The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

the green zone

Rajiv Chandrasekharan's IMPERIAL LIFE IN THE EMERALD CITY, a history of the Coalition Provisional Authority under Bremer and of the Green Zone (now called the "International Zone") in Baghdad, is pretty much what you'd expect: a story of people who really can't make a decision that actually works out, and who stay in charge not because of their competence but because they are just bullies. Chandrasekharan made the rounds of the talk shows (kudos to Jon Stewart for making it de rigeur for writers of serious current-events books to appear on talk shows) and his book is much like the public personality he showed on the air: friendly, energetic, immersed in research without being stuffy or esoteric. The book is as breezy as a story of a disaster like this can be, and benefits immensely from--really, it couldn't have existed without--Chandrasekharan's ability to get former CPA officials to talk to him. Many of them were Bush believers, and one suspects that mosst are still Republicans, but boy, they really make the case that the occupation and setup of the government was misbegotten, not just cursed with "mistakes in execution."

My other guilty-pleasure reading for the month is much guiltier: Crystal Zevon's I'LL SLEEP WHEN I'M DEAD: THE DIRTY LIFE AND TIMES OF WARREN ZEVON. It's a long book consisting almost exclusively of oral-history excerpts, bits of Zevon's diaries, and the like. She only adds an interstitial note now and then. One thing I've learned is that I'm glad I was never married to Zevon. He seems like a nightmare. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s he was an epic alcoholic, and one wonders why Crystal was so raw in this book--he was just brutal to her, constantly blacking out from drinking and hitting her in the face--when she doesn't come across all that well in her decision-making. But oh, Zevon, what a train wreck. And even when he finally sobered up he was no picnic. It's a good read, marred, unfortunately, by some of the worst copyediting I've ever seen from a major publisher. Aaron Copland is repeatedly referred to as "Aaron Copeland," Zevon is said to use both "Halliburton" and "Haliburton" suitcases (it's not like that name is an obscure one these days!), and one of the most famous songs of Jackson Browne, "For Everyman," is spelled both as that and as "For Every Man"--within two pages. Someone should lose their job over this. I'm looking at you, copyediting desk of the HarperCollins trade division.


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