Book Group: We're so bored with the USA

Christina Patterson reveals your views on American Dream, Global Nightmare by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies
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The Independent Culture

If history is a nightmare from which we're trying to wake then so, sometimes, is a book group. For much of the month, it felt a bit like Groundhog Day - an endless time where everyone was trapped in a cycle of despair. Sometimes it felt more like Terminator. Enough talking, already. Get out those guns and shoot.

If history is a nightmare from which we're trying to wake then so, sometimes, is a book group. For much of the month, it felt a bit like Groundhog Day - an endless time where everyone was trapped in a cycle of despair. Sometimes it felt more like Terminator. Enough talking, already. Get out those guns and shoot.

The discussion took shape in the shadow of the American elections. While Bush was doing the intense facial work-out that served as a substitute for debate and Kerry was trying to get a crash course in charm, we were suffering agonies of anxiety. Who would rule the Western world? Would reading this book help us understand the issues? Why can't we get it in Waterstone's?

The first strike was fierce. "Hollywood does not represent American culture" declared Regulus. "It only represents a facet of it, that facet being the one projected by the elite." Well, we all hate elites: those perfect, plastic film stars who feed our fantasies and fuel the nightmare. Excellent point! But suddenly the "e" word was being liberally (if not Liberally) sprinkled across the screen. The "elitist slant of your newspaper" came in for stick, as did "the elitist, parasitic feminists" threatened by the "stereotype-busting cultural icon", Jessica Lynch. We are all, it seems, left and right, in a Plot Against America - a plot "to suppress the Libertarian traditions and culture of Appalachia". Well hang on a moment. I quite liked Deliverance.

"Are all feminists parasites" responded Mo245 drily, "or just elitist ones?" Somehow, it didn't feel like the start of a beautiful friendship. "I suspect" she announced a few days later "Regulus believes all females who declare any feminist leanings should be hastily tied back to the kitchen sink." Five months after Olivia Joules did her bit for world peace, we were right back in the battle of the sexes.

Meanwhile, GAGill was still plodding through The Electric Michelangelo. "I did finish all the others in time" he protested, as if cowering from a cane or a detention. He had, he said, started the new book at the same time and was alternating global nightmares with freak shows in Coney Island. "They seem to work well together" he explained. "I carry both around with me and read whatever suits my mood".

It's hard to know quite what would have suited most people's mood. Beckett, perhaps? Or Camus? Or the new Nobel laureate, Elfriede Jelinek? Certainly, there was already a sense of grim resolution in adversity. "I have been tackling it" boasted Ramblingsid, but he was "only on the first chapter". He was finding it "a little turgid and unexciting". Sooty has legs in cartoons (one of a host of unusually ridiculous names this month) announced that the book reminded him of "attending sociology lectures, where the blindingly obvious was stated in the maximum number of words". Jellyfeeble was going to make herself read it between events at the Cheltenham Festival. She should have said hello. We could have bonded.

Sunnylanes, whose name evokes bucolic vistas far from the urban dystopia around The Independent's offices, was worried what her neighbours would think. "Every time I pick it up," she confided, "I start to feel a bit nervous about who is going to spot me with it. In rural Devon". Although, she added, "this is unlikely to be anyone more militant than a pro-hunt supporter". Stalwart Shirley, from the Sussex coast, didn't reveal her neighbours' tastes, but was not afraid to state her own. "This isn't the type of book I'd choose to read" she stated. About two thirds of the way through, she was "not particularly enjoying it". Laluna58 was even more direct. "The book is crap. Turgid, boring, a textbook."

Sooty etc was more interested in the issues than the book. His experiences "contributing to American forums" had, he thought, indicated "a willingness among Americans to deny the historical record and accept the Hollywood version wholesale". But now his long-standing interesting in the US was beginning to fade. "I'm becoming, like The Clash, 'so bored with the USA'."

"As long as you're having fun" drawled The Naked Genius in response, an effort that clearly exhausted him for a while. (And how do I know that The Naked Genius is a man? Trust me, I have an instinct for these things.) His brief comment triggered a bout of anguished confession. "Suffering from a shortage of passion these days, I'm afraid" said Sooty. "I'm not sure" he confided "whether it has to do with a genuine feeling of impotence, media overkill or reaching 50."

His mid-life malaise triggered something approximating passion. "Neither is an excuse for not voting" declared the Naked one sternly. Like all good liberals, Sooty understood his pain. But how, he asked, do you "deal with that lurching feeling of despair when you get your voting slip and scan the options for someone you feel is worth voting for"? Where, he wondered, was Clem Attlee when you needed him? Or even Harold Wilson?

Ramblingsid was keen to join the fray. "I am happy to vote against the Tories to keep them out of government" he announced. "Politics is about each of us thinking through what's best for us all. It's about compromise and realism as well as principle and idealism". A sudden thought struck him. "Is anyone" he asked "actually reading the book?"

Well, they were trying. Floyra did want "to read a book on this subject," but felt that this wasn't it. "It reads," she said, "a bit like a lecture to a naive student". A few days later, she offered a more detailed critique: "I wish Sardar and Davies had taken it on themselves to make fewer points rather more elaborately and, perhaps, to structure the thing more clearly. Their points," she concluded, "are well worth reading."

Thank you, Floyra, for taking the time to be so fair. It's a shame that jellyfeeble thought that reading the book was "like swimming in jelly". But she's looking forward to the poetry. Believe me, so are we.

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