Books and Book Reviews: August 2005 Archives

TSO and Thoreau

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Oh Dear, I find myself about to give birth to another of my endless opinions.

TSO asks why there is a dearth of Scholarly Biographies of Thoreau. I find that there are probably three groups of reasons.

(1) Thoreau, by all accounts, was a thoroughly (pardon the pun)unlikable person. I think often of his quotation, "I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than share a velvet cushion." Yes--and so he sits on his pumpkin and everyone leaves him alone--I think it right and proper.

(2) Thoreau does not fall easily into the many different quagmires that amount to "victim studies." Reputable scholarly works outside the historical sciences (and even within) seem to be much more interested in publishing agenda-driven victim studies than they are in really doing research. So far as anyone is able to discern Thoreau was not gay, lesbian, trans-gendered, a member of an oppressed minority; he didn't stutter or have a noticeable physical defect; when he was in company he was not unduly flatulent or disturbed by excessive gaseous eructations. In short, a Thoreau biography would not serve to advance any of the seriously limited agendas of modern scholarship, so why waste the time, ink, and paper?

(3) Thoreau's work was primarily a work of adolescence. That is to say that his primary contribution to our understanding of the world is rooted in adolescent non-compliance. Now, that isn't to say that it wasn't put to good purpose, but coupled with statements like the one above regarding velvet pumpkins, and an almost insatiable interest in himself, this makes Thoreau a rather less than entertaining figure to consider in any detail.

Now--let the fireworks of Thoreau's admirers begin. Oh, by the way, did I mention that I am actually one of them. Civil Disobedience is a useful and necessary concept--A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers is, at times stirring and lovely, as are snatches of writings here and there. And how can you not have a grudging admiration for a curmudgeon who was old at the age of twenty?

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Dance of Death


Preston and Cloud's latest entry--the second in a series? the middle of a trilogy? The book pits the evil brother Diogenes against the good brother Aloysius to the latter's detriment. The book ends with the promise of a sequel, so the plot uniting this series must be all worked out. I hope that it is better overall than this first entry in the series which raises far too many questions and provides no answers.

Diogenes Pendergast has saved his brother from a fiendish Italian Count who, using Poe as his model, walled Aloysius up in a wall in the dungeons of his villa in Tuscany. (Talk about melodrama!) He has done so to insure that Aloysius is alive and well to see Diogenes commit "the perfect crime." Turns out that the perfect crime is directed at Aloysius because Diogenes hates him so much.

And on and on and on. This melodrama plays itself out in Snidely Whiplash fashion (think Perils of Pauline and you won't be much off-track--pardon the pun). Indeed, the climax of the piece takes place as the hero and heroine are threatened by a soon-to-arrive train at New York's "Iron Clock."

What's here is interesting. The writing is, as usual, sloppy without being truly dreadful. Too much detail here, too little there, long and pointless scenes all over the place, author's being coyly self-referential and trying to show their erudition--all rather crudely done. However, those points aside, the book is fun for an evening's read and quickly done with.

Of these authors my favorite book is still Thunderhead which, while suffering from some of these effects, seems to be much cleaner and more tightly plotted. I'd give this book a three out of five and recommend reading only if you're short on your current reading list.

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Current Reading

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Dance of Death Yes, another easy on the brain time-waster by the inveterate Preston and Cloud--direct sequel to Brimstone which introduces us to the truly deplorable brother of worthy protagonist/dectective Pendergrast.

Under the Banner of Heaven Jon Krakauer--if you aren't already up on Mormon history, this is an interesting read. Much of this I've already encountered and I often have to wonder what one would make of the Catholic Church if you sifted through looking for the looniest tunes of the lot. Brigham Young was no great shakes as a person, but there's a bunch in this book that make him look like Mother Teresa.

If Grace Is True Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. Oh well, I just can't resist the lure of a universalist theology. Yes, I know all the arguments and still I tread as close to that line as Church Doctrine allows, because that line defines the parameters of the God I love. The biggest problem with universalists is that, like modern liberals, they don't give enough credit to sheer human cussedness and there is a horrendous propensity for overlooking the sheer presence of evil and evil acts in the world. No just God could overlook these things. While He might stand stolid and steadfast in the face of insults hurled at Him, I think, like any good parent, He rushes to the protection and care of His children. Say anything you want about me, but don't dare lay a hand/word on Samuel.

The Quiet American Graham Greene does Vietnam--calling it Annam, and the Vietnamese Annamese. Very, very interesting.

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What can you expect from a new book by James Rollins? Well Ice Hunt had a pre WWII Soviet Ice Laboratory in which one could find quadrupedal mind-frying whales and a serum for eternal youth. Yes--likelihood isn't one of the strong points of Mr. Rollins's fictions; however, enjoyability is always high.

This particular entry offers us the lost city of Ubar, anti-matter, human parthenogenesis, the Queen of Sheba, and a Sandstorm to beat all sandstorms. In addition, he learned what people really liked about DaVinci code and uses the device quite effectively, even if there is no chance whatsoever that anyone will be able to figure out the clues or the places. That's cool, after all you read a book like this for its surprises and its internal logic.

Face-paced, a quick read, light summer fun for those into this undefinable genre.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Books and Book Reviews category from August 2005.

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