Saturday, January 23, 2010

2. A Tangled Web by L.M. Montgomery

A Tangled Web is one of my favorite books, certainly one of my most frequently read. Since I didn't bring my copy with me to Spain, I was happy to find it for free online, at Project Gutenberg Australia.

The Darks and Penhallows are an idiosyncratic clan living on Prince Edward Island. Aunt Becky, or Mrs. Theodore Dark, nee Rebecca Penhallow, the "not particularly beloved" head of the clan is the owner of the old Dark jug, a hundred year old artifact with sentimental value, though some want it for prestige within the clan or because they feel they deserve it through descent. Aunt Becky decides to have her last fun "this side of the grave" and leave the jug with a trustee for a year, along with an envelope containing a name, or instructing him to choose according to certain criteria. The book covers Aunt Becky's announcement, and then the year after her death and the extraordinary happenings among the clan because of the jug. L.M. Montgomery has such a wonderful way of making each of her large cast of characters come to life. She can explain the motivations of a complex life in three sentences, and then spend a paragraph describing the moon. Oh L.M. Montgomery.

For me, it's just a very comforting book. I love certain lines and certain characters and I have fun imagining everybody. Give it a read if it sounds like your kind of thing.

3. All the President's Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein

This is of course an American classic. It should be required reading in schools. Before this, I in fact knew very little about Watergate, it happened before I was born. Basically, I knew that some guys with some connection to Richard Nixon broke into the Democratic National Party's office in the Watergate Hotel and were caught trying to wiretap the phones. This led to the resignation of Nixon, and jail time for several of his advisors. That's really all I knew.

I knew the media had played some role, but I wasn't aware of the huge role The Washington Post ("my" newspaper, by the way) played and how much their reputation risked on it. All the President's Men is written in a style that I found unlike most of my usual reads, though quite appropriate and what one would expect of two journalists.

The book starts off right as Watergate breaks and doesn't stop until all the "President's men" have been taken down. It does stop before Nixon's actual resignation. It is purely action-driven with not a moment of down time. There are few wasted words. I was surprised Woodward and Bernstein chose to write in the third person, but I think it was a good choice. It is amusing hearing about how the two originally disliked each other. Even that tension, which colors the story, is noted briskly, i.e. (my paraphrasing)"Woodward was like this and thought this about Bernstein, vice versa, and continue with the news." A list of characters and their roles and connections to Nixon is included, and my edition includes pictures also. I have the 2005 version, which was re-issued when it was revealed that W. Mark Felt, #2 FBI man, was Woodward's mysterious high-level informant, known in the book as "Deep Throat."

What makes all the journalistic intrigue better is the fact that it is true. It sounds crazy how Woodward and Deep Throat would meet. Woodward would signal by putting a red flag on his flowerpot, then take two taxis or walk part of the way to a garage where Deep throat might or might not meet him. Or, to signal a meeting, Deep Throat would circle the #2o on page 20 of Woodward's personal newspaper. But maybe I'm giving the good parts away.

It's just interesting to see the strategies the journalists use, some of which weren't ethical, in my opinion. They won the Pulitzer prize because they were right, but what if they were wrong? Taking on the most powerful men in the nation on corruption charges-that's a heavy thing, life-ruining if it couldn't be proved. I guess this is the book that has inspired many people to be journalists. I know it doesn't sound encouraging to me! I do admire Woodward and Bernstein and I enjoyed reading about what they did as a cohesive book. I wonder what it would have been like to follow their stories and then read the book. Probably very juicy. Recommended for fans of American politics or fast-paced novels in general.

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