Thursday, September 21, 2006

A History of New York by Washington Irving

For my part I have not so bad an opinion of mankind as many of my brother philosophers. I do not think poor human nature so sorry a piece of workmanship as they would make it out to be; and as far as I have observed, I am fully satisfied that man, if left to himself, would about as readily go right as wrong. It is only this eternally sounding in his ears that it is his duty to go right that makes him go the very reverse. The noble independence of his nature revolts at this intolerable tyranny of law and the perpetual interference of officious morality which is ever besetting his path with finger posts and directions to “keep to the right, as the law directs”; and like a spirited urchin, he turned directly contrary, and gallops through mud and mire, over hedges and ditches, merely to show that he is a lad of spirit and out of his leading strings.

That, needless to say, is from A History of New York by Washington Irving. Sometimes a difficult read, but rich with prose and worth a few interesting quotes.

Hesoid divides mankind into three classes—those who think for themselves, those who let others think for them, and those who will neither do one nor the other. The second class, however, comprises the great mass of society, and hence is the origin of party, by which is meant a large body of people, some few of whom think and all the rest talk. The former, who are the leaders, marshal out and discipline the latter, teaching them what they must approve—what they must hoot at—what they must say—whom they must support—but, above all, whom they must hate—for no man can be a right good partisan unless he be a determined and thoroughgoing hater.

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But when the sovereign people are thus properly broken to the harness, yoked, curbed and reined, it is delectable to see with what docility and harmony they jog onward through mud and mire, at the will of their drivers, dragging the dirt carts of faction at their heels. How many a patriotic member of congress have I seen who would never have known how to make up his mind on any question, and might have run a great risk of voting right by mere accident, had he not had others to think for him and a file leader to vote after.

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A cunning politician is often found sculking under the clerical robe, with an outside all religion and an inside all political rancor. Things spiritual and things temporal are strangely jumbled together, like poisons and antidotes on an apothecary’s shelf, and instead of a devout sermon, the simple church-going folk have often a political pamphlet thrust down their throats, labeled with a pious text from Scripture.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Charles Dickens Encyclopedia by Michael and Mollie Hardwick

This is what it sounds like, a encyclopedia of all things Charles Dickens. A summary of all his works, an alphabetical listing of all his characters with their descriptions, an alphabetical listing of all the places used in his fiction and their significance, a timeline of his life and the times he lived in, an alphabetical listing of all the people who impacted his life and how. I didn’t read it straight through. Only four pages a night while I was reading other things. I do that sometimes. No one knows why.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison

I had this book in my hand at the used book store. I almost bought it with the gift certificate I had been given. But I finally decided against it and went with The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt instead. So when I saw it in the audiobook section of the public library, I said, hey, great, I’ll give that a try. I am so sorry I did. Let me try to explain.

Ralph Ellison’s first novel was Invisible Man, which I remember reading, and don’t remember much else about except that I found it somewhat tedious and dull. Juneteenth is his second and only other novel, which he spent the last forty years of his life writing and never truly finished. He worked and reworked the text countless times, constantly striving to make it perfect, to make it the perfect reflection of his indescribable thoughts about the history of race in America. This beautiful, creative, intelligent man, spent forty years of his life writing this novel, and it now resides in the illustrious position in my library as the only book I ever started and could not finish. My god, I consider it an achievement just getting through Chapter 2. Hey, Ralph. Next time, try to limit yourself to two drafts. Jeesh.

Sunday, September 3, 2006

Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde

I wrote so much about The Harlot by the Side of the Road and it’s been so long since I’ve had a chance to write here that I read another whole book in the interim. I wish I could say that I enjoyed it as much as the last one, but alas, I did not. I’m reluctant to cast the first stone on this kind of thing, but I think Hyde forgot that Reuben’s face was scarred about halfway through the book. It stopped coming up as a dramatic element and people who met him for the first time didn’t recoil or even mention it at all. And Reuben is black? And Arlene is white? So why did they ask Kevin Spacey to play Reuben in the movie? Thanks for the confidence, Hollywood. Guess we’re not ready for interracial love, huh?