Monday, March 6, 2017

March Update

A short month + a week in Florida equals less progress on some of these books than might be expected.

"A" List--H. L. Mencken-- The American Language.....................273/697

"B" List--Jules Verne--Around the World in Eighty Days.............194/230

"C" List--Knausgaard, Vol.2..........................................................408/592

I am picking my way through the Mencken pretty slowly. It has its usefulness, I guess, although most of the various approaches to the subject of language which are described in the book are probably outdated, haphazard and imprecise by the standards of modern scholarship. There are a lot of illustrative anecdotes and tidbits about American life from colonial times up to the 1930s which serve the purpose of filling out further one's perception of what the country has been through time. For example, I had not known that the American custom of giving policemen and even railroad conductors military titles (captain, sergeant, etc) is not done in England and was considered strange in that country. Mencken's famed ability for lacerating the pretensions and ill-conceived ideas of the weaker-minded is not on full display here though one occasionally comes across a mildly amusing sentence:

"Nor is the title (Dr.) frequent among pedagogues, for the Ph.D is an uncommon degree in England, and it is seldom if ever given to persons trained in the congeries of quackeries which passes, in the American universities, under the name of 'education'."

If you are wondering where Phileas Fogg and Passepartout are in Around the World in Eighty Days, they are in Nebraska after the attack on the train by the band of Sioux warriors, being carried by sledge from Fort Kearney to Omaha, where they hope to catch a train that will get them back to New York in time to catch the steamer back to England that is the last leg of the trip. I assume Fogg is going to make it within the eighty days and win the bet, but as I am not familiar with any version of the story I am not absolutely certain.

For the most part I think the second Knausgaard book is better than the first, although most of the material in the first volume is more interesting to me, the second volume mainly being concerned with his domestic life as a thirty-something man with children living in an apartment in Stockholm, which does not come off as a particularly thrilling or vital city to live in, though I'm sure I would like it there. Perhaps I am more used to him now. Also I suspect he must have more control over his style and the effect he wants to have, since fairly banal recitations of changing diapers or the preparation of yuppie meals will often be a set up for some more interesting part. However I still haven't figured out whether the banal descriptions of everyday life are really necessary from the literary point of view. He does refer a lot to an idea which I sometimes touch on as well, that at least some people in future times will want to know what life in this time period was really like, and there will not be near enough books (there never are) that will convey that sense, which does have a power of its own when done well.

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