Books I read in Visa Jail 2

Is being in the clink simply a version of a poor mans University?  It can be if you have cohorts bringing you books by the bushel.  I’ll admit I have no need to learn such “trade skills” as sharpening toothbrushes into deadly weapons or the all important don’t drop your soap in the shower and the ever useful how not to lose all your coffee money in a game of 21 with Phillipino gangsters.

However, if there is a silver lining to every situation, and I think there almost always is, one from my most recent “vacation” would be the books.  That having been said, there can be no light without dark, no pleasure without pain and no fine literature without some sad, moronic bit of brain fart. Not everyone gets to be Hemingway, sadly some people have to be Molly Jong-fast.  Or the worse case scenario: Channing Tatum.

OK…

To the books!

The Dante Club

Generally, these days, I stay away from conventional fiction. I would rather read Chomsky, or sit down with my pipe and go with some old school Papa Hemingway.  But if my only other choice is watching some puppet with a pulse eat old, stale bean cakes and moan with gustatory adulation, I’ll take some dumpy fiction any day of the week.

The Dante Club surprised me.  Matthew Pearl is an academic and he pulled all the strings he had at his disposal to make this a fun, quick and unique read; devoid of overly pretentious maneuvers and full of entertaining if not slightly corny characterizations.  The story takes place in 1865 though and I think we can all agree, that was a fairly corny era, and happily so.

"Ah, History, you corny bastard."

The story takes place in Boston in 1865.  A group of academics including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,  James Russel Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes and J.T. Fields make up The Dante Club.  It’s a group of brilliant men that meet weekly to assist Longfellow in the first ever English translation of Dante’s “Inferno“. Well, some zany maniac starts killing people, mimicking scenes found in the book and with the police baffled (a rarity, I know) it falls to these professional library men to stop the killer.

"Teachers: The Original Behavioral Science Unit."

Pearl is a genius.  Very little in this book is original, in fact much of it is historical fact, simply accented with enough fiction to keep things sharp and interesting.  Utilizing these “dusty old poets” as the main characters immediately activates a kind of romanticism that lingers within almost any American that has been educated to some degree in the last fifty years and this combined with the focus of the group being Dante, and in fact his Inferno builds a clear connection between a lingering longing for a more romantic America with the fascination and allure of the bloody middle ages in Europe.

The sub plots are intriguing and meaningful without being over bearing: The controversy surrounding the publication of Inferno, the educational prejudice given to an Italian work and the first black police officer in Boston who takes on the case despite being ordered to let it go.  All wonderful accouterments to a hearty and visceral murder mystery.

The real magic is in the after-effects;  you feel as though you have been reading up on culture while at the same time getting both your “who dunnit” fix and your shameful, yet desirable, “gothic horror fantasy” fix all at once.  You have your cake and get to eat it all too like the greedy little piggy you are, and somehow Pearl doesn’t make you feel one bit guilty.  The finish is long and lingers warmly days after the book is done.

A very worthwhile effort.

Executive Power

The main character of “Executive Power” is “Mitch Rapp”, though you might know him by his T.V. Alias “Jack Bauer”.  These two characters are so alike it’s almost embarrassing.  The only real differences being that I would say “Bauer” is more of a Sociopath where as “Rapp” is pretty clearly a psychopath.  In addition to that, Rapp is a brutal Metro-Sexual; a Lacrosse player from Syracuse for god’s sake, and Bauer is more like a romantically dysfunctional plumber from Philly.

The two things both of them do well: Kill people and not give a shit.

The plot of “Executive Power” really doesn’t matter.  It’s equal parts every season of “24” you’ve ever seen and equal parts every other book Vince Flynn has ever written, or ever will write.

If Steven Seagal was a character in literature, those books would be written by Vince Flynn.  Except, instead of his skills from the Lacrosse days helping him kill literally everyone, he would save America with arm breaking and fake accents.  It’s also not out of the question that blues music might be involved somehow.

"It's a little thing called -Save America-. I invented it in Japan. Aikido."

At least  Bauer is a mere Sociopathic killing machine and it’s just TV.  It’s infinitely more testing reading a book about a “hero”, who is actually a raging psycho, when he spends large portions of his page time dreaming about torturing foreign Nationals that he hates.  Wantonly killing whoever gets in your way has worked for Imperial powers so far right?  I mean Rome’s still…oh wait…

“Executive Power” like all of Vince Flynn’s novels is very easy to read and is totally ridiculous.  Yosomono put it well once when he described them as also “completely socially irresponsible.”

Pass on this. Read “The Dante Club” instead.

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