Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Summer Reading: The Pity and the Glory

 Our golfer’s tan, if not our swing, is almost perfect, college football is just weeks away and the young scholars we fled in May are winding up summer frolics in gleeful anticipation of mending dangling participles and solving quadratic equations.
For our part, haunted as we are by the past, we spent many of these lazy, hazy, crazy days consuming the pastry of the 19th century.  But first we must eat the spinach of 2014: Thomas Picketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

Let’s go to the videotape, as Warner Wolf of WCBS used to advise us: “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. In the meantime, in between time, ain’t we got fun.”  Put-upon right-wing apologists whined that the surprise best-seller (a weighty, academic tome with graphs galore) was a crypto-Marxist tract.  And, of course, they’re right, because much of Marx’s criticism of capitalism remains valid.  The welfare state was created by governments and factory owners to keep their heads off pikes.  Monsieur Picketty suggests the owners of capital consider anew their heads.

In the 19th century, capital was essentially land and the rents it provided – a constant concern of Anthony Trollope’s Englishmen and women.  We devoured the six Palliser novels like a bag of chips.  Our favorites: The Eustace Diamonds and Can You Forgive Her? (Can you beat that title?).  Something nagged at us in reading the former; we had encountered these characters before.  Of course, it was Gone with the Wind.  We felt like an idiot to learn that Trollope’s work was Margaret Mitchell’s inspiration.  Seems everyone knew but me.  Trollope proved addictive, and we had to wrench ourselves away.  His work is delicious soap opera served up with a gimlet eye.  We are tiptoeing back to our Victorian siren with The Way We Live Today (another great title) with every intention of savoring.

Still in thrall to our anglophilia, we took up Pride and Prejudice.  We confess having never read Jane Austen’s standard high-school curriculum romance, but, secure in our manhood, we jumped in, and were cured.  We did note this lovely line delivered by Lizzy Bennett to the insufferable Mr. Darcy: “You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure."

Nonetheless, we were driven back to our republican shores, and then cast off again with a re-reading of Moby Dick, last encountered in our college days at old OU.  ‘Tis not for everyone, but those of us with a biblical bent and a whale or two to kill in our own life’s voyage may find it oddly comforting.

But back to England we were drawn, this time to Dickens’ first novel, The Pickwick Papers.  Would that Pickwickian naiveté and unshakeable good nature ruled more hearts.
Still in England, we started Ford Maddox For’s The Fifth Queen trilogy.  It can only end badly for this wife of Henry VIII, we fear. 

On this 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, the legacy of which can be seen playing out even today in the sands of Araby, we recommend Ford’s Parade’s End trilogy.

For the sporting gentleman, Run to Daylight by Vince Lombardi and the great sportswriter W.C. Heinz is a 1960s classic not to be missed.  Surprising is Lombardi’s tolerance for most every kind of man.  We are all odd fish, he acknowledges, to be taken as we are.

In the meantime, we are halfway through Joyce’s Ulysses, which we gave up on in our callow youth.  The trick is not to try and make sense of it; just get lost in the language.

And our annual re-reading of Hamlet reminded us of what it means to be a modern man, much to be pitied and gloried.

We know there was more, but we are tired of writing about reading and want to get back to our book and the fading pleasure of summer at twilight, dear reader. We hope you are enjoying your own leafy glade somewhere with someone in the summer of ’14.

No comments:

Post a Comment