Tuesday, July 29, 2014

In the Steps of the Master

In the Steps of the Master, by H. V. Morton

H. V. Morton was quite a famous journalist in his day.  He made his career by being the first to report on the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb, and then he wrote a lot of very popular books about spots in Britain (I have read and loved a couple of them).  This book is the account of a trip he took to Palestine in about 1934, and though he writes quite a bit about Crusaders and Arabs and Romans, his main focus is on the events of the New Testament and on the Hebrew people.

The amazing thing about this book is that Morton was there 80 years ago--before the modern state of Israel was established, and just about before much modernization had occurred at all.  I'm quite sure that if I went to the same spots, they would all be very very different now.  Although much had changed in 2000 years, Morton was able to see quite a few things--ways of life, habits, and so on--that had changed relatively little.  Every so often he could look across the street and see one of the parables, or some street scene, enacted in real life.  That would all be long-gone now.

It's a very long book, and Morton has plenty of time to see a lot and tell us about it in detail.  He starts in Jerusalem, observing the old, old churches there, the encrustation of tradition and diplomacy, the rituals and the devotion of pilgrims.  Some of the people he speaks with belong to ancient traditions that I suppose are now swept away.  As he travels around the country, he describes not only what he sees, but what used to be there, the history and the wars and everything.  Morton can very often throw light on a confusing scene from the New Testament simply by being on the spot and observing.  And then there is Roman, Arab, and Crusader history, empire after empire arriving and fading away, and meanwhile, ordinary people scratching out a living.

Several times he is visiting spots that very few Westerners have ever been to, great inaccessible ruins with people living in them that no one else has paid attention to for centuries.  He goes to Petra, for example--now a major tourist destination, but at that time a very difficult trip.  The Krak des Chevaliers is a messy ruin that no one in their right mind would visit when he describes it in the book; now it is all cleaned up and curated.  He visits a priest who has just recently discovered a beautiful Roman mosaic from a long-gone church--it's still buried for safekeeping.  Nowadays it has a new building, a display, and its own website.  (I'm glad it's possible for me to see it!)

Finally, ss you might expect, Morton shows some attitudes that we do not approve of, though as a world traveler he certainly has less of them than most people probably did.  

A fantastic book, just fascinating and hard to put down.  I would highly recommend it. 

People Tell Me Things

People Tell Me Things: Stories by David Finkle

It's high time I wrote up reviews for all these books on my desk that I read during the Wicked Wildfire Readathon!  I'll start with the TBR titles, since I'm extra-late with those.

David Finkle writes about the arts for various New Yorky publications, and here he was written a collection of short stories that are about the same world.  The stories are kind of rambly--I mean, they have a point and they're not over-long, but they're kind of like a guy at a coffee shop telling you a random story about his life.  Artists, writers, and film people wander in and out and get up to things.  And all of it takes place in Manhattan, with very, very New York sensibilities.  It's probably quite literary, but in a way that I don't really get.

I'm not really much on New York stories, so I wasn't enthralled.  Meh.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Readathon Wrapup!

Well, that kind of got away from me for a few days!  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the readathon and finished a pile of books, few of which I have managed to actually write reviews for yet.  Here on my desk in front of me I have the following finished books:

Blind Justice, by Anne Perry
Tristan, by Gottfried von Strassburg
People Tell Me Things: Stories, by David Finkle
Go Tell It On the Mountain, by James Baldwin
Wigs on the Green, by Nancy Mitford
Linnets and Valerians, by Elizabeth Goudge
In the Steps of the Master, by H. V. Morton

And today I started Savage Continent, a book about the aftermath of World War II in Europe.  It's been fun!  Thanks to My Shelf Confessions for hosting!  Hope it happens again next year.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Readathon Update, Day 7

Here's an update on my weekend's reading:  I finished Go Tell It On the Mountain, which is an amazing In the Steps of the Master.  And I've started Wigs on the Green, a comedic novel by Nancy Mitford that is very funny!  Sort of Wodehousy.  It was written in about 1935 and pokes fun at Fascist beliefs, which annoyed at least one of her two Fascist sisters so much that after the war, Mitford wouldn't let it be reprinted so as not to offend her--and also because by 1951 Fascism wasn't very funny anymore.  But I'm completely entertained by a group that makes their shirts out of Union Jack flags so that they are called the Union Jackshirts.  There is also, of course, a lot of comedy around romantic pairs.
novel.  Wow.  I'm now about 3/4 of the way through

Clearly I need a 30's jazzy kind of song here, for Wigs on the Green.  I picked "Okay, Toots!" which was a hit in Britain about that time--you can imagine Bertie Wooster banging it out on the piano and it's really catchy--but the only version I could find with the words in is in this collection of songs.  Enjoy them all!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Readathon Update, Day 5

I was out and about a little more today, but I did get some reading done.  I finished People Tell Me Things, which was meh.  Too much New York.  I read a good solid chunk of Go Tell It On the Mountain, which is just amazingly written but (as you might expect) very wrenching.  And I've read a bit of In the Steps of the Master--I'm now a little over halfway through.

I keep meaning to pick up Beauty in the Word, a book about classical education.  Just today I heard that the author has passed away; he will be very missed, I know.  So I'm going to start that next.

I now have 3 finished books in a pile on my desk to review.  Maybe tomorrow...

Go Tell It On the Mountain is written in a gospel style; it's all about people who live and breathe their religion, and they think in the semi-Biblical, gospel style that is most familiar to many of us now through the speeches and writings of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.  Gospel songs are quoted throughout the novel, and here is one of them for you, "Traveling Shoes":

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Readathon Update, Day 4

Today was pretty good for reading.  I finished Anne Perry's Blind Justice, about the last third of it (turned out I'd read two thirds yesterday), and got in a chunk of In the Steps of the Master--a really long book, I'm now about a third through it.  I also picked up a book of short stories from my TBR pile that I started a while back, which I'm having trouble getting into.  It's called People Tell Me Things, and they are really New Yorky stories which I'm not much into.  One of the stories I read today had a poster of Sting as a story element.  Sting is possibly the only real person mentioned in this entire book of stories, which contains a lot of gossipy-sounding stuff about real-sounding people who are not in fact real.  Sting, therefore, gets the song of the day.  I quite like Sting (despite his undeniable pomposity) so it was hard to pick, but we'll go with Desert Rose because it's about the right timeframe for the story--no early songs allowed!--it has no particular meaning for me, and I like the Algerian guy, Cheb Mami, who does the other half of the song.  Although it's an uber-obnoxious video, pretty much an ad for a video camera and a fancy car.  

And here, as your daily special bonus, is a collection of "retro library posters" like the paperback covers I linked to the other day.  This one here will resonate with any reference librarian:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Readathon Update, Day 3

Today I read a pretty good piece of In the Steps of the Master, which has some great stuff in it about old legends and ruins and history.  I needed something to read by the pool, so I started Anne Perry's latest mystery, Blind Justice, which is pretty good so far. I'm probably about a third of the way through.  I always read Perry, but she sort of bugs me too, always spending a lot of time on fine shades of emotion and meaning--though her characters aren't as annoyingly prickly and irritable as they used to be.

The Perry novel is, of course, set in Victorian London, and contains some mentions of music halls.  The music hall song I know best is "My Old Man Said Follow the Van," so here it is, with some other classic London songs.  This performance is from 1961 and quite stagey, but it's fun.

I have another song for you!  This is a library-themed song, and I can't get it to embed, but the lyrics are at the page anyway.  Please enjoy "What Can I Help You Find Today?" -- it's funny!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Readathon Update, Day 2

I had a much quieter day today and actually did some reading.  I finished Tristan!  I read a good chunk of Go Tell It On the Mountain, and I got started with In the Steps of the Master, H. V. Morton's journal of his travels in Palestine in about 1935.

In other booky news, I was directed to this completely wonderful collection of "pulp librarian literature"--that is, old paperbacks changed into librarian titles.  Take a look, they are hysterical.  Here are some of my favorites:


1st ed. cover
V., by Thomas Pynchon

I wanted to spend part of the summer reading Thomas Pynchon's first novel, V.  This is my first full-length Pynchon venture, so I figured I might as well start at the beginning.  I cannot say that I loved it, but I will say that I plan to continue with the next novel--at least one of these days, not right away.  It was interesting sometimes, and other times not so much.  It's kind of more a guy novel, maybe.

It starts with Benny Profane, ex-Navy, who falls in with a crowd of oddballs called The Whole Sick Crew in New York, and there are random adventures.  Then there is also a fellow called Stencil who is on a life-long quest to search for V., a mysterious woman with many different personae.  Maybe.  The episodes interchange and wander all over the place and in time as well. There are fictional countries and real places--Malta figures largely--and a lot about yo-yoing and Vs, and historical episodes.  It's very strange and not the kind of thing I can describe well.

My copy is a first edition that looks like the image here.  I got it from work and we seem to have a complete collection of Pynchon; whoever was buying back then was on the ball, I guess.  The 50-year-old library jacket nearly drove me crazy, though.

For the music to match, I pick Procol Harum's Whiter Shade of Pale, which may not be entirely fair since V. was published in 1963 and this song is from 1967, and I have no idea if the two (Pynchon and Procol Harum) had any interest in each other whatsoever.  They aren't even from the same country.  BUT I always associate them in my head, because of college, and they do have the same weird surrealist thing going on.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Readathon Update, Day 1

As I thought, I didn't get very much read today.  The birthday was more important, and I baked an awesome Doctor Who cake (plus many other things).  What I did read:

A bit of Gottfried von Strassburg's Tristan.  I'm 2/3 of the way through and they've finally quaffed the love philtre.

A bit of James Baldwin's Go Tell It On the Mountain, which I've just started.  I think I made it to page 35.  The writing is amazing.

Tomorrow will be much more relaxed, and I presume will contain more reading.

Tristan -- check out Strassburg's name up there!