Down Goes Bolton!

If this book review of John Bolton’s tell all was a fight, a ref would’ve stopped it in the early paragraphs.

Early in my academic career, I wrote a lot of book reviews. Overtime, I only agreed to review books that I liked since telling people not to read a particular book didn’t feel like a constructive use of time.

Fortunately, Jennifer Szalai of The New York Times does not share my philosophy.

Her take-down of Bolton is exquisite. Her intro tweet to her review is an appetizer of sort:

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The highlights, or if you’re John Bolton, lowlights:

“The book is bloated with self-importance, even though what it mostly recounts is Bolton not being able to accomplish very much. It toggles between two discordant registers: exceedingly tedious and slightly unhinged.”

Szalai on Bolton’s impeachment dodge:

“‘Had I testified,’ Bolton intones, ‘I am convinced, given the environment then existing because of the House’s impeachment malpractice, that it would have made no significant difference in the Senate outcome.’ It’s a self-righteous and self-serving sort of fatalism that sounds remarkably similar to the explanation he gave years ago for preemptively signing up for the National Guard in 1970 and thereby avoiding service in Vietnam. ‘Dying for your country was one thing,’ he wrote in his 2007 book ‘Surrender Is Not an Option’, ‘but dying to gain territory that antiwar forces in Congress would simply return to the enemy seemed ludicrous to me.'”

The finishing touch:

“When it comes to Bolton’s comments on impeachment, the clotted prose, the garbled argument and the sanctimonious defensiveness would seem to indicate some sort of ambivalence on his part — a feeling that he doesn’t seem to have very often. Or maybe it merely reflects an uncomfortable realization that he’s stuck between two incompatible impulses: the desire to appear as courageous as those civil servants who bravely risked their careers to testify before the House; and the desire to appease his fellow Republicans, on whom his own fastidiously managed career most certainly depends. It’s a strange experience reading a book that begins with repeated salvos about ‘the intellectually lazy’ by an author who refuses to think through anything very hard himself.”

Szalai with the technical knock out.

Be Less Lonely

By making time to read. Every day. And not just periodicals, blogs, email messages, Twitter feeds, and Facebook updates. Fiction and non-fiction books.

Bookish people are less lonely because they have an endless supply of friends. With the exception of some especially good long running series, television and film characters usually don’t rise to the same level of friendship as literary ones.

Cleo, an eighth grader at a middle school I’ve been helping out at this year, figured this out about eight years ago. She reads incessantly. Averaging about a book a day. Substantive books typically read by high schoolers. And then she reviews them on her blog, Cleo’s Literary Reviews. Apart from sometimes reading in classes she’s not supposed to, I have no idea how she does it.

Our negative preconceived notions of bookworms as socially stunted people ill-prepared for the “real world” are anachronistic. Cleo likes her school and gets along great with her classmates. She appears imminently happy and has a promising future in the “real world”. Cleo will impress with her vocabulary, imagination, and knowledge of the world.

But the longest lasting gift of reading doesn’t have anything to do with competing in the global economy. Most importantly, Cleo’s happiness won’t fluctuate as wildly with the vagaries of “real life” relationships because she’ll always be buffeted by a steady stream of interesting people, created by an endless army of imaginative authors.