Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

The December List

with 5 comments

I know it’s been a while, but it’s been an exciting start to the New Year.

It’s not just that the temperatures have been very low, which makes working in my office very difficult.  Unlike every other writer I’ve ever heard of, I like to be able to look out and around when I work. My office is in a sunroom, with two sides of solid windoes. 

Ninety nine percent of the time, that works really well for me.  I can look up from whatever it is I’m doing and curse the turkeys or commiserate with the squirrels.  I’ve seen some pretty neat and amazing things outside my window.  And usually, the arrangement makes me very happy.

At minus nine, not so much.

So, I will admit it.  I’ve been avoiding the office for a few days, and the cold was bad enough, but then there was the day before yesterday.

The day before yesterday was the day AFTER the night when it was minus 9, and it was still a very cold day.

And at 7:05 that evening, a frozen pipe under my kitchen sink exploded, spewing water everywhere.

The only thing to do was to turn off all the water to the house and wait till somebody could come help–my friends Carol and Richard, who know how to do house stuff, and who also do the website and the blog. 

In the meantime, we were not only without water, but without heat, because we have baseboard hot water heat and the system has a safety feature that shuts it down when it detects less than the necessary water pressure in the system.

Carol and Richard showed up the next morning, fixed the burst pipe and turned on the water, and then–the upstairs started heating up immediately and well, and the main floor just…didn’t.

Except it did, sort of.  The heat coming out of the baseboard started out as nil and then got to sort of luke warm and then traveled from one end of the house to the other and then…

I don’t know what I’m supposed to make of it.   Since the upstairs and the downstairs both run on the same pump, it’s not the pump or the furnace itself that’s the problem.

The best guess anybody seems to be able to come up with is that there’s a bubble somewhere in the pipes, and we even think we’ve found the bubble.  We’re not too sure what to do next.

If anything.

Of course, it’s going to be 8 overnight.

In the meantime, though, let’s look at the December list, and then let me make a few notes about the entire year and the entire project.

The December list goes like this:

 68) Chris McNab. Deadly Force: Firearms and American Law Enforcement from the Wild West to the Streets of Today.

69) Charlotte MacLeod. The Corpse in Oozak’s Pond.

70) Luis van de Camoes. The Lusiads.

71) Rick Riordan. The Lightning Thief.

72) Theodore Dalrymple. Anything Goes.

     t) William Deresiewicz. “What the Ivy League Won’t Teach   You.”

A couple of things about December itself.

The Rick Riordan novel, The Lightning Thief, is what’s now called a “young adult” work.  I read it because my younger son asked me to.  It was his favorite book when he was growing up. 

It’s a children’s fantasy adventure, and obviously not my kind of thing.  My older son explained this series to be–this is the first in the series–as “Harry Potter for kids who have real problems.” 

I ended up finding it interesting on two levels, both of which are personal and idiosyncratic, and may not work for  you.

The first and most personal of these levels is that the narrative voice of the main point of view, first person narrator is incredibly similar to my son Greg’s actual voice, both spoken and written. 

And although Greg’s problems growing up weren’t the same as Percy Jackson’s, I didn’t have any problem at all understanding why he identified with that character so passionately.

The second level is maybe of more general interest.

The thesis behind these books is that the Greek Gods still exist, still impact our world, and still have children with mortal women.  The result is that there’s an awful lot of information about Greek mythology, which I think is a Very Good Thing.

Unfortunately, I also think that that might be the reason why these books were far less popular than the Harry Potter ones.  Totally not thinking is not really an option here.

Of course, my two had Edith Hamilton and Ovid almost from infancy, so they had a head start on all this.

I talked about the Chris MacNab on the blog before, so I won’t go into it again.  I talked about The Lusiads, too.

The Charlotte MacLeod is one of the better entries in the Peter Shandy series, so I’d definitely recommend it. 

The Dalrymple is a collection of essays, and as always very, very good.

As to the year long project itself, a couple of things.

1) I still think I did the right thing by entering a book when I had finished reading it. 

The decision to record things like that did, however, lead to a few distortions.

For instance, I spent most of the month of December reading Bruce Catton’s Never Call Retreat, the third in his trilogy about the Civil War written for the war’s Centennial.

It turns out that there is something else besides boredom or distaste that makes me read slowly: material in a field I understand very little about.

The Civil War was a war, which means it was made up of battles.

I am the person who falls asleep in the movies when the battle and action scenes come on.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was going on at Shiloh and during Pickett’s charge.  I don’t know if it was good or bad that Catton helpfully supplied lots of maps.

There is in principle nothing wrong with all that, of course, except that it does give a kind of skewed idea of what my December reading really was, leaving out what turns out to have been the majority of days in the month.

2) The second thing has to do with my decision to leave out what I thought of as “minor reading”–magazines, for instance, and articles in newspapers, on web sites, and that kind of thing.

The problem is that I do an awful lot of minor reading.  \

I’ve listed elsewhere on this blog the magazines I read, and there are over ten of them, from every side of the political spectrum.

When I woke up on New Year’s Day, the first two things I read were a story on the website of a local television station about its problems with a local cable provider, and Michael Moore’s essay on Obamacare in the New York Times.

It was only after that I got back to the Catton.

I’ve thought all this over, and I really can’t see any other way to do it.  I couldn’t possibly write down all the minor reading I do.  I read almost constantly. 

Even if I were to exclude by definition things like ordinary mail and e mail, what category (listed or not) would I put my harpsichord e mail list into?

This morning, before writing this blog, I read a series of e mails about how to mount battens on a harpsichord, carried on by people who are professional harpsichord makers. 

I don’t know all that much about harpsichord construction, but I’m trying to learn–so maybe this isn’t minor reading after all.

And I do a lot of that kind of thing.  I’ve got another list that consists of professional scholars talking about Portuguese history and culture.

And there are others.

3) Looking over the entire list, I think it’s sort of odd.  I sometimes go on jags where I read All About Something. 

Once when I was in graduate school, I spent several months reading all I could get my hands on about China.  That ended up including Mao’s Little Red Book and a volume on the proletarian poster art of the People’s Republic of China, but also Confucius and several 19th century Chinese novels. 

If you want to give yourself a serious headache, try reading novels with casts of characters in the hundreds in a world with a very restricted number of surnames.

Okay, the novels were interesting.  They were certainly a lot more interesting than Mao’s Little Red Book.

This past year, however, I don’t seem to have been interested in any one thing. 

5) And, on consideration, I’ve decided to do it again for 2014. 

Part of that is just to see if there’s a difference in the reading from year to year. 

I know it’s the kind of thing I should have been paying attention to all along, but I just haven’t been.  But I’ll see.

And there’s another reason. 

I’m supposed to teach 102 this coming term.  Last I checked, that was still on.

And some years ago, I got around a problem in a class by offering to read any book or short story that anybody wanted to give me–to take reading assignments rather than give them.

After a while, I modified this offer by saying I wouldn’t read the Bible any more.  I’ve already read it more than once and parts of it in various languages, so I don’t see what reading it one more time will give me.

The volumes recommended to me have ranged from the truly awful (any Chicken Soup book, trust me), to the impossible to explain (Fifty Shades of Gray–I mean, honest to God?), to a little clutch of books that make me wonder if my students are at all representative of the population at large.

In case you ever wonder what people who don’t read read when they get around to it, the answer seems to be watered-down religion and not-watered-down-at-all conspiracy theories.

And very often, the same people are reading both.

Unless Fifty Shades of Gray represents some kind of genre I haven’t run into before–sticky-sweet sentimental porn?–my students don’t read much in the way of fiction, and certainly n ot genre fiction. 

In my generation, people who claimed  not to like to read tended to read romance novels, but that does not seem to be what is going on now.

I figured I’d give it a shot and see what’s going on now.

Except that, now now, it’s an absolutely gorgeous day, which means it ought to be possible to get things done.

I’d better go do them.

Written by janeh

January 6th, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses to 'The December List'

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  1. Welcome back! I spent a few years living in a mobile home in the Boston area so I can sympathize with your cold weather problems.

    What was the Deresiewicz book about? I assume it was an attack on the Ivy League universities.


    6 Jan 14 at 3:34 pm

  2. Second the endorsement of McLeod, always excepting CURSE OF THE GIANT HOGWEED, which I never managed to finish.

    Trust me: battles are very geography-dependent, and seldom more so than in “horse and musket” warfare. You really need maps–and ought to have orders of battle, which as I recall Catton neglected. When I’m reading military history seriously, I have both map and OB bookmarked–or have other books open to them. But Catton is sort of being thrown in at the deep end for tactics. If you ever decide this is something you have to know, get a book on Civil War (or whenever) tactics, and get a book which lays out one battle in serious detail. It will work much better than a book which sketches in battles thinking you already understand what the generals are trying to do.

    I’ll also admit to being partial to the old Official History practice of putting one side’s units and officers’ names in italics. There’s nothing like a battle in which both sides have a Scott’s Brigade (Lundy’s Lane)–unless it’s a campaign in which both sides have a 1st Tennessee Cavalry Regiment. (They fought once–Nashville, I think–at night, of course.)


    7 Jan 14 at 7:20 pm

  3. Hijacking the Blog. (Well, someone needed to!)


    It’s not the fact that Nazis committed massacres–we knew that–or that both accused and accusers are getting along in years–we knew that too–but what the article left out.

    Everyone knew the responsible unit in 1945, and it had surrendered in the West, so the men were in American or British custody. BUT
    1. They couldn’t be extradited for trial in France, because–as long as you were ordered to do it–herding women and children into a church and setting fire to the church wasn’t illegal under French law in the period. You can’t extradite foreigners to prosecute them for something you don’t prosecute your own citizens for.
    2. At least a dozen of the perpetrators were Alsatian French. We know because that many survived the war, COULD be tried in France–being French citizens again–WERE tried in France, and were promptly pardoned. No one served a day. It was called “national reconciliation” since a lot of French soldiers fought against the Allies.

    I am generally in favor of tracking down the murderers of women and children. But from here, this looks a long way from justice, and a short hop from culture wars and EU politics.

    Thinking of which. Our 88-year old vet is being prosecuted in juvenile court because he was 19 in 1944. I’m picturing him in a juvenile detention center.


    11 Jan 14 at 9:39 am

  4. I agree with Robert that it looks a long way from justice. The article says

    “Dortmund prosecutors allege that the suspect shot 25 men as part of a firing squad”

    It does not give his rank. I’d guess private or at most sergeant. No army tolerates enlisted men who disobey orders under combat conditions. It could even be construed as mutiny.

    The senior officer commanding the battalion should have been tried as a war criminal but I wouldn’t try enlisted men or junior officers.


    11 Jan 14 at 1:32 pm

  5. It was a company action, and the company commander was killed in action in Normandy. Couldn’t tell you about the battalion commander at this range. (There’s a book on the massacre in English, which I’ve read, but it’s been a while.)
    I can’t quite shake the suspicion that someone waited for all the French perpetrators to die of old age before prosecuting the surviving German–but then I’m a suspicious sort.

    [Did anyone else pick up that when the Russians finally owned up to the Katyn Massacre, the officer in charge of killing 15,000 Polish POWs was still alive and drawing a state pension? No charges ever filed.]


    11 Jan 14 at 2:26 pm

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