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Footnotes Come to Life

The author at work in his study

I love footnotes.

Well-written footnotes do so many different things. Most provide the reader with directions to the evidence supporting a claim in the main text. Some give snark-filled asides – little tangents from the main topic, or perhaps humorous anecdotes. Some try to bat down the arguments put forth by other authors. Some suggest places to go for further reading on the topic at hand.

Face it: footnotes are fun. They might have felt like a drag when your English teacher was reminding you not to leave them out and browbeating you to put them in the right form – but in your heart, you know she was right. Footnotes are fun, and I miss them when they aren’t there.

And then I discovered links. Links are turbocharged footnotes. They don’t just tell you where to find the reference – they take you to it. Talk about service. Yum.

But twice a week, FDL goes one step further. . .

At the FDL Book Salons, we sit down with the authors themselves. Instead of one-way pointers to other writings, we get two way conversations. We get living breathing footnotes, with all the asides, all the snark, and all the background information that didn’t make it into the book.

FDL Book Salons have taken on subjects like the Iraq War, pushing to understand it from all kinds of perspectives, including Pentagon insider AJ Rossmiller, Valerie Plame from the CIA, and former Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) from Capitol Hill. We chatted with outsiders like Bob Drogin who followed the story of Curveball, and Linda Bilmes, who is watching the $3 trillion cost of the war. We visited with Mike Hoyt, editor of Reporting Iraq, un-embedded reporter Dahr Jamail, and looked at the failures of the media with Greg Mitchell.

And it’s not just Iraq. We’ve looked at the economy (Paul Krugman), religion and politics (Dan Gilgoff, Sarah Posner, John Gorenfeld), Republicans and neocons (John Anderson, John Dean, Paul Waldman, Jacob Heilbrunn, Naomi Klein), Democrats and progressives (Laura Flanders, Glenn Hurowitz, Eric Alterman), the Constitution (Lou Dubose and Molly Ivins), and the Worst People In The World (Keith Olbermann). We’ve checked out who hates whom (Bob Harris), how to change the world (Alex Steffen), life as a pro-choice doctor (Dr. Susan Wicklund), and we’ve peeked inside the minds of political operatives (Mark Penn, Allen Raymond.) [OK, some Book Salons have been better than others. But I digress.] We’ve had in major public figures, like 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, as well as other, less widely-known authors who nevertheless have something powerful to say.

While the guests are great, it’s the questions and comments that make the Book Salons work. Consider this exchange from last Saturday:

CTuttle: Senator, do you think there’s some traction in Congress to look into Yoo’s atrocious logic in discarding the Geneva Conventions and the 4th and 8th amendments…?

LChafee: Once again, Where’s the Democratic Party? They’re in the majority. What was the point of voting me out of office if the new Democratic majority isn’t willing to put on the brass knuckles and fight for our Constitution? John Ashcroft, of all people, on his sickbed, refused to sign off on the torture memo. Let’s give credit where credit’s due. Let’s hope Congressman Waxman goes after Yoo, he’s got the chairmanship of the committee.

Sometimes just pointing out the favorite part of the book is enlightening, like this from the chat with Bob Harris:

I particularly liked:

Tossing complex, violent agendas into giant bin called terrorism is both lazy and dangerous. Instead, let’s force ourselves to use specifics: “national rebels” or “drug-financed paramilitary death squads” or “sex-crazed vegetarian pacifists.” Speaking of which, not enough sex-crazed vegetarian pacifists are invading people. I checked.

No we’re just dhimmi who want to give away the farm and unconditionally surrender in the War Against Terrah. Not “real men” like Victor Davis Hanson, who wants to climb on the roof and “thin out the neighborhood” with a rifle and scope.

Not exactly what you see in either the book reviews or political stories reported elsewhere.

FDL Book Salon editor Bev Wright has a stunning list of authors coming up over the next couple of weeks:

  • Philip Shenon — The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Commission
  • Keli Goff — Party Crashing: How the Hip Hop Generation Declared its Personal Independence
  • Glenn Greenwald — Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of American Politics
  • Bernie Horn — Framing the Future: How Progressive Values Can Win Elections and Influence People
  • Eric Lichtblau — Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice
  • Matthew Yglesias — Heads in the Sand: How the Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy Screws up Democrats

(Click through for times, details, and links to order the books.)

Just thinking about the news of the last couple of weeks makes me anxious to hear these conversations. "Philip, what do you make of Mukasey’s new story about FISA problems that kept us from stopping 9/11 — a story that never got to the ears of the 9/11 commission?" "Keli, who among both political parties’ leadership is most aware of the generational independence you describe?" . . .

Anything look interesting to you in that list? Who are you anxious to read and chat with? What have been your favorite Book Salons, and who had the best snark? Who would you like to see in upcoming chats (either authors or hosts)? What topics would you like to dig into, that you haven’t seen here before?

Some FDL readers check in only from work, Monday through Friday. That’s great, but there are some special threads that come up on the weekends, like these Book Salons (2PM Eastern/5PM Pacific) that you really, really don’t want to miss.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.