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06/21/2015

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Who wrote this?

I have always meant to read this guy

Paul.

O really - I was guessing Craig! I knew it could not be an American because there is no school-leaving History exam, that I know of.

I am interested that historians don't like historical novels as a gate way to history! I once lent Lucy Becket's novel about the dissolution of an English Cistercian monastery to a Cambridge church history don. He gave it back to me unread, with a wry smile, a year later. He could not force himself to read it. To me, a theologian, that 'is' history!

My class read a play by Vaclav Havel last semester. They knew he had lived 'under communism' but that was the extent of it.

Dang, I did it again--forgot to include the byline. Will fix right now.

Someone should do Lucy Becket in this series. Just sayin'.

I had never heard of this writer but I'd definitely like to try the detective stories.

Had not heard of Lucy Becket either.

Go right ahead, Robert.

I gave away my copy of The Time Before You Die and that's the only thing I had.

AMDG

I've only read Postcard from the Volcano, so I'm probably not qualified. I did meet LB once at Notre Dame. We had a nice conversation over dinner at the Center for Ethics and Culture conference. I like her views on education.

Interview of Becket.

Well, you can read more. I've read every book I've written about in the two months before I wrote about them.

AMDG

Used Skvorecky books seem plentiful on Amazon. I definitely want to read some.

AMDG

test

No way.

If you have to take a test to be on this blog, I'm outta here.

That is an interesting point that Paul brings up at the end about historical fiction versus history and as a Historian it makes sense that his sensibilities (and gritted teeth) fall toward the latter. Of course it is a question of taste in reading, and style in reading I suppose. I rarely read anything non-fiction if I can help it, but I did recently read one of those Erik Larson books that are quite popular and enjoyed it a lot. He may not be very high-brow in History circles. But the larger question is: What is fiction? All non-fiction, even that which is scrupulously researched, is written with the perspective of the author. A good writer of historical fiction should be doing that same research, but perhaps write in such a way that more main-stream readers enjoy? With all of that said, one of the few other non-fiction history books I have read in recent years is the McCullough one on John Adams, and it was so good it might make my top-ten of best I've ever read, the other 9 being fiction, of course.

That was a great book.

AMDG

Good literary fiction should of course represent humanity in an even "truer" way than non-fiction does. As the example of Skvorecky's life experience which makes his fiction valuable for the reader; as Paul states.

"As a historian I am wary of fiction as a gateway to historical understanding (I grit my teeth when I see novels recommended to homeschoolers as part of their History curriculum)"

I can understand this from the POV of a historian. But as a non-historian who certainly didn't enjoy learning about history that much at school, I do enjoy historical novels and picking up at least *some* history with it. Also, after reading such a novel, I'm inclined to read a little more about the people or events of that time and place.

The thing is that you frequently can't trust historical fiction. If you know what really happened, or as close to it as you can figure out, the fiction can make it come alive, but you can get hold of a lot of bad stuff.

I guess all that conversation about the latest Henry VIII miniseries is a case in point.

AMDG

My next authors post will be about this in a way.

AMDG

Janet, how did you know it was me before the name went up?

I should perhaps clarify that I really like historical fiction, I'm just aware (perhaps hyper-aware) of its limitations as history. I really enjoy it, as fiction, when the historical part is not painfully inaccurate.

The other day, Maclin said that you had sent him a post. I think I would have known anyway. This sentence for example: Had I anticipated this, I would not so lightly have lent out or given away the paperbacks I had bought. It's just your turn of phrase.

AMDG

I was wondering whether the explanation was the "comment style" that somebody was discussing the other day, or something more direct.

Well, I pretty much figure that most of us don't know the difference between the Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution.

AMDG

The one thing I find a little repetitive in Skvorecky's work is that a lot of his characters, a lot of the time, are motivated by sexual attractions and desires (rather than by the desire to build a socialist future that they are supposed to be motivated by). There's nothing obscene, but after a while it does become a little eye-rolling.

And you have a son that's young enough and old enough to be quizzed. That lets out everyone but Robert and you I think.

AMDG

It's a shame that James Michener didn't have time to get to Prague! :D

When you start your books with a history of the area from the time the first living cell appeared there, you don't have time to write a lot of books.

AMDG

Totally off topic, and I feel a little selfish asking when there are so many worthier causes, but I was diagnosed with Bell's palsy today and would appreciate prayers for a full recovery.

On the bright side, I get to wear an eye-patch and look like a pirate.

Will do.

AMDG

I've known two people who had Bell's palsy and it's a very scary thing when it happens, so don't feel at all selfish asking for prayers. They recovered fully -- will pray that you do, too.

"most of us don't know the difference between the Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution."

[raises hand excitedly] I do! I do!

Well, at least I think I do. I'll check.

I can't imagine not knowing that. It must have been much more real to Europeans than Americans.

Paul I googled Bells Palsey and was relieved to see that it says it often lasts just a few weeks. I hope you make a swift recovery. I shall certainly pray for you on the way to Santiago.

Yes, it is. Or maybe I'm just ignorant.

Do you know about the Battle of Bull Run?

I know YOU do, Maclin, you show off.

AMDG

Now I'm thinking that Grumpy lived in the US a lot and Paul just taught a class on Am. Lit., so they may make me look even more ignorant than before.

AMDG

Not very much. I think Chief Sitting Bull was there, and Custer. Maybe Custer took his last stand there? I'm not sure.

Oh good. That's completely wrong. ;-)

AMDG

Heck. I remember the Prague Spring and I was only nine years old. Huntley and Brinkley and all that.

Well, I freely admit it's ignorant not to have heard of this Bull Run thing. It's a piece of knowledge which someone who lives in America should have.

But to me, anyhow, the Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution are not pieces of knowledge. It's not stuff one should know of. It's things which we lived through. We lived through the Velvet revolution at the end of the 1980s. I was a child and Janet was a teenager during the Prague Spring, but everyone talked about it.

Nobody around me talked about it.

AMDG

It's probably because I was teenager during the Prague Spring--I was 17--that I don't remember it. I was just not very interested in what was going on in the world at the time. What was going on in the South in 1968 was the Civil Rights Movement. That completely dominated the news as far as I can remember, and it affected our lives every day. It was around that time that Martin Luther King was assassinated 10 miles from my home.

AMDG

As for the Velvet Revolution, I remember the fall of the Berlin Wall very well, and that there had been other things happening in Eastern Europe before that, but not that name. It was the year I began homeschooling my three older kids. I had a two year old and I was working and completely overwhelmed. I couldn't even deal with what was going on in my house.

AMDG

I wasn't 100% sure that the term "Prague Spring" was attached to it, but I very much remember the 1968 events in Czechoslovokia. I was a bit older than you, though, Janet (still am, interestingly)--in college. Oddly, if you had mentioned the name Dubček instead of Prague Spring, I would have been 100% sure.

I have a friend who used to say that the apocalypse actually happened in 1968. Maybe that's when it officially began.

And Paul, one of my children had Bell's Palsy once. It went away as mysteriously as it appeared. I can't remember how long it lasted but I don't think it was more than a few months, maybe much less. Anyway, I'll say a prayer for you.

And Grumpy, Custer did fight at Bull Run, that just wasn't his big doings.

AMDG

And that couple of years difference really makes a difference at that age. There's a huge gulf between the last semester of high school and the end of your sophomore year of college.

The other thing that I was involved in that year was Democratic politics--campaigning for McCarthy.

AMDG

And really y'all, I know I am still silly sometimes, but I don't think you can comprehend the depth, height, and breadth of my complete ditzy-ness in my late teens and into my early 20s. It was only motherhood that turned me around a bit.

AMDG

Oh, and stupid me, Vietnam. In the spring of 1968, the brother of a girl in my class was killed in Vietnam. It shook me to my core. So, aside from race, that's what people were talking about around me.

AMDG

"The thing is that you frequently can't trust historical fiction. If you know what really happened, or as close to it as you can figure out, the fiction can make it come alive, but you can get hold of a lot of bad stuff."

Yes, that's very true.

"Well, I pretty much figure that most of us don't know the difference between the Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution."

I certainly didn't. *Hangs head in shame*

"The one thing I find a little repetitive in Skvorecky's work is that a lot of his characters, a lot of the time, are motivated by sexual attractions and desires (rather than by the desire to build a socialist future that they are supposed to be motivated by). There's nothing obscene, but after a while it does become a little eye-rolling."

I can imagine. That kind of thing gets on my nerves after a while, unless it's essential to the story.

I'll certainly pray for you, Paul. I hope you at least enjoy the eye patch. Arrrrr!

The velvet revolution was in 1989

1968 was also the year Robert Kennedy was assassinated, just two months after Martin Luther King. So much going on in the U.S. at that time, it's sort of a wonder we remember as much about the Prague Spring as we do.

I know. That's when I was first homeschooling and couldn't look up from motherhood long enough to figure out what was going on in the world.

The other stuff was the year of the Prague Spring.

AMDG

Speaking of historical fiction: historical movies and TV shows are probably worse. Well, maybe not worse, but at least as bad. I don't know how many times I've heard someone say about something set in the past that "It really makes you see..." something or other about the way things were then, when it really did no such thing, and may well have been a consciously crafted piece of propaganda. I have no doubt there are people now going around talking about how Wolf Hall (novel or tv series) makes you see what Thomas More was really like.

Bull Run was one of the chapters in a volume of Famous Battles I was given when I was 10 or 11. I don't remember anything about it except that there was more than one and it's a Civil War thing. And something about railways. Was it the first battle where soldiers arrived at the battlefield by train? (Which would explain it being in a volume otherwise dedicated to Europe and the British Empire. No, that's not quite true either: Gettysburg and Little Big Horn were in there too.)

There certainly are people going around talking about how Wolf Hall makes you see what Thomas More was really like. I even have students who can't tell Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More apart (Which one was the Renaissance humanist? Which one was a martyr? Which was a ruthless careerist? Which of them had hundreds of people killed?)

You get used to the idea that being a heresy hunter is a bit of a blot on More's record, so even in my own case, as a student of the period, it brought me up short when Peter Marshall pointed out in a review of Wolf Hall that six people were executed as heretics while More was chancellor, and he personally condemned three of them. When you set that against the hundreds who died in the decade afterwards, as the Reformation was enforced, you wonder what it is about Cromwell that Hilary Mantel finds so much more attractive. I haven't read the books or seen the TV show, but from all I've heard it's hard not to think she's just setting him up as an anti-More, irrespective of historical accuracy.

Thanks for the prayers. I'm told that in 85%of cases the paralysis passes as suddenly as it came, leaving no lasting effects. I just don't want to be in the 15%.

I just listened last night to that version of Abraham, Martin, and John that has the audio snippets from the assassinations of the Kennedys and King. It is very intense. I can't believe we listened to that on top 40 radio. 1968 was quite the year. Don't forget Paris.

Just a couple of years ago, I was driving home on a very busy street when that song came on the radio and I found myself sobbing. For me 1968 was the end of my youth in a way--at least that undaunted optimism of youth--and the beginning of a very dark period. However, eventually my old optimistic but cynical self re-emerged.

AMDG

The really great historical novelists are among the very greatest novelists (Scott, Manzoni, Undset, Tolstoy). But their works are still novels, not histories.

As El Gaucho pointed out above, though, Skvorecky's writing about 1968 is not historical fiction: it's what he lived through, what he knows. It's when he's writing about Dvorak in New York, or the American Civil War, that he's writing historical fiction.

"For me 1968 was the end of my youth in a way--at least that undaunted optimism of youth--and the beginning of a very dark period."

I would not press the argument for it very hard, but I suspect--won't quite say believe--that there is some sort of group psyche that passes through distinct phases of mood and energy. They're too obscure and diffuse to map with any precision. But the period 1968-1970 certainly seemed to be some such thing. It was as if a wave crested and broke then. By 1971 things had changed in a very discernible way. Most notably to me, most of the energy of the leftist/hippie youth movement dissipated, seemingly almost overnight.

"from all I've heard it's hard not to think [Mantel]'s just setting [Crowell] up as an anti-More, irrespective of historical accuracy."

It was the late Christopher Hitchens who persuaded me that Mantel is not a writer I want to bother with. Reviewing Wolf Hall, he said more or less that, except of course that he considered Mantel to be correcting the record. I was not surprised that he was enthusiastically hostile to More. What did surprise me was that he seemed to admire Cromwell precisely as a "ruthless careerist", a pure pragmatist, representing this as a happy step toward the Modern World.

Mac, your comment before last prompts me to ask whether you're still working on your memoir. I would like to read it.

I liked some of Mantels earlier books and found this development disappointing.

Well, those three assasinations within 5 years and two very close together were horrible--Bobby Kennedy's was crushing. And then if you were Catholic, it was worse, the Kennedys were Catholic and Pope John XXIII, who was a fountain of optimism, died that spring also.

But yes, the music of that period makes it very obvious.

AMDG

How 1968 ended.

that's beautiful Robert

"I even have students who can't tell Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More apart (Which one was the Renaissance humanist? Which one was a martyr? Which was a ruthless careerist? Which of them had hundreds of people killed?)"

Well, they were both called Thomas, so that's gotta be confusing.

True. Throw Thomas Cranmer in there and it's an impossible tangle. ;-)

That is beautiful Robert.

AMDG

Yes, it is. I remember that, too. Somehow those last three words become very powerful.

Paul, I can't honestly say that I am working on the memoir, but I haven't abandoned it. I expect to get going in earnest on it later this year, or at the latest the beginning of the next. If things go as planned, I'll be fully retired from my job as of January 1, and will be able to put serious work into it. Glad to hear you're interested.

that's good news, Mac -- looking forward to it.

I'm not a huge fan of historical novels but I've read a few. A couple good ones that come immediately to mind are Lampedusa's The Leopard and Joseph Roth's The Radetzky March.

Gorgeous 1968 Christmas Eve video.

It should have moved me to a moment or two of quiet awe, but I couldn't help wondering if it would be possible for astronauts to read from Genesis today, assuming they'd even want to, of course. Well, I'd forgotten, or just never knew, that the atheist activist Madalyn Murray O'Hair actually brought a lawsuit against NASA over that reading. It was dismissed by a U.S. district court then, but today, who knows what would happen.

Yes, a lovely video.

Paul look at my fb for something relevant to your post!

Heading for Europe today - send prayer requests to my Facebook messenger

I hate saying goodbye to Stan! Going to pack the rucksack now, only he's on my lap..

happy and successful tramping, Grumpy.

If you get up, he'll probably go sit on the rucksack.

Have a blessed pilgrimage, Grumpy.

The post that Grumpy refers to is George Weigel recommending Skvorecky's Dvorak in Love as summer reading. Nice bit of synchronicity (is that the word I want?)

Safe journey Grumpy!

Pleasant journey, Grumpy!

Prayers for you, Paul. If it's any consolation, I have a friend who had it and recovered completely.

Your comment, Rob, caused me to notice Marianne's last one, which I had missed.

Now that you mention it, Marianne, I think I vaguely remembered that O'Hair lawsuit. Or maybe I just remember that she was always doing stuff like that. What a very unpleasant person she was.

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