Monday, July 6, 2009

Two Days Late, Two Dollars Short

All right, so I missed any Fourth of July post, but America has not been far from my mind, knee-deep as I am in Tony Horwitz's A VOYAGE LONG AND STRANGE, an exploration of "forgotten" parts of American history. By "forgotten" he means taking place between Columbus in 1492 and the Mayflower landing in 1620. With some early Vikings in Vinland thrown in. It's an informative, entertaining book--no BLUE LATITUDES, but at least as interesting and almost as funny as his CONFEDERATES IN THE ATTIC. And certainly more interesting and much funnier than the other recent American history book I tried to muddle through, Joseph Ellis' AMERICAN CREATION. Horwitz participating in a Conquistador re-enactment is right up there with the Confederate re-enactments, funny-wise.

And speaking of Confederates, I'm also halfway through THE EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE by Forrest Carter, a book that initially charmed Americans and then enraged them when they found out it was written by a former(?) White Supremacist, possibly as penance. If it's penance, it has its effective moments, since "Christians" and non-Indians come off poorly, to say the least. Grandpa's assessment of the woes of sharecropping is spot-on, and you realize, in such a system, making bootleg whiskey isn't such a bad idea.

And speaking of bootleg liquor, I also took in two gangster movies this weekend: the just-out PUBLIC ENEMIES and the already-on-DVD ROAD TO PERDITION. America plays a prominent role in each, although in PERDITION it's a silent role as the gorgeous, stark, monochromatic backdrop to what really plays more like Greek tragedy. Good movies both, but what gangster movies can equal GODFATHER II? To place the gangster in the American Dream structure is brilliant.

The herky-jerky nature of this post should make clear to all that American art is too big a subject to boil down for the 4th of July, but I'd love to hear about your recent reads or movies to throw in our Melting Pot.

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