Friday, October 12, 2007

In Praise of Frivolous Books

After much back-and-forthing, I finally ordered "Infidel" from Chapters. It’s our next book club book, and I am looking forward to it. It’s the story of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is a refugee from Somalia who became a member of Parliament in the Netherlands. She is, from what I’ve heard of the book, and read about her in other places, pretty harsh towards Islam and its treatment of women. I am looking forward to reading this book and engaging with her controversial take on multiculturalism.

But in the meantime, I have about 100 pages left to get through “Clear and Present Danger”. Generally, I go for John le Carré or Robert Ludlum for my spy lit, but I picked this up at a book sale at some point, and figured I might as well read it. Tom Clancy is not exactly high literature (I’m not picky, but I prefer books where the language either a) enhances the story or b) doesn’t get in the way of the story – Clancy, like Dan Brown, tends to stray into category c)).

Despite the language, though, this book has been interesting. Written in 1989, it’s about the “war against drugs,” the idea being that the President of the United States decided that cocaine being shipped into the United States is a “clear and present danger” to the people of his country, and therefore wages a covert war against a Colombian drug cartel. And so, it’s all about the issue of waging a “war on drugs,” and the soldiers and intelligence agents who go through the moral quandary of what they are doing – how to define an enemy, when the ends justify the means, etc etc.. I never understood the basis for the “war on drugs” rhetoric, and while I still think that it’s dangerous to go around waging “wars” on amorphous enemies, I at least now understand how it could possibly be characterized as a war.

Generally, I find spy books fascinating because they always reflect the paranoia of the age in which they are written. If you read through le Carré’s career, for example, you’ll start with the cold war, and move through state-sponsored terrorism, drugs, and finally multi-nationals as the bad guy of choice. These books, as much as a memoir like Infidel, can reveal things about the world we live in. Another recent thriller I read was “the Odessa File” by Frederick Forsyth. Under the cat-and-mouse Nazi-hunting plot was a fascinating theme of the German population’s inability to deal with the collective guilt of the Holocaust. Even the only Danielle Steele book I’ve ever read gave me a solid introduction to tsarist Russia.

So, I am looking forward to sinking my teeth into the weighty issues in Infidel, but I don’t think that it’s been a waste of my time to read Clear and Present Danger – if we read with our brains turned on, even escapist literature can challenge and teach.


Wheatsheaf said...

A hearty Hear, Hear! Loving them frivolous books. The first ten pages of Infidel are good so far, but the latest Harry Potter is much more alluring. Thanks!
In law school, I read more fiction as a means to ease my mind at the end of the day. I then stopped reading during articling and beyond. Recently, I have returned to my high school interest of crap fiction. In it pleasant to be engaged and entertained without feeling the need for improvement or worldliness.
However, now that I have finished a Ludlum book - what do I do with it? Any advice on where to leave/donate used crap fiction books? If you are going back to Washington, maybe you can take it and leave on the plane?
If you like Forsyth, check out Fist of God.

el Maggie said...

Things to do with crap fiction once you've read it:
1) pass it on to someone you know (but sorry, WS, I've already read the Bourne books)
2) freecycle it
3) donate it to rummage sale (my grandma is on her library society and I save up my books over the year and give them to her to sell - DFAIT is having a book sale in November for United Way, so I can take your Ludlum and bring it in along with my Clancy).