Saturday, February 2, 2008

This Week (Month?) at the Library

It's been well over a month since I last sat down to write about the books I'm reading, for whatever reasons. I have gone through a few books in that time, although not as many as I would've liked or as many as I would have ordinarily expected. While on Christmas break, I checked out a variety of books on Rome, Greece, France, and Germany. I would only end up reading one of those, being distracted by the holidays and a Civilization 3 game.

The book I did read was Greece and Rome: Builders of Our World by Paul Lachlan MacKendrick. The book itself was a beautiful thing, a sight to behold. The copy I had was a hardcover, dark green. A silk ribbon was sewn into the book's binder as a bookmark. The pages themselves were amply decorated, with pictures often serving as the background of the page. The book is a collection of essays dealing with Rome and Greece, as you might have already reduced from the book. The most memorable essay saw the author retracing Odysseus' footsteps (or…oar-beats?) , using etymology and geography to sort out what Homer's colorful descriptions were actually about. Heretofore I had dismissed the vast majority of those tales as simple myth, but the author made some plausible connections to reality, even finding a way of giving the Cyclopes some shadow of truth -- figuring out what the Cyclopes might be an exaggeration of. It's been a month and a half since I read the book, though, so I can't remember anything specific. The book itself was put out by the National Geographic Society, which would explain how impressively it was done.

The second book I read was France 1814 -1919: The Rise of a Liberal-Democratic Society. I checked this book out to help me prepare for my French History class, but was unable to understand it at first until the semester began and terms like "Ultras" were actually explained. In this case, the class helped me understand the book; quite the reverse of what I had intended! Persons less distracted than myself (once the holidays were over, I actually made good progress in reading this one) and interested in French history should find this book quite interesting. I wish I could elaborate more.

While my reading tends to be dominated by nonfiction, I did happen to read a work of fiction -- The Confessions of Max Tivoli, by Andrew Sean Greer. I found this book through "Unshelved", a comic strip set in a library. The strip is a daily strip, but every Sunday the strip is used for "The Unshelved Book Club" -- where essentially they recommend a book. Here's the "Book Club" strip for The Confessions of Max Tivoli.

That essentially explains the gist of the book. As you can see from the characters' clothing in that advertisement, the book isn't set in the present day. Max is born in 1871 and lives through the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco as well as both world wars. The book is principally about Max's lifelong love for Alice, and his difficultly in living with his strange condition. The premise of the book is very interesting, and the book itself is in my opinion beautifully written. My only problem with this book was that it was rather tragic. It's definitely one of the most interesting books I've ever read, though, so I'd recommend it. I returned the book yesterday without writing down some of the more beautiful bits of prose, but I did write down the following two weeks ago when it snowed here in Alabama -- and appropriately enough, I read about a freak snowfall in San Francisco.

"The day that Father disappeared, long ago in San Francisco, I awoke from my unmade bed to find another, formed in snow outside my window. Like a health-crazed mother who feeds you on a steady diet of grains and crackers but one morning produces a sugared white cake just because she's missed it for too long, the world had happily shrugged off all expectations and given me a snowy day. I had read about it, and heard my father's recollections of the castles and dragons carved from the banks of creamy Danish snow, how he and the other boys would slide on wooden boards all the way to Prussia, but I was not prepared for the real thing. I thought it would be like a toy left in the yard; I was not prepared for snow to erase the world completely and leave a crisp, blank page. I stared out at the mansions that were not there, the horses, the surreys, the work-bound men I was so used to seeing. There was no sky; there was no city. I gasped as we always do at the unnatural. [...] They say the most that fell that day was a foot of snow in Golden Gate. About three inches fell in the city itself. I have since learned in my travels, especially during a hip-high whopper in Colorado, that this is nothing; this is a mere extravagance of frost. But for us it was thick and bright as luck. " - Andrew Sean Greer, The Confessions of Max Tivoli

The last book I read was Sinister Touches: The Secret War Against Hitler by Robert Goldston. The book focuses on American and British intelligence operations against the Axis powers -- from attempts to steal Enigma (the Nazi military coding machine) to sabotage of infrastructure. I checked this book out in high school but never read it, so when I spotted this last week in the local library, I knew I had to check it out. It was most enjoyable.

Pick of the Week: The Confessions of Max Tivoli. Tragic, but beautifully written.

I'm currently reading two books. The first is Washington's Secret War by Thomas Fleming, a book focusing on George Washington's attempts to defend against attacks on his character and competence from Congress and some French allies. The second is a book about the formation of the SS in Nazi Germany, although I can't remember the title offhand and can't seem to find it in the University library's system, even though that's where I found itT


  1. Thanks for the link to Unshelved, but our book clubs aren't advertisements. We aren't paid for them. They're recommendations.

  2. Thanks for the correction; I'll fix that immediately. :)


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