Sunday Bookchat

February 16, 2008

In addition to coining the brilliant term “E.Coli Conservatism” (discussed in the video clip above), Rick Perlstein has made a career of documenting and cataloguing the development of wingerdom, from its roots in the 1964 presidential campaign to its current state of luxuriant noxiousness. Perlstein has a book coming out this spring called Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, apropos of which here is Perlstein’s take on why the Sixties are still with us. Be sure to pre-order a copy of Nixonland, and while you’re at it, why not bookmark Perlstein’s two-fisted blog The Big Con?

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For those of you who were knocked out by the film There Will Be Blood, Mark Lawson has a knowledgeable rundown on how it compares with Oil!, the 1927 Upton Sinclair novel that director Paul Thomas Anderson used as the basis for his script:

The 158 minutes of Anderson’s film are drawn from perhaps a third of the 548 pages, with the film almost completely omitting the element of the story that would have mattered most to the author, a committed socialist who ran six times for political office. Long sections of Oil!, but not of There Will Be Blood, concern the fight between organised labour and the industrial establishment who despise unionised workers as “reds”. In the book, the stand-off between Ross and Watkins involves workers’ rights; on screen, the struggle between Plainview and Sunday is religious: the two crucial scenes see one character being forced into baptism and another into apostasy, both in exchange for financial advantage. Yet, while this change is a dilution, it is not necessarily a softening: the courage required to take the side of labour in the 1920s – Oil! was banned in Boston for its leftism – is matched by the bravery needed to critique fundamentalist religion in a modern American film.

Where novel and film remain closest is the unusual junior perspective: Ross/ Plainview is seen through the eyes of a young son, who Sinclair calls “Bunny” and Anderson “HW”. In both, the use of the youthful interpreter has the effect of humanising the tycoon, giving his later inhumanities even more impact.

Sinclair is chiefly remembered as the author of The Jungle, the muckraking 1906 novel that exposed the filthy practices of the meatpacking industry, but Lawson’s article will give you an idea of the breadth of Sinclair’s accomplishments as a writer, socialist crusader and even gubernatorial candidate. The success of There Will Be Blood has placed Oil! on the NYT trade paperback bestseller list at No. 23. Those who buy the book expecting a scene-for-scene novelization are in for a letdown, but they’ll be getting something much better in its place.

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No winger screed, however tired, badly written or childishly argued, is likely to go without a publishing contract in today’s book industry, so it’s hardly surprising that one of wingerdom’s most cherished causes — the rehabilitation of the demagogic red-baiter Joe McCarthy — is getting flogged around the track yet again.

Human Events columnist M. Stanton Evans — whose dad, John Birch Society member Medford Evans , was an early champion of Wisconsin ranter — sallies forth on McCarthy’s behalf in Blacklisted By History: The Untold Story of Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America’s Enemies. Reviewer Michael C. Moynihan takes in the book’s arguments, compares them with new information about McCarthy, and finds Evans’ take on the demagogic senator “radically wrong in its conclusions and devilishly selective in its presentation of evidence . . . no matter how hard M. Stanton Evans might try, Joe McCarthy will never be rehabilitated as an American hero. And despite the ominous warnings of Evans’ father, America is a better place for it.”

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Another week, another chance to slag Jonah Goldberg and his inane tome Liberal Fascism, this time with help from conservative writer Paul Gottfried and sociology professor Michael Mann. And I must note with regret Goldberg’s brief, regrettable lapse in his toweringly principled decision to boycott Bill Maher’s TV show. Once his book-hyping duties are over, I’m sure Goldberg will resume the boycott in an even more sternly principled manner.

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To round out your Sunday, spend a little quality time with Hendrik Hertzberg, Eric Alterman and Greg Anrig as they discuss Anrig’s book The Conservatives Have No Clothes: Why Right-Wing Ideas Keep Failing. The hour-long talk is here on ForaTV.

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Do you want to know which presidential candidate is backed by John Grisham? How about Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison? Do you want to hear the earliest known recording of Allen Ginsberg reading his seminal poem Howl?

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2 Responses to “Sunday Bookchat”

  1. rix Says:

    Two of the worst readings by “major” poets I ever attended happened the same weekend at the Dodge Festival: Gary Snyder with Paul Winter Consort & Maya Angelou, both to a packed tent of surprisingly undiscriminating literati.

  2. Scott Stiefel Says:

    One of the best turns of phrase I ever saw on a blog was “the Latin Americanization of America,” referring not to any racial fearmongering but rather to the attempt to recreate the social, political and economic structures of a classic banana republic north of the tropics – it was on Orcinus.


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