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  • 2017 Reading

    Posted by David Foster on December 20th, 2017 (All posts by )

    Some books I’ve read during the year and consider very worthwhile…

    Tom Jones and other works, by Henry Fielding.  Somehow I had never previously read Fielding (who wrote between 1728 and 1755)…now that I have, I am very impressed.  Interesting characters, clever and intricate plotting, many passages that are very funny, and the author, I think, shows great insight into human behavior.  (In addition to his literary efforts, Fielding served as a magistrate and is credited with establishing London’s first professional police force, popularly known as the Bow Street Runners.)

    Fielding sometimes breaks out of the narrative, most notably in Tom Jones, and addresses himself directly to the reader.  In one rather touching passage, he explains why he has taken the trouble to write the book–certainly for money, he says, but also “with the hopes of charming ages yet to come.  Foretel me that some tender maid, whose grandmother is yet unborn, hereafter, when, under the fictitious name of Sophie, she reads the real worth which once existed in my Charlotte, shall from her sympathetic breast send forth the heaving sigh”

    In addition to Tom Jones, I’ve also read his Amelia, Joseph Andrews, and the wonderfully-titled An Apology for the Life of Mrs Shamela Andrews. All are IMO well worth reading.

    Harmony, by Chicago Grrll Margaret Ball. This is a series, encompassing three books.

    With the development of interstellar travel, humanity had the chance for a fresh start. The colonization of a new planet was carried out with the explicit intent to create a society that would avoid the miseries of the past, that would be based on the principle of harmony.

    (Think about a society designed from the ground up by someone like Hillary Clinton.)  Of course, it works out about as well as utopian projects usually work out.)

    For those who don’t fit in to the Harmonious society, there is exile to a colony known as Esilia.  Book 1, Insurgents, is focused on the Esilian struggle for independence against the forces of Harmony.  Gabrel, a leader of the independence movement, seizes Isovel, daughter of the commander of the invading forces, as hostage.

    In Book 2, Awakening, the protagonist Devra is an unlicensed child, who never should have been allowed to be born.  In an attempt to overcome the stigma of her very existence, Devra makes a point of extreme conformity to Harmony’s rules and expectations.  But when one of her students is threatened with ‘medical rehabilitation,’ she finds herself questioning her role as a good Harmony citizen.

    In Book 3, Survivors, Harmony’s society is approaching collapse. Jillian, a soap opera star in holodramas, has been largely insulated from the impoverishment that is afflicting so many.  When a farm boy named Ruven comes to the city to plead for better terms for his dairy cooperative, she uses her acting skills to teach him how to appeal to the emotions as well as to logical thought.

    A Balcony in the Forest, by Julian Gracq.  In preparing for the German onslaught which actually came in May of 1940, the French general staff made some serious errors.  One was to view the heavily-wooded sector of the Ardennes as basically impassible by major forces.  Hence, the French did not fortify this sector to anywhere near the level of the Maginot Line sector, further to the southeast; furthermore, the troops sent to hold the Ardennes were mostly what one writer referred to as “class B divisions composed of middle-aged reservists.”

    The protagonist of Gracq’s novel is one of these middle-aged reservists, a dreamy sort of man named Lieutenant Grange, who is assigned to command a blockhouse and a small group of soldiers.  It is the period of the ‘phony war’, and Grange has a hard time believing that the war will ever become hot.  He finds that he loves the Ardennes, though, and his assignment gives him a great deal of satisfaction–especially when he meets a local girl named Mona and things develop rapidly between them.

    A strange, almost surrealistic book, with some beautiful descriptive writing.  A commenter at Goodreads remarked that the Ardennes is portrayed as “a mythic forest, by definition unreal, must also be indifferent to human beings- eternity doesn’t bother itself with trifles- and Grange is but a reclusive watchman on this magic mountain during this staggeringly brief period of months closing shut like the jaws of a wolf devouring a faun.”

    Available at Amazon, both Kindle and paperback.

    This post to be continued.

     

    7 Responses to “2017 Reading”

    1. Mike K Says:

      I have been “reading” by listening as I commute. I have “read” Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson which is excellent. He is working on volume five and I hope he lives long enough to finish it.

      I read “The Lion’s Gate,” which is a history of the Six Day war by Steven Pressfield whose novels of ancient Greece I have also read. This is told with quotes from the soldiers who fought the war. After I read it, my wife asked me to get the Audio version and we have listened to that, as well.

      I got the audio version of “Let Trump be Trump” and she now wants me to get the Kindle version for her.

      I listened to “D Day Through German Eyes” this year and enjoyed that.

      I just finished “Grant” which is quite good and includes his presidency. I have read military biographies and his memoirs.

      I moved to Tucson last January and have a two hour commute each way to Phoenix to work two days a week. That is when I listen to audio books.

      I have also listened to several of the “Sharpe” series of novel by Bernard Cornwell. I had an interesting problem with those set in India as the reader was so good with accents that he could switch from English, to Scottish, to Indian so quickly that I had trouble understanding. I’ve “read” about six of the series.

      I tend to read fiction on my Kindle and have read five of the “Outlander” series of novels. They are quite good and she has done a lot of research. They remind me a bit of the Jean Auel series that began with “Clan of the Cave Bar” which I read about 15 years ago.

      We leave later this morning for California and Christmas with the kids so we will listen to “Let Trump be Trump” again as my wife has not heard the last half.

      When we return next week, we will listen to either the rest of “Hamilton” or “In the Shadow of the Sword” a history of Islam I have begun listening to. It is by Tom Holland who has a series of books on Middle Eastern history.

      I read “Hue: 1968” last month. It is also excellent.

      I usually keep a book in each room and go from one to the other. The audio book thing is new to me this year although about 25 years ago, I had “Clan of the Cave Bear” on tapes in the car when I drove back from Spokane to Orange County with two of my kids. We listened all the way and the kids ran into the house to hear the last 20 minutes of the book when we got home. They were 20 and 13 at the time.

      We had driven my oldest daughter to Spokane to law school.

    2. Jonathan Says:

      Michael, I’m in the middle of reading your War Stories and much enjoying it.

    3. Steve Korn Says:

      Enormously enjoyed Ian Toll’s Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942

      War in the pacific from Pearl Harbor to battle of Midway…in 6 months the war changed forever

      Chilling

      Mistakes on both sides but Japanese made monsterous errors of arrogance

      Timeless lessons

      Also, was the the birth of crypto intelligence…and acting on it

    4. David Foster Says:

      Fielding has some passages that are relevant to today’s sexual harassment / sexual panic scandals.

      In ‘Tom Jones,’ the character Mr Bilfil is insistent on marrying the beautiful and charming Sophia, even though she detests him:

      Though Mr. Blifil was not of the complexion of Jones, nor ready to eat every woman he saw; yet he was far from being destitute of that appetite which is said to be the common property of all animals. With this, he had likewise that distinguishing taste, which serves to direct men in their choice of the object or food of their several appetites; and this taught him to consider Sophia as a most delicious morsel, indeed to regard her with the same desires which an ortolan inspires into the soul of an epicure. Now the agonies which affected the mind of Sophia, rather augmented than impaired her beauty; for her tears added brightness to her eyes, and her breasts rose higher with her sighs. Indeed, no one hath seen beauty in its highest lustre who hath never seen it in distress. Blifil therefore looked on this human ortolan with greater desire than when he viewed her last; nor was his desire at all lessened by the aversion which he discovered in her to himself. On the contrary, this served rather to heighten the pleasure he proposed in rifling her charms, as it added triumph to lust; nay, he had some further views, from obtaining the absolute possession of her person, which we detest too much even to mention; and revenge itself was not without its share in the gratifications which he promised himself. The rivalling poor Jones, and supplanting him in her affections, added another spur to his pursuit, and promised another additional rapture to his enjoyment.

      (I had to look up ‘ortolan’)

      In ‘Amelia,’ the (married) title character is the target of a plot by a wicked aristocrat who desires to seduce her. After being warned by a friend who had previously been seduced and virtually destroyed by that same aristocrat, Amelia admits that:

      I was delighted with perceiving a passion in him, which I was not unwilling to think he had had from the beginning…I fancied I might give some very distant encouragement to such a passion in such a man with the utmost safety, that I might indulge my vanity and interest at once, without being guilty of the least injury.

      ‘Vanity’ and ‘Interest’ (ie, the potential for gain in some form)…and had the characters been real people, quite likely not unmixed with sexual desire on her part.

    5. Mike K Says:

      Mistakes on both sides but Japanese made monsterous errors of arrogance

      Timeless lessons

      A couple of suggestions.

      1. “Shattered Sword,” a story of Midway from the Japanese side.

      2. “The Fleet at Flood Tide, ” which is also the story of the B 29s.

      3. “Neptune’s Inferno, ” the story of the naval battles of Guadalcanal.

      4. “The Last Stand of the Tin can Sailors. “ The story of Leyte Gulf. All excellent.

    6. Steve Korn Says:

      Thanks, Mike. 2 down and 2 to go from ur excellent list

    7. Bill Brandt Says:

      i have been enjoying Albert Speer’s book, Inside The Third Reich. And to think he made the manuscript over 20 years on smuggled out toilet paper.

      I have heard that Shattered Sword is also excellent.