Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Miscellany

Bad sex, Romans, fanfiction, Americans abroad, creepy dolls, rhetoric. I blog you it all.

I picked up Worst Laid Plans: When Bad Sex Happens to Good People while I was weeding clearance at work, and I opened it and read some and it was very funny, so I read more in the break room later on, and it was still very funny, so I took it home to avoid reading a sex book in front of all my co-workers. Worst Laid Plans is more consistently funny than any other book, and nearly all the contributors are hilarious. Unlike, say, a collection of a travel essayists, all the slutty New York and L.A. writer-comedian-actors who contributed to this book can write well and have loads of experience with the topic in question.

"Don't use butter as lube, guys."
"Instead of someone saying, 'Hello, Sailor," I'd rather he say, 'Hello, Michael Feldman wearing a sailor suit he bought on eBay.'"
"And then he went up on me."

That last is from a story about a man who finds a hookup on Craigslist and doesn't cancel when the man turns out to be a midget, because he doesn't want to discriminate like that. There is also a story about a man who thinks he is gay because he enjoys opera, wine, and such, and a high school student whose finger is severed under circumstances. Also, "That Time I Accidentally Molested a Girl with a Mustache," farting rapist, masochist ignored. Of course, frequent readers of my blog know what happens to people who have sex: Their relatives forgive them on their deathbeds and then they die.

Agricola by Tacitus was my first foray into the Classical authors, and I felt very smart all day because had I managed to read an ancient text while I was tidying up on Saturday morning. It was only one and a half hours on audio, and quite simple to understand. Agricola was Tacitus' father-in-law and the Roman governor who finally got a solid grip on the British Isles. Tacitus implies that previous Roman governors of the UK managed things poorly and only controlled the ports. Agricola, using moderation when prudent and brute force when necessary, subdued the Britons, and was moderate in his personal habits as befitting a Stoic. He never tooted his own horn. Tacitus says he was almost relieved that Agricola did not live to see the reign of Caligula. Aren't we all?

Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl has already been acclaimed by poodles of other people as one of the best new adult books of 2013 and she fucking deserves it. This book made me so happy and nostalgic for the heady pre-Deathly Hallows days of the 2000s when the internet was a lot more interesting. Cather is the internet-famous author of an alternate-ending tome of the Simon Snow series, which is not Harry Potter wink wink nudge nudge, and she manages to make no friends her first month as a freshman at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, until her roommate realizes that Cath's only been eating power bars for said month and takes her under a wing in conjunction with roommate's ex-boyfriend Levi, who has beautiful eyes. This book killed me, and I had it on audio so I had to walk around with my iPod on for several days to finish it. Brilliant voice performances, by the way.

The Daily Mail is gross and pervily misogynistic, from what I understand, and it was just as wretchedly scandalous in the hot summer weeks leading up to World War I in Earl Derr Biggers' The Agony Column, but instead of nip slips, the Daily Mail had a Missed Connections (or "agony column" in British): "I saw you, in white with a scarlet ribbon, alight from the omnibus at Piccadilly and glance playfully at me. Write if your heart went out to this gentleman in a pince-nez," and you could pay five pence a word to have this put in the newspaper and scandalize all of London with your boldness. The Agony Column is all about this shocking lack of introductions. I highly recommend it. The protagonist is a young man, an American in London on business, who is reading the agony column in the dining room at the Carleton one morning when a beautiful young woman and her father come in and sit down to breakfast. The young lady produces her Daily Mail and laughs at a puckish entry in the column of our discussion and her father wonders aloud why she reads that nonsense. Enchanted, the young man goes back to his lodgings and writes a notice to be placed in the agony column. And the woman responds! She writes, via the Mail, to say that she would not normally speak to a gentleman in this way but his note was so intriguing and she is a lover of intrigue. He has seven days to write seven letters proving his worth. He writes, from his lodgings on Adelphi Terrace with the magnificent garden, about his travel before he arrived in London, to Interlachen, where he had met an unusually gregarious young Englishman who insisted on writing a letter of introduction to his cousin, and how that cousin, a colonel in the Indian Army clomped about upstairs as our young man sits writing the letter to the mysterious young lady, when he hears voices and a struggle. He races upstairs to find the man murdered. This cousin is not what he seemed. Nothing is what it seems. Or is it? In seven days, in seven letters, he must tell the young lady about the web of suspicion, intrigue and international mischief that surrounds him as England descends into war. Stellar Librivox audio recording as well.

Doll Bones, by the author of the Spiderwick Chronicles who is Holly Black, is a good audiobook but a fantastic book. Doll Bones rocks a line on early puberty without getting too enthusiastic about the coming changes or promising that everything will stay the same forever. It has a male protagonist and manages to keep itself something that boys will read while not propounding a narrow definition of masculinity. And there's a china doll made of the bones of a murdered girl with the rest of the ashes tucked into a small sack in her innards. Plus some proper swashbuckling adventure. The kids even steal a sailboat. This is good stuff. Well done, Holly Black. Very creepy and very well told.

As I mentioned before, I listened to Agricola on audiobook in a morning and was very proud of myself because I can comprehend Ancient Roman Language once it's translated into modern English and read to me. So I downloaded Phaedrus, which seems to be one of Plato's less exciting dialogues. I asked Sammie about it and she said The Symposium was her favorite so I might try that next. Really, I'm working up the The Republic.

Phaedrus is a trip and a half. I plan on reading about it later because that will elucidate some points, but for now Phaedrus is three or four fairly disjointed segments read by an old man from Hazelmere, Surrey who can "aah" and chuckle just like Socrates. Worth listening to for that reason alone. The premise is that Socrates and Phaedrus go for a walk beyond the wall of Athens and Phaedrus brings an argument of Lycius' and reads allowed this text saying that the non-lover is better than the lover because the lover is irrational (to sum up forty five minutes in one word). Phaedrus wants Socrates to comment on this text and Socrates gives his own speech, stating that the lover is selfish and the non-lover superior. They discuss the relative merits of Lycius' written and Socrates' off-the cuff arguments, and then Socrates exclaims that he has sinned against the gods, Eros being the god of love, and gives a colorful defense of love, the thrust of which is that each soul looks on their lover as an image of their preferred god (e.g. Zeus, Hera, Dionysus) and that love is therefore a manifestation of a remembered communion with heaven. Socrates illustrates his points with souls as chariots, and horses of good and evil, and angels spinning, and six types of madness, and peoples' sojourns in heavens all through his speech. Then Socrates says, "Now why was Lycius' speech wrong?" and he goes through and explains where Lycius fails in his rhetoric, which is the highest of all arts and comprises the last bit of Phaedrus.

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