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Wednesday Weeds of the Past

What I've Finished Reading

I got The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante for Christmas, and was almost physically unable to put it down until I'd finished it. Because my sister was in town with her kids, I read a large portion of it with a baby in my lap. It was even better than My Brilliant Friend, except for my irrational dislike of overnight literary successes in fiction. The translation feels more confident, too, though that might just be me getting used to it.

What I'm Reading Now

Titus Groan is still The Book That Would Not Die, but I don't need for it to die, because it's also still great. Steerpike has just successfully convinced the twins to set fire to the library with the rest of the family locked inside, as part of his creepy plan to grab a postition of power in this rotten tooth of a court. It's wince-inducing and delicious. And Fuchsia is still the best.

My hometown is a used book paradise, so I ended up buying a lot of books on the trip. I read Plutarch's biography of Alcibiades, a beautiful and arrogant human trainwreck whose life was one unbroken stampede of drama llamas on fire. It was completely delightful -- Plutarch at his best. Alcibiades' Roman parallel, Coriolanus, is less immediately compelling because Coriolanus is all about the boring Roman virtues and making his mother proud, rather than drenching himself in perfume and destroying diplomatic relations through injudicious seductions, but Plutarch's entertaining writing style makes it ok.

On the $1 table of John K. King Books, I found a book of critical essays on television (Watching Television, Todd Giltin, editor) assembled in 1987. The first essay, on network television news and its discontents, is extremely interesting -- I don't know how it is as pop culture criticism, but I learned about a million things about TV news programs in the 80s, and also some things that happened in the 1980s and were handled poorly by the news. Did you know that in 1985, the Philadelphia police literally bombed a city block, using a bomb, from their police helicopter? I didn't, but now I do.

The 1980s are fascinating to me because I was technically alive for the entire decade, but spent most of it paying no attention whatsoever to anything that wasn't Sesame Street, miscellaneous books, or my bike. There are some things being referenced in this book that I was vaguely aware existed but know nothing about, like TV Guide (apparently a magazine as well as TV listings) and other things I didn't know about at all, like the Philadelphia bombing or the distinctive styles of morning and evening news programs. I'm especially looking forward to reading what looks like a super grumpy essay about children's television.

I'm also making good on a twenty-year-old promise to myself to read In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. It's really good so far! It's been almost as hard to put down as The Story of a New Name, but since this is a Major Reading Project, I'm going to see if I can manage a weekly (or maybe twice monthly) post about it specifically.

What I Plan to Read Next

C. P. Snow! I'm sorry I've neglected you for so long! The Light and the Dark has been waiting patiently on my floor for many days. I also made a resolution to work through my bookshelves from left to right, which means. . .*checks* it looks like I'll be re-reading Persepolis! Could be worse!


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 6th, 2016 01:55 pm (UTC)
a beautiful and arrogant human trainwreck whose life was one unbroken stampede of drama llamas on fire.

Oh my God. Best description of anyone ever. Drama llamas on fire.

I had never heard about the Philadelphia bombing either. Why did the Philadelphia police bomb a city block? Why did they even have a bomb that would destroy a city block? Who thought that was a good idea? Did anyone think it was a good idea, or was it all like Dr. Strangelove in miniature. ("The bomb has been deployed! There's no way to call it back now!")

I also am curious about this super-grumpy essay about children's television.
Jan. 6th, 2016 02:17 pm (UTC)
Alcibiades is a (terrible) inspiration to us all. There's a story where, as a child, he was playing dice in the street with some other children and a cart came by. The other children scattered, because they were normal human beings, presumably. Alcibiades FLUNG HIMSELF FACE-DOWN ON THE STREET and dared the driver to run him over. Because why should his game be interrupted just because some asshole is trying to move goods like a chump? That's our Alcibiades!

The police were in an escalating standoff with an eccentric commune they were trying to evict from the neighborhood and arrest on various charges: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MOVE

The bombs were described euphemistically as "entry devices." Fire being what it is, all the surrounding row houses caught fire. From that Wikipedia article:

"The resulting explosions ignited a fire that eventually destroyed approximately 65 nearby houses. The firefighters, who had earlier deluge-hosed the MOVE members in a failed attempt to evict them from the building, stood by as the fire caused by the bomb engulfed the first house and spread to others, having been given orders to let the fire burn. Despite the earlier drenching of the building by firefighters, officials said that they feared that MOVE would shoot at the firefighters. Eleven people (John Africa, five other adults and five children aged 7 to 13) died in the resulting fire and more than 250 people were left homeless."
Jan. 6th, 2016 02:45 pm (UTC)
ALCIBIADES, YOU WEIRDASS FAILBOAT. He clearly had a metric ton of charisma, because everything I hear about him makes him sound like an entitled jerkface, and yet people followed his plans.

I guess the Philadelphia police just didn't care that they'd burn down the whole neighborhood? Jesus Christ. How did the news report it at the time? Did they sidle around the part where an entire city block burned down and make it sound like the police were heroically rooting out an evil cult?
Jan. 7th, 2016 12:19 am (UTC)
The way this essay describes it, the TV news coverage 1) acknowledged that bombing a city block seems pretty horrific, 2) emphasized the crazy weirdness and belligerence of MOVE while downplaying decisions made by the police, 3) congratulate Philadelphians on not rioting when some cities we could think of would totally have had a riot, and assure viewers that "most Philadelphians actually endorse what he did, although not the tragic, unintended result", and 4) end on a reassuring note about civic spirit and rebuilding.
Jan. 6th, 2016 02:40 pm (UTC)
It sounds like a fascinating collection of things to be reading!

I read Plutarch's biography of Alcibiades, a beautiful and arrogant human trainwreck whose life was one unbroken stampede of drama llamas on fire.

And I have to agree - that is a fabulous sentence!
Jan. 6th, 2016 11:56 pm (UTC)
It's a pretty good roster! No clunkers in this list. I've been pretty lucky in my reading lately in general.
Jan. 6th, 2016 08:38 pm (UTC)
Titus Groan has completely stalled for me. I need to kick it back into gear aagin.

I love Proust. It's wonderful to read when one's nerves feels frazzled, to me. I wish I could read it in French, though.
Jan. 7th, 2016 12:03 am (UTC)
You should! It's gotten really good, and a little sad. I didn't expect to feel any sadness for this pack of grotesques, but I've gotten really protective of Fuchsia and. . . well, things aren't going that well for the House of Groan at the moment. :(

I can definitely see Proust being good for frazzled nerves. I'd love to be able to read it in French, too . . . maybe someday. I love the great-aunt whose claim to distinction is never sleeping a wink, and how everyone delicately avoids suggesting that she ever wakes up or falls asleep.
Jan. 7th, 2016 05:59 pm (UTC)
Oh, I will! Soonish...
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )


blase ev

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