One of the essays contained in the book, “Fools Rush Inn: More Detours on the Way to Conventional Wisdom,” by Bill James is titled, “Jumping the Fictional Shark.” It begins, “It is within human nature, I think, to become less interested in fiction as we age.” Bill is not a polished writer, a fact many have pointed out, as can be seen by his use of “I think” above. It is unnecessary for Bill to use “I think” because since he is writing, one assumes he thinks. Bill does this kind of thing often. Since I am writing, it is not necessary that I write, “in my opinion.” Hopefully, a reader will know it is my opinion without my having to inform him of that fact. I, and many others, read Bill for his ideas.
What he thinks about reading less fiction as we age is applicable to me, and, I assume, many other aging readers. The love of my life said to me thirty years ago, “You don’t read fiction.” Gail had a point. I read made up stories when younger and had little interest in them as an adult. I read mostly non-fiction because it was interesting. Even the fiction I read was of the historical fiction variety.
Having read extensively on the subject of the JFK assassination not only have I read about the crime itself, but I have read about the surrounding climate during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. As POTUS, JFK read a book, “The Guns of August,” by Barbara Tuchman, and was so impressed that he ordered many copies and distributed it to those in his administration. The book is about what led to what is now called the “First World War,” and it won a Pulitzer Prize. Immersing oneself in the milieu of that time naturally means reading extensively about what is now called the “Cuban Missile Crisis.” I had just turned eleven during that time and although I, like every other grammar school child in the country, was made to practice a “duck and cover” maneuver, which now seems preposterous, in which we got down on our knees underneath the desk and covered our little noggin’ with our hands. This we would do to “protect” ourselves in the event of a nuclear war. I was not into the “nightly news blues” at that age, but can still recall the gravity of the situation by how the adults reacted. My questions were invariably met with, You are too young” for the answers and to “go out and play.” I loathed being treated in this fashion. Fortunately for me, I lived near a Boys Club, and the adults there would answer the questions left unanswered by the adults in my neighborhood. JFK was reviled by most, if not all, of the adults with whom I had contact and this only worsened the longer he held office. One rarely reads of the depth of how much the POTUS was loathed and detested in the South. I have often wondered if that was the reason so many mediocre Republican’s were installed, or maybe I should say, “selected” to be POTUS. It has also made me wonder how it came about that a fellow Georgian, Jimmy Carter, ever obtained the position of POTUS.
Having read something about a new book by Stephen L. Carter, the author of “The Emperor of Ocean Park,” a novel written about in Chess Life magazine years ago, I was familiar with him, so I decided to check out the book after reading he had used chess as a backdrop. I mean, what could be better than a novel on two of my favorite subjects? When first looking over the book I read this on the back cover, thinking it about the book I was holding in my hands, “There’s a lot going on in this big, smart book…Lofty legal arguments coincide with a grittier plot…What makes this novel so vastly entertaining is the author’s sharp skewering of politicians, lawyers, and the monied social class that runs Washington.” -Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe. That sounded interesting! Unfortunately, Kate was writing about Mr. Carter’s earlier book, “The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln. “ABRAHAM LINCOLN?! OH NO, MR. BILL. NOT ANOTHER BOOK ON THE DEVIL HIMSELF!” I thought.
Even though I purchased a used copy of “The Emperor of Ocean Park,” I never got around to reading it. It is rather humorous that I would look at the book and think, “All those pages,” but when looking at a book like, for example, “Legacy of Secrecy: The Long Shadow of the JFK Assassination,” by Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann, which is even larger and contains even more pages, I would think, “Look at all that meat!”
It being my birthday, I decided to read something different, and “Back Channel” fit the bill. Did it ever…I do not have words to tell you how much I enjoyed the book, so I will use some old cliches. I was “riveted” because it was a “page turner” that I “could not put down.” This after being put off by the use of a 19 year virgin black girl as the protagonist, which I found preposterous in the same way I found Will Smith playing the part of Jim West in the movie “The Wild Wild West.” I mean, come on, Negros were not members of the Secret Service until JFK became POTUS. I usually like my fiction to have some basis in reality. Then I thought, “OK, it is, after all, fiction, and if I had been born a Negro maybe I would write fiction using a Negro character.” Reading on, I came to understand what genius it was for this writer to have used the characters he chose.
I have always detested a reviewer who gives away too much of a book, and for that reason have preferred to read the book before the review. I have chosen only a little of the book to give you an idea of what this wonderful book contains.
“Viktor frowned. Definitely nyekulturny. Uncultured. To speak so casually about violence. Typical of the sort of man who rose to authority in a country that had never faced extermination, as the Motherland had.”
This made me think of Oliver Stone’s TV Series documentary, “The Untold History of the United States,” and how little, most of it wrong, we Americans understand of what is happening in Ukraine today. Often it is better to see things from another perspective, as in the case of a game of chess. Players must try and understand what an opponent wants, and what he is willing to do to obtain what he wants.
“In Russia, we have a proverb,” he said. “If you’re afraid of the wolves, you shouldn’t go into the woods.”
This reminded me of IM Boris Kogan, who was always sharing “Russian proverbs.”
“Few Americans probably realized the extent to which the military had become a law unto itself, in effect a separate branch of government. The Congress controlled its budget but gave the generals whatever they wanted, and the President was the commander in chief when he had time and they had the inclination. the system worked because the American military was run by men of unparalleled integrity.
Most of the time.”
You are probably asking yourself, “This is a novel, right?”
“Because your reporters are like the birds who eat carrion. They produce little of value, and feed off the remains of what others have left. They will destroy the reputation of your President for profit. the First Amendment is the tragedy of your system. In my country, we protect the reputations of our leaders, because in that way we protect the reputation and integrity of the Party, and therefore of the country and the people.”
Bill Clinton would say, “Amen, brother! Right on. Right on. Right on!”
“Bundy recognized the frustration in Bobby’s voice, and knew he had to avoid sounding too professional. The Kennedy’s were an impetuous clan, not thin-skinned, precisely, but quick to detect condescension. He addressed himself to the older brother.”
Sounds like Mr. Carter goes way back with the Kennedy clan, does it not?
“The way your mind works is fascinating,” he said, not turning. When you put the facts together that way, yes, you can reach the conclusion you suggest. But in the analysis of intelligence information, we have a word for people who make up their minds too quickly and then try to make the evidence fit. We call the amateurs.”
Here in America, we call them Bushwhackers, for that is EXACTLY the description of how we got BUSHWHACKED into going to war in Iraq
This is a magnificent book written by a brilliant writer. I do not read enough fiction to judge, but it is possible that Stephen Carter could be the best author, or at least one of the best authors currently writing fiction. Read this book and you can leave a comment and thank me later. Send this review to anyone you know who enjoys good fiction. Because every one has heard of the parlor game of “Six Degrees of Bacon,” based on the “six degrees of separation” concept, which posits that any two people on Earth are six or fewer acquaintance links apart, I know some reader either knows Bill James, or knows someone who knows him, so at least send Bill the URL and maybe he will decide to make an exception and read a book of fiction!
Forty seconds into this video you will see these words by the Devil Abraham Lincoln:
“I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.”
The man made an awful lot of “friends” in the South before John Wilkes Booth made the Devil a friend.
Abraham * Martin and John *** Dion