Saturday, September 05, 2020

Summer Reading

 This has been a weird summer, for me as it has for most. I have read more than I first thought. I catalog my books only after they have been read, and this is the stack since early summer.

Solovyov and Larionov by Eugene Vodolozkin. Of course he is best known, at least in Orthodox circles, for Laurus. This is his first novel, from about 11 years ago. Vodolozkin is a good storyteller, and this particular tale jumps back and forth between immediate post-Revolution Russia and early post-Soviet Russia. I recommend it, but if you are looking for another Laurus, this is not that. I look forward to reading more from Vodolozkin.

The Quest for Shakespeare by Joseph Pearce. The thrust of this work is the apparent recusant Catholicism of William Shakespeare, hiding in plain sight, you might say. The author certainly lays out a convincing case for it. Pearce’s own story is an interesting one; starting out as an English skinhead and then converting to Catholicism. He is a prolific writer of Catholic polemics, as well as a popular speaker in traditionalist circles. His best works seem to focus on English literary figures who converted to Catholicism, such as Literary Converts.

Too Much is Never Enough by Mary L. Trump. This is not the sort of book I usually buy and I doubt that it will remain in my library. But, I am glad I read it. Ms. Trump does not tell me anything about the kind of person DJT is that I did not already know, or anything that should not be perfectly obvious to anyone who views his actions and words with open eyes. I know what Trump is. I was curious to learn how he got that way. The family is, charitably speaking, grotesque. The women come off no better than the men. By the time he was 8 to 10 years old, the die was already cast for DJT; out of control with a father who laughed at every outrage, humored any whim, funded any debacle. Trumpists dismiss this as the work of a disgruntled heir and a homage to her father against the rest of the family. I will just say that first, she has ample reason to be disgruntled, and second, even her father does not come across all that sympathetically.

Beyond the Dreams of Avarice by Russell Kirk. I enjoy reading Kirk, and this collection of essays did not disappoint. He is credited with being the founder of modern American Conservatism, providing an intellectual foundation to traditionalist thought. I think History will be kind to Kirk in a way that it will not be, for example, to William F. Buckley. He has been gone about 26 years, I think, and long before that time he was something of a Voice in the Wilderness. against what the Conservative Movement was becoming. Those Americans who wear the label Conservative today would be largely unrecognizable to Kirk.

Monsieur Ouine by George Bernanos. Ugh. In the type of journals and sites I visit, Bernanos, said to be one of the great French Catholic writers, is occasionally mentioned as the sort of author who writes the sort of books that someone like me would tend to read. He claimed that this was his greatest novel. I determined that I would finish the thing; mostly dialogue, between which characters I was never really sure. A young boy was killed. An old man died. A floozy woman’s carriage turned over–why and exactly how, I was never able to determine. I was no better informed once I finished than when I began.

Malicroix by Henri Bosco. This author redeems French literature from his contemporary, Bernanos. He writes a compelling, somewhat macabre, and ultimately satisfying read, set in the rural South of France. Bosco has something to say, and I will be looking for other of his works.

Bearings & Distances by Glen Arbery. I rarely read contemporary fiction. I made an exception for Arbery, a professor at a Catholic college in Wyoming, I believe. I was intrigued to read this well received work, it as it had a land surveying angle, the profession in which I spent 35 years. He also sets the story in the South, where politeness, hospitality and sweet tea often provide a thin protective veneer over the mayhem, murder and madness just underneath. Arbery tells a good story, with important lessons about the persistence of family and faith in spite of it all.

Old House of Fear by Russell Kirk. In the early 1960’s, Kirk wrote three novels, today largely unknown. This is the second one I have read. The first was set in post-colonial sub-Saharan Africa, while the setting for this one is on the desolate outermost island in the Hebredes. If he had stayed with writing novels, I think he would be better known today than he is now. These are remarkable stories well told. For many years I have scribbled down memorable passages I read along the way, but they are rarely dialogue from novels. No so with Kirk’s work. Of course his philosophy comes through, as you would expect. But he never beats you over the head with it; he never lets it get in the way of a good story. I will be looking for that third novel, but they are a bit hard to find.

Lost Property: Memoirs and Confessions of a Bad Boy by Ben Sonnenberg. Let’s be clear about this: Sonnenberg is not a sympathetic character. He is urbane, hedonistic, well-fixed, well-read, well-traveled and all that. But there is an emptiness to it all. He knows he is a snot and couldn’t care less. But there is a brutal honesty to his writing; so sharp, so clever, so incisive, that you really can’t put it down.

Proceedings of the Anthony Powell Society Conference, 31 August – 2 September 2018, Merton College Oxford. I did actually read this. The proceedings were edited by longtime friend, Dr. Keith Marshall and the subject was “Anthony Powell and the Visual Arts.” For Powellians, all the papers were certainly worthwhile, but the real treasure was the 78 pages of color plates in the center of the volume. Well done, Keith!

The Crisis in Western Education by Christopher Dawson. My two favorite 20th-Century historians were Sir Steven Runciman and Christopher Dawson, two very different individuals, to be sure. Given enough time, I hope to read everything that each of them published. This 1961 work has been reissued in recent years. Dawson is hardly popular today, but his work on the nature, development and transmission of a culture have stood the test of time, and, in light of contemporary events, have proved to be quite prescient.