Saturday, August 18, 2012

clocks, England, and boys

Apparently a certain handsome gentleman has pointed his relatives to this blog, so they can see what nonsense he's gotten himself into. There is a distinct temptation to suddenly start writing entries that read, "In my explorations of Proust, I have found that his discussion of illness compares with that of Sontag, but the amour with which he regards his illness is both a trope and an inversion of the nineteenth-century fetishization of feminine weakness, i.e. neurasthenia, whereas Sontag, etc," and then talk about my elegant lifestyle and glamorous entertaining habits, instead of my usual, "After splashing paint crudely around the kitchen and grudgingly vacuuming up three canisters' worth of dog hair even though no one was visiting, I read a trashy mystery which sucked balls, and here is a link to a rude webcomic." Also I should probably stop saying things like "sucked balls".

But here I stand, such as I am. And I have actually agreed to go camping with Berowne at some point, despite my belief that all camping trips have an 80% chance of ending in death by bear or survival cannibalism, so you can tell how much I like him. He's smart and funny and adorable and kind, and I would be very sorry if he was eaten by a bear.

Also, I have never read a word of Proust. Welcome to my blog!

I did actually read two non-trashy books in the last few days. The first was Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time, by Dava Sobel. It's about John Harrison, who built the first clock able to reliably keep time on a ship, which allowed mariners to accurately calculate their longitude. (I will not get into said calculations, because I wouldn't do them justice.) Sobel writes quite wonderfully: a landlubber with no mathematical gifts can still easily understand what she's talking about, and her descriptions of the four clocks Harrison builds in his decades-long pursuit of his goal are fantastic. It's a slim book, but full of information and exuberance. Highly recommended.

Then I read Small Island, by Andrea Levy. This novel, about the lives of two couples (one Jamaican and one white) in England during and after World War II, got rave reviews and I was excited to read it. Unfortunately, I found it kind of disappointing. When Levy is writing about the Blitz or the horrors of war, it's compelling and terrifying. But she writes in first person for all four main characters, and the only one who's either sympathetic or has a realistic voice is the Jamaican man. The other three are mostly pretty awful people; I was especially appalled to realize that the reader was expected to like the white woman. The white man is well-drawn as a character from the others' points of view, but when he starts speaking in his first-person-narrative chapters, his voice doesn't make any sense: in tone and cadence, it's absurdly similar to that of the Jamaican characters', and doesn't mesh with his dialogue in the other chapters, and his racism is just stuck in there without feeling like it's part of the person. I feel as if Levy had a lot of very good stuff to say about racism in that time period, and has the talent to say it well, but her choice to try to write in first person for four such different characters revealed her limitations too glaringly.

I also tried to read The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, by Michael Scott, which I got out of the library in my floof pile. But within the first ten pages I was done in by the product placement, and the "you might have forgotten from two paragraphs ago that this is her TWIN brother," and the revelation that the placed products are all in the hands of a fifteen-year-old, which made me say out loud, "Why does a fifteen-year-old need that? And why is a fifteen-year-old trying to buy a car?" and then I had to go chase someone off my damn lawn*. So that book didn't make it far.

I have just started Candice Millard's Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, and so far I really like it. So things are looking up.

*It was the neighbor's chihuahua, Princess.


  1. PLEASE tell me there is a really a neighbor Chihuahua named Princess. Even a hypothetical such dog has already made me snork with laughter, given Darcy et al.

    1. Yes, that is her actual name. She is very chubby.