Today is a special edition of Books I Read This Week, because it takes up three weeks instead of 1, and also I drank a lot before writing it. More than usual, I mean. Not that it matters, no one reads this, it's just something I use to keep track of the things I read and because I'm a glutton for recording things. Why are you reading this? Don't you have something better to do, like bang on a trash can or howl at the moon? Anyhow...
The Last 3 Weeks I Read:
Tun-Huang by Yashushi Inoue – yeah....uhhhh, so this was three weeks ago and I can only faintly remember it. That's not a great sign I guess. It's about a period of Chinese history which I knew nothing about before reading it, so that's a plus. I admit that apart from that it basically was not of any interest to me. Seems to be highly regarded, so there's a fair chance that I missed what was special about it, but either way.
Were there swords: Yes, actually, but it was still pretty dull.
The Captain's Daughter by Alexander Pushkin – a cute historical fairy tale, but again it didn't really do a lot for me. I understand that a lot of Pushkins appeal is that he had a critical role in the elevation of Russian as a literary language, though reading it in translation that doesn't really do anything. Also it seems to have been a very early example of the now pretty ubiquitous historical fiction genre, so there's that.
Were there swords: Yeah, there were swords, but you couldn't exactly call it riveting. Still two books with swords in a week! I'm on a roll!
The Misanthrope and Other Plays by Moliere – the titular play is pretty hysterical, and beyond that a rather cutting critique of human misbehavior. A lot of the others are just silly romps, neatly executed but not much more than that. Can someone who understands this subject better explain to me why the English plays of this period and even earlier are so much richer and more complex than this? Even the Misanthrope, which again is a lot of fun, really can't possibly be compared to say, Midsummer Night's Dream or what have you. Thoughts? Anyone? Bueller?
Were there swords: Yes, but used for comedic effect.
The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya – Man, I really liked this one. Sort of a post-apocalyptic narrative but actually a really brutally mean comment on the pointlessness of literature. The prose is extraordinarily inventive, both in terms of the language itself and of the viewpoint provided by Benedikt, the idiot manchild and protagonist/anti-hero. Having read so many endless self-serving paeans to the power of literature to ennoble the human spirit, there's something really hysterically funny about the idea of a book the essential set up of which being how reading making a person more barbaric and horrible. I just loved this book, it made me laugh constantly. Between this and the also fantastically kid Ice Trilogy, I'm starting to wonder why the Russians have all the good scifi writers?
Were there swords: No.
Diary of a Man in Despair by Friedrich Reck – yeah, this was a fun one. Reck was a German arch-conservative and constant, bitter opponent of the Nazis who would end his life tragically shortly before the end of the war. With extraordinary clarity and depth of insight, he identifies the apocalyptic course which German society had embarked on, a madness which he identifies as being the ultimate product of the French revolution and of modernity generally. This is the angriest book you'll ever read, 200-odd pages of burning, lucid hatred for the moral degradation of Rcck's beloved homeland, of the apalling brutality and stupidity of the Nazis and of a society which is willing to follow them blindly off a cliff, and to lead much of the rest of Europe there with them. Excellent, worth reading, terribly sad.
Were there swords: This whole were there swords conceit is not as funny as I thought it would be.
Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household – this was a ton of fun. Our unnamed protagonist, an English sports hunter of wealth, good manners, impeccable pedigree, superhuman strength, giant balls, etc, gets captured by the secret service of an unnamed country (context clues suggest Germany) who (mistakenly?) suspect him of trying to assassinate their leader (Hitler). One of those very first-rate thrillers (reminded me of Forstyhe in this) where everything makes really perfect sense, the author has seriously considered all of the events and the book would have served as a useful roadmap for escaping Germany or the London police or whatever. Better still is the very gradual reveal of the hero's motives. It whiled me through a very rainy Saturday, for which I'm thankful.
Were there swords: No, but there were rifles and ballistae and killing generally.
The Jewish War by Josephus – is it maybe kind of stupid to criticize a work of classical history as being dry? Well, I just did. Basically it's just Josephus's immensely self-serving explanation of why it was OK for him to turn traitor and join up with the Romans rather than getting himself killed like all the other Jews did. This was a pretty far way from Thucydides.
Were there swords: There were a shitload of swords. There were swords all over the damn place, seriously. If you're looking for swords, BOOM, here you go. Enjoy yourself.
Right Now I'm Reading: Nothing, but I got a Samuel Delaney book in the hopper.