Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

And For March…

with 6 comments

Well, the term is halfway done, and I’m predictably frantic, but the usual  mess has been exacerbated this time by a lot of small but inconvenient things.

At the moment, the most inconvenient of these things has been the fact that I dislocated my right shoulder.

It’s been suitably relocated, but it aches like hell, and I’m having a hard time typing and writing on the whiteboard.  Especially writing on the whiteboard. 

It’s making class very frustrating at the moment.

I do have a March list, however, and I’m going to outline it below, with notes at the bottom.

Going along with the usual practice up till now, I’ve included only those books I finished in March.

I should point out, however, that there would be one more book on the list for March if the shoulder thing hadn’t happened.   I was very close to finished when I suddenly had to start taking care of that, and I did finish yesterday.

But more on that NEXT month.

This month, we have:

15) Leslie Fiedler.  What Was Literature? Class Culture and Mass Society.

16) Stephen King.  Duma Key.

17) Ann Coulter.  Mugged.

18) Dashiell Hammett.  The Thin Man.

19) Jean Favier.  Gold and Spices: The Rise of Commerce in the Middle Ages.

20) Joan Hess.  A Diet to Die For.

21) Leszek Kolakowski.  Is God Happy?  Selected Essays.

22) Ben Shapiro.  Bullies: How The Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America.

23) Lloyd C. Douglas.  Magnificent Obession.

The notes are going to get a little long, and I won’t go over all of these.  And I’ve already discussed one or two of them on the blog.

16) Stephen King’s Duma Key is an odd book.  Like almost everything else the man writes, the thing is enormous and also compelling, so I found myself reading compulsively but not knowing why. 

I don’t need a lot of incident in the books I read, and King is always exellent with character, but these were not particularly interesting people inhabiting a  not particularly interesting premise and with an ending that felt gratuitously tacked on.

In spite of all that, I kept on reading, and not just because I always finish what I start. 

I kept on reading because I couldn’t help myself, in spite of the fact that I couldn’t figure out why.

If I had the talent to do this,  I’d be a multimillionaire.  I think King is.

19) Jean Favier.  Gold and Spices: The Rise of Commerce in the Middle Ages.

Like most people who read a lot, I have a TBR pile that looks like a library fire sale, or worse.

This particular book arrived on that pile back in 1998. 

I’m not entirely sure why it took  me so long to get around to it.  You’d  think it would be a natural–my favorite historical period, and a subtopic of that period that I don’t know much about.

And as it turned out, there was a lot of very interesting information in this thing, things I’d never even considered and am glad to know.

Unfortunately, the thing was put together like a social studies textbook, proceding not chronologically but topically, so that there was no narrative to it at all.

It was one of the best illustrations I’ve ever had of something I tell  my students:  human beings are narrative animals. 

Whatever is not narrative tends to feel opaque, if not just untrue.

Add that to the fact that the writer–a French academic; the book was translated from the French–had to stop every few pages to insist that he realized he wasn’t using the term “capitalism” in the same sense in which Marx had so admirably defined it, and the experience was overall a disappointment.

22) Ben Shapiro.  Bullies:  How The Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America. 

This is, quite frankly, just a waste of time.  It contains nothing you haven’t heard before (with one exception), no even adequate level of research or documentation, and a lot of adolescent insults that are both gratuitous and rude.

This is the kind of book you give someone if you are trying to convince them that conservatives are stupid and offensive–a page out of the Don Imus/Michael Savage playbook.

The one exception wasn’t so much something Shapiro did directly as something he helped me to do.  He provided a precis of the actual events in the Trayvon Martin case with footnotes that got me started on what to look for to make it make more sense than it has  up to now.

For that I am truly grateful.  That case has been making me crazy for quite some time now–and I knew things were being left out of the mainstream news stories when the whole thing disappeared from sight rather abruptly–but this finally gave me an idea of what to punch into Google to get what I needed to know.

This was not a small thing.

23) Lloyd C. Douglas.  Magnificent Obsession.

This is a very old book, published in 1929 by a man who was once the best selling author in America and the man who wrote The Robe. 

It was in  my house when I was growing up, one of a set of Douglas’s works in matching bindings that went along with another set of works (by Maugham) also in  matching bindings.

These were the only books I ever knew my mother to own, although I  never saw her read them.

When I was a child I tried a lot of different volumes from these two sets.  I became an almost instant fan of Maugham, but I could never read the Douglas novels, no matter how hard or how many times I tried.

I picked this one up again because, through the magic of television, I came upon a movie made of the book in the 1950s, starring Rock Hudson as the young Bobby Merrick whose life is changed because of a religious idea.

Well, not quite.

Douglas was a minister before he became a novelist, and all his novels are “religious” in one sense or another. The Robe–which is the supposed story of the Roman soldier who won Christ’s robe when the soldier’s cast lots of it–is obviously and clearly Christian in a way most of us would recognize.

The Rock Hudson movie of this novel was not religious in this sense, and I thought, when I saw it, that they had probably taken a lot of the specific religious ideas out.

Now that I’ve read the book, however, the religion issue turns out not to be that simple.

The best way I can explain it is to say that the book does claim to be based on a Truth found in the Bible, and specifically the New Testament, the page on which this Truth can be found is never explicitly indicated.

What’s more, the effect of bringing that Truth into your life is–well, oddly stated. 

The idea seems to be that if you bring this Truth into your life, you can Enlarge Your Personality in such a way that you can do great things in your life that will be of benefit to all humanity.

It’s not quite the prosperity Gospel, because it’s not about getting rich or getting other goodies for yourself, but at the same time it’s more like that than anything else I can think of.

And Christianity as described in this is nothing at all like what most people these days would define as “Christian” at all.  It has no particular interest in things like the Virgin Birth or the Substitutionary Atonement, or even the nativity or the Resurrection. 

And it’s not the Social Gospel, either.

The point, however,  is that in all this, the movie was pretty faithful to the book.

Where it veered off into the mist was in the plot.  It  kept the opening premise and short sequence of events, then ditched the entire  middle, transformed the  nature of at least two characters beyond all recognition, made a short series of events at the very end into the entire middle of the movie and then got Bobby and Helen together at the end because–well, that’s  how the book wa supposed to end.

It was once said that the movies paid Helen Gurley Brown $50,000 a word for the title Sex and the Single Girl, and I know that movie adaptations are often  not really adaptations at all.

I still find it annoying beyond belief when movies do this. 

As to the book itself–it’s of a kind that was once the staple of  best seller lists and moderate reputations alike, and that  isn’t published any more than I know of.

It is largely a book about ordinary people living ordinary lives and having ordinary problems, but it’s  not the kind of thing contemporary “literary”  novels do, even when they can be described the same way.

I had a very good time with it, even if I didn’t ever get through the muddle to the Truth or where it’s supposed to be found.


Written by janeh

April 2nd, 2013 at 9:07 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'And For March…'

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  1. I wonder if Jane’s dislocated shoulder is another example of my theory that exercise is bad for you?

    I try to avoid books on US politics but looked up Shapiro’s “Bullies” book on Amazon out of curiosity about the Trevor Martin case. Remarkable pricing. $14 for the Hardcover, $18 for Kindle. No sale!


    2 Apr 13 at 4:05 pm

  2. I’m in the odd position of having seen the movie without ever having read MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION. Taking the theory as I remember it described in the film, I found it interesting but unsupported. It is too easy for even a sincere Christian to believe that because he wants something to be true, the Bible must agree with him. Lots of things are true without having Biblical support, and not everything we would like to be true is. For me to believe something is established by the New Testament, someone has to work through it chapter and verse, not just tell me it’s in there somewhere. (Mind you, I also don’t think much of the sort of constitutional power not located in a particular place.)
    Again, something can well be true without being in the Bible–but being interesting and attractive is not proof.


    2 Apr 13 at 8:20 pm

  3. For Robert

    (Begging your indulgence, Jane.)


    This should cheer you up no end, Robert.


    4 Apr 13 at 8:23 pm

  4. Well, at least it’s amusing, Mique. Thanks.
    If the human learning curve were any flatter, we’d still be knapping flint. Come to think of it, we would be anyway if, when metal-working came on the scene, we’d already had university stone-working departments (with tenure) a flint-workers’ union (with seniority rules) and a government department of tool-making (with mandatory standards.)
    “If it hadn’t been for NASA, we’d at least have got to Mars.”


    4 Apr 13 at 9:53 pm

  5. I know that people don’t learn from history but, even for US politicians, forgetting the events of 2008 seems unusually stupid.


    4 Apr 13 at 11:27 pm

  6. jd, in order to learn from your mistakes, you must first admit–at least to yourself–that you made a mistake. Since these people judge themselves by their intentions and not their results, it’s pretty much hopeless.


    5 Apr 13 at 7:30 am

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