Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Books unable to re-read. What books did you devour the first time but find yourself unable to read a second? If you've tried more than once, even better. This is harder, because we tend to pass such things on to library yard sales. Up to five.

1. From Dawn to Decadence, Jacques Barzun.
2. Smiley's People
3. Hitchhiker's series by Douglas Adams
4. Dune.

The last two may be because I read the series through to the end, and got tired of the schtick in some way.


james said...

That's not easy.

Dune I read several times--the last time over 30 years ago. I don't know if that falls under this category or not--I'm not likely to re-read it again, so maybe it does. (I read the sequels too--even read one of the prequels out of curiosity. Don't bother.)

There are books I started, got into happily, got interrupted and lost the thread, and never got back to. Dream of the Red Chamber: there are so many characters that it has to be fresh in your mind or you'll never keep track.

I devoured LeCarre for a while, but wearied before I reached Smiley's People. Went on a JB Cabell kick for a while (the university library had loads of books), but I haven't cracked one in over 35 years. As a teenager I thought Atlas Shrugged was interesting, but as an adult--not so much.

New Wave SF--interesting at the time, but except for Zelazny I bailed on the whole lot years ago.

Grim said...

I've only ever read the first Dune, but it bears rereading. The Hitchhikers series not so much. I've been meaning to reread Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, but I haven't found time.

RichardJohnson said...

Dune- I read it circa 1970. Once. All I recall is something about cinnamon-like spice and worlds changing.
Hitchiker- none, never. I was never a big sci fi fan. The real world is strange enough.

Smiley's People- not sure when. Once.
I reread Spy Who Came in From the Cold this year, in Book Club. Worth the second time, though I don't remember much if anything from the first time. It didn't strike me the first time like Gatsby or Twain or Dickens or Tolstoy did. Or Dune, for that matter.

I didn't read all of Le Carre, maybe 4 or 5 of his books. I am not quite sure where I stand w LeCarre. On the one hand, I realize that spying is a dirty game. On the other hand, I grew up hearing "We're just as bad as the Russians" from some family friends, and long ago concluded they were full of it. Some in the Book Club were of the opinion that if we had stopped playing those silly games w the Soviets, they would stop it too. I grew up with too many Iron Curtain refugees to believe that. "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you." In addition, I found out decades after the fact that I had grown up with some red diaper babies- whose relatives were not mere card carriers, but full-blown operatives. They had left the Party by the time I knew the red diaper babies.

Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence. On my bookshelf for several years ($1 ar used book store), but I haven't read it yet. No, I am not proud of that.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

My example on "we were just as bad as the Soviets" claim: America always claimed that it was supporting groups,even some very bad ones, in foreign countries it was because the Russians were unbalancing the situation with guns and money. It looked like a stalemate, with both sides blaming the other. Yet when the Iron Curtain fell and the USSR stopped funding one side over another in Latin America we did too. We let them have their own elections and governments even when we didn't like their choices very much. We were good to our word about self-determination. If we had kept up funding we could likely have put a major thumb on the scale for governments we liked.

As for Barzun, my recommendation is that you get your head entirely out of the everyday news for about a week before starting, and stay out for the duration. Also, now that you know you won't be coming back, do your marking the book as you go accordingly. Mark things you might look for later, but not much else.

Galen said...

Keith Richards is a "From Dawn to Decadence" fan!

Texan99 said...

Never tried Barzun. I've read and re-read a lot of LeCarre with pleasure, until I got to about the "Tailor of Panama" era, after which I found I couldn't read any of his new stuff. Still love Smiley's People.

I can't get through so much as a paragraph of either Douglas Adams or Frank Herbert, though I like a lot of other science fiction. Heinlein, Varley, LeGuin, Niven/Pournelle, Pohl yes, Clarke and Asimov absolutely not.

It's a great disappointment of my life that I can't make myself read "Moby Dick." I'm sure I'm missing something wonderful, but I can't stick with it. Maybe it's like my almost complete inability to hear Mozart. I'm just a Jane Austen/Prokofiev kind of girl. Tolstoy yes, Trollope no, not sure why. I can't read Dickens, but love George Eliot and E.M. Forster.

Grim said...

I loved Moby Dick the first time I read it, in China nearly two decades ago. It's a good example of a book I haven't been able to re-read. It requires a substantial investment of time and patience, and the first time I found it really rewarding. It's a book I'm very glad to have read. But I have not been able to do it again.

RichardJohnson said...

From Barzun's Dawn to Decadence, published in 2000, there is an interesting passage on the Inquisition. To the best of my knowledge,all of my ancestors came to America as Protestants, so I wasn't well-informed on matters Catholic- Orthodox or Roman. I found out later that the horrors of the Inquisition weren't not quite my Protestant background had told me, as the Spanish Inquisition killed all of 2,000- in 200 years. Ten deaths a year doesn't quite constitute the horror I had been told it was.

In the popular mind Spain and Inquisition are so closely tied together as to suggest that the search for heretics and their despatch to a better world existed nowhere else. That is contrary to fact. It is true that, as we saw, the Spanish inquisitors had special groups to suspect—the converted Moors and Jews who might be shamming their change of faith, as some were. It is also true that the ill-famed auto-da-fe—action of faith in Portuguese—at which the condemned suffered, took on the form of a public drama, a popular entertainment. But inquisition with a small i was active throughout Europe.
In Protestant Scotiand and Geneva, it was called the Discipline and it too relied on the secular arm to punish offenders such as Servetus.
England had its burnings, in good number, of Protestants and Catholics by turns during three reigns, all legalized by one statute: De haeretico comburerendo
"On the Duty to Burn the Heretic."
In France it was the University of Paris, the Sorbonne, that persecuted; the Humanist printer Etienne Dolet was one victim of its inquisition. As for Italy, where the Inquisition was created as a department of the church government, the vigor of its pursuit varied with the city. Stern but inefficient in Rome, it was tempered in Venice, where it was content with remonstrance; the governors felt no wish to bother foreign traders, often from Protestant countries; their continued presence mattered to the commercial republic.
Inquisition as such, that is, apart from methods and severity of results, has remained a live institution. The many dictatorships of the 20C have relied on it and in free countries it thrives ad hoc—hunting down German sympathizers during the First World War, interning Japanese-Americans during the second, and pursuing Communist fellow-travelers during the Cold War. In the United States at the present time the workings of "political correctness" in universities and the speech police that punishes persons and corporations for words on certain topics quaintly called "sensitive" are manifestations of the permanent spirit of inquisition.

The final sentences, warning of an inquisition on college campuses in the US, seem rather prophetic, as they were written in 2000- and it has only gotten worse since then.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Thank you for the quote.

Meanwhile, in China, the Qings ousting the Mings in the 17th C killed about 25,000,000.

RichardJohnson said...

More Barzun (page 254)- an example of his copious quotes:
Our moral criticism of past ages can easily be mistaken. It transfers present-day desiderata to the past. It views personalities according to set principles and makes too little allowance for the urgencies of the moment. -BURCKHARDT JUDGMENTS ON HISTORY (1865-85)

It is all too easy to think of the oh,so earnest, but also oh, so ignorant, SJWs who are ready to condemn the sins of the past- without stopping to consider how future generations will view THEM. They believe that before, all was darkness, and today is full of light. Except for the "deplorables" that appall the SJWs, of course. There was a recent example of a U Wisconsin Madison SJW who informed the world that Abraham Lincoln owned slaves.

AVI, regarding killings, there are also what the Mongols did to, e.g., Bagdad, and according to some Internet comments, what the Muslims did to Hindus in invading India.

So far, in just skimming Barzun, I am impressed with how little I know, and how relevant the book is to our current situation.