Thursday, February 14, 2013

history and, as always, musketeers

Hello there!

On the Dumas-front: I did, in fact, finish Twenty Years After, which was quite uneven but I liked the Musketeer-reunion aspect of it. D'Artagnan, amusingly, is the only one of the four who's grown up, instead of becoming an exaggerated version of himself, and his newfound impatience with and ability to outwit his former idols is charming and sad and real all at once. I was also pleased to see that at the end, when they're about to triumphantly bring Raoul home, they remember his creepy obsession with the seven-year-old next door and they're like, "Oh, right! Let's send him to Flanders instead."

I have now started the first part of the next, three-part, monster: The Vicomte de Bragelonne. It starts completely in medias res, to an extent that I actually wondered if my Kindle version was missing some pages, but I got into it quickly. It's all incredibly trashy court intrigues and d'Artagnan being sort of world-weary and awesome, and so far it's my favorite of the series. You will all be pleased to hear that the seven-year-old next door has grown up and is technically engaged to Raoul but in love with the king (possibly because she has no alarming memories of the king stalking her as a child - also, who approved that engagement? Athos, get it together).

I also read two unsatisfying histories. The first was Colonel Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris, the third in his series about Theodore Roosevelt. I was very surprised by how dry I found this, since I loved the first two, but dry it was. It covers the years after Roosevelt left the White House, and what felt like 60% of the book was about the Republican primary of 1912, in excruciating, delegate-counting detail. And if that was the first half of the book, the second half was, page-space-wise, almost all about a libel trial, with brief little tossed-off chapters about Roosevelt's South American expedition and the death of his son (and injuries of his other sons) in WWI. The book opens with an account of his African expedition which feels equally rushed, although Morris does make clear that Roosevelt pretty much shot every animal on the entire continent, which although accurate is not the best way to introduce your subject. This book just felt like the primary focus was on the least colorful things Morris could find, weirdly.  

The second disappointment was Making Haste From Babylon, by Nick Bunker. It's about the Pilgrims and their journey, ostensibly from the English point of view: Bunker is British, and what I think he's trying to do is establish a British context for the choice to sail to North America and for the workings of the subsequent Plymouth colony. An interesting idea, certainly. However, it didn't work for me, mostly because Bunker is all over the map, both literally (geographically) and chronologically. The story jumps back and forth from England, to America, to France, back to England; and from 1630 to 1580 to 1610 to 1606, etc. I was able to keep track of where the story was taking place, for the most part (although since cities on both sides of the Atlantic all have the same names, this wasn't always easy), but could not at all get a handle on the when.

It's a shame, because Bunker has a lot of interesting information and the ability to deliver it well - the section about beaver fur and fashion is really fascinating - but his decisions to throw the timeline out the window and to go on all the digressions he wants made this a frustratingly confusing read for me. One of his digressions takes us to Ireland in 1987, for absolutely no reason (or at least not one I was willing to accept as being valid), and the third-to-last chapter, when I was already good and sick of this stuff, is entirely about the siege of La Rochelle (that was just surreal, since said siege is a major plot point in The Three Musketeers). I learned to dread the phrase, when he mentioned a minor and irrelevant factoid: "we will come back to that in greater detail later".

So, unfortunately, this was a letdown, and I want to re-read Philbrick's Mayflower now. I want to re-read a lot of things, but I keep getting e-mails saying my library loans are about to expire, and even though I know I won't be able to finish the books in time and I'll just check them out again, this means there is a perpetual voice in my head saying, "READ FASTER." That voice also chastises me for even considering a re-read, when I have eighty-something books on the unread pile. Damn it, Beatrice, you can't just do what you want! This! Is! NEW ENGLAND!

Stay warm, everybody.