adams camp when he wrote this.

This biography focuses heavily on Adams’s pre-presidential services and time growing up, then contains a significant portion about his post-presidential activities as a representative in congress. His presidency takes up a single chapter, which I was very suspect of – but, if Unger is right, Adams’s presidency was literally of such little note that you might as well write about William Henry Harrison’s.

I found John Quincy’s early life to be interesting, albeit in a different, less murderous way from Jackson. While he was born into some esteem as the son of John Adams, who was a patriot of the American Revolution and second president of the United States (I guess “these United States” given the time frame), he also faced difficulties because of it. John Quincy Adams’s parents were extremely demanding, so much so that the diary entries were very depressing and talked about the insane standards he kept failing to meet. Adams’s journey through what seems a crippling depression was interesting to go through.

Also well-known (if you count the guy well-known at all) is that John Quincy Adams was probably the most ardently anti-slavery president prior to the civil war. Viciously (in a good way) outspoken against slavery following his presidency, he successfully argued for the release of the Armistad captives and helped repeal the gag rule that prevented congress from talking about slavery.

Even so, the biography was painfully one sided to the point where it makes even my favorite Jackson biographers seem neutral. John Quincy Adams’s relationship with his wife was appalling, but the biographer swept it under the rug with ease. The inconsistencies in John Quincy Adams’s thinking weren’t well smoothed over or explained.

4/5 Discoball Snowcones

4 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Hokay, so, let me tell you why you should hate him anyway.

Once upon a time, John Quincy Adams was in London doing important crap when he met a dude with six daughters. He had interest in the first but, when it came time to announce his intentions, he decided to go after the youngest – Louisa – who eventually became his wife.

After this asswipe chose her, Louisa proceeded to get pregnant and miscarry three times in a row. She was destroyed physically (biography doesn’t mention mental distress, but damn), and this left her pale. When confronted with the necessity of attending a party with her husband as a part of an official function, she chose to put on rouge rather than go looking sick.

He disapproved of her looking like a whore, so he forced her over his knee where he forcefully washed her face before making her go to the party against her will.

Later, he tried to separate her from her children. She said she’d rather be away from him than with their children, so he allowed her one while living in Washington. They spent much time apart, often at her behest, and they got in many fights and had terrible letters.

So yes – dude was anti-slavery which was good, but he was still abusive to his wife.

No wonder Jackson hated him.

Next week:

Thanks for sticking with it this far! Next month you’ll get to read some reviews of indie books, which I know everyone likes better than these biographies I love!

Book Review: Henry Clay – Statesman for the Union

Every March, it’s the time of the year to read about the Age of Jackson. In order to understand more about the era of my greatest interest, I’m delving into Jackson’s enemies. Henry Clay was the greatest of his foes, and today I’m learning about Clay and the defunct Whig party.

The Book

Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union
Author: Robert V. Remini
1991
Amazon Link

I’ll be honest and say that I’m already pretty biased against Henry Clay going into this. Jackson hated him with a towering passion all the way to the end of his life, where he wrote a note of “forgiveness” to “all his enemies,” which included Clay. However, let’s remember that upon leaving the presidency, Jackson’s had “only two regrets: [he] didn’t shoot Henry Clay and [he] didn’t hang John C. Calhoun.” In every single, solitary thing I’ve read, Henry Clay has played the villain.

However, Robert V. Remini is one of my favorite authors and 100% my favorite historian, so I’m almost certain I’m going to like the read.

Non-Spoiler Review

Up until now, I’ve known Henry Clay almost primarily for his political scheming. His participation in the Corrupt Bargain and in the Bank War are the most well-documented and known. Remini does, surprisingly, a good job describing these events despite his prior experience as a Jackson man. In fact, Remini has the same problem as he does in all his previous works: he takes Clay’s side.

When taken on its own, Henry Clay is a highly one-sided work that tries to explain away (most of) Clay’s worst attributes and put him in the best of lights. When I think of this book in and of itself, it’s pretty strange because you can see how obviously flawed the man is and just feel strange about how Remini speaks of things.

However, when you take this book on top of the rest of Remini’s works, it’s perfect. This book serves as a pretty damning criticism of Jackson’s administration and Van Buren’s party tactics. It fits together with his earlier Jackson trilogy to make a more complete story about that man’s problems. As well, having read many, many of Remini’s other Age of Jackson works, I already know some of Remini’s political problems with Clay. I know the opinions of Clay’s enemies upon starting this book.

One of the things I have learned to appreciate from Remini is the sass in his tone as he recounts and comments. John C. Calhoun, who at this point I believe is solidly in contention for the title of “worst American ever”, appears several times in the book. At one point Clay lashes his magic voice out at Calhoun, lacing his words with arsenic, and Calhoun doesn’t take it well. Remini says, “[Calhoun] would not abide personal attacks – not from anyone – and least of all from those (practically everybody) who could not match the excellence of his ‘metaphysical thought processes.'” That “practically everybody” comment from Remini combined with the sheer pompousness of “metaphysical thought processes” quote from Calhoun makes for such a great, subtle jibe at the man. Remini also does a good job poking holes into things by showing evidence to contradict Clay’s insistence on “good intentions” right after stating the good intention.

I think this book is essential reading if you’re going to be a Jacksonian era history buff. You can’t escape reading Remini’s Jackson trilogy, and this book is a perfect addition that places criticisms and lends thoughts from the other side of the story. Fantastic work.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

There’s one thing in this book that just shocked me: was the Trail of Tears perhaps a middle of the road “solution”? O_O Henry Clay was the main opposition leader to Jackson, and during the Trail of Tears he opposed Jackson by allying with those who supported the Indians, but he also declared, “Their disappearance from the human family will be no great loss to the world.” He advocated just helping to speed that along up until it became more politically prudent for him to oppose removal. It was madness.

As well, Clay was one of those people who advocated removing all the free black people in America to Liberia or other colonies. He believed people of multiple races incapable of living together up until the very end of his life, which to me implies that he never really gave up his initial thoughts on the Indians. He was well-known to flip flop on whatever seemed to be politically expedient, so it was kind of difficult to tease out his real intent vs. what served him best.

Political, monetary, and whoring interests were what pressed Henry Clay for action. It was pretty obvious he was devoid of any sort of morality and would abandon his principles at the first sign he could do better with a different stance. The bank lined his pockets with gold (literally, they paid him SO MUCH MONEY for years on end, and the bank paid off other senators and representatives), so why would he ever oppose it? Why, except for self-gain, would he propose a “National Road” that ran only in his state of Kentucky and only really succeeded in connecting his city (Lexington) with the east? Discounting his own economics, why would he push for a tariff protecting his own farm goods at the expense of the southerners?

The man was corrupt as hell. That doesn’t mean his enemies weren’t corrupt, but it’s so clear with him.

Next week:

It’s time for the accomplice in Clay’s murder of Jackson’s wife: John Quincy Adams!

Book Review: Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times

It’s that special, special day that comes every March: Andrew Jackson’s birthday. I am thus pleased to bring you a review of yet another biography of this prolific murderer.

The Book

Andrew Jackson His Life and Times Brands read 2021

Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times
Author: H.W. Brands
2005
Amazon Link

So, when I first saw this book, I thought the title was just “Andrew Jackson.” Then, when I searched it on Amazon to put the link up here and saw the title again, I was like “and his life and times!? HOW COULD THE TITLE HAVE GOTTEN EVEN MORE BORING!?”

H.W. Brands is a popular historian – perhaps not quite as well-known as Meacham, who wrote American Lion which I reviewed last year, but he’s still one of those historians normal people read from. (Not-normal people read stuff like the Remini Trilogy). Also interesting is this book was published only three years before the famous Meacham volume, and it makes me wonder why there was a Jackson fad going on in the mid 2000’s.

Don’t care. Gonna read it.

Non-Spoiler Review

I thoroughly enjoyed this volume, but it had (similar to Meacham’s American Lion) a few issues and drawbacks. The biggest was that, with only one volume in which to do the work, the book was somewhat incomplete. However, I can appreciate Brands’s decision to focus on his early life rather than the presidency.

Jackson’s early life was crazy bloody. Swords, prison, orphaning, war – all before he was 14. The man’s life didn’t really get less crazy as it went on. And, unlike the other volumes I’ve read, Brands wasn’t afraid to report the apocryphal (though he did explain which pieces were the most untrustworthy when they came up). He talked about the stories others were afraid to include because they were mere legends – such as the legend he read the Declaration to his town when he was a kid, or some of the conjectures on what happened concerning the gunfight with Governor Sevier, or what may have been said during the Creek War.

Part of why I find that approach refreshing is that it helps me understand part of Jackson’s popularity during his lifetime. It gives a sense of that mythic quality that surrounded him and vaulted him through elections. It helps solidify the reasons (white) people of the times loved him.

But, in order to account for the apocryphal and the legends, Brands sorely skimped on the presidential stuff. Granted, there are plenty of biographies about that, but there’s also lots of biographies about his role in the Battle of New Orleans, which I believe Brands focused on quite a bit. A normal person who just knows Jackson as a president would go in expecting this to be more about the presidency, so it may not be a book to grab off the shelf if you’re not already aware.

Because, if you go in expecting presidents and politics, you’re going to be surprised with just a whoooole lotta blood.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones (because let’s be honest, I loved it despite all the above complaints)

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Gah, if you’ve read my blog at all, you probably know a lot about this guy. Ask me anything and I’ll see if I can’t pop something out.

candy chocolate sweet cake

Happy 254th Birthday!

Next week:

I read the autobiography of one of Jackson’s greatest supporters last week: and, now, it’s time to get started with the “villains”, as portrayed in most of the works I’ve read.

Next week is Remini’s biography Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union. 

Book Review: The Autobiography of Martin Van Buren

You’ve seen my review of Remini’s analysis of this guy’s political importance, but today you hear it from the horse’s mouth. Martin Van Buren, 8th President of the United States, was heavily involved with Jacksonian democracy. As part of my usual Andrew Jackson’s birthday month, I’m writing a review of his ally’s biography.

The Book

MVB Bio

The Autobiography of Martin Van Buren
Author: Mostly Martin Van Buren, edited by John Clement Fitzpatrick
1920 (though written between 1854 and Van Buren’s death in 1862)
Google Books Link

As a sheer, crazy warning: no copy of this book exists for you that isn’t a photocopy, digital scan, or the absolute worst of scan-to-text automatic translations. The random markings on the original print versions that exist make automatic text translations hard. The best copy I found was the Google Books version linked above. It is my goal to one day type this up for Gutenberg or something; if you know how to get something to Gutenberg, let me know and I’ll probably start this adventure.

Non-Spoiler Review

This book took me an insane amount of time to read. From a very basic perspective that no currently available copy is truly legible, to the fact that it’s written in some of the most esoteric, 19th-century brouhaha language out there (complete with enormous paragraph-sentences that make even the one you’re reading cry in embarrassing smallness), this book was hard. That in and of itself makes this a less-than-enjoyable read.

Beyond that, it’s woefully incomplete. Besides ignoring some important aspects (I personally thought it glanced far too quickly over Van Buren’s role in the Tariff of Abominations), it ended before even Van Buren’s presidential nomination. The book mentions the nomination and administration many times, but even in its own largesse, the volume(s) end suddenly because Van Buren died before completing it. It would have been very interesting to read what he intended (explaining his post-presidential actions of never giving up and trying to pull a Grover Cleveland). As it was, you get one of the most one-sided, biased, incredible self-masturbatory pieces of all time.

Van Buren was a politician’s politician. If you’ve seen West Wing, think of him as the OG Josh Lyman AND Toby Ziegler wrapped together in one supergenius slimeball. The book is intended to entirely vindicate Van Buren and his actions, and it’s meant to paint himself in the greatest light possible. I think one of my favorite parts was early in the book, when he was New York attorney General (1815-1819). He sent people he didn’t like on fool’s errands to keep them out of the way. He schemed his way onto the canal board, screwed over DeWitt Clinton in lovely ways, and “just happened to find himself” nominated and elected to ever higher position. What a coincidence.

He also seems like one of those people who save every scrap of paper ever written on or sent to him in order to screw people over later. He would stuff copies of letters from enemies in envelopes, then send them to third parties who could screw over lives if they wanted. In the autobiography, he would claim he was doing the right thing or that he was forwarding information in the simplest way. It was blatantly obvious it was just him stirring things up.

It was absolutely incredible how the man found papers and letters to twist everything around to vindicate himself and villainize others (especially Daniel Webster, who he seems to have had it out for). He claimed credit where he was due none or little. He was just this absolute Little Magician.

4/5 Discoball Snowcones (I’m biased)

4 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

What’s the point? Not even Van Buren finished this, so why should you? Honestly I recommend this to no one.

Next week:

I read the H.W. Brands biography of Andrew Jackson, creatively titled Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times.

Reading List – March 2021

Good Lord, you people. Its March once more, and if you’ve learned anything from 2019 or 2020, it’s that you’re in for some Age of Jackson reading.

The Autobiography of Martin Van Buren – Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren was Jackson’s left hand man (because, despite the murder, bloodshed, etc., Jackson still somehow didn’t manage to do all his dirty work). Van Buren was a mischievous little twerp with a magnificent mind for dastardly deeds and political maneuvering. He was elected president in 1836.

And he wrote an autobiography.

Well, almost. He died before he finished it, so this is technically not an autobiography. Despite its girth, it’s so dreadfully incomplete that it wasn’t published until 58 years after his death. Still, if I am not faced with the most blatantly partisan book about a political figure that I’ve ever seen, I will be sorely disappointed. I’m looking for slanted opinions, lies, and alternative facts. GIVE ME THE CRAZY.

Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times – H.W. Brands

Last year I read the very popular American Lion by Meacham. H.W. Brands is another of those pop historians with a cult following, but I’ve not read from him before. Like American Lion, this is a single volume biography and I have no doubts that it will glance over so much stuff that it will disgust me. Even so, I think it will be interesting to see how well this matches up with Meacham’s work and what sorts of information Brands chooses to include.

But God, that title. He would have had to genuinely try in order to make a more boring title.

Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union – Robert V. Remini

Robert V. Remini is, without a doubt, my favorite Jackson historian. Common critiques of his work include being too chummy with his subjects, and I’ll be honest that this critique is perfectly valid. Even so, the man had sass, and he’s either very good at picking an editor or very good at editing himself. I’ve read six (almost seven now!) of his books, and they’ve never let me down.

But this? THIS?! How could he have betrayed me and Old Hickory by writing about Henry Clay, the blackleg and Judas of the West? Henry Clay, mortal enemy of Andrew Jackson, was not the sort of person I’d have expected Remini to write about. So, given that I already know Remini gets too into his subjects, I wonder how this staunch Jacksonian author will feel about Henry Clay in this work.

John Quincy Adams – Harlow Giles Unger

John Quincy Adams, affectionately known as “J-Qua” by me and my friends, is one of those obscure presidents (I think – he’s not obscure to me, so I’m just guessing). Recently, he’s been brought up for sharing two major traits with 45: he had one term and lost the popular vote. I’ve said before that the Election of 1824 was probably a good analogy for the Election of 2016, and by golly after 2020 rolled around I felt so stoked that I called it. Nailed it good, you guys. Or at least I think I did – don’t know what’s coming in 2024. Might have to update with some Grover Cleveland madness.

Anyway, J-Qua won the election against Andrew Jackson. Jackson blamed/hated him (and Henry Clay) for murdering his wife, Rachel. He was the son of John Adams of revolutionary and Alien and Sedition Act fame. This dude needs to be read about.

More Reviews

I’ve got a buttload of reviews for you this year. While all the slots for indie book reviews on this blog are taken this year, you can still submit to my review request page and maybe see something pop up on Goodreads and Amazon.

See my old reviews here

Book Review: The Prince

This month, I’m reading a collection of explicitly political works. Hopefully each of them will touch on different political treatises, so if you don’t like one of them, click around and you’ll find something more up your alley.

The Book

The Prince reading 2021

The Prince
Author: Niccolo Macchiavelli (translator: W.K. Marriott)
1532
Project Gutenberg Link

The edition on Project Gutenberg is a much older translation than the one shown to the right or the one presented on Goodreads as the primary source of reviews for Macchiavelli’s most well-known work. If you read it, you may get a different experience than me due to which version you select.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

3 Discoball Snowcones

Review: As Reading Material

I read an English translation made in the 1800’s, which left the book in a strange realm where I couldn’t be sure how many of the odd bits were due to the original language or the translation. Sentences were long, rambling, and often difficult to parse. Even though the book was very short (more a pamphlet or booklet), it took a while to read because of the density and strange structure.

Overall, I did not find it entertaining in the least. There were short discourses on different historical events, but many were so briefly visited that it would require one sitting by a computer and looking up Italian politics of the era in order to truly understand it.

Review: As a Political Treatise

A modern reader probably looks at this and thinks “No way. This is garbage.” But that’s because we love our freedom (FREEDOM!) and don’t want it taken away. Macchiavelli acknowledges the importance of a semblance of freedom, however, which was interesting.

I personally hope that the day of monarchy is past. I personally hope that the elements of leadership described in The Prince never come to pass – because daaaang, they’re evil. The book prescribes cruelty as a method of combating disorder, of violence to end disunity. Macchiavelli’s research into successful leaders of the past was, as far as I can tell, pretty well done for a man of his time, but it cannot hold smoke in today’s world. It should be read more as an interesting look into human nature than a political premise, or as a lens with which to examine dictators.

And not examine them in a good light.

Review: Cultural Importance

The Prince is probably essential reading for those studying history, politics, or (in my case) world-building in fiction. The importance of The Prince on social sciences and history can’t really be overstated, and its influence on writings and politics since its creation is probably immeasurable. Though Macchiavelli’s broken Italy has long ago been unified, and though democratic institutions have grown more powerful since the age of enlightenment, despots still arise, and human nature has not changed.

Next week:

We’re finally done with politics month! And WHEW – after Atlas Shrugged, I needed those last two to go quick. See you next month with a new set of books!

Book Review: The Communist Manifesto

This month, I’m reading a collection of explicitly political works. Hopefully each of them will touch on different political treatises, so if you don’t like one of them, stick around for another.

The Book

The Communist Manifesto reading 2021

The Communist Manifesto
Author: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
1888
Project Gutenberg Link

What red-blooded American hasn’t heard of this… red… um…

What true American hasn’t lambasted this Pinko, commie book!? Every one of us, down to the smallest child and up to the eldest living in our nation, have been instilled with the lessons of the Cold War and the evils of COMMUNISM.

So, if pure, raw capitalism didn’t win you over last week, you’re invited to feast your traitorous eyes on this review.

NSA please don’t put me on a list.

4/5 Discoball Snowcones

4 Discoball Snowcones

Review: As Reading Material

This was an extremely short read – I think one could carry this in a pocket if they wanted! While other manifestos and political premises are also short, this one is (especially for the time it was published) powerful and well-written. The first section, especially, has very persuasive language in the English version.

The section about communist history and comparison of different types of communism was a bit drier. I had to try a little harder when I didn’t recognize the names of early French communists and socialists, but it added to the pamphlet in a more academic way than a persuasive one. It showed thought rather than feeling, which offset much of the strong emotions in the rest of the book, but it also seemed slapdash and an intentional fling to make an argument that their treatise was logical as well as good-feeling. So I liked the front end better.

Review: As a Political Treatise

I am fairly familiar with 19th century developments. Politically, historically, militarily, and scientifically, the 19th century was a time of surprisingly rapid change. Though science is advancing quickly now, that quick, forward progress is expected rather than a surprise. By the time Marx and Engels wrote the Manifesto, opinions on growth and human progress were undergoing mammoth shifts.

As such, I found it great that the book included information about both proletariat vs. monarchy in addition to the well-known proletariat vs. bourgeousie conflict. Though the Marxists were in an era of monarchs, they saw the tide turning toward the bourgeois and assumed their eventual, inevitable enemy.

Also interesting were two movements simultaneous with communism and that have gained more traction: feminism and decolonialism. The manifesto acknowledged the status of women and addressed the stripping of colonies’ wealth as bad. I was interested to see the authors look – even with just a glimpse – outside their own hegemony.

The biggest issue, to me, was the lack of positive suggestions for how a proletarian government would work. The pamphlet had very persuasive fear mongering about what was bad, but it was unclear on the form of an alternative. It thus seemed that it could be equally likely the authors were men trying to gain power as much as men trying to spread wealth more fairly.

Review: Cultural Importance

Communism isn’t present in the form we knew it best in the 20th century – the USSR – but this book is still very much alive in current political movements. Socialism, which has evolved from a less-violent branch of communist thought, appears in many political parties of several nations.

Though modern movements almost all reject the bloody revolution, the idea of security for all penetrates many factions (sure, you Maoists out there might believe in the bloody uprising, but then again the Iron Rice Bowl worked out well, huh?). Some of the more emotionally pleasant pieces of the Communist Manifesto are showing up in the left-leaning parties, but in America – of course – even the good ideas from the manifesto are lost behind the label of our greatest enemy: COMMUNISM.

A great book to read if you’re interested in politics or the 19th century. Not interesting for those seeking fantasy, though.

Next week:

Whew, that was a close one! Now, onward to absolute dictatorship and monarchism with Machiavelli’s The Prince!

Book Review: Atlas Shrugged

This month, I’m reading a collection of explicitly political works. Hopefully each of them will touch on different political treatises, so if you don’t like one of them, stick around for another.

The Book

51-obg7xgml

Atlas Shrugged
Author: Ayn Rand
1957
Amazon Link

I’ve heard this book praised up and down since I was in high school. As someone who grew up in a highly conservative, anti-communist community, this book was considered the definitive answer to all that leftist nonsense. Since then, I’ve heard about it’s importance in the modern right, and I think it’d be a shame to leave this highly influential book unread.

That being said, it’s ridiculously long. Also, if you have to research this book as much as I have in order to get the picture, Amazon link, year, etc., your ads will reflect that interest.

1/5 Discoball Snowcones

1 Discoball Snowcones

Review: As Reading Material

I almost didn’t finish this book. It was just incredibly boring, and I can only take so many weird sex scenes that just fell flat. They were neither truly erotic nor important for the plot – they just happened. There was this sense that BDSM might have come into play, but it was extremely unclear, and the ways Rand described them were perplexing, repetitive, and (from my experience with a single spouse) completely bizarre.

As well, the sentence structure was repetitive, the word choices dull, and the amount of fluff just astounding. If I hear the phrase “for the first time” again, it will be too soon. The book wasn’t so poorly written that I couldn’t trudge through, but it really wasn’t a fun read by any stretch of the imagination.

Review: As a Political Treatise

As a political treatise, I suppose it worked. It took an ad absurdum approach similar to some of Swift’s works (i.e. A Modest Proposal), but good lord at the philosophical whining. Several hours of reading were entirely composed of political monologues, most of which made sense in terms of a “capitalist manifesto,” but none of which made actual sense in terms of fitting into a novel.

The clearest point of Atlas Shrugged, politically, was that money provides motivation to work, and guarantees of living expenses and survival lead to laziness. This makes sense, because not everyone has that drive to do what needs to be done without survival on the line. The concept of needs vs. ability is investigated in-depth and (if you’re willing to discount the unmentioned, obvious exceptions of people with severe disabilities) makes a good amount of sense.

However, I found the aristocratic births of all the main characters to be contrary to the central concept that hard work pays off: most success in the novel was not defined merely by hard work, but by a combination of work, luck, and inheritance. Because of this, there was always a looming aspect of eugenics that was never explicitly mentioned. I also have this sinking feeling that ignoring the fates of people with disabilities was intentional. Several times it was indicated that those unwilling to work should starve, but what about those unable to work or prevented from doing work due to prejudice, perceived ability, or something like that? It seems like it took libertarianism to a heartless extreme. I also am confused as to how Rand’s philosophy handles children and elders who literally can’t work.

Review: Cultural Importance

For those who are here because of the political importance of Atlas Shrugged, do not despair. I can confirm that echoes of the speeches from Atlas are sprinkled into the modern American political right. I can confirm that this book has probably been read by an army of crazy alt-righters and uber-capitalists. It was like one long, slow masturbation fantasy of extreme libertarians.

Ayn Rand’s philosophy and writings are extremely important when it comes to modern right-wing commentators. I think one reason it is so popular is that the philosophy claimed to be entirely rational, logical, and emotionless. However, it was extremely flawed in the sense that it discounts any value in charity or concern for another person beyond lust. With people seen as a means rather than an end, many horrid, inconsiderate things become ok. To argue against a believer in this book would be like bashing your head against the wall, because the book trains fans to believe that any thoughts other than selfishness and invention is illogical and wasteful.

Next week:

I’m going to read that which Rand would most disdain: Marx’s Communist Manifesto. I almost can’t believe I haven’t read it before (because I love politics), but you know, never too late!