Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Reading Matters

I finished Andrew Wheatcroft's Infidels a few minutes ago. It's an interesting read - according to some, a well balanced account of the ongoing feud between Christendom and Islam from 638 to 2002 (the book was published in 2003). I'm not so sure about the "well balanced" bit - from an Australian point of view Wheatstone is a bit slack in keeping track of the body counts and I doubt that everyone would agree with his treatment of the Reconquista. It doesn't present much evidence that Wheatstone understands the fundamental moral difference between Christians sacking a town and putting the inhabitants to the sword - something that we should of course understand as a normal part of Norman (and Frankish) military strategy - and Muslims sacking a town and putting the inhabitants to the sword, which has no military or political justification whatsoever. Regardless of whether you're applying modern standards, or the standards of the time, by which of course, I mean the standards of medieval Christian scholars and philosophers - not those of the Byzantines, the Muslim hordes, the irrelevantly distant Chinese or the lawless Irish. Especially not the Irish.

For future reading, there are several boxes of Folio Club books in the dining room - you know, those modern classics and great works in machine tooled imitation leather bindings with brass leaf embossing. There's a lot of Somerset Maugham in the mix - does anyone read Somerset Maugham any more? But there are also several Russians - with luck, Gogol's Dead Souls is in one of them somewhere. And George Orwell's 1984, which looks completely wrong without the paper cover with that detail from the Civil Defence painting on the front. I suppose that it's too much to hope that Froissart's Chronicles and Sir John Mandeville's Travailles will also turn up in one of the batches to come.


David Heidelberg said...


I'm looking for a book that explores the human condition in such a profound way it will change my life.

Do you have any suggestions?

Gummo Trotsky said...

Sorry Dave, can't help you much there.

As a general pointer, I'd say avoid any novels whose blurbs proclaim them to be life transforming and stick to story-tellers who make no bones about the fact that they are purveying fiction. Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveller is a good example. It won't change your life one whit but it's a damn fine novel. And Calvino's prose is a sensual delight.

Gummo Trotsky said...

PS - I am not your friend in the lit-crit establishment, OK?

Gummo Trotsky said...

Oops, that was a bit snarly, wasn't it?

Bit of a discussion killer too. Sorry Dave.

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