I had thought to review Bill Holm’s The Windows of Brimnes: An American in Iceland thinking that the book might be worth reviewing. It looked pretty on the cover, as if it might be more memoir, travelogue, and friendly ruminations. (That’s what I get for judging a book by its cover.) Upon actually reading it, I was sorely disappointed. A substantial reason, I admit, is that the author is unabashedly liberal. When I discuss politics or economics, I tend to mirror the tone that others discuss it in. If they are confrontational, I will be confrontational. If they are humble, I will be humble — if self-effacing… and so on. This book is an odd mix of patronizing and angry myopic blustering. That’s hard for a reader like me to take.
The book, sadly, can be summed up in the following sentence: America has perpetuated barbaric wars on the world, is destroying the environment, and its people cannot appreciate the better, simpler life. Some have compared him to Walt Whitman, but Whitman reflected on the world from a deep place of introspection that held the world in wonder. Holm is angry and bitter. The worst characteristic of America to him, it seems, is its people’s appreciation of religion. He tells us to pray in private, not in public and continually bashes religion, while at the same time raising the idol of the untouched environment.
Holm had potential — in some subjects, he seems like he could be a skilled writer, describing landscapes and music. He would no doubt be a much more popular and well-considered writer should he ever decide to eschew his odd, often misplaced recriminations with thoughtful consideration of broader themes. His fulminations completely overshadow the otherwise slightly charming anecdotes in the book. Oh, but I am sure the Chomskyites love it. It’s probably better called An Angry Liberal in Iceland. (Angry conservatives don’t make for very fun writers most of the time, either, folks.)
The author often pines for America to restore its fidelity to liberty and freedom, but it is quite clear that Holm has no understanding of what liberty really means, for he so loathes its exercise. One cannot on one hand advocate for liberty and on the other hand be so intolerant of its exercise. Not everyone believes that the government should control all facets of life. Not everyone believes that political speech should be regulated unless it is liberal political speech. And not everyone believes that terrorists should be able to maintain their liberty at the expense of American lives. The US does have many voces like Holm, however, and many of them are politicians, scientists, and influential public intellectuals. I think that the author of Poetry, Not Prose must have had these people in mind when he wrote “Freedom Dies By Suicide! (Obituary on A2)“:
Freedom died last night,
at the age of three hundred, three.
He left his children and his wife,
with nothing but their dreams.
He was found near a glass of gin,
and books piled to the lights,
(It was a lady friend who found him –
at a quarter past midnight.)
Though details are still to come,
The facts, as they are, imply:
Freedom did not die by the gun.
He died by suicide.
In summary: don’t look to this book for cogent or even interesting inquiries on human nature, nature, Iceland, or America. See some Shakespeare, read some Milton, go to Iceland, and vote Republican instead. I’m going to do a little bit of all that, and when I go to Iceland from October 11 – 16, I just might see if a certain author is around for a chat.