The Bibliophile’s Journal V

My reading schedule has collapsed over the last month, due to a new job with longer hours and commute than my old part-time gig, in addition to apartment hunting. It’s been a struggle even to keep up with my anime-viewing, but I do have a few things I’ve finished over the last few weeks.

The biggest project is the fourth and final volume of Sir Winston Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples, the first volume of which I read roughly a year and a half ago. The books are actually pretty engaging for the most part, so I’m not sure why I let months pass between each volume; too many other options, I suppose.

In any case,the pacing feels about perfect for the huge amount of material Churchill has to cover, and he presents the material clearly. He does take a somewhat triumphalist or romantic tone, which helps the recorded events cohere into a narrative. He’s also fair to all the various parties involved in each episode. He praises the gallantry of both the Americans and Confederates in the War Between the States, for example, though he obviously favoured the Unionist cause. He tends to favour the winning side in most controversies, though, as if England and its colonies, despite occasional setbacks, must ultimately improve themselves continually. It’s not too overt most of the time, but one can certainly detect the influence of a Whig view of history.

He doesn’t really offer much of a conclusion, though, except a single paragraph:

Here is set out a long story of the English-speaking peoples. They are now to become Allies in terrible but victorious wars [written just after World War II – RC]. And that is not the end. Another phase looms before us, in which alliance will once more be tested and in which its formidable virtues may be to preserve Peace and Freedom. The future is unknowable, but the past should give us hope. Nor should we now seek to define precisely the exact terms of ultimate union.

Not bad; proponents of the “special relationship” between the US and UK will certainly like it, but I’m not quite sure what the last sentence means. I assume he’s talking about a “union” as in an alliance for the Cold War, but maybe he means something like the Commonwealth but including the US?

I also finished another non-fiction project, St. Thomas Aquinas’s commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, which I read for Lent. It’s St. Thomas’s usual thorough treatment; one verse often yields several paragraphs of comments. Some of it is great, most is at least worth reading, but honestly it would’ve been okay with me had he occasionally skipped a verse. Overall, though, since I spend a lot of time reading blogs or Twitter, it’s nice to read something substantial for a change.

Moving on to fiction, I’ve read the first couple volumes of Limit, by Suenobu Keiko. The comic’s about a high school class on a school trip whose bus goes over a cliff, and everyone but a few girls die. It’s Lord of the Flies with Japanese high school girls, in other words, but not nearly as good. The story is three days in, and I just find it difficult to accept that this much time would pass before anybody would even notice that they’re missing. Also, in Lord of the Flies, it takes, if I recall correctly, a few weeks for order to fully break down, and that’s among six- to twelve-year-old boys. Would a handful of teenage girls really break down almost immediately?

Actually, I suppose that is plausible, but only one of these particular girls strikes me as so unstable. It’s not bad, so far, and some of the art’s interesting, but I’m just having a hard time fully buying the premise.

Finally, I’ve started re-reading Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. I remember enjoying this in high school, but haven’t read it since. I haven’t got in too deeply yet, but the highlight so far is Dickens’s rather dry, sometimes slightly dark, sense of humour, like the narrator’s observation that his sister, who was much older than  he and raised him, “had established a great reputation[…] because she had brought me up ‘by hand.’ Having at that time to find out for myself what the expression meant, and knowing her to have a hard and heavy hand, and to be much in the habit of laying it upon her husband as well as me, I supposed that [he] and I were both brought up by hand.” He adds, “She was not a good-looking woman, my sister; and I had a general impression that she must have made Joe Gargery marry her by hand.”

My edition of the book, by the way, is Penguin’s new Drop Caps series, which is a quite attractive hardcover. I imagine it’ll look nice on a shelf with the other Drop Caps books, once they’re all published, but that would involve buying one book for each letter of the alphabet, which is a lot of money spent on hardcovers that I may or may not even want. I’m not opposed to spending too much on things I want, but depending on exactly what books they choose 26 x $25 or so may be a bit much, even for me.

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