I often receive emails from book stores, amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and online literary sites telling me how much I’d like the novels of Matt Beynon Rees. I’m delighted to see these emails, which are based on my other purchases and interests, as only I can truly know just how much the novels of Matt Beynon Rees have changed my life. (Try them, I’m sure you’ll agree.)
Of course, I also get the occasional email informing me that if I like Matt Beynon Rees, I might also enjoy another author named in the email. Well, they’re half-way there, because of course I DO like Matt Beynon Rees. No ifs. So I always have to look to see if they’re right about the second part.
The links are sometimes obvious – “if you like Matt Beynon Rees, try [insert crime novelist’s name here]” – and occasionally baffling though thought-provoking. I had one a few weeks back suggesting fans of Matt Beynon Rees’s Palestinian crime series would really dig a nonfiction book about a cyclone that hit Burma in 2008.
The latest of these connections was no doubt the most bizarre. I clicked on an email from an online book blog a few days ago: “If you like Matt Beynon Rees, we think you’ll enjoy Jimmy Carter.”
It could be that this was the result of the review of the paperback version of my third Palestinian crime novel THE SAMARITAN’S SECRET in The New York Times—it was featured in the same column as a review of the softcover edition of the 39^th President’s ultra-controversial 2006 work of nonfiction “Palestine – Peace Not Apartheid.”
Now here’s where I part with the “If you like Matt Beynon Rees, we think you’ll enjoy Jimmy Carter” email. Of you like Matt Beynon Rees, you’ll probably enjoy crime fiction. Or just fiction. Rather than “Palestine – Peace Not Apartheid,” in which the loveable old peanut farmer from Georgia accuses Israel of the worst kind of discrimination against Palestinians in the West Bank.
I don’t have an opinion on Jimmy’s book. I never read it. It has “Palestine” in the title and, as Graham Greene wrote, once one has lived in a place for a while one ceases to read about it.
Also it has “Apartheid” in the title. I have an opinion about what Israel does in the West Bank. I’m not going to get into it here, but in a (pea)nutshell, I think it’s a mistake to compare Israeli policy to apartheid, because then the debate shifts to the similarities and differences between South Africa’s old regime and Israel’s occupation – instead of talking simply about what Israel does and what’s wrong with it.
As soon as Smiling Jim put “apartheid” in his title, his book’s content was largely ignored. Pro-Israel mouthpieces could condemn him as an anti-Semite simply for comparing Israel to the unlamented and certifiably pariah regime in Pretoria. Game over. Jimmy even issued an apology a couple of years ago to all Jews on Yom Kippur. As though saying something critical of Israel is somehow a criticism of all Jews. As though there weren’t any Jews who agreed with him about Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians. Game over with a slamdown.
For me, as for many others, Carter has been a mildly useful voice for decency in the world. Though he also represents something a little pitiful, as one might witness in the song “Jimmy Carter” by my favorite band, Detroit whacksters Electric Six:
“Like Jimmy Carter,
Like electric underwear,
Like any idea that never had a chance of going anywhere….”
However, the decisive element in the question “If you like Matt Beynon Rees, we think you’ll enjoy Jimmy Carter” is a matter of personal animus. In fact, it’s a family insult suffered by the Rees’s of 32 Neath Road, Maesteg, Mid-Glamorgan, Wales, at the hands of James Earl Carter Jr., 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C.
My grandfather Tom Rees read in the Western Mail that then-President Carter was suffering from hemorrhoids. Tom had faced the same ailment some years before and had found nothing eased the feeling of defecating broken glass, until he switched to Allinson’s wholewheat bread. He wrote a letter to the White House in his careful cursive script, letting the leader of the Free World know what he needed to do to poop painlessly.
He didn’t expect any public recognition. But he assumed he’d get a polite note.
Perhaps Carter’s people knew that my grandfather was a former Communist Party member and figured the brown bread was a plot of some sort to keep the Commander-in-Chief on the can and away from the nuclear button, while the Reds swarmed Capitol Hill. In any case, the President never wrote back. Not even a “President Carter has read your inquiry with interest, but regrets that he will not be able to make it part of United States planning and policy at this time, though he is sympathetic to your cause.”
My grandfather continued to consume wholewheat bread, even at a time (the 1970s) when those around him considered it to be a strange fad akin to today’s no-nightshades tomato-free diets.
That’s why I don’t like Carter. Not because of apartheid. Because of hemorrhoids.
I wonder if Jimmy ever got them cured. Maybe he mentions it in his book. Perhaps I ought to read it after all…