Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Books & Movies Update

I saw "Control Room" last week, which is a documentary about Al Jazeera television and how it compares with U.S. media coverage of the war in Iraq. It's basically a behind-the-scenes at the media coverage of the war, spending a lot of time in Al Jazeera's newsroom and at press conferences. Very interesting, very worthwhile, compelling stuff -- certainly anyone interested in the war or the media in general (and not even necessarily both) will find it fascinating. The Boston Globe has a pretty solid review. Roger Ebert's take is similar. Check 'em out if you're on the fence; I actually think I probably got more out of this film than Fahrenheit 9/11, since this one just feels more true and not as driven by an agenda. Not that Fahrenheit 9/11 wasn't entertaining; but, like I said after I saw it, it's just hard to know what's real fact and what's manipulated fact.

On the bus to and from the firm's vineyard tour on Saturday, I read Richard Yancey's "Confessions of a Tax Collector," which is a memoir of a few years the author spent as a "Revenue Officer" for the IRS, going after people who didn't pay their taxes. You will learn very little about taxes from this book, so don't read it for that. No tax secrets. Because the book is really about a frustrating job with frustrating co-workers, and coping with a life that gets consumed by that job, and the hours and stress it entails. It's relevant for a much wider circle than just tax collectors, and that's both its primary strength and its primary weakness, I think. It's a strength because he makes it easy to relate -- you can imagine co-workers like his in any office, in any setting; you can imagine the struggles of work-life balance, of figuring out how to cope, of dealing with the day-to-day of what he describes as a pretty dismal, horrible lifestyle and job. Although he stays for a dozen years. And here's the weakness: I don't care. I don't have any intrinsic interest in what an IRS Revenue Officer does, he overkills the book with acronyms and descriptions of forms and procedures that don't matter and that really don't enlighten us as to much. It seems like he failed to realize that his book wasn't really about the IRS, but that his experiences were just a platform for some broader commentary on jobs and lives and coping and figuring out your path. But he never leaps off the platform and takes the reader anywhere rewarding. I found myself waiting for the introspective leap -- waiting for the broader themes to come in, waiting for some discussion of society, and what it says about society that this job exists, that these people exist, that this is his life. But he doesn't go there. And, his book is filled with unlikeable characters, people who sound dreadful to be around. Including him. He takes the reader to an unpleasant world, and leaves us there to languish in the details for 300 pages. Did I finish the book? Yeah, so I really can't attack it too much. But I was waiting for more insight, a payoff, a reason to stay engaged. And it never came. There's some interesting stuff inside, some passages you'll read and realize they can apply to all sorts of situations; and there's an element of curiosity satisfied about what an IRS Revenue Officer does -- but unless this really gets you excited, I'm not sure I recommend.

Also last week, I read "Are You Really Going To Eat That?" a collection of food writing by Robb Walsh, a former columnist for a bunch of in-flight airline magazines, the Austin Chronicle, and some other publications. It surprised me that airline magazines would hire someone this good. The essays are very readable, very satisfying. They're all pretty short, so the book moves fast and you don't get bogged down; some of them even made me wish for more detail. They do all sort of blend together at some point though. The book is subtitled, "Reflections of a Culinary Thrill Seeker," and the book does contain its share of essays about food on the edge -- exotic shellfish and game, things you won't find in a normal supermarket. But that's part of what makes it interesting. It's solid food writing, so if that stuff tends to grab you, it's a good read. Like most food writing, though, it does lack that feeling of relevance -- you're not missing anything if you *don't* read this book. But it was a solid commute read.