My on-going quest to read everything ever printed.

18 – <i>Open Line</i> – Ellen Hawley. This is a fun little novel about a lark run amok. Annette Majoris is a late-night radio host in Minneapolis who dreams of making it big in a real city, specifically New York, not some sleepy Midwestern town. One night, after being bored to death by another round of conspiracy-theory spouting callers, she casually asserts that the U.S. government faked the entire Vietnam war. It was, she claims, a giant mind control experiment. The reaction is swift, emotional, and loud. While some shout her down, others, including many who served, tell her that she’s either on to something, or that they can finally explain some of the issues they’ve been dealing with since their return 30 years ago.

Her cause is quickly adopted by many. A group of anti-government libertarians begins furnishing her with documentation about both of the inconsistencies in the war and with other government programs. She meets a benefactor of the Minnesota governor, who is searching for an issue that his client can leverage to take the reins of the Republican party in the next primary cycle. Veterans groups line up both for and against her, her show becoming a nightly therapy session for many of them to attempt to make sense of the strange dreams they’ve been having.

What is never clear is if Majoris really believes anything she is saying. She is instructed by her station owner to not take sides, just ask questions. Her audience grows, she hosts public forums, moves to a bigger station, and begins talks for a TV show. All that is clear is that she desperately wants to get to New York and make the money that comes with working in that market.

<i>Open LIne</i> is a funny statement about our modern media culture. Real issues with depth lose out to vaguely sourced conspiracies. Conflict trumps intellect. And, as Hawley seems to want us to believe, media personalities are far more interested in growing their brand, increasing their marketshare, and fattening their pockets than providing any real service to their viewers and listeners. In an election year, those assertions are even more relevant.

19 – <i>Winkie</i> – Clifford Chase. Perhaps the best first 30 pages of any book I’ve ever read. The rest of the book was very good, too, but the opening sequence of this book is amazing.

<i>Winkie</i> is the memoir of one of America’s greatest criminals and his trial for over 8000 charges, ranging from terrorism to sedition to blasphemy to believing the earth revolves around the sun. A full 12 prosecutors take 18 months to present their case against Winkie, in front of a very sympathetic judge and a courtroom full of cheering supporters, while the media foams at the mouth for his immediate conviction and execution. It truly is the trial of the century. Sound ridiculous? I’ve not shared the best part: Winkie is a teddy bear. A living, breathing, talking, walking teddy bear.

So yeah, a book about a teddy bear on trial for some of the worst crimes ever committed. How does this work? Quite well, actually. <i>Winkie</i> is in fact an allegory for how we assign blame in our society. We need bad guys, especially in the age of terrorism, and are all-too-willing to convict people without ever hearing all the evidence against them or considering their defense. All we need to hear is “Charges have been filed…” and we’re ready to string them up. In a complex world in which one of the men running for president can’t consistently keep Shiite and Sunni straight, a problem no doubt much of America shares, we want easy answers and solutions to these strange new problems. So, it does not matter that Winkie is a teddy bear. The fact that he can somehow walk and talk means he must be responsible for all the crimes he is accused of committing.

<i>Winkie</i> is absurd, shocking, and hilarious. It also serves as a mini-memoir of the author and his family, which both provides context and emotional depth. The book doesn’t quite live up to the first 30 pages, but it is still an excellent work and one of my favorites I’ve read this year.