Reading Journal for August

Many of the works reviewed this month are from Librivox, and are linked via their cover photographs.

Marlowe coverEdward II by Christopher Marlowe

It’s always interesting to listen to Elizabethan plays which aren’t Shakespeare. It lets you see how much of the grandeur of his work is based one what, back then, was a sort of national style. Marlowe does good work here, and the readers in the Librivox version are great, but he’s let down a little by the historical events he’s chosen to portray, and the political slant he takes. Basically this is the period where Edward II is infatuated with Piers Gaveston, and splits his realm in half over it. I presume I’m meant to be on Edward’s side, as he loses everything for love. It is, however, hard favour him, because he goes about the whole business in such a dreadfully stupid way.

If he’d just kept Gaveston as an Extra Gentleman of the Wardrobe, it would have been considered a bit odd, but since he’d already fathered an heir, it would have been easy enough for him to get away with. Some of the Stewarts get away with this sort of thing. His flaw is that he wants to make his lover the most powerful noble other than him in the Realm. Powerful forces of reaction rise up and destroy him. Then Marlowe chickens out on the real historical drama and has Edward III roll in and kill the conspirators.

In real life, the queen and her lover, Mortimer, controlled the kingdom. Young Edward, knowing he’d be killed if he got in their way, played a masterful game of pretending to be a young buffoon. He used tournaments and binges to mask the consolidation of a power bloc within the younger generation and those disaffected with the current regime. Then, with a band of his tournament friends, he captured and executed Mortimer, and forced his mother into a nunnery. I think Edward’s early life is a great story, and Marlowe just skips it entirely.

Recommended for Shakespeare fans, and those liking stories of tragic infatuation.

Letters of travelLetters of Travel by Rudyard Kipling

I’ve read a little bit of Kipling, and so I have much the same view of him as most people who have read only a little bit of Kipling, so this book was a real eye opener. He isn’t an archetype. I’ve always thought that Kipling’s British boosterism was basically pro-English, but here we find it isn’t. He really sees himself as British first, and uses the Canadian form of Britishness to severely critique the English form, which is less robust, in his opinion. He’s also familiar with Australia and New Zealand to a surprising degree, and thinks Melbourne’s brilliant. This was not a widely held opinion at the time among Londoners.

So, he was pro-Imperial, but he was odd about it. He thought the British were the business, but at the same time, his idea of what was British is very nebulous. He’s not nearly as strident as I expected. I particularly enjoyed Captains Courageous, where he points out that the heroes of the next generation are alive and working now. I’m not saying he invented steampunk, but he clearly was onto something is claiming that the stories of great deeds in his own time are not romances.

Good for steampunkers looking at the source material, enthusiasts of travel writing, and Canadians .

Bush debate coverThe Bush Debate by Lawson, Paterson, Kenna and Dyson, and some fifth guy who was probably just Lawson wanting to put the slipper in anonymously.

Paterson’s birthday next year is going to be a big deal, so I gathered some friends, and some other people I don’t know from Adam, and we decided to record the Bush Debate, which is basically a mutual trolling session that Paterson and Lawson set up between themselves to con the editors of The Weekly Bulletin out of beer money. It’s also foundational to the archetype of the Bushman in our national ethos, so if you aren’t terrified of poetry, head on out and check it.

I asked for a hand to get the texts on the super-secret-but-really-public librarian’s list which I’ve been a member of since computer screens came in black and green, and Kerry from the NLA hooked us up with transcripts from the original documents. Thanks, Kerry!

Red battle flyer cover The Red Battle Flyer by Captain Manfred Freiher von Richthofen

An interesting little book, demonstrating what eccentrics aviators were during the period. War is basically a game for these people, who see themselves as modern knights. There’s a fair bit of “killing an Englishman before breakfast”. I most enjoyed an English prisoner revealing that the Allies thought the Red Baron’s distinctive plane was flown by a woman, because it’s too narrow for a man. The Englishman is saddened that Richthofen really isn’t the alluring and lethal figure that is developing in the minds of his messmates. That’s some comic book brilliance right there.

There’s a piece at the end where Richthofen indulges in pointless animal cruelty, which might be quite confronting for some readers. He is thrilled to be given the right to kill one of the last remaining European bison, and lets the reader know what a great honour it is to be allowed to slaughter an animal so clearly headed for extinction. The method of killing, repeated blasts of a shotgun, lacks any of the layers of gentility or skill that hunters usually use to describe their sports. Those offended by violence toward animals may wish to avoid this chapter.

Recommended for aficionados of war stories, people interested in the history of aviation, and those wanting to listen to the inner thoughts of a man feted for his ability to kill. As a caveat that in later life Richthofen declaimed the attitudes in the book as youthful indiscretions, and the Allies thought it was put together as a propaganda piece.

TThe Toys of Peace coverhe Chronicles of Clovis, Reginald and the Toys of Peace by Saki.

The Toys of Peace is the strongest collection of these three. The Chronicles of Clovis is also good, but Reginald is a bit weak. Basically Saki keeps the eponymous hero around, and central to the stories, so he comes off like a discount Oscar Wilde. In the other two collections, he lets his destructive impulses have free reign and just destroys his characters with a cruelty made only slightly more surreal by the guest author introduction to one of the books.

Why is A. A. Milne chortling away at how terrible Saki is to his characters, and wishing he could do the same?  This is the Winnie the Pooh guy!  Poor Winnie: his author is a sadistic demiurge held in check only by the whims of his tiny readers. No wonder Eeyore is an emotional wreck. As an aside, has anyone else noticed that he’s been replaced by the Hephalump on all of the nappies? What’s with that?

The Great Race by David Hill

An excellent biography of Matthew Flinders, wrapped around a concise but thorough history of Dutch and French exploration in Australia up until Flinders’s lifetime. As a “Great Race” entirely lacking in interest, as it’s the story of two men, each unaware of the other, trying to do much the same thing, with no particular sense of hurry.  They eventually meet in an odd and distant location, each completely fail to discern the mouth of the Murray River, compliment each other and leave.  Recommended by naval history buffs who are not up on the French angle.

And an extra…

Here on book coasters, we are basically a book and audio book club, with occasional diversions into DVDs and CDs. I’d like to stretch that a little, just for this post.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARecently I took over the cataloguing for our Special Needs Library. If you’ve not heard of it, it operates out the Nerang Branch, but if you have a Special Needs membership we can ship the smaller items to any of our branches. Call us for a chat about it (5581 7180).

Anyhow, my first item to go all the way through the physical preparation process has just hit the shelves. It’s a set of cards used to teach kids to discuss negative emotions. I’m not going to start spamming the group with Special Needs items, because we prep a dozen a week, but I wanted to share this first one.

Books I set aside:

Little Women: It’s a competition to see who is sweetest. It’s so saccharine. I know people love it, but, really…why?

Whose Body? I have tried three times to get into this, but basically I find Wimsey’s supposedly-charming nattering annoying. The author’s need to go meta to fix her plot contrivances may have been fun at the time, but it’s just poor storytelling now.

Three Men on the Bummel

About as much fun as the guys on the boat, but without a central spine, and filled with  dated, vaguely racist jokes. Also, the mindset behind the cycling craze is harder to get into, as a reader, than boating.  I’d venture it has been wrecked by the widespread adoption of the car, so we can no longer see the bicycle as a device of freedom and convenience.