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Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise

The "About" page on this blog says that it's "Books and music, mostly." So what could be more appropriate here than a book about music? I don't actually read very many of those, and maybe I should. This one was certainly worthwhile, to say the least. Only the fact that I don't have anything to compare it to keeps me from saying that it's essential for anyone interested in modern classical music. On second thought, I'll say that anyway, with the proviso that I'm not saying it's the only essential.

Subtitled "Listening to the Twentieth Century," and published early in this century, it's a comprehensive and judicious account of the wild journey of music over the past hundred-and-some years. It's the story of both the music itself and those who composed it, in roughly equal parts history and musicology (or, as Peter Schickele used to say "musicalology"). It begins with Richard Strauss conducting Salome in 1906. Not the premiere, which had happened some months earlier, but a performance in Graz (Austria) which was attended by Mahler (and his wife, who certainly had some significance in music), Schoenberg, Berg--and, surprisingly, Puccini. 

Within a few pages Ross has sketched the scene, the personalities, and the cultural situation, then delved into the work itself, from overview to musical details. It's done with great skill and clarity. The two paragraphs of musical exposition take you very quickly from a couple of fundamental concepts (the octave, the fifth, the fourth, the third) to something fairly subtle:

The first notes on the clarinet are simply a rising scale, but it is split down the middle: the first half belongs to C-sharp major, the second to G major. This is an unsettling opening for several reasons. First, the notes C-sharp and G are separated by the interval known as the tritone, a half-step narrower than the perfect fifth.... This interval has long caused uneasy vibrations in human ears....

And if you don't have the ear and the training to grasp that, and don't have a recording of Salome handy, there's a web site accompanying the book which has audio excerpts illustrating many (or all?) of the musical examples considered in detail in the text. (Click here to hear the music described above.)

Ross is a vivid, clear, and personable writer--qualities which are by no means inextricably associated with music criticism. You feel like you're listening to a very good teacher, the sort who knows his subject deeply and can communicate it effectively.

And he has another quality which I value in anyone who opines about music: openness. He seems to have no strong stake in the argument between modernist and anti-modernist camps about the viability of the traditional system of Western music, taking the music on its own terms.

Sometimes I suspect the reality of the music under discussion may not have very good terms of its own--as, for instance, the apparently respectful reference to "R. Murray Schafer's radical music-theater cycle Patria, which can only be performed in the forests and lakes of the Canadian north." I admit to being slightly curious about that. But better to err in the direction of openness than the opposite.

My acquaintance with 20th century music is scattershot (well, so is my acquaintance with almost everything). This book has given me some helpful guidance as to where I might want to direct my attention. 

TheRestIsNoise


Middlemarch

I've seen it claimed that this is the greatest English novel. I don't go in much for the idea of a single greatest achievement in any art, or for that matter in any human endeavor, but I will go as far as agreeing that there are good reasons for making this particular claim. By "English" I would mean not "in the English language" but "by an English writer." Middlemarch is such a different sort of thing from, say, The Sound and the Fury, that the comparison would be inapt. 

I've put off reading Middlemarch for more than forty years, in the face of strong recommendations from people whose opinions I respect, some known personally and some by reputation, because I acquired a prejudice against George Eliot's work when I was a teenager. I can't figure out now exactly where that came from, but I have a vague notion that it had to do with Silas Marner--and yet I don't recall reading it. I have an even vaguer, and now embarrassing, notion that I may not have read the novel at all, but rather a comic book version of it. There was a comic book series called Classics Illustrated when I was growing up, and I read several of them. From what I can remember they were pretty horrible: I'm pretty sure I acquired a somewhat similar prejudice against Jane Eyre from that source, though it didn't stop me from eventually reading and appreciating that novel. 

Perhaps it was just as well that I've only just now read Middlemarch for the first time. I'm not at all sure I would have appreciated it when I was, say, in my twenties, which is when I remember hearing my first recommendation of it (from my late friend Robert W, whom I've mentioned here before). Why now? I've understood for many years that it must actually be a good book and have had in mind to read it. What finally pushed me into picking it up was the fact that the January issue of The New Criterion has an article about it, and I didn't want to read the article without having read the book first.

A few years ago when I reread Moby Dick for the first time since high school I said "It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that I enjoyed every word of this book." The same is true of Middlemarch, or almost; perhaps a bit more of an exaggeration, but only a bit. And that was a surprise. I expected it to be undeniably good, but perhaps a bit stiff or a bit dull at times; I would not have been surprised if it had been somewhat moralistic. The greatest surprise was that Middlemarch is a very funny book. Not comic, in the sense that, say, some of Dickens's characters and incidents are comic, but witty, in a way that strikes me as very feminine: arch, dry, similar to Jane Austen's wit, but to me rather more funny. I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud within the first few chapters, and frequently thereafter. 

For the most part this humor is in the observations of the narrator, not in the characters or the situations. And in general I think it's the authorial voice that sets Middlemarch apart. The characters are alive, the plot is engaging. But the most remarkable aspect of the book, the aspect that had me often pausing in sheer admiration, is the voice of Eliot herself. There seems little warrant for supposing that the narrator is in any major way different from the author.

There are, I grant freely, many gaps in my reading. But I don't know of another novelist who seems to have (or be able to express, which as far as a novel is concerned is the same thing) the psychological acumen of Eliot. Henry James comes to mind, but I haven't read that much of him, and most of it was many years ago, so I can't really judge. Eliot seems acutely attuned to the subtle workings of the psyche, and is able to describe them with great precision. And these are not just phenomena of sensibility, but of motivation, of self-will and self-delusion--the springs of action. It seems almost god-like, and made me think of that remark from St. Paul about the word of God being sharper than a sword, judging the intentions of the heart.

And that touches upon the only thing I would wish to be different about the book. Eliot was a free-thinker of the Victorian type, newly converted from orthodox Christianity by scientific and scholarly challenges of the time. She translated the German skeptic Feuerbach. Despite the presence of several clergymen as major characters--and perhaps revealing of the state of the Church of England at the time--the novel has essentially no vertical dimension. It's all horizontal, all of this world. In a pattern that would become dreary and very, very stale, the only person who seems deeply concerned with Christian faith is an odious hypocrite.

But that's like complaining that Shakespeare is not Dante. Over and over again while reading Middlemarch I thought "this woman is a genius." She doesn't have to be right about everything to deserve that praise. (And clearly she would have been considered a remarkable intellect even if she had never written a word of fiction.) And it's worth mentioning that the book begins and ends with the comparison of its central character, the great- and noble-hearted Dorothea, to St. Teresa (of Avila), and regretting that Dorothea did not have before her the potential field of action that Teresa did. (Elizabeth Seton and Katharine Drexel would have argued with her there.)

I wonder what Eliot really intended in Middlemarch. It's very topical, very specifically placed in a certain time (around 1820, about the time Eliot was born), very concerned with the politics and other developments of that specific period. Did she realize that she was writing for the centuries? 

I'm not bothering with a plot-and-character summary. You can find those anywhere, and this is not a review which might be someone's only information about the novel. I'm only telling you why I liked it so much, and will surely read it again. I liked it in that rare way that makes one wish to have known the author. I can't imagine that I would have been able to hold a conversation with her, but I think I would have loved to listen to her.

If you haven't read it, or if it's been a long time since you did, and you don't already own it, I suggest you get an edition with notes. I read the only one readily available to me, the local library's Modern Library edition, which has no notes, and I felt the need of them on every other page, it seemed. So I found myself constantly picking up my phone or Kindle to look up a word or a reference to some place or thing (and of course sometimes just passing things by and hoping they weren't essential). In the course of deciding which edition to buy for myself, I ran across a great web site, Middlemarch for Book Clubs, which is a sort of orientation, and which includes a very helpful guide to Choosing an Edition. (I plan to get the Oxford World Classics one.)

Middlemarch

The author of that web site begins by noting someone's assertion that Middlemarch may destroy your book club. I can see how it might. It is a very long book (800 pages in the edition I read), and it's not easy reading: the narrator, and many of the characters as well, lean toward very long and complex sentences with subtle meanings which often required two or three readings for me. And there are a lot of characters to be kept in mind. I didn't find any of this excessively burdensome; in fact it's the quality of the prose in general that's the essence of the book's great delights. But some may find it so.

One last note: I'm struck by the concern of most of the characters with their personal honor. It is considered an intolerable blight on their reputations even to be put in a light where it would be plausible to suspect them of anything dishonorable. Now the predominant type of our culture is the one described by Yeats:

Who were it proved he lies
Were neither shamed in his own
Nor in his neighbors' eyes

As soon as I'd finished the book I was tempted to watch the 1994 BBC dramatization. I say "tempted" because I was wary of having my perception of the book damaged by badly-chosen actors and interpretations. I did fairly soon give in to the temptation, and was not sorry. No dramatization could possibly be a substitute for the book, for reasons that should be obvious from what I've said. But this one is quite respectable and I wouldn't warn anyone away from it. 


Ronald Knox: A Retreat For Lay People

Note: I learned (see the comments) after posting this that the book, unfortunately, is currently out of print.

I have only read about half of this book, and that was over a period of months. I take it with me to my weekly hour of Eucharistic vigil, much of which generally passes with my thoughts wandering all over the place, some of which passes in reading. More often than not I don't even open this book, which is why I'm only on chapter XII of XXIV. 

But I'm writing about it now because it's only a week until the start of Lent, and I think this would be good Lenten reading. It's a series of talks given at retreats by Fr. Knox in the '40s and '50s (I think). It's down-to-earth and fairly casual, even light, in tone--at one point he mentions the sort of annoying acquaintance that we would like to "squash"--but rich with insight.

It was the last chapter I read that made me think to recommend it now. The chapter is called "Six Steps to the Crucifix," a title which made me expect a Stations-of-the-Cross sort of discussion, but it isn't that. The steps referred to are approaches to understanding and contemplating the Passion, beginning with a view of it as a fairly straightforward and all too common instance of human crime and folly.

On the lowest level of all, then, what does the spectator of Calvary say to himself? He shrugs his shoulders and comments, "Well, I suppose that is the way of the world! Here was a man who was too good for his generation; and his generation took the short way, and made an end of him." I doubt if there is a single human being who will not go as far as that, who will not pay that much tribute to the character of Jesus Christ. However low you rank him in the scale of human achievement, you will put him in the same class with Socrates. Socrates went about the world trying to make people think, trying to make people see that there must be a right and a wrong way of living.... And the good people of Athens called him an atheist and made him drink poison. Five centuries later, Jesus of Nazareth came, and he taught, well, perhaps not exactly the same but the same kind of thing....being merciful to your neighbor, judging him charitably, trusting Providence, being sorry when you had done wrong. And the Jews crucified him. It is the way of the world. 

Of the world; we mustn't go away saying "Of course, Jews are like that." No, Jews and Gentiles are like that, the world is like that, and you and I are the world.

And from there he goes on to look at the Crucifixion from increasingly un-natural and more mysterious points of view, ending with the acknowledgement that it is something beyond human comprehension.

I plan to read the remaining XIII chapters during Lent. 

Knox-RetreatForLayPeople


"Of all deceivers...

"...fear most yourself."

      --Kierkegaard

One slightly annoying aspect of the current state of this blog is that at least half, maybe more, of the visits to it are from people who have searched for some relatively obscure thing and gotten a link to one of my posts. Whether or not whatever they found here is useful to them or not, they don't stick around, and they don't come back, at least not soon or regularly. Well, that's fine--happy to be of help, if I was. But it means that when I look at my statistics and want to know how many people read the blog intentionally, I have to figure the number of visits by those people, as opposed to those who have been pointed to some specific post on some specific topic and are otherwise not interested, is at best half of the already small number.

One of the more frequent hits is the 2012 post called "Getting Started with Kierkegaard." A fair number of people want to do that, I guess. The post consists of little more than the question: where to start? And there are some good recommendations in the comments.

Which did I pursue? None. The last two comments there reveal the sad picture: about this time last year someone asked if I had an answer to the question. Sadly, I did not, because after eight years I had not so much as picked up one of Kierkegaard's books: it was another of my intellectual projects that failed before it really got started. 

But I have resumed it, thanks to the Eighth Day Books catalog that I received some months ago. They offered a book called Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Søren Kierkegaard, which is a compendium of brief excerpts intended to provide an introduction to Kierkegaard's thought. I thought that might be a good way to take up my abandoned but not forgotten plan. 

Having bought the book (from Eighth Day), I was a little disappointed to find that the editor has in some cases resorted to paraphrase and abridgement in the interests of making Kierkegaard's meaning clear to the more casual reader. Perhaps I'll want to go on from here to specific works. But on the other hand this may be all the Kierkegaard I need.

At any rate I'm finding it very rich in insight, and besides that enjoying it very much. Isn't that epigram fantastic? 

Kierkegaard-Provocations

Here's a link to the publisher's description. And by the way it doesn't seem to be available from Eighth Day anymore. 


Re-reading The Moviegoer

I first read The Moviegoer sometime in the mid-1970s, and I loved it. But I was almost completely oblivious to the religious and philosophical aspects of it. I just thought it was a somewhat satirical, yet affectionate, and altogether delightful slice of a certain kind of Southern life. But that was all. After reading his other work, I could see, in retrospect, what I had missed. But as far as I can remember I didn't actually re-read it until now.

I did, clearly, browse through it a bit when I wrote about Percy in the 52 Authors series--browsed it enough to harvest the quotation I included there. That was five years ago, and I haven't changed my general view of Percy since then. On this reading, several things especially struck me:

1) It's even better than I remembered. I've long said, mainly on the strength of that first reading forty-five or so years ago, that on purely literary grounds this might well be considered his best. I say that now. All the others have their considerable merits and pleasures, but this one is the most perfectly formed.

2) All of the philosophical Percy is present here. If he'd never written anything else, this would stand as a statement (insofar as a novel can or should be a statement) of those views. Other works clarify and expand upon the basic ideas, and work them out in different situations with different characters (well, somewhat different). But the essentials are here, and I don't think they changed much over his career. And that implies a certain amount of repetition.

Percy's religious thought, the Catholic Percy, is hardly evident at all, though--only gently suggested. Binx has just realized that "a search is possible," and hardly begun it, though something has been found, or rather has found him. This was a good aesthetic choice, apart from the things Percy has written about theological questions--and answers--being best approached obliquely. For Binx and/or Kate to be converted would have required at least half again as long a book, and as this book stands it is slim and perfectly shaped.

3) I don't really have any clear idea of what's wrong with Kate. It isn't the same thing that's wrong with Binx, though there seems to be some sort of connection. Perhaps it's just that they are both rather severely "maladjusted," as psychologists used to say. I don't know whether they still say that or not, but it doesn't seem to fit with post-'60s attitudes.

4) I realized that I'm also unclear about the exact nature of the "certification" problem mentioned in that quote from Percy which caused me to re-read the book (see this post from a few weeks ago). This business of ordinary reality becoming unreal, and made real by sudden danger or catastrophe, or by being mentioned or represented in a movie, is something he brings up often, and I'm not sure exactly what its philosophical import is. In the first case--the ordinary made real at a moment of danger--is it really anything more than the fact, remarked on for ages and not particularly "modern," that we naturally grow accustomed to things and cease to pay much attention to them? And that we can be jolted into paying attention again by some out of the ordinary event? This is what Percy calls "everydayness" and is really not a strange phenomenon, or at least not one that has anything in particular to do with modern psychological dislocations.

The matter of extra-real existence being given to a person or place appearing in (for instance) a movie is a different story. If you recognize your home, or your hometown, in a movie, or your cousin as an extra in a crowd scene, you do see them as somehow made more real and significant--"certified," to use Percy's term. This is widely true, maybe universally true, and I think most of us have experienced it. I certainly recognize it. And am really quite puzzled by it. I recognize Percy's description, but I can't recall that he really explains it.

I've been thinking about it, and maybe one aspect of it--not the whole thing, but an aspect--is related to Rene Girard's ideas about mimetic desire: that we desire things because we see that others desire them. Similarly, the significance we assign to something is affected by the significance which others assign to it. It isn't desire, specifically, but it's related; it's certainly a type of valuation.

The prevalence of mass media like movies and television makes us tend to see what is represented there as having more significance than our own personal selves and surroundings, which means in a sense more ontological status: the significant is in some way more real to us than the insignificant. I and my surroundings are only significant to me; what I see on that screen is significant to many others. To that is added the vividness, selectivity, and drama with which movies and television invest everything. Few people have in real life the experience of magnificent bravery and skill shown by John Wayne's character in a scene from Stagecoach mentioned by Binx. Or the sheer power, also magnificent though evil, on display when Walter White says "I am the one who knocks." The common phrase "larger than life" says quite plainly what we feel.

Whether it's a great film or a bad film or a glimpse of the spectators at a football game or just a local news broadcast, that "larger than life" factor enters. And so if you see your town or your house or your cousin in one of these, they absorb some of the extra significance possessed by the thing as a whole. We know that others, thousands or millions of them, invest it with significance, if only by virtue of the fact that they see it. If so many think it's more significant than whatever is outside their own front doors, then it must be--you could in a certain way say it is in fact more significant--and therefore seems so to us as well. It has been certified.

Maybe that's what Percy says. I know he goes into this in more detail in Lost in the Cosmos, but I haven't read it for a while.

5) When I first read the book, I had never been to New Orleans, or for that matter to any part of Louisiana. And although I'd been to the Alabama and Florida Panhandle coasts enough to have a sense of what "spinning along the Gulf coast" is like, I didn't really know the feel of the place and its culture in the way that I do now, after living there for thirty years. I don't claim to know New Orleans well, but I've now been there often enough that Percy's descriptions of it have a flavor that they did not before. I've been on Freret Street, though I don't remember noticing a movie house there. and know that the campus which Binx and Kate walked through to get there is Loyola. It might even be possible to figure out which steps they sat on when they stopped to talk, though I'm sure the campus has changed a lot since the late '50s. 


Madison Jones: A Cry of Absence

One reason for reading this novel is that it's an extremely good one, and that's reason enough. Another, and one that's more important to me personally, is that it is a remarkably perceptive account of the racial situation in the South in the 1950s, when the push against segregation was really getting under way, producing the resistance which now occupies a decisive symbolic place in the American consciousness: a simple narrative of KKK goons vs. saintly black people and their enlightened Northern supporters. That aspect isn't false, of course, but reality was, as always, more complex. 

The story takes place in an unnamed small Southern town in 1957. According to the back cover of the book the town is in Tennessee, although if that's mentioned in the novel I missed it. But the description of the seasons certainly fits Tennessee more than it would south Alabama or south Mississippi. (Madison Jones was from Nashville, and I grew up less than a hundred miles due south, in a similar landscape and climate.) The year is specifically stated, so it's after Brown vs Board, but before the decisive years of the early '60s. And that's important. The foundations of the Southern segregationist order were shaking, but still far from collapse.

Hester Glenn is a middle-aged divorced mother of two sons, Ames and Cameron. Ames is a college student, Cameron, or "Cam," still in high school. The novel alternates in viewpoint between Hester and Ames. The family is of the upper class, at least in the context of the region. Hester is a genuine believer in the romantic ideal of the old South: wealth and privilege are expected to carry with them, perhaps to justify their existence by, adherence to a code of honor, duty, justice, and generosity. She reveres her ancestors. She's a member of a local preservation society of which the main purpose is to remember and honor the past--including, for instance, a statue of a Confederate soldier, cherished, not apologetically, because Hester does not acknowledge that there is anything for which to apologize, but in the beginning simply, and then, when such honoring is attacked, defiantly.

The culture of the town is changing not only with the times in general--the federal courts, the civil rights movement--but specifically and directly with the arrival of new people from outside the South who run the new industries which promise to save the town from economic decline. These people hold the native white people in contempt, and their contempt finds ample justification in the blatant racial oppression. From the broad cultural point of view, then, there are four forces at work in the narrative: Hester and her kind, the newly arrived white people, the black people, and, faintly, natives who are of Hester's people but see, or begin to see, the justice of the case against them. Perhaps a fifth should be separated from the latter group: the townspeople who don't necessarily disagree with segregation but can see the economic price they will have to pay for its continuation and are willing to let it go. They are not portrayed as being especially admirable.

Cam is accused of participating in the murder of a young black man. Hester and Ames come to suspect that he may be guilty. And since the jacket blurbs refer to the novel as a tragedy, I'm not giving anything away in saying that the events which follow are in fact tragic.

Hester is a rigid sort of personality. We are given to understand that her divorce was, from her point of view, due to her husband's incorrigible immorality, but to suspect that from her husband's point of view it may have been that her uprightness made her cold, maybe even, to use a word one doesn't hear much anymore in its sexual sense, frigid, and at any rate remote.

In reaction to the news of the murder, she says

"It makes all those things they are saying about us up north seem to be true. About how cruel we are to Negroes. All of us. Because of a few scum," she said, her voice hinting at her passion. "As if we were all scum and didn't hate such people as much as anybody else."

But do they really? Is it perhaps the case that it is the violence of the "scum" that helps to support the hierarchy near the top of which Hester resides, and which she loves for more than crudely selfish material reasons? It is a devastating question. 

The book is beautifully written, and I have only a couple of mild reservations about it. One, the narrative sometimes proceeds by flashback in a way that can be confusing. Two, I'm a little skeptical about the plausibility of one part of the climax, though I can see the argument that it is inevitable. 

But these are mild indeed. I was only nine years old in 1957, and so wasn't really aware of the racial situation--not, I mean, with an adult consciousness of right and wrong. But by 1964 I was very much aware of it, and can remember enough of that period to know that the book's portrait of it is quite accurate. Anyone who wants to understand it in the kind of depth that is generally foreign to present-day views should read it. And, as I said, it's a first-rate novel by any standard.

I have Rob Grano to thank for introducing me and readers of this blog to Madison Jones. Here's a link to the piece on Jones which he contributed to our 52 Authors series.

I guess everybody knows about the intense rivalry between the University of Alabama and Auburn University (UA vs. AU). I went to Alabama, and I don't recall that I ever considered Auburn, because at the time I thought I wanted to be a journalist, and Auburn didn't have a journalism program. The fact that Jones taught at Auburn made me wonder for the first time (as far as I can remember) whether maybe I should have gone to Auburn. He was probably writing this book, which was published in 1971, at the time when I would have been there. I would surely have taken at least one course from him.

This little image was the only one I could find of the cover of the LSU Press edition that I have. There are at least three others.

CryOfAbsence


Time For Me to Read The Moviegoer Again

Rod Dreher quoted this, in a post about celebrity:

Nowadays when a person lives somewhere, in a neighborhood, the place is not certified for him. More than likely he will live there sadly and the emptiness which is inside him will expand until it evacuates the entire neighborhood. But if he sees a movie which shows his very neighborhood, it becomes possible for him to live, for a time at least, as a person who is Somewhere and not Anywhere.

A few days ago I was watching the movie Alabama Moon with my wife. I don't especially recommend it, at least not for grownups. Some children may like it, and in fact that's why we were watching it--the DVD was part of a big gift basket my wife had bought at our parish's Christmas bazaar, and we wondered if our grandchildren might like it. (Verdict: very doubtful, as there are no spacecraft, superheroes, or battles in it.)

I had a vague notion that some parts of the movie might have been filmed where I live. Several locations did look familiar. Then came a scene set in a hospital, and I was almost sure that it must have been filmed in the local hospital (labeled, for purposes of the story, Tuscaloosa General, which I think does not exist, as if you care). This gave me a completely absurd moment of elation. And later, when I looked for information online and found out that it was mostly filmed in Louisiana and so the hospital was probably not ours, I felt an equally absurd moment of letdown. 

It's still possible that the hospital scene was filmed here. The film credits thank Fairhope along with Covington, Louisiana. And it really looked like Thomas Hospital. But of course I don't really care. 


Minor Novels Argument-Starter

If you don't read the blog called "Prufrock" at The American Conservative, you probably should. It's an always-interesting compendium of mostly literary and general cultural stuff. Monday's post included a list of "recommendations of favorite minor novels." There are dozens of them, of which I've read seven. Many I'd never heard of. A few I think I may have read decades ago. Of course there's no arguing with anyone's designation of a favorite, but there are many possibilities for arguing with "minor." I'm thinking there of promotions from minor to major, but I suppose one might argue that this or that book doesn't even rise to the level of minor.

For my part, of the seven I've (definitely) read, the only one for which I'd argue "major" is Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men. Some are questionable, but that's the only one that would cause me just to shrug and feel sorry for anyone who disagrees.

There's one on the list I'd recommend strongly to Catholics: J.F. Powers's Morte d'Urban. Especially Catholics who've worked for small Catholic liberal arts colleges. 


Josephine Tey: The Franchise Affair (audio)

On the weekend of November 6, i.e. the weekend after the election, my wife and I made an overnight trip to my ancestral homeland of northern Alabama. It's a 5 1/2 hour drive at least, more if you make more than the minimal stops, so we usually listen to an audio book on the way up and back, trying to find one that will take most of the time but not go over it. This time it was the above-mentioned Josephine Tey novel, read by Carole Boyd. 

It's pretty rare for me that I recognize the name of the reader of an audio book, and the pattern held here. The quality of this one is so fine that I wanted to know more about the narrator, so as soon as I got home I looked her up. It turns out that Carole Boyd is a moderately successful actress (see Wikipedia), especially so at voice work.

Continue reading "Josephine Tey: The Franchise Affair (audio)" »


Christopher Lasch: The Revolt of the Elites

RevoltOfTheElites

Having finally read this well-known and so-often-recommended book, I'm sorry to say that I was a little disappointed in it. It's not that there is anything wrong with its actual contents--it's a good book, and I recommend it--but that the contents aren't quite what I was expecting. I assumed that the topic named in the title would be the entire subject of the book. But "The Revolt of the Elites" is really the title essay in a collection whose subjects range somewhat afield from that of the one. They are certainly related, describing other components of the general "betrayal of democracy" which is the book's subtitle, but they don't deal specifically with the revolt.

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