Five uneasy pieces

With Thanksgiving weekend just around the corner and finals week looming, students at Portland State may soon find themselves in need of a good holiday read.

With Thanksgiving weekend just around the corner and finals week looming, students at Portland State may soon find themselves in need of a good holiday read. Here are five underappreciated literary treasures that will whiten the knuckles and abuse the soul this holiday season.


“Tokyo Vice”

by Jake Adelstein

Jake Adelstein is the only American journalist ever to have been admitted to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police press club, where he spent 12 years covering Japan’s grimy underworld. This gripping memoir includes tales of extortion, murder, human trafficking, corruption and, of course, the feared Yakuza. Adelstein’s book is a relentless and compelling account of real investigative journalism at its finest, colored with dark humor and wit. Find out why the Japanese don’t understand American pornography, what drives a journalist to break kneecaps with a golf club, why Yakuza bosses have bad livers and how the FBI and UCLA medical center helped several of them get new ones. This is a groundbreaking and inspiring piece of work.


“Stuart: A Life Backwards”

by Alexander Masters

This is the story of the life of Stuart Shorter, a homeless, drug addicted, unpleasant and schizophrenic Englishman. Alexander Masters befriended Shorter while working at the homeless shelter where he resided, but this is no sentimental tale of middle- and lower-class people overcoming the odds to form a friendship. Rather, it is a beautiful and unflinching look at a troubled yet beautiful man and his ability to remain human throughout a life of inhuman treatment. It is also, as the title implies, written in backwards chronology, beginning with Stuart’s troubled adult existence and working backwards to his childhood in an attempt to “discover what murdered the boy that he was.” Not only is this a fine biography, it is also a very rare exploration of the homeless in print. Masters does not infantilize the homeless, nor does he forgive them of their human faults. He simply writes them as they are, while exploring, along with Stuart some of the reasons that people become homeless, as well as why many stay homeless.


“The New Media Monopoly”

by Ben H. Bagdikian

In 1983, Benjamin Bagdikian published “The Media Monopoly,” a chilling deconstruction of concentrated power in the media and a warning of the dark media age to come. While the mainstream media initially dismissed the work as alarmism, the book has become the most widely respected critique of mass media ever published. In fact, Bagdikian’s predictions about corporate conglomeration and media ownership concentration have been so prescient that the book has seen six editions published by the turn of the century. This revised and updated edition includes seven new chapters dealing with issues such as the Internet, paper in the digital age and the “big five” corporations of the film industry. This book should be the starting point for any person seeking media literacy.


“My Battle of Algiers”

by Ted Morgan

Eminent historian Ted Morgan was drafted into the French army in 1956, after attending Yale and Columbia University’s School of Journalism. In this relentlessly brutal memoir, the man who penned biographies of William Burroughs and Franklin Roosevelt looks inward, writing about his two years at war with the Algerians. The book is discomforting, not only for its shocking content, but also for the many parallels between the French imperialists’ fight against Arab insurgency in the 1950s and our own war in Iraq. For those unfamiliar with the Algerian war, this book will be all the more shocking. The Algerians’ fight for decolonization was characterized by bloody guerilla warfare, acts of terrorism against civilians by both sides of the conflict and a marked increase in the use of torture than had ever previously been seen in a major conflict. It is a conflict to which many are ignorant, and yet it shaped the way wars have been fought and will be fought in our modern era. The Battle of Algiers marked the beginning of urban terrorism and military-sanctioned torture as strategic devices in warfare, and Morgan’s fine book is an unflinching and often frightening testament to the effectiveness of both. 


“Marked For Death: Dying for the Story in the World’s Most Dangerous Places”

by Terry Gould

While the assassination of journalists might seem like paranoid fantasy in the United States, it is a reality of daily life in much of the world. Of all the journalists who die on assignment worldwide, almost three-quarters of them are explicitly targeted for assassination. Journalist Terry Gould spent four years investigating the cases of seven such journalists who died—not just for a story, but also in service to their communities. It is a testament to the power of the written word to uplift communities and instigate social change, as much as it is a tribute to the brave journalists who refused to be silent in the face of threats and intimidation. The men and women chronicled in “Marked For Death” include journalists from Columbia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Russia and Iraq. Their stories are told through conversations with their colleagues, family, rivals, critics and in some cases, even those who are accused of their murders. In an age of economic uncertainty in the media world, this is an important reminder that journalism is more than an occupation—it’s something people live and die for.?