Sunday, March 24, 2013

Terrible People are Terrible Protagonists

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In the last few days, I read nine (it got up to nine) female authors in a row. Let's hear it for the talented women! Women write YA! Women write fiction critical of oppressive regimes! Women write syndicated comic strips! (I read a For Better or Worse retrospective.)  Women write!  And now for something completely different:

She fought like fury, naked as she was, and only when I got home a few good cuts did she try to run for it. I hauled her away from the door, and only after a vicious struggle I managed to rape her–the only time in my life I have found it necessary, by the way.”

Fuck you, Harry Flashman of the Flashman series. Fuck you, George MacDonald Fraser. Your book was boring before your protagonist raped an Afghani woman. After that, the only reason I kept reading it was because I was on the bus and I didn't have any other books with me. Of course, raping a woman was another day at the races for Harry Flashman. Or another day of being racist. It's all the same. Flashman is “a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a thief, and a coward” and he says so on the first page. I should have set the book on fire then. (Always believe men when they describe themselves.  Women put themselves down inaccurately, e.g. "I'm fat," but men's self-critiscism is usually apt.  For example, my downstairs neighbor once told me he was stupid.  He was right on.)  But I was excited to read Flashman because it appeared to be a slightly raunchy tale of swashbuckling and derring-do, or so said the cover and jacket copy. It has boobs on it. And swords. And Early Victorians on horses. How could you not want to read a book like that? The problem is: If a man is a yellow-bellied coward, he's going to spend most of his time running away from the action and not performing feats and adventuring nobly across the land. So Flashman doesn't do much. He gets into kerfuffles, but other, nobler, better people (who don't like him much) always save him at the last minute.

Harry Flashman is the bully in Thomas Hughes' Tom Brown's School Days. I haven't read Tom Brown's School Days but it's too old and thick to appear appealing. I like it when authors riff on other people's characters. Wishing for Tomorrow, one of the best books ever written, Mark Twain's Sherlock Holmes, Rebecca. It's fans writing for fans. Maybe I should have read Tom Brown's School Days first. Maybe Tom Brown is a yellow-bellied coward at Oxford.

My favorite book of adventure and romance is Shadow of the Moon by M. M. Kaye, which is, like Flashman, set in the Raj. But you have to travel from England to swashbuckle in India. Flashman does that by way of getting kicked out of school and whining around the house until his father buys him an officer's commission. He picks a regiment just back from India so that he won't be sent there, but after fighting a duel (I like the swashbucklement of duels, but they often end badly, don't they, Eugene Onegin??), he is sent in disgrace to a regiment serving in one of the grayer places of Scotland, where he fornicates with a local notable's daughter and gets himself kicked down to the Subcontinent. He picks up some Hindoostani, spears a dog with a lance, and becomes a general's aide, and it's off up the Khyber pass, blah blah, not much, mission to deliver a message, important local chieftain, entertains him with dancing girls, he likes the look of one, she's sent into his room, and because she doesn't want to be there or touch him, he's forced to rape her, “...the only time in my life I have found it necessary, by the way.” Uh huh.  During the disastrous 1842 British winter retreat from Afghanistan where an army a of 4,500 and 12,000 civilians died on the way out of Kabul, Flashman gets a lady's tent and climbs under her blankets. She tells him to get out, that he's not a gentleman and he goes. He's afraid she'll, “...cry rape all over the camp,” which she should. 

 He does get dangled over a snake pit for his troubles. His Afghani victim's fiancee did not approve of the whole business. He almost dies, but Akbar Khan, the leader of the rebel force, stops the snake-pitting, just as he's about to be pulled in. So Flashman kills the torture dwarf. That's it. He's a terrible person. Don't read this book. Read something better.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Random Women Authors

The last eight books I've read were by women. I think I'm doing well. I wish I could go on a women-only binge lasting months but I've got Ray Oldenberg's The Great Good Place checked out from work and I want to get to that next. I'm pretty excited about it. I checked out Watch This Space!: Designing, Defending and Sharing Public Spaces byHadley Dyer and Marc Ngui last year before giving it to my little cousin and Mr. Oldenburg was quoted succinctly: “The adolescent houseguest, I would suggest, is probably the best and quickest test of the vitality of the neighborhood; the visiting teenager in the subdivision soon acts like an animal in a cage. He or she paces, looks unhappy or uncomfortable, and by the second day is putting heavy pressure on the parents to leave. There is no place to which they can escape and join their own kind. There is nothing for them to do on their own.” Even though my little cousin hasn't read Watch This Space!, because she never reads anything I give her, I'm glad she has it because it's an insightful book on the importance of public spaces and it's loaded with bullet-pointed, thought-provoking propositions and infographics, so she she could read it of she felt like it, dyslexic though she is. The Great Good Place is the grown-up version.

Women I've been reading:

I finally finished Robin McKinley's Sunshine and I know safely that I am a person apart because I didn't like it much. I started reading it in October while I was cat sitting for my friend Missie, who loves Robin McKinley and owns all her books. I had to choose between Sunshine and Deerskin, and then I had to choose between the shiny paperback and the ARC, because Missie owns both. I was expecting a rollicking adventure a la Buffy and Spike's relationship, but nothing happens in Sunshine. Three suspenseful days chained to a wall with a vampire an arm's length away, and then Sunshine, or Rae, describes her baking skills full on. Over and over again.  She makes cinnamon rolls.  She drinks tea with her downstairs neighbor, she goes to a used book sale, she surfs the internet. Nothing happens again until halfway through the final battle when she starts killing tens of vampires with no skills or weapons.

Then there are the books I mentioned two blogs ago: Sofia Petrovna, The Wicked and The Just, Dear Enemy and the Kid Table.

I really liked the Kid Table. I liked The Wicked and the Just as well. Both teen books, both teen girls with family conflicts, both trying to find a place in the world, and both bitches. Cecily was a major, hands-down, fully-lacking-in-self-awareness bitch. Ingrid was trying not to be a bitch, but she was a manipulator by nature and she used it. Interesting store. Ingrid's cousin, the newly minted psych major, announced, at a family party, that Ingrid was a psychopath. The psych major's boyfriend, the ubiquitous teen book boyfriend, tousled hair and eye contact, secretly loved Ingrid. They bumped into each other over a year of family gatherings. They flirted. Nothing could happen.  Because Ingrid was not a psychopath.  Or was she?

Cecily was not a psychopath, just a person who believed in the class system. She had eye contact with the wrong boy too, but she needed a husband to have a career as a wife, because that's what you did in the Middle Ages. Up until electricity was invented you really needed an extra woman or two in the household to manage getting enough cooked food on the table and not let the mice take over. Cecily's father moved them to Caernavon in Wales to get a burgage, and the house they moved into came with a sullen, skinny Welsh serving maid. Cecily threw a six month long temper tantrum. She was leaving all the potential husbands behind in England and moving to the back of beyond. England had recently conquered Wales, and they needed English folk to build a walled city and sit around inside it eating better mutton than the locals. Then the crops failed and Cecily was reduced to eating porridge. In The Kid Table, Ingrid was forced to sit at the kid table and eat macaroni and cheese. Both were worthy books. Both had less than satisfying endings. Both read slowly. End of comparison. I just want to say: thank you, The Kid Table and its author, for writing a book about family gatherings that isn't weird or negative. I have an extended family and so does almost everybody I know, but if you watch TV or movies or read anything, you would not know that American adults ever spoke to their siblings. Think about all the Christmas episodes of the TV shows you like and how Christmas dinner is attended by the television family and nobody else at all. How boring would that be in real life? It's nice to read a whole book about family gatherings that are not too exciting but kinda fun, because you get to see your cousins, which is cool because your cousins are nice people who are related to you.

Today I went on a four mile walk with my iPod and listened to The Indiscreet Letter by Eleanor Hallowell Abbott. I was pretty excited because an !indiscreet letter!, that could be risque. You could end up dropping your handkerchief and a gentleman who has not yet been introduced to you could pick it up, if you go down the path that indiscreet letters take you. It was an unusual book. Less plot-driven than anything that would ever be published nowadays, and I'm not sure if that's a bad thing. On the tip-top of the plotless book, you get Jean Webster or Dostoevsky's Poor Folk. There is a beauty to thoughtful, descriptive prose that captures peoples feelings and types, that speaks to universal truths and makes you look at another person with a new eye. And then there's the author who can't quite capture human emotion, and uses adjectives weirdly, and makes you wonder if she's Canadian or something. “More than being absurdly blond and absurdly messy, the Young Electrician had one of those extraordinarily sweet, extraordinarily vital, strangely mysterious, utterly unexplainable masculine faces that fill your senses with an odd, impersonal disquietude, an itching unrest, like the hazy, teasing reminder of some previous existence in a prehistoric cave, or, more tormenting still, with the tingling, psychic prophecy of some amazing emotional experience yet to come.” I don't know what she means. Maybe I have not led a life charmed enough to encounter one of these people, maybe this was a common emotion in 1915, this masculine face that fills you with impersonal disquietude while being extraordinarily vital. If anyone has had this experience, please comment and tell me what happened and why that sentence speaks to the depths of your soul. The Young Electrician doesn't do much in the novel. At one point a small child falls asleep on his lap and he tenderly unbuttons its collar. Then the train stops to shovel on more coal and the Young Electrician picks the child up and carries him outside. When the Young Electrician walked off the train holding the toddler, I thought he might be kidnapping it and that would be the plot of the book, but they just went outside to play in the snow for a bit. What a nice world it must have been when a strange man could carry off your child and you would assume that he'd be back again in a few minutes.

The Young Electrician might have been an archetype, but he wasn't. He did not fall in love with Miss Indiscreet Letter. He had six children at home and supported them on his electrician's salary. Also, fun fact: they had braces in 1915! The traveling salesman mentioned how much it cost to have his brother's child's teeth straightened and the Young Electrician said, “Oh no! $65!” The bulk of The Indiscreet Letter was spent by the traveling salesman telling the Young Electrician and the young aristocratic woman (and indiscreet letter writer) about what a great wife he had. And she did sound great. Then the aristocratic young woman 'fessed up and said she had written an indiscreet letter. A year ago to the day, she was in a horrible train crash where everyone in front of her died and she spent some hours pinned beneath steel and cushions that smelled like the general public had been sitting on them, and she cried. Then the voice of another crash victim, a man's voice, of course, said, “What in creation are you crying about?” She said “I don't think I'm hurt, but I don't like having all these seats and windows piled on top of me,” which seems like a logical and a sufficient reason to cry or pass out, but the man's voice said, “Don't cry,” and he let her hold his hand even though his wrist was broken and told her his name and address and bank account numbers and described all his relatives and told her his deepest darkest secrets to pass the time until the rescue team got to them and she was whisked off to the hospital before she could thank him. She, being rich, went to Tehran to sip cool drinks on a balcony and forget about the horrible wreck, but she couldn't forget that man, so she wrote him an Indiscreet Letter asking him to meet her at the train station in Boston on the anniversary of the train wreck. The traveling salesman and the Young Electrician seemed to think that was a reasonable indiscretion, and so do I.  

Monday, March 11, 2013

Melvin Burgess, My Reading Prowess, Issue Novels

I read one hundred and three books last year. I'm not bragging, I'm just saying I did it, since this is my reading blog. If I'd read fifty books I'd be bragging, but a hundred and three is a little much. You read a hundred and three books and people start to question the quality of your personal relationships. Some of the books were very short, like Shark in School by Patricia Reilly Giff.  I read that during one lunch break. Some of them were quite long like the two books that have been written so far in the King Killer Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss, and I am holding my breath until the third one comes out. However, in the middle of the second book, Wise Man's Fear, Patrick did say that everything is going to go dark and turn out horribly badly for all the characters and everyone else in his world, so maybe the third book in the trilogy will crush my soul when I read it. Maybe everything is rectified in the end. Maybe the third book will turn out to be not so much the end of a trilogy but the coal car of a freight train of novels, each more harrowing than the last. (That's what happened with Game of Thrones.) I will read them all. I will pre-order them. There is a surfeit of books and I'm just scratching the surface of the ones I want to read. Then there are all the tomes and volumes and encyclopedias and libraries of boring stuff that's interesting in principle, like Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and then there's that which I neither want to read nor find interesting, like Debbie Macomber or the entire true crime genre. You might say that you want to read every book in the world, but do you really want to read Degrassi Junior High: Snake, the novelization? I do. I kind of want to order that from someplace other than Amazon. I started watching the Degrassis last year when a good collection came into my store and I actually got through the original series. Snake: the Novel might be good. Not the same way that Anna Karenina is good, but I would predict three hours of pleasantly educational fiction. Two of my favorite books are based on a TV show: Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers and its sequel Better Than Life. Two of the pee-funniest books I have ever read. I also remember reading 90210: The Novelization when I was eleven. I was not allowed to watch Beverly Hills: 90210, you see, but I could read the book. Brenda had a hard time transitioning from Minnesota to Beverly Hills, but by the end of the book everything was fine and she was friends with Kelly.

I read a hundred and three books last year. The full-on best book I read, without question, was Doing It by Melvin Burgess. Realism in fiction. That book oozed sex (not in an icky way). This book has more realistic sex than 50 Shades of Grey, which has no realistic sex. This book has more sex than a Nora Roberts novel, and Nora Roberts has a lot of broad brushstrokes, hazy outline kind of sex. All the adolescent sexual anxiety and hearsay and dry humping are inside of this book and I love it.  Firstly, it's funny. There are some truly funny books out there, but if you're looking for hilarity in your bog-standard fiction you have to read a lot to find it. Or you have to read things that are written to be funny. And those have long gaps between comic moments, which is worse than reading a sad novel with a compelling plot. There's a lot of nerd humor in non-fiction. Asides about black holes and bears and certain kings' proclivities. That's good stuff. But humor and slippery, moist realism all over a novel: yes! And it's a boy book. There is a dearth of humorous fiction for adolescent boys, which makes it hard to recommend books to moms of young boys who have already read Captain Underpants and the Wimpy Kids. Doing It is for youth years older than Wimpy Kid age. Doing It is about three boys in school. Or college. Wherever you are when you're a British teenager in the public school (which is called state school, because private school is called public school, etc.) I don't think they've sat their GCSEs. Dino loves Jackie, Jonathan has a general interest in sex, academically of course, and Ben is having an affair with his teacher. Jonathan is the funny kid, the cut-up, the one with the constant inappropriate hilarity coming on. There's a scene where he makes the fat girl he secretly likes snort-laugh pretending to be Dino's knob. He sprinkles rose petals on his head. He has internal angst like all the characters, but he is always funny when he is talking. Always. Most writers aren't this funny. And the ones who are don't write a character whose role is “funny guy” because it's still too hard. I love this book. It should be given to teenagers.

The problem with Melvin Burgess is his realism. He wrote middle class kids with great personalities and minor sexual disfunction, but after I read Doing It, his latest book, Nicholas Dane, came into work. The problem with Melvin Burgess is his realism. Nicholas Dane is about a teenager, Nicholas Dane, being sexually abused in a British children's home in the '80s. It took me three months to read the first hundred pages and then I read the next few hundred in four days to get it over with quicker. It is not a book that should not exist. Some teenagers have been abused and they need books about themselves, just like everyone else. But for the previously unscathed reader, it's a hard go. I bought Melvin Burgess' first novel, Smack, teens and heroin addiction, but I can't bring myself to read it yet.

So many issue novels nowadays. Thanks, Judy Blume and Paula Danziger. You could't just write about girls pining for dates to the junior prom. You had to throw anorexia into the mix. What if someone wrote a hilarious comic send up of the teen issue genre but it was lost for decades until I stumbled upon it while looking for Rumer Goden chapter books at the downtown library? It All Began with Jane Eyre or the Secret Life of Franny Greenwald, how can you poke fun at relatable puberty novels? With ease? Okay. I read better YA books last year, like Hilary McKay's Casson Family books and the aforementioned Rumer Godens: Miss Happiness and Miss Flower and Little Plum, but It All Began With Jane Eyre stands out for comic irreverence. The titular Franny Dillman is swooning over Mr. Rochester with a bag of chips in her closet, flashlighted of course, when her mother bursts in and tells her that she spends too much time eating junk food and reading and mom's going out briefly. Half an hour later, mom comes back with the groceries and three novels that the woman at the bookstore recommended about “problems facing girls your age.” Franny Dillamn, ever a reader, reads a book about anorexia, a book about a girl who has sex with her boyfriend, and a book about a girl who has an affair with an older man that leads to an abortion. Armed with this new information about contemporary adolescence, Franny becomes convinced that her high school sister's best friend is pregnant. But who is the father? She needs a bosom friend to confide in, but neither of her own two best friends really grok these modern sex problems, so she tells her sister's best friend's brother and makes him come spying with her outside the women's health center downtown. Older sister and best friend get wind of their plans to go to the women's health center, without realizing that they're going there to spy on themselves. Franny hides behind a wall, spots them lurking in the bushes, and hilarity ensues.

Because I read a lot of YA.

I was going to read 100 books in 2012 and then stop and spend a week or two knitting or reading magazines or whatever non-readers do, but the hundredth book I read was The Bird's Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggin of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm fame. I couldn't read that piteously Victorian thing on December 23rd and call that the end of reading for slightly over a week. So I read on.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Nick Hornby, Jean Webster, Graham Greene, Lydia Chukovskaya and all that.

I've decided to start a book blog for two reasons. One is because I read Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby last year and it was a really keen idea. Secondly, because I almost never have enough to say about a single book, or if I do, I forget what it was as I'm writing the Amazon review and anyway, how much time can one spend creating a well-written Amazon review? It's Amazon. Sometimes it's Goodreads, but the point stands. Commenting into the void is not a useful forum for self expression. (Irony noted.)  If there are only two or three reviews up, and if I'm the first review, woo hoo, then it's fun. But, oh, my opinion on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is worth less than a single drop of rain on the ocean. (Goblet of Fire is fantastic, as everyone knows, except the intentional Harry Potter haters, who do it to stand out. But I can appreciate a hatred of something universally acclaimed as long as it's in earnest. Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight are two easy targets. I personally dislike the general style of Impressionism. I busted out laughing at an exihibit of Degas last year, because it was all thinly veiled naughtiness. Not even thinly veiled. Or naughty. But really. Really, Mr. Degas. Thirty sketches of prostitutes looking fancy and then thirty full on cleanly presented renditions of women getting out of the bath. Women emerging from the bath. For serious. Rows and rows of paintings of women bending over as they exited the bath. It was Art and I started giggling.)

Also, by the way, I'm boycotting Amazon. I'm not forcing that choice on other people and I still reference them a million times a day and when I'm bored at work I read reviews, because we're not meant to surf just anywhere on the interweb, but Amazon is a professional tool. I work in at a chain used bookstore. Guess which one. But Amazon treats its workers badly and they seem be attempting to establish a monopoly on Shopping, so boo!.

Back to Nick Hornby. In Shakespeare Wrote for Money (and several other collections of Nick Hornby's column from Believer magazine, none of which I've read) Nick Hornby starts with two lists -Books I Bought- and -Books I Read-. He is selective about which books he lists, there are no more than five in each column unless he's on a shopping spree. (Authors, like bookstore employees, get poodles of freebie books, on the off chance that they will read them and recommend them to the civilians. So presumably Nick Hornby has books that he neither wants nor cares about arriving in his mailbox every day, and he only occasionally mentions them in his column. At the other end of the book-digestive tract, a used bookstore employee like myself, has a free-flowing tap of books headed for the mulcher to grab and do with as I will. But then I end up with piles of middling books all over my house . Then there are the books that I need to seek out and buy. And the books that other people recommend or give me. So on recycling day, I end up staring at books and making mental calculations that I might kinda wanna read this book in the future maybe, but not enough to pick it up and carry it downstairs to my stash shelf. Books I took home for free yesterday: The Ultralight Backpacking Book by Ryel Kestenbaum and the Backpacker magazine More Backcountry Cooking book. By design, neither of them are the kind of books that you sit down and read for five hours and feel completed by. More Backcountry Cooking might be handy. I'm a solo hiker and I need more savory food ideas. So hopefully the existence of More Backcountry Cooking on my hiking book shelf will inspire me to borrow my aunt's food dehydrator and dry some vegetables before May 12th. The Ultralight Backpacking Book could be read cover to cover, but I probably won't do that because I feel that ultralight backpacking is an exercise in shopping more than it is a form of hiking. I was flipping through that book a while ago, before it didn't sell off the shelf and I nabbed it, and I flipped open at the part where Mr. Kestenbaum says that he does not take a book when hiking and saves five ounces of pack-weight that way. He says that after he gave up bringing books along on a hike, he used to dread the four or five hours between getting into his campsite and going to bed, but he learned to be still or be one with nature or something like that and his pack weighs five ounces less. (He also cuts all the straps off his pack and saws his toothbrush in half, saving himself another five ounces. That's an ultralight thing.) I would rather bring a book. Although I learned this summer that that the book you bring on a solo hike should not be the cute little Penguin chapbook of Thornstein Veblen's Conspicous Consumption.

Yesterday when I grabbed the two hiking books, I did not want to add any more chapter books to my life because I already have four books going and two on audio. Thankfully, this morning I finished one. A chilling tale of Stalinist Russia by Lydia Chukovskaya called Sofia Petrovna. Are there any tales of Stalinist Russia that aren't chilling? (Besides the boring Socialist Realist ones that Stalin approved of?) Sofia Petrovna, the book, is about Sofia Petrovna, the citizen. She's a metaphor for Soviet society; the author was pretty adamant about that in the afterword. As a piece of dissident literature, Sofia Petrovna was carried out of the USSR and into Western Europe in the '60s, where it was published as The Empty House, and Lydia Chukovskaya didn't like that one bit. Sofia Petrovna is a metaphor for the ailments of a society gone mad and not a book about the whole everyone-was-arrested-and-she-is-all-alone-now thing, evidently. So, one reading and not the other. Still the afterword was better than the forward that Graham Greene wrote for The Third Man. I read that a couple weeks ago and it was full of spoilers. Evidently, Graham Greene assumed that everyone was so well acquainted with his work that he could reveal a character's death in the forward and not ruin the ending. Or maybe he assumed they'd seen the movie first. Graham Greene wrote The Third Man just to have a book to base the screenplay off of and my co-worker, whose literary tastes I strongly respect even though he's rocking a mustache, assures me that The Third Man is an incredible movie, Orson Welles' lost film, great whodunit, etc. I read The Third Man because I read Pierre Bayard's fantastic book How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read quite a while ago, and in that book he recounts a humorous scene from The Third Man. The protagonist (whose name I've already forgotten) is mistaken for a famous author by the Austrian liaison for cultural affairs, who brings him to an evening of the Austro-British Literary Circle to discuss the modern novel and answer reader questions. Mr. Protagonist goes on about his love for Zane Grey , and the Austrian cultural liaison watches in horror as all the bespectacled readers listen to him describe, the shame!, popular fiction. Turns out this is the only funny scene in The Third Man and the rest of it is a conspiracy thing.

What's funny all the time, and I keep laughing really hard, are Jean Webster's books. My friend Missie said she'd heard that Daddy-Long-Legs was a good book so I downloaded it off Librivox and listened to it nearly all the way through while playing Tetris. (I'm hooked on Librivox and Tetris right now.) In letters, orphan Jerusha Abbott tells about her college experiences to an anonymous benefactor that she calls Daddy-Long-Legs, he being anonymous. There's nothing preposterous, she's a high-spirited young woman with suffragist leanings, “Oh, I tell you daddy. We we women get our rights, you men will have to look alive to keep yours.” She knows nothing about he man but that he is tall, has sent two boys from her orphanage to college, and on the strength of her comic essay about washing day at the orphanage, he intends to send her to college too. She tells him stories. She summers on a farm with an old Methodist couple of his acquaintance, “Some of the farmers around here have separators, but we don't care for these new-fashioned ideas.” Letters are long, quick updates, terse, short, slow, and funny. The sequel, which I'm listening to right now, is about her Jerusha's roommate taking over the orphanage. You can see the surprise ending coming a mile off, but it doesn't matter. It would be disappointing if it didn't end tidily, wouldn't it? Scottish doctor indeed. As for other books I'm reading: The Kids' Table by Andrea Seigel, which I put aside because I want to finish The Wicked and The Just first. The Wicked and The Just by J. Anderson Coates, which I want to read before I really get into The Kids' Table. I have no idea where The Wicked and The Just is going. I'm on page 200-something and anything could happen. All I know is that the oppression of Wales continues. And then I'm reading Flashman by George McDonald Fraser, which is the most casually misogynistic thing I've ever read, and less swashbuckling than I thought it would be so far. And I've got Medieval Europe, Crisis and Renewal from the Great Courses going in the car. I have an overwhelm-ment of books as usual. Hence, the blog. Read and enjoy.