In the Mail

phil.jpg–> The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders

From Publishers Weekly:

The shift of target to Iraq War–era America proves problematic for major 1990s satirist Saunders (Pastoralia), who here checks in with an allegorical novella centered on the tiny imaginary nations of Inner and Outer Horner. The citizens of Inner Horner, live-and-let-livers who have a lot of unproductive discussions, are countable on two hands, and they are not-quite-human: one man’s torso is simply a tuna fish can and a belt. (There are 15 b&w illustrations scattered throughout.) When their nation suddenly shrinks, the group spills into Outer Horner, and a border dispute results. It paves the way for the rise of an everyman Outer Horner dictator named Phil—a jingoistic, brute-force bully.

The eventual fortuitous military intervention by Greater Keller, a neighboring technocapitalist nation of latte drinkers, comes after much lingering over the mechanics of Phil’s coup. (There are multiple references to the “spasming rack” from which Phil’s brain periodically slides.) Despite press-chat comparisons to Animal Farm, the book lacks Orwell’s willingness to follow his nightmare vision all the way out to the end. Saunders delivers some very funny exchanges and imaginative set-pieces, but literally has to call in a deus ex machina to effect Outer Horner’s final undoing. It’s entertaining, but politics and war don’t really work that way, allegorically or otherwise.

I am always on the lookout for short and unique works. This seemed to qualify. The book got a lot of good press and I wanted to see for myself if it was based on general anti-Bush and anti-war sentiment or Saunder’s skill. The PW review above further piqued my interest. It also presents an interesting challenge to me given my support for the war. Can I see and enjoy the satire even though I might disagree with the motivating – or at least informing – politics? I will of course let you know what I think when I finish it.

Be sure to check on Saunder’s essay about why he wrote the book.

–> Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf by Ben Hogan

Ben Hogan’s premise in this 1957 classic is driven home in bold letters: “THE AVERAGE GOLFER IS ENTIRELY CAPABLE OF BUILDING A REPEATING SWING AND BREAKING 80.” Religions are founded on less, and Hogan’s detailed analyses and illustrated demonstrations of grip, stance, posture, and the two basic components of the swing make up a sacred book. Though its very simplicity seems dated, this is the tome of technique that should serve as the foundation of every golf library.

For some odd reason, I carry in my heart a secret belief that one day I will again have the time to play golf and to actually improve my game. In particular, I dream of the day when my daughter and I can play the game together. I bought this book in the furtherance of those dreams. Am I kidding myself about the near future prospects? Perhaps, but – not to be sacrilegious – “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

–> The Husband by Dean Koontz

From Publishers Weekly:

Koontz (Forever Odd) is likely to have himself another bestseller in this pulse-pounding thriller with echoes of Hitchcock and Cornell Woolrich. One morning, Southern California gardener Mitchell Rafferty gets a call on his cellphone from a stranger saying that Mitch’s beloved wife, Holly, has been kidnapped and that he has less than three days to come up with $2 million in cash. Of course, he’s warned not to involve the police. While Mitch is still on the phone, the kidnapper proves his seriousness by directing Mitch’s attention to a man walking a dog across the street. A moment later the man is shot dead. Mitch must walk a fine line-cooperating with the police inquiry into this murder without revealing Holly’s plight. Koontz ratchets up the tension in a manner sure to captivate most readers, though some may find the ending anticlimactic.

–> Stand for Something : The Battle for America’s Soul by John Kasich

From Booklist

Kasich, former nine-time U.S. congressman from Ohio, speaks directly to the reader, asking for agreement that things have gone awry in America and a commitment to set things right. He describes a “heat and haste” to American life that disregards basic values of decency and emphasizes instant gratification and winning at all costs. Kasich sprinkles personal history–his childhood in a family of Democrats who later became Republicans and early ambitions to be a priest and president of the U.S.–with a litany of examples of failed local and national leadership. In separate chapters, he details the spread of disorder and decline in politics, sports, business, religion, education, and popular culture. Evoking heroes from Martin Luther King Jr. to Ronald Reagan and more ordinary heroes, such as a shoe shiner who gave his life savings to a benefit for children with kidney disease, Kasich appeals to ordinary citizens to take action. Kasich, a host of the FOX News Channel and a former presidential candidate, is certain to provoke speculation about future campaign ambitions with this book.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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