Monday, March 17, 2008

Ben Smith

Ben Smith blogs on the 2008 presidential race, with a focus on the Democratic candidates, for Politico.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I picked up the habit from my grandfather of alternating genre fiction and higher brow stuff, so the two books I finished most recently are Zadie Smith's On Beauty and John Le Carré's latest.

On Beauty is set at a liberal arts college outside Boston, and framed by two dueling professors of African-American studies -- one white leftist, and a West Indian conservative, and their families. That sounds kind of dour, but Smith manages to write about race without making her characters stereotypes or preaching. The characters are funny and their manias, if sometimes in caricature, are authentic.

The Le Carré book, The Mission Song, I'm sad to report, is his worst I've read. He's notoriously gotten preachier in recent years, but this one was the first that was really a slog for me in places. The main character is an Irish-Congolese interpreter caught between his two worlds, interpreting for British elite coup plotters who -- shock -- turn out not to be as high-minded as they seem. He has a romance with an exotic and pure African nurse. The whole thing is kind of hard to take.

While we're on spy fiction, though, I have had a lot of fun lately reading Charles McCarry, the American cold war spy novelist (and spy) who's having a bit of a revival at the moment. The Tears of Autumn, his classic conspiracy-theory version of the Kennedy assassination, is weirdly compelling -- it involves, basically, retribution for American meddling in Vietnam. Until recently, his books were very hard to find -- a 25-cent paperback would be up to a few hundred dollars on Alibris. But Overlook Press, which must have noticed the demand, is bringing them all out again, along with some new ones, which is great.
Read Ben Smith's blog at Politico.

--Marshal Zeringue