Hooman Majd is an Iranian-American, a well-known and respected journalist who is critical of the Iranian government as well as the son of a high-ranking diplomat for the Shah. All of these factors would be good reason for Majd to limit his time in Iran. Majd has travelled in and out of Iran for years, often escorting U.S. journalists. He has published two previous books on the country, which were critical of the Iranian government. Majd grew up in the U.S. and Britain, but like many political refugees, he has always felt the pull of his home country. In his book, The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay, Majd recounts the nearly year-long stay in Tehran that he and his family embark upon.
This journey begins when his family moves there during a tumultuous time in Iran – on the cusp of the Arab Spring and the failure of the Green Movement reforms. Majd talks about the big issues while also discussing the minutiae of an American family trying to live in a country devoid of Starbucks and organic food stores. His narrative is often humorous, and it is at its best when discussing the average Iranian people, who have an incredibly self-deprecating view, a voracious love of politics and an admiration for American ideals.
Majd looks at Iranian cultural features like “sulking” and exaggeration and shows them in everyday life as well as how they play out in the domestic and international political arenas. What emerges is a portrait of a modern capitalist country that, while still repressive, has a very healthy political dialogue, including reporting on every juicy bit of gossip about leaders like they were the Kardashians. The people desire to stay Islamic but also to become more open and liberal. Majd sees the U.S./Iranian relationship as a version of a Persian “Big Sulk,” with an Iranian government ready to resume ties with the U.S., but only after the U.S. makes a demonstration of apology for past wrongs and expresses a desire for such a relationship. It’s an intriguing possibility, but one that the U.S. would be politically unable to explore. Ultimately, Majd is on a journey to discover the Persian identity, both his own and his homeland’s.
In these days of political polarization in the United States, an unlikely party has come to the rescue of our fractured populous. In America, But Better: The Canada Party Manifesto, humorists Chris Cannon and Brian Calvert lay out an “intervention from your continental BFF”. With the scantest of seriousness, the authors skewer American stereotypes on issues such as illegal immigration, gun control, obesity, and marriage equality. Starting with a cheeky foreword by none other than Abraham Lincoln, the witty and pointed observations about the direction of America are by turns hilarious and mildly shaming.
This is a quick read, peppered with sidebar promises of what will change if the Canada Party is elected to run the US: “We will continue building oil pipelines, but they will carry maple syrup. If there’s a spill, at least the animals will be tasty.” One chapter describes the benefits of combining similar cities within the two countries as a cost-saving measure, including Van Francisco, Queboston (two places where no visitors can understand the locals), and Dalgary. Another takes on corporations as people, use of the metric system, and of course, a primer on hockey. Wry, silly, and smart, America, But Better is a not-so-gentle nudge that pokes fun at American Exceptionalism, and the way the rest of the world views us as a nation.
Did you know that every American president has worn glasses? Or that John Quincy Adams had a pet alligator that he kept in the White House bathtub? If you’re looking for quirky presidential trivia, try Stephen Spignesi’s Grover Cleveland’s Rubber Jaw & Other Unusual, Unexpected, Unbelievable but All-True Facts about America’s Presidents. For example, Millard Fillmore’s favorite color was fuchsia. Ronald Reagan was claustrophobic. A man once attacked Franklin Pierce and threw a hard-boiled egg at him. This book has all of the facts that you didn’t learn in U.S. history, but should have! Spignesi includes the good, the bad, and the just plain weird. It will appeal to presidential history buffs, as well as fans of trivia who just want to flip through the pages and have fun with history.
Those interested in a more serious look at the presidency should try The Presidents Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity. Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, both editors at Time magazine, explore the relationships among the last 13 presidents. The book gets its title from the informal group jokingly named by Hoover and Truman. Now, it describes the bond that exists between former presidents regardless of their different political viewpoints. Many former presidents have assisted sitting presidents by serving as advisors or in diplomatic capacities. Reagan even stepped in to teach Clinton how to salute uniformed military personnel properly, and Clinton has developed a deep friendship with George H. W. Bush. In The Presidents Club, Gibbs and Duffy explore these little known connections and the history that created them.