Wednesday, May 26, 2010

This Week at the Library (26/5)

This week at the library....

I read North Korea: Another Country, a work which intended to show how North Korea's history shaped its current path as a militant  and isolationist state. Cumings drew from Korean culture and the state's early experience with its neighbors. While I think he conveyed his essential meaning, the book seems a bit scattered.

I next read The Life of Birds, one of David Attenborough's nature works. Fascinating as always.

Lord Hornblower delighted me: I think it one of the better Hornblower novels. Set during the last months of the Napoleonic wars, we see Hornblower at his best in helping bring down the bloody Corsican.

I also finished George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, an account of his time living in Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War when it functioned almost as a commune. He also records his time spent fighting in a local militia, although he saw little action. The book is most valuable to the modern reader for the light it sheds on Spanish politics of the day.

Pick of the Week: Oh...let's say both Hornblower and Catalonia.

Selected Passages:
As we went out he stepped across the room and gripped my hand very hard. Queer, the affection you can feel for a stranger! It was though his spirit and mine had momentarily succeeded in bridging the gulf of language and tradition and meeting in utter intimacy.  (Orwell, describing his first meeting with a fellow International, this one an Italian expatriate. P. 3-4)

When one came straight from England the aspect of Barcelona was something startling and overwhelming. It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle.[...] Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to act as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine. (Orwell, describing Barcelona in the hands of the workers. P. 4-6)

It seemed dreadful that the defenders of the Republic should be this mob of ragged children carrying worn-out rifles which they did not know how to use. I remember wondering what would happen if a Fascist aeroplane passed our way -- whether the airman would even bother to dive down and give us a burst from his machine-gun. Surely even from the air he could see we were not real soldiers? (Orwell, reflecting on the unpreparedness of Spain for the war. P. 19)

George Kopp, on his periodic tours of inspection, was quite frank with us. "This is not a war," he used to say, "It is a comic opera with an occasional death." (Orwell, p. 32, reflecting on the stagnation of the war on their front.)

Upcoming Reads:

  • Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Matthew Stover. I picked this up because it's supposed to be better than the movie itself. Considering that I finished it only hours after cracking it open for the first time, I'd say the reputation is merited...
  • Lemony Snicket: the Unauthorized Autobiography, Daniel Handler.  Reading through the series of unfortunate events last summer was a real treat.
  • Africa: a Biography of the Continent, John Reader. I'll be trekking through Africa for a good while, I think. It's a right monster of a book. 

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