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24 April 2019

Book Review: The Revenge of Geography

The Revenge Of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against FateThe Revenge Of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate by Robert D. Kaplan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

But really two-and-a-half stars because the writing style was uber-annoying. Kaplan's favorite phrase seems to be "Let me explain." Well, duh. That's why I'm reading the book.

Kaplan's thesis is that geography still matters, even in a world where environmental possibilism seems to be changing how we relate to the spaces we are in and the spaces we desire. I'm not sure he proved his thesis, really, but along the way, I at least learned a lot.

Kaplan states that a "map is the spatial representation of humanity's divisions." The names in Africa and the border lines, created by European colonization, tell us the history of imperialism. To understand history, we have to look at maps. Mountains and plains divide civilizations; Ottomans from Austro-Hungarians, Kurds from Iraqis, Sunnis from Shia. Western Europe has dominated world history because of wide, fertile plains, indented coastlines providing deep-water harbors, navigable rivers flowing north, and an abundance of resources and despite its harsh climate. In history, transportation and communication outweigh comfort.

Looking at a northern polar map projections shows how close the continents of the northern hemisphere are to one another. A southern polar projection shows how far apart the southern hemisphere continents really are. This has been a driving factor to the dominance of the northern hemisphere in world history.

Geography, according to Kaplan, has always driven history. And perhaps always will.

One of the first pieces of evidence Kaplan cites is the fossia regia, a ditch dug in 202BC by the Romans to demarcate civilized territory (Roman) from uncivilized territory. In the 21st century, that line can still be felt, if not seen. Towns with fewer Roman remains tend to be poorer, less developed, and have higher rates of unemployment.

Then Kaplan sets out to justify Mackinder's Heartland theory, which basically states that whoever holds the "heartland" (basically Central Asia, Russia, and Eastern Europe) controls the world. He argues that WWII was basically about Germany wanting to control the heartland and that the Cold War was about the Soviet Union wanting to control Eastern Europe.

Russia, having been overtaken by Mongol Horde, has always valued the need for an empire; expand or die. Germany feels the same, with Raztel's theory of Lebensraum, or living space. The US, too, with the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny. Land means power. And the where of the land matters.

One of the most fascinating discourses in the book falls in the chapter entitled "The Rimland Thesis" wherein Kaplan discusses the addition of Spykman's theory to Mackinder's. Spykman, and American, thought that control of the coastal edges of the heartland was as important as the heartland. Both Mackinder and Spykman's theories played out during World War II.

"Even as the Allies are losing and the utter destruction of Hitler's war machine is a priority, Spykman worries aloud about the implication of leaving Germany demilitarized. 'A Russian state from the Urals to the North Sea,' he explains (in 1942), 'can be no great improvement over a German state from the North Sea to the Urals.' Russian airfields on the English Channel would be as dangerous as German airfields to the security of Great Britain. Therefore, a powerful Germany will be necessary following Hitler. Likewise, even as the United States has another three years of vicious island fighting with the Japanese military ahead of it, Spkyman is recommending a post-war alliance with Japan against the continental powers of Russia and particularly a rising China."

In 1942, Spykman predicted how it would play out. Or, perhaps, it played out that way because he predicted it and the powers-that-were thought his ideas were sound.

With the benefit of hindsight, you can always connect geography with history.

An author named Braudel apparently does this very well. "Braudel’s signal contribution to the
way in which history is perceived is his concept of “varying wavelengths of time.” At the base is the
longue duree: slow, imperceptibly changing geographical time, “of landscapes that enable and constrain.” Above this, at a faster wavelength, come the “medium-term cycles,” what Braudel
himself refers to as conjonctures, that is, systemic changes in demographics, economics, agriculture, society, and politics. Cunliffe explains that these are essentially “collective forces, impersonal and usually restricted in time to no more than a century.” Together the longue duree and conjonctures provide the largely hidden “basic structures” against which human life is played out. My very highlighting of geography has been designed to put emphasis on these basic structures. Braudel calls the shortest-term cycle l’histoire evenmentielle —the daily vicissitudes of politics and diplomacy that are the staple of media coverage. Braudel’s analogy is the sea: in the deepest depths is the sluggish movement of water masses that bear everything; above that the tides and swells; and finally at the surface, in Cunliffe’s words, “the transient flecks of surf, whipped up and gone in a minute."

So I guess I should just read Braudel, who Kaplan as a "historian whose narrative has a godlike quality in which every detail of human existence is painted against the canvas of natural forces." Once in a while, though, I think Kaplan approaches this kind of writing.

"Obviously, human agency in the persons of such men as Jan Hus, Martin Luther and John Calvin was pivotal to the Protestant Reformation and hence to the Enlightenment that would allow for northern Europe’s dynamic emergence as one of the cockpits of history in the modern era. Nevertheless, all that could not have happened without the immense river and ocean access and the loess earth, rich with coal and iron-ore deposits, which formed the foundation for such individual dynamism and industrialization. Great, eclectic and glittering empires certainly flowered along the Mediterranean in the Middle Ages—notably the Norman Roger II’s in twelfth-century Sicily, and, lest we forget, the Renaissance blossomed first in late-medieval Florence, with the art of Michelangelo and the secular realism of Machiavelli. But it was the pull of the colder Atlantic that opened up global shipping routes that ultimately won out against the enclosed Mediterranean. While Portugal and Spain were the early beneficiaries of this Atlantic trade—owing to their protruding peninsular position—their pre-Enlightenment societies, traumatized by the proximity of (and occupation by) North African Muslims, lost ground eventually in the oceanic competition to the Dutch, French and English. So just as Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire succeeded Rome, in modern times northern Europe succeeded southern Europe, with the mineral-rich Carolingian core winning out in the form of the European Union. All this is attributable, in some measure, to geography."

Boom. If this book had been winnowed to engaging large-picture, connective discourses like this, I would have been much happier with it. I love that stuff.

But Kaplan, predicting the critics, I suppose, over-writes in the attempt to premptively out-argue the arguments. And the reader grows weary.

Peppered throughout the book are little nuggets of "oh, of course!" connections. Like the word "Cossack" comes from the word kazak. So Kazakhstan is really Cossackstan.

Also, Turkey controls the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates. Now THAT is power.

And "the rich forest soil of Northern Europe, which allowed peasants to easily be productive, ultimately led to freer and more dynamic societies compared to those along the Mediterranean where poorer, more precarious soils meant there was a requirement for irrigation that led, in turn, to oligarchies." And also, precarious agriculture led the Greeks and Romans to expand their empires in search of for fertile land.

I don't think I would have enjoyed this book at all as someone completely new to the concepts Kaplan discusses. I am teaching Human Geography this year, though, so my brain is currently wired with a geographic bent and filled with geographic terms and trivia. That base knowledge certainly aided my overall enjoyment of the book.

And a note about the maps in the paperback edition; so much is hidden in the spine crease that they were more annoying than helpful.


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31 January 2019

Book Review: Postern of Fate

Postern of Fate (Tommy & Tuppence, #5)Postern of Fate by Agatha Christie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oh My.

This is the second time I tried this book and, having learned from the first time I tried it that it wasn't really, by any stretch, a mystery, or even a thriller, or even a book with a relatable plot, I had better luck this time.

Apparently this is the last book Christie wrote. She didn't write it, though. She dictated it. There are some theories that she was suffering from dementia at this point in her life.

All that makes sense based on the words on the pages of this book.

Talky, talky, talky. Rambling conversations that go nowhere, only to have a version of that same conversation repeated 12 pages later by the same two characters.

I really have no idea what happened. Or who any of the characters are, save for Tommy, Tuppence, and Albert. Some of the characters seem to be overlap from A Passenger to Frankfurt which is, by all accounts, Christie's SECOND worst book, after this one.

Tuppence is still Tuppence. "He worried about Tuppence. Tuppence was one of those people you had to worry about. If you left the house, you gave her last words of wisdom and she gave you last promises of doing exactly what you counseled her to do: No, she would not be going out except just to buy a half a pound of butter, and after all, you couldn't call that dangerous, could you?"

Tommy is still Tommy. When someone asks how he is, he replies, "Much the same as I always was. Cracking. You know. Decomposing by degrees."

And everyone they talk to seems to be well past their personal prime; "One always seems to get talking about one's old pals and what's happened to them all. When you talk about old friends, either they are dead, which surprises you enormously because you didn't think they would be, or else they're not dead and that surprises you even more. It's a very difficult world."

Things that Christie might have edited out, or never written in the first place, in her earlier books, elevate themselves to a level of charm that is more likely to be found in the stories of your elderly relatives than in a published book. As Tuppence is dissecting and discovering a "clue," (though what that clue actually means is anyone's guess, frankly) Tommy's confusion is amplified in the dialog in a way that an editor might have cut.
"'Grin-he-Lo,' said Tuppence. "We've been reading it the wrong way around. It's meant to be read the other way around.'
'What do you mean? Ol, then n-e-h--it doesn't make sense. You couldn't go on n-i-r-g. Nirg or some word like that.'
'No. Just take the three words. A little bit, you know, like what Alexander did in the book--the first book that we looked at. Read those words the other way around. Lo-hen-grin.'
Tommy scowled."

I mean, you'll never get that 30 seconds back. But do you want them? If you do, don't read this book.

There's a James Taylor song with the lyrics "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time," and I enjoyed passing the time with this book. It's not a GOOD book, but it's a comfortable one. Tommy and Tuppence are "elderly" (I have a real difficulty with Christie's timeline with these two...how old were they really in each of their outings?) and play the doddering old fools quite well. They have a dog named Hannibal, who gets his own chapter, even, in one of the weirdest tangents in print. Christie's ramblings are an insight into her childhood; barely veiled reminiscences about her childhood home and her family. Reminds me of how sad I am that I didn't record conversations with my grandmother, when she would go through old photos and tell me stories. I don't remember nearly as much about those conversations as I wish I did.


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05 January 2019

Book Review: The Secret Adversary

The Secret Adversary (Tommy and Tuppence #1)The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Charming. I first read N or M? when I was 12 or 13 and fell in love with Tommy and Tuppence but I had never read this one. Though it seems like it's a tired formula now, a plucky couple solving crimes, one assumes when Christie was playing with it, it was original. And striking for Tuppence to be such an independent and mouthy woman. Bless her.


Have I said I love Tuppence?

Tuppence's given name is Prudence. She's the daughter of a vicar, to whom Christie alludes once or twice, always indicating that he is rather befuddled as to what to do about his unconventional daughter. Her nickname, Tuppence (as in "I don't care tuppence"), sketches her attitude towards convention. Like Millie, who was thoroughly modern.

When Tuppence, who has made it clear that she wants to marry for money, finally realizes she's fallen in love with Tommy after she has received a proposal from a fabulously wealthy millionaire; "What idiots girls are! I've always thought so. I suppose I shall sleep with his photograph under my pillow and dream about him all night. It's dreadful to feel you've been false to your principles."

Have I said I love Tuppence?

Christie makes it clear that Tuppence is the brains of the operation, a convention that was not typical in 1920s spy thrillers, where intelligent women were evil and beautiful women were built into the plot solely to provide romance for the hard-boiled leading man. As the two are trying to convince a secret agent to let them continue the accidental investigation they've started, the agent thinks this;

"Outwardly, he's an ordinary clean-limbed, rather block-headed young Englishman. Slow in his mental processes. On the other hand, it's quite impossible to lead him astray through his imagination. He hasn't got any....The little lady's quite different. More intuition and less common sense. They make a pretty pair working together."

Christie's writing is a bit blase but I didn't really care in the end. A fun, quick read.


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27 December 2018

Book Review: The Mother Tongue

The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That WayThe Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Language is somewhat of a miracle. Bryson writes, "...about 30,000 years ago, there burst forth an enormous creative and cooperative effort which led to the cave paintings at Lascaux, the development of improved, lightweight tools, the control of fire, and many other cooperative arrangements. It is unlikely that any of these could have been achieved without a fairly sophisticated system of language."

We can infer much about the development and migration of humans based on language evidence. In the Indo-European language family, there is a common word for snow but no common word for sea. Therefore, humans started developing lanaguage somewhere cold and inland.

Bryson goes on to explore the oddities and interesting tidbits about how English came to be what we know as English.

Much of our history of people in England depends on an account written by a monk named the Venerable Bede, but his history was written 300 years after the events it described which, as Bryson writes, "...is rather like us writing a history of Elizabethan England based on hearsay."

But it's the history we have, so even when it's confusing and incomplete, we go with it.

Which is a metaphorical parallel with English. It's a mess. Boil means to bring water to a certain temperature AND also a gross pimple-like thing on your skin. Which are totally unrelated.

Also, sometimes a word means what it means and also means the opposite. Bryson points out, "Sanction, for instance, can either signify permission to do something or a measure forbidding it to be done. Cleave can mean cut in half or stuck together. A sanguine person is either hotheaded and bloodthirsty or calm and cheerful. Something that is fast is either stuck or moving quickly. A door that is bolted is secure but a horse that has bolted has taken off."

And it's not just our vocabularly. There are endless vagaries in pronunciation; "The combination 'ng' is usually treated as one discrete sound, as in bring and sing. But in fact we make two sounds with it--employing a soft 'g' with singer and a hard 'g' with finger ... We make another unconscious distinction between the hard 'th' of those and the soft one of thought. Some dictionaries fail to note this and yet it makes all the difference between mouth as a noun and mouth as a verb."

Bryson's book is full of little a-ha moments like that. He also has a little fun with the rules of grammar, most of which he thinks were originally quite dubious and originated in the mid-to-late 1700s, "a period of the most resplendent silliness, when grammarians and scholars seemed to be climbing over one another (or each other; it doesn't really matter) in a mad scramble to come up with fresh absurdities. This was the age when, it was gravely insisted, Shakespeare's laughable ought to be changed to laugh-at-able and reliable should be made into relionable."

Bryson doesn't discuss the Internet or Social Media because this book was published in 1990.


"At the time of writing, a television viewer in Britain could in a single evening watch Neighbors, a Australian soap opera, Cheers, an American comedy set in Boston, and EastEnders, a British program set among cockneys in London. All of these bring into people's homes in one evening a variety of vocabulary, accents, and other linguistic influences that they would have been unlikely to experience in a single lifetime just two generations ago."

So imagine what the internet has done since then. Netflix and other on-demand viewing programs. I would love for him to re-release a new edition with a forward that explores what we've done to language in the last 30 years because of these globalizing resources. Also, now that dictionaries live online, they are ever-changeable and updateable. I think Bryson could have a field-day with that.

Other interesting tidbits:
Did you know tidbit used to be titbit, but then the world went through a fit of properness and it was changed to tiDbit?

Did you know that written Icelandic has not changed all that much so modern Icelanders can easily read sagas written thousands of years ago?

Saint Patrick wasn't Irish. He was Welsh. The only reason he ended up in Ireland is that he was kidnapped by Irish pirates when he was 16.

The Domesday book is pronounced "doomsday" because long o sounds used to be pronounced ooo. But it's not about doom. Domesday refers to "domestic"

The word "roundabout" is of American origin. It was invented by an American, Logan Persall Smith, who was living in England and was one of the members of a 1920s panel of the BBC Advisory Committee on Spoken English. This panel decided how things should be pronounced and used, as well as making rules about vocabulary. Before Smith, traffic circles in Britain were called "gyratory circuses."

So, in Cockney, there's a tradition of playing a rhyming game to come up with new meanins for words. For example, bottle means ass; the rhyming phrase "bottle and glass" was a coy rhyming replacement for "ass" which was eventually just shortened to "bottle." This is where we get our term "bread" meaning "money;" bread and honey.

Also, in Bryson's list of dead words, I really want to bring back teetotaciously. I think "helliferocious" is already back, with an alternate spelling (hella ferocious)


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Book Review: The Man Who Loved China

The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle KingdomThe Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom by Simon Winchester
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Simon Winchester picks the most fascinating topics, but this book falls short. As have all of his other books for me, save for Pacific. Pacific is a strong book because it is structured as a collected series of articles; it does not need a through-line. It is loosely connected by the similarity in subject but does not really need to lead from point A to point B.

In this book, Winchester sets out to tell the story of Joseph Needham, a fascinating polymath who rehabilitated western thought about Chinese history.

Ostensibly, it's a biography. It needs to lead from point A to point B. But it is poorly edited and poorly structured; things that don't bear repeating are repeated, ad nauseum. Things that need further explanation are cast aside. And the main question posed, throughout the book, the "Needham" question of why China stopped inventing, is never answered. Because it is unanswerable. But, if so, why plant references to it throughout the book if, at the end, you're going to reveal that there is no satisfactory solution to the mystery?

But, regardless of my annoyance with the structure and the pedantic drudgery of the writing, I learned so much from this book.

I knew that many inventions claimed by the West were actually invented in the East; China is now famously given credit for gunpowder, the compass, and the printing press. What I didn't know is that this "discovery" is so recent. Needham visited China in the 1940s and his books that set out to prove it--Science and Civilisation in China--began to be published in 1954 (and are still being published, the latest of the seven volumes in twenty-seven books being released in 2015)

Needham single-handedly changed how the west viewed its history; the list of inventions originating in China is long (there is an 11 page index that lists all of them, including arched bridges, crossbows, vaccination against smallpox, paper, chess, toilet paper, seismoscopes, wheelbarrows, stirrups, powered flight, etc.)

Though Needham did not discover the Diamond Sutra, Winchester discusses it at some length. It is said to be the oldest printed book in the world, having been created with printing blocks a full 600 years before Gutenberg. The date it was created is helpfully written in the text; 868 AD. A British-Hungarian archaeologist named Marc Aurel Stein found the library in Dunhuang in 1907, and bribed the abbot of the monastic group in charge of the cave, allowing Stein to smuggle thousands of documents, including The Diamond Sutra, out of China.

Despite the Diamond Sutra, the printing press never really caught on in China. Chinese uses pictograms, phonograms, and ideograms to represent words or syllables, with over 30,000 characters, which meant that a printer using movable type would have to have over 30,000 precast blocks. In European languages, there are usually 26 to 35 letters that are reused in endless combinations to create language.

Needham explains this in his book. He also explains Chinese philosophy and religion and how it affected science. For example, from Volume II of Science and Civilisation in China;
"Heaven has five elements, first Wood, second Fire, third Earth, fourth Metal, and fifth Water. Wood comes first in the cycle of the five elements and water comes last, earth being in the middle. This is the order which heaven has made. Wood produces fire, fire produces earth (i.e. as ashes), earth produces metal (i.e. as ores), metal produces water (either because molten metal was considered aqueous, or more probably because of the ritual practice of collecting dew on metal mirrors exposed at night-time), and water produces wood (for woody plants require water). Such is the Dao of heaven."

Winchester does not go into detail about the inventions themselves; he instead tells the story of Needham's travels in China in the 1940s, which also requires background in Chinese history during that era, which requires knowledge of Japan's empire ambitions and WWII, none of which I was particularly familiar with. After reading this book there are some big holes in my knowledge of history that are now partially filled; China was fighting a battle with Japan (they had taken over most of the coastal regions) while also dealing with in-fighting between Chiang Kai-shek and the communist forces under the leadership of Mao Zedong.

Needham was in China at a time when the Chinese government had retreated to Chongqing (Chung King to our western ears) and traveled there under the auspices of the "Sino-British Science Co-operation Office" to help Chinese scientists keep the supply lines open to get the supplies they needed to continue their research.

Needham spent most of his time traveling through the country, learning as much as he could, buying as many books as he could, and flirting with as many women as he could. And then he came home, started writing his book, flirted a little too much with communism for comfort, got himself in enormous trouble when he was duped by Soviet spies into believing, and publishing, that the US government had used biological weapons in Korea, climbed back out of trouble again somehow, kept writing his book, kept living with his wife, with his mistress next door (the wife and the mistress were long-time friends; the three spent lots of time together), traveled some more, lectured a lot, became Master at Cambridge, smoked, preached, danced, sang, and lived. Until he died, at the ripe age of 94, working on his book almost literally until the moment of his death.

Fascinating man who deserves a better biographical treatment than this one.


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19 November 2018

Book Review: Travels With My Aunt

Travels with My AuntTravels with My Aunt by Graham Greene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I simply loved this book the first time I read it, oh, 15 years ago? It outlined a life I could then only dream of. A kind of existence that I thought impossible. And not all the CIA/crime stuff. Just the life of wandering about having adventures.

Now I kind of have that life. Over the past three years, I have wandered around over 15 countries and lived in two locales that bear the markings of being rather exotic.

So on this re-read, I was not as taken with the locales and the idea of just going somewhere to go somewhere. And when that wasn't blinding me, I was open to noticing the flaws of the book, the worst of which is that it is poorly constructed and loosely bound, as if Greene wrote it in 7 different chunks, a month apart for each, and relied on his memory to recall what he'd written in the last chunk when he started the next one.

But I still liked it. The adventure. Aunt Augusta, the kind of woman we love in books and TV but would complain about endless were she part of our lives. A woman who, like the story she tells of Uncle Jo, is prolonging life by making each day something different.

And the periodic moments of Greene's writing that resonate. Like:

"Her hand was on my knee, and the enormous wrist-watch stared up at me with its great blank white face and its four figures in scarlet, 12 3 6 9, as if those were the only important ones to remember -- the hours when you had to take your medicine."

And this moment when two businessmen are discussing ideas about how to get rid of an inventory of plastic straws; "Then we produce medical evidence. That is the modern form of the legend. The toxic effect of imbibing alcohol through a straw. There is a Doctor Rodriguez here who would help me. The statistics of cancer of the liver. Suppose we could persuade the Panama government to prohibit the sale of straws with alcoholic drink. The straws would be sold illicitly from under the counter. The demand would be tremendous."

And this...

"'In a year,' my aunt said, 'what would you two have to talk about? She would sit over her tatting -- I didn't realize that anyone still tatted -- and you would read gardening catalogues, and then when the silence was almost unbearable she would begin to tell you a story of Koffiefontein which you had heard a dozen times before ... You will think how every day you are getting a little closer to death. It will stand there as close as the bedroom wall. And you'll become more and more afraid of the wall because nothing can prevent you coming nearer and nearer to it every night while you try to sleep and Miss Keene reads.'
'You may be right, Aunt Augsuta, but isn't it the same everywhere at our age?'
'Not here it isn't. Tomorrow you may be shot in the street by a policeman because you haven't understood Guarani, or a man may knife you in a cantina because you can't speak Spanish and he thinks you are acting in a superior way. Next week, when we have our Dakota, perhaps it will crash with you over Argentina. My dear Henry, if you live with us, you won't be edging day by day across to any last wall. The wall will find you of its own accord without your help, and every day you live will seem to you a kind of victory. "I was too sharp for it that time," you will say, when night comes, and afterwards you'll sleep well.'"

And this kicker, which stabbed me right in the heart:

"People who like quotations love meaningless generalizations."


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07 November 2018

Book Review: A Separate Peace

A Separate PeaceA Separate Peace by John Knowles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't know when I first read this. One assumes I did as a pre-teen or a teen, but I don't remember reading it. I don't remember any specifics. All I knew is that the battered paperback I hauled around with me for 25 years always made me smile every time I would go through books to get rid of them.

And I never got rid of this one.

But, why? Why did it make me smile?

So I read it again.

And, frankly, I expected to be disappointed. I had read several reader reviews here, lambasting how horrible this book is. The hundreds of comments agreeing with some of the most negative of the reviews. The one thread on which the adults who hated this book as a teen gang up on the one or two current teens who piped up to say they liked it.

As divisive as our current political landscape, apparently.

So let me weigh in.

I LOVED it. Again. And one more time. LOVED.

It's ponderous. It's a little foreign, in that I am not a male teen in 1942 at a boarding school. But, you know, I'm also not a British teen wizard. Or a teen archery expert living in a dystopian future. I don't have to directly relate to the situations to directly relate to the characters.

But even though I did relate to the characters, it was really the writing that really made me love it. Not the story. Not the conflict. But the writing. The power. The force of description. The insight.

"cobblestones heaving underfoot like a bricked-over ocean squall"

"Until now, in spite of everything, I had welcomed each new day as though it were a new life, where all past problems and failures were erased, and all future possibilities and joys open and available, to be achieved probably before night fell again. Now, in this winter snow and crutches with Phineas, I began to know that each morning reasserted the problems of the night before, that sleep suspended all but changed nothing, that you couldn't make yourself over between dawn and dusk."

"'What I mean is, I love winter, and when you really love something then it loves you back, in whatever way it has to love.' I didn't really think that this was true, my seventeen years of experience had shown this to be much more false than true, but it was like every thought and belief of Finny's: it should have been true."

"Dr. Stanpole's car was at the top of it, headlights on and motor running, empty. I idly considered stealing it, in the way that people idly consider many crimes it would be possible for them to commit. I took an academic interest in the thought of stealing the car, knowing all the time that it would be not so much criminal as meaningless, a lapse into nothing, an escape into nowhere."

"The old phrase about 'If these walls could only speak' occurred to me and I felt it more deeply than anyone has ever felt it, I felt that the stadium could not only speak but that its words could hold me spellbound. In fact the stadium did speak powerfully and at all times, including this moment. But I could not hear, and that was because I did not exist."

"We members of the class of 1943 were moving very fast toward the war now, so fast that there were casualties even before we reached it, a mind was clouded and a leg was broken--maybe these should be thought of as minor and inevitable mishaps in the accelerating rush. The air around us was filled with much worse things."

"Finny...you wouldn't be any good in the war, even if nothing had happened to your leg ... They'd get you some place at the front and there'd be a lull in the fighting, and the next thing anyone knew you'd be over with the Germans or the Japs, asking if they'd like to field a baseball team against our side. You'd be sitting in one of their command posts, teaching them English. Yes, you'd get confused and borrow one of their uniforms, and you'd lend them one of yours. Sure, that's just what would happen. You'd get things so scrambled up nobody would know who to fight anymore. You'd make a terrible mess, Finny, out of the war."

"The advance guard which came down the street from the railroad station consisted of a number of Jeeps, being driven with a certain restraint, their gyration-prone wheels inactive on these old ways which offered nothing bumpier than a few cobblestones. I thought the Jeeps looked noticeably uncomfortable from all the power they were not being allowed to use. There is no stage you comprehend better than the one you have just left, and as I watched the Jeeps almost asserting a wish to bounce up the side of Mount Washington at eighty miles an hour instead of rolling along this dull street, they reminded me, in a comical and poignant way, of adolescents."

"...it seemed clear that wars were not made by generations and their special stupidities, but that wars were made instead by something ignorant in the human heart."

I'm really glad I've been hauling this around for 25 years. I'm going to haul it around for at least 25 more.


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