Monday, October 16, 2017

Man Booker Prize Prediction

Tomorrow is the big day. First time I have read all the books on the shortlist, so I can give an opinion with full knowledge of each book's quality (well at least my subjective taste I guess).

Who I Want To Win: 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

I already wrote a very long review for this magnificent tome of a novel so those who read it know my love for this book. The four worlds of Archie Ferguson are not ones I will soon forget. I feel many haven't given the book its due though, seeing many Booktubers and pundits just choosing to not even read it, phased by the 880 pages. It's totally worth it though and hope that a win will push many more eyes onto the page.

Who Will Win: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I am going a bit on the limb because I don't know if the jury will want to give the award to another American the year after Paul Beatty won the award. I enjoyed short story maestro George Saunder's first novel, although I was not blown away compared to many of the books many ardent fans. That said, it was a very ambitious project, giving an emotionally charged tale of Lincoln grieving his dead son told through the eyes and voices of many dead souls accompanying Willie Lincoln as he journeys into the afterlife.

I wouldn't be shocked to see Mohsid Hamid's Exit West win, though, if the jury decides to not go American again. Again I liked it when I first read it, but frankly the book hasn't sat well with me with time and would be a bit disappointed if it were to take the prize. That the book seems to have sparked very divided opinions, though, suggests it will not easily find consensus on the jury.

Who May Pull Off The Upset: Elmet by Fiona Mozley.

I thought this novel was brilliant, a combination of beautiful descriptive prose and aggressive genre bending that slowly gathers steam as the plot barrels toward the blazing climax. That this is Mozley's first novel is incredible and if she were to win (and there are lots of lovers of Elmet who would be pleased with the outcome on Booktube and elsewhere) it would mark an explosive beginning to her literary career. Here is my more developed review.

Let's see how I do tomorrow around 5pm EST.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


In the world of arts and entertainment, this has been a revealing week. As Harvey Weinstein has been rightfully crucified in the arena of public opinion for years of unchallenged predatory behavior toward young female actresses, Liberal America has rushed to both condemn and feign ignorance and shock that one of their loyal benefactors could have been committing such loathsome acts underneath their noses. While it was easy for us to scowl blame toward Donald Trump’s repulsive behaviour, Weinstein was reminder that the gross actions of rich powerful men know no political boundaries.

But with incredible tone deafness as this much-needed introspection among liberal art types occurs, the National Book Foundation announced that among its presenters at next month’s award gala was former President Bill Clinton. In its flowery description that went along with this announcement, we are reminded that Clinton was elected twice while leading the country through its longest period of economic expansion and that he was now doing good work through his foundation, “building more resilient communities” by improving people’s health, strengthening the economy and protecting the environment.

I don’t even know where to begin, but it is totally infuriating.

Of all weeks to announce Clinton as a presenter and then do what everyone has been doing for decades in regards to Weinstein (which is to pretend that there is no problem here), the decision to be so blasé about this is incredibly revealing about the ongoing political ineptness of the literary community in the United States, loving to rub shoulders with power even when their actions (both politically and personally) should disqualify these figures from any adulation.  

Clinton The President

In the midst of the despair that looms over the horrible proto-fascist presidency of Donald Trump, it is easy for memories of the Clinton presidency between 1992 and 2000 to become selective, recalling the prolonged economic growth while forgetting the problematic elements that came along with his time in office.

Bill Clinton rode to power in the midst of economic recession and brought with him the new Democratic Party orthodoxy of third way centrism that sought to distance the party from the New Deal policies and allegiances with minority voters (at least in terms of advocating policies that would benefit neglected communities, they were fine taking their votes).

Continuing the Reagan and Bush I administrations embrace of neoliberal economic orthodoxy of disdain toward the welfare state and adoration of the market, Clinton forged ahead with the dismantling of many welfare programs the Democratic Party had brought in decades earlier and attempted to further trade liberalization through the negotiation of massive multinational trade pacts.

NAFTA and the emergence of the WTO were seen as great accomplishments of the Clinton Administration, as was the massive deregulation of finance with the repeal of Glass-Steagall that the administration oversaw, actions that many now blame for the loose regulatory framework that allowed for the 2008 Great Recession to occur.

In terms of dismantling the welfare state, the Clinton supported Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, which Clinton bragged would “end welfare as we know it.” As noted in a Jacobin piece last year:

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act ended traditional welfare by turning a federal entitlement, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), into block grants, or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). TANF established tougher mandates on poor single mothers and gave states more flexibility in how they spent welfare dollars (opening the door for increased discrimination against minorities).
It prohibits anyone from receiving assistance for more than two consecutive years or for more than five years over the course of their life. The act also requires aid recipients to be employed, in most cases, at least thirty hours a week to get their welfare checks, amounting to an hourly wage well below the legal minimum.
Once recipients reach their program time limit, TANF forces them even further into the labor market with little consideration of how they could ensure their children are properly cared for or whether paid employment will earn them an adequate wage. Many more are not even able to find work. A 2012 report by the Urban Institute concluded that for recipients with barriers to employment, TANF did little to help them find jobs.
Sweeping in scope, TANF contains clauses to bolster marriage, mandate job training, and offer parenting classes. The “flexibility” that was a hallmark of the welfare reform bill enabled states to shift welfare funds away from direct cash assistance toward child care programs or subsidies for companies hiring welfare recipients, meaning that a greater portion of public welfare dollars went to the private sector.
In addition to the draconian economic policies that there is the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (that was passed and signed before the GOP retook Congress during that year’s midterm election), which became a huge bone of contention during the 2016 primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and that Bill Clinton has been forced to apologize for. This legislation allocated huge resources to the construction of private prisons, expanded the number of capital crimes that could result in the death penalty and began an era of targeted policing aimed largely at African American community. The most egregious elements of the legislation have been greatly discussed and were part of Ava DuVernay’s fantastic documentary 13th.  

So while Clinton was pushing economic and social policies that largely hurt the poor and marginalized, he also became an aggressive advocate for a muscular humanitarian military strategy. Clinton continued the policy of aggressive sanctions against Iraq throughout the 1990s, and although the numbers of deaths as a result is an area of contention, it is undoubtedly the case that thousands died unnecessarily as a result of policy. Whatever the figure was, the callousness of the Clinton administration toward the human cost of the policy was famously articulated by his Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who insisted that the human deaths was a price worth paying.

Other questionable actions under the Clinton presidency included the bombing of a medicine factory in Sudan and the bombing of Serbia over Kosovo, a move that foreshadowed the even more aggressive military adventurism of the Bush II years.

Clinton the Harasser

Clinton’s presidency is often remembered not for the policy choices he made but for the lurid sexual affair he engaged in with a young intern, Monica Lewinsky, which he then lied about prior to confessing. This resulted in a three year circus, where the obnoxiously hypocritical GOP impeached but failed to convict him before the US Senate. That the campaign against Clinton was partly led by “serial child molester” Dennis Hastert cannot be forgotten.

And as Clinton fought off the GOP attack, many Liberals got behind him, disgusted by the anti-sex Republican zealots. Yet in doing so the real problematic behaviour that Clinton got away with for decades was forgotten. Vanity Fair ran a long piece  in the midst of the Lewinsky scandal, detailing the history of allegations of sexual harassment against Clinton. I don’t want to detail the multiple stories of women having negative encounters with Clinton or rehash that some resulted in out of court settlements, but as the Liberal establishment in the wake of Weinstein is finally realizing that this behaviour has been forgiven too long why is it that Clinton gets a free ride?

National Book Awards

I love books and book awards. The National Book Awards are one of the most prestigious prizes in
literary circles and I like the idea of words and novels getting this kind of love.

I also really like what Lisa Lucas, the current executive director for the National Book Foundation that gives the prize, has done with the foundation since taking over a couple of years ago. She is one of the loudest voices in the literary world asking us to take more time exploring authors long marginalized by the literati that was more comfortable reading rehashed tales by old white men and ignoring younger and more creative voices among communities of colour. To see so many writers of colour and women come to the forefront of the National Book Awards since Lucas’ tenure began is a good thing.

That is why it is so disappointing to see without a second thought the embrace of Bill Clinton. Clinton the politician advanced policies that disenfranchised the poorest Americans and undermined communities of colour. His foreign policy continued the imperial march of dehumanizing nations deemed our enemy while exerting muscular strength that resulted in so many of the poorest (against mostly people of colour) dying in exchange of US international dominance. Clinton the person engaged in repugnant behaviour that we still see rampant be it in the halls of political power or the offices of entertainment studios.

Despite all this, Clinton was largely given a free ride while he was President. The Liberal artist and literati community fell head over heals for him, embracing the lure of power and while forgetting the ills and crimes Clinton is responsible for him. Toni Morrison’s famous quote that Clinton was “our first Black president” comes off as incredibly irresponsible considering the harm his policies had on African American communities across the country.

That this uncritical and sycophantic adulation repeats itself today, in the midst of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, is quite sad. I can only hope that there are enough readers who are similarly repulsed by this decision and call on Lucas and National Book Foundation to rescind their invitation.