Books I Read This Winter (Part 2)

When I go traveling for long periods of time I like to take books I know I wouldn't get around to reading if I was in my normal environs, with the distractions of cell phones and internet and booze and pretty woman and so on. This is what I read while wandering through East Africa in January and February. Who cares about any of this? I dunno. I barely care and I'm me.

The Complete Essays by Michel de Montaigne– What's the point really in reviewing what is widely regarded as a seminal classic of Western letters? On the other hand, I read it, so, F-you. Montesqieu had the then revolutionary idea of basically writing down everything he ever thought, learned, or felt, a revolutionary concept in an age which put Classic and Christian tradition ahead of all other forms of thought. Little did he know that he was paving the way for the blogosphere, but then on the other hand he was also enormously clever, erudite, and experienced. I liked the chapter on dealing with death, and also thumbs.

The Decameron by Boccacio – Basically 14th century soft porn, often quite funny. It's always a hoot to see what previous generations thought was decadent, and what they could manage to get away with (incest, date rape, orgies, etc.) Also, he really hates the clergy, it's kind of hysterical. Every few chapters there's just a hundred word aside on how useless monks are.

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray – Funny! Melodramatic! Bitterly mean! Frankly this era of English writing mostly doesn't do it for me (I just finished/hate Sense and Sensibility, more on that soon) but this is actually very sharp. Thackeray is the ancestor of Evelyn Waugh, and his contempt and affection for the bright young things of early 19th century London are well worth a read.

The White Company by Arthur Conan Doyle – It's kind of interesting to read totally mediocre genre stuff of previous generations, just sort of as an artifact. But this book is basically pretty stupid. Doyle has done his homework and there are some interesting bits about monks, but it's mostly pure melodrama, and the characterization is shoddy as a tree house made by drunken children. It's basically just a bit pile of shit, but I didn't mind it while I was reading it.

The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll by Alvaro Mutis – A series of episodes in the life of the eponymous Maqroll, a sailor, traveler, vagabond, melancholic loser, occasional lover. Did I, alone on the coast of Kenya, in an old Swahili town near the Sommali border, while very, very sick from the sort of disease one gets in East Africa, have vivid nightmares in which I could not distinguish between things I had read in this book and the actual events of my life, until finally in the middle of the night I wandered down to the beach and found a Rasta to help me, talking to him in a mad sort of pidgin language and holding this book up as if it was some sort of aegis against misfortune, until finally he took my hand and led me to the one village shop which was open after dark and got me some water and a bottle of sprite? No comment.

But yeah, anyway, read it.