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Some Varieties of War Wednesday

What I've Just Finished Reading

The Man Who Was Thursday is a lot of weird fun, and Chesterton mostly manages to keep himself to one drive-by racist/xenophobic/anti-Semitic remark per chapter, and there's even an in-story justification for his anarchists being caricatures, which is awfully clever of him. I got a little too annoyed with Chesterton for inventing Father Brown, a completely delightful character, and giving him absolutely nothing to do but toddle around dispensing Chestertonian epigrams. Thursday does a little better. Its characters are all "types" from the start, so there is no regretting what might have been, and it's funny and dreamlike and shows off Chesterton's (sometimes) impeccable ear for nonsense. Whatever philosophical-theological conundrum the book was going for, I don't get it, but that can't be helped.

What I'm Reading Now

My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson is still excellent. Emily's father's school in Amherst is failing (again) and Emily has gone away to Mount Holyoke. Unfortunately, at this time (c. 1847) it's still Revival Season in New England, and Mount Holyoke's number-one priority is getting its students "converted," which means that Emily and her fellow "non-Christians" (i.e., anyone who hasn't made a formal declaration of their assurance of salvation) are being constantly harrassed by teachers, friends, roommates, and everyone else who can get a word in edgewise about the necessity of having hope. It's so distressing. She's just decided to give it up and go home, where at least her father is "unsaved" along with her. The school's leaders are upset because they've got the "no hope" list down to about 25, and it isn't getting any smaller, no matter how much they step up the harrassment. It's fascinating, but I just feel bad for everyone involved.

The Horse's Mouth might be a little too long, but I'm still enjoying it. Gulley Jimson is an Artist Behaving Badly, and a particularly pungent example. He's so childish and selfish and so inept at basic life skills that I thought he was in his twenties at first, and was jolted when he's revealed to be sixty-seven years old. Well, why should age do anything for him, if he never bothered to get it together when he was young? He's not a Beautiful Tortured Genuis Too Pure to Live, just a socially incompetent jackass who never bothered to learn any better, who has only his art to recommend him, and he's shafted himself out of even being able to buy paint without resorting to shoplifting. He befriends people who can't help him and alienates people who can, not because he's a good unselfish soul, but just because self-sabotage is like a reflex to him. And his painting sounds terrible, but maybe it isn't. I don't know if all this is going anywhere, but I'm enjoying the ride.

What I'm Going to Read Next

Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman! I really like this book, or at least, I like its troubled and hapless narrator, Bunny Manders. But I've had to give up completely on trying to read anything on Project Gutenberg; it just doesn't work. I got this one and Thursday from the library at long last, after months of trying and failing to get through them on Gutenberg, and will probably finish it up in a few days.

Also somewhere in the future: The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards, Inda by Sherwood Smith, and The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 26th, 2015 05:58 pm (UTC)
The Amateur Cracksman! That was a fun book and I did read that one from PG. What were your problems with Project Gutenberg, btw? Is it the formatting or editions or?
Aug. 26th, 2015 06:08 pm (UTC)
No, I just can't read anything longer than about 10 pages if it's not on paper. Some combination of bad eyesight + I have to stare at a computer screen a lot for work so my brain starts rejecting the words as "more work."
Aug. 26th, 2015 07:37 pm (UTC)
Ah fair enough! Some days I get home and don't even want to game because it's staring at the computer...which I have done for eight hours already.
Aug. 26th, 2015 09:26 pm (UTC)
I've saved some books from Gutenburg and the Internet Archive, mostly very very old nonfiction... I find them more readable if I can convert the book into word (from a pdf) or save it as epub, but there's no doubt the real thing is... well, real :)
Aug. 27th, 2015 07:23 am (UTC)
The Golden Age of Murder sounds intriguing. :-)

While I got on with Father Brown all right, I was baffled by The Man Who Was Thursday. I keep meaning to read it again sometime to see if it will make any more sense, but I suspect that needs to wait until I have reliable amounts of brain. One day.
Aug. 27th, 2015 02:07 pm (UTC)
I don't know if being in a better brain place will help, tbh. It's a dreamlike sequence of events with a(n I think famously) WTF ending. A costume ball is involved, and possibly the creation of the world? But if you do re-read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Aug. 27th, 2015 12:44 pm (UTC)
I never read Chesterton. Another one who is on my list of "should-be-read"... Huband and I are quite delighted with the TV-series Father Brown, though, he is a really nice character. Feels a lot like Midsomer Murders 40 years earlier. :)
Aug. 27th, 2015 02:16 pm (UTC)
Father Brown is such a good idea for a character, and the narrator was so intrusive and pushy (the main reason I had to stop reading the stories) that I'm pretty sure I would love the TV show if I ever got around to watching it.

Chesterton is interesting. He keeps making me dislike him and I keep trying to overcompensate for it. And he does have a good ear for nonsense. I get the impression that most people have a little less trouble with him than I do.
Aug. 27th, 2015 01:26 pm (UTC)
The only thing I remember about The Man Who Was Thursday was the horrible "murderer of the unborn" line -- of course, the most hideous thing a person can be is a doctor who performs abortions! Such total evil that any truly Good Person can spot it a mile away!! That sour note drove all the good lines right out of my head.

(I sound way too damned easy to displease . . . sigh . . . honestly, I'm usually willing to forgive the characteristic bigotry and biases of a given historical period, but that one just killed it for me.)
Aug. 27th, 2015 02:04 pm (UTC)
That's the sort of thing I would normally remember reading, so I searched for it in TMWWT and couldn't find it -- might be in a different book, or I might just be looking for the wrong words. If you know where to look, let me know -- if not, no worries! I'm just curious.

honestly, I'm usually willing to forgive the characteristic bigotry and biases of a given historical period, but that one just killed it for me.

I tend to feel that way about Chesterton in general -- I get way more annoyed with him than with other writers from the same time period, and find his prejudices spoil more. It's at least partly because he's the favorite writer of some very dogmatic people I know, and so I'm annoyed by his bad influence. But I think it's partly just him. He seems to want to set himself up as the unfashionable "un-PC" common-sense truth-teller, which doesn't wear well if a large percentage of your "truths" are convenient prejudices.

And, at least in the Father Brown stories, there's a strong tendency to talk explicitly about "types" and essences, and to explain people in terms of their essential nature, which is harder (for me) to swallow than the odd character who is a stereotype, or lots of prejudiced characters, or a narrator who has some Thoughts on Italians but obviously hasn't done much research, or what have you.

It's harder for me to give a pass to the dogmatic Essential Eastern (or Anarchist, or Feminine) Soul stuff in Chesterton partly just because ideas about the essential nature of x (men, women, marriage, government) are currently such a strong & persistent mind-killer in the conservative Catholic circles where Chesterton is the perennial fave. It's still hard for me to separate him from his fanboys, and his actual writing doesn't help much.

Whoops, this comment went long -- sorry?

Edited at 2015-08-27 02:09 pm (UTC)
Aug. 27th, 2015 05:26 pm (UTC)
Ooo, lovely long comment!

Huh. The line must have appeared in some other Chesterton work, and I conflated it. *digs around online* Aha!! It's from "The Poet and the Lunatics". Oh, and if there isn't a bit of grotesque anti-Semitism in the very next line!

I take great comfort in finding that Chesterton hit you in much the same way as he did me! I wanted to like his works, but he just turned my stomach.

I think the aura of smug superiority is another part of it -- his characters, as they mouth their plain honest truths unexamined loathsome bigotry, are so airily sanctimonious, and the reader's admiration is taken as given. He doesn't just provide conveniently shaped bons mots -- he demonstrates the model for how to deliver the beautifully wrapped crap in a manner intended to disintegrate even the notion of dispute. Take away the shiny wordplay, and the thoughts are no more magnificent that Trump's latest tweet.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )


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