Tuesday, February 5, 2013

London, Child, musketeers

Of late I have read:

The People of the Abyss, by Jack London. This is a piece of reporting that London undertook in the city of London in 1902 (specifically the East End). He does a Nickel and Dimed thing and attempts to live as a poor East Ender would for a few days: sleeping rough, staying in a workhouse, that sort of thing. Although his harping on the physical conditions of the poor has more Lovecraftian shock value in it than a genuine acknowledgment of how malnutrition and unhealthy living conditions affect the body (he is especially over-the-top in his horror of the women), it's a pretty emphatic and well-constructed indictment of a nation's treatment of its poor. It's possibly most powerful when he's just stating the arithmetic of what a man can earn vs. what his family must spend to survive, and showing that the numbers can't be made to come out in favor of survival.

My Life in France, by Julia Child. I felt mildly guilty coming to this after London's tales of hunger, though it turned out I wasn't driven as wild by the food in this as I expected to be. I just, well... I don't like fish or veal. I don't like mayonnaise or white sauces. And I never cared about wine, even when I drank. So many of the recipes Child's working on in this, and the meals she describes, didn't actually make me salivate. But it's a sweet little book and I enjoyed it a lot.

And the winter of our Dumas-content continues, as I trundle through Twenty Years After, which is sometimes exciting and witty, and sometimes so dull I can't bear it. Some notable plot points:

Dumas on wounds and anatomy: A man is described as having a bullet pass through his upper leg; he announces, "The ball has broken the thigh bone and entered the intestines." Not unreasonably, another character responds to this self-diagnosis with, "Are you a surgeon?" I laughed so hard.

Dumas on teenagers: Athos' fifteen-year-old son is in love with the neighbor's daughter, WHO IS SEVEN. Much to my relief, every adult involved is thoroughly creeped out by this (the girl's parents waste no time in complaining to Athos) and agrees that the boy needs to be sent off to war to get him away from her. However, that does make it difficult to root for Raoul the rest of the book, and by "difficult" I mean "impossible", because he is a pedophile.

Modern Armchair Psychology: What Raoul's feeling makes sense in this context, actually: as established in The Three Musketeers, Athos is a violent misogynist, and has raised his son in an all-male household, probably tossing off comments like, "Bitches, man, you can't trust them," now and again. So what's a pubescent male with heterosexual urges raised in that environment to do? Well, grown women are evil manipulators who have terrifying crevices and moistnesses, so I'll just transfer my desires onto a female object which does not yet have a sexual identity. That is the only way for my love to be pure!

Athos as a role model: not the greatest.

On library books: I got an e-library card from the Boston library, which makes me feel like I am cheating on my little local library and also made me go CRAZY with the downloads, because they have a much wider selection. And they allow ten books out at a time! Which means, with the local one's five-book limit, I can have FIFTEEN library books out at any given time! Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!! ... I emerged from my download binge to realize that I now have fifteen library books checked out for the same two-week period, and maybe I should have thought that one through. Even I don't read that fast. I will just check them out again! Because I CAN! Ohmygod!

On getting this excited about library books: I honestly do.

On the fact that I have seventy-something physical books sitting around my house waiting to be read: oh, right. But the library! The rush! It really does take me back to being a little kid and that wonderful feeling of riding home from the library, with your pile of new books in the backseat next to you. Just because it's all virtual now doesn't make the feeling any less great.

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