Showing posts from December, 2015

The Tragedy of the Korosko - why some lit remains obscure

I'm afraid Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Tragedy of the Korosko checks most of the bad boxes on the mainstream reader's list; to name a few: exoticism, imperialism, stereotypical females, and racist language.  I had high hopes, based on some reviews I'd read, but even accounting for the mindset of the times wasn't enough to give it more than 3 out of 5 stars on my scale.

Doyle covered a pretty vast range of subjects apart from Sherlock Holmes.  Some of his other topics include medieval knights (The White Company), Napoleonic soldiers (Brigadier Gerard), Huguenot emigrants (The Refugees), and contemporary horror (Round the Red Lamp, The Captain of the Polestar, etc).  I'd recommend any of those, even if some are dated, simply because they transcend their "datedness" and are good stories even today.

I guess that's why Korosko was disappointing - I expected more from Doyle, yet I was under the aching suspicion all the way through that he was doing what …

Minorities - the poetry collection of T. E. Lawrence

During moments in Lawrence of Arabia, or in whole passages in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, you might notice T. E. Lawrence's love for the poetic, both in the actual form and in his prose.  He was, as it turns out, a serious reader and critic of poetry: he toted The Oxford Book of English Verse with him in Arabia, and collected his Minorities during and after the war.  In his own words, he defined Minorities as "Good Poems by Small Poets and Small Poems by Good Poets."  The first U.S. edition was not published until 1971.

The poems (many of which are from the Oxford Book) are fairly what you'd expect from the complex mind of T. E. Lawrence.  Some are classics by his predecessors, such as Poe and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and others are poems by his contemporaries who surpassed his honest criticisms.  I was surprised at the variety, but perhaps I shouldn't have been.  If you take into account his mental state after the war, mixed with his survivor's fighting spirit and …

Seven Pillars of Wisdom - 9 & 10: "But for fit monument, I shattered it, unfinished..."

Some books, when you come to the end of them, leave you gaping inwardly.  Dejected and confused, you feel like you missed something critical, after "getting" everything that came before.   Seven Pillars of Wisdom ends just like Lawrence of Arabia, so I should have seen it coming. But after some whirlwind chapters, the ending came suddenly, doubly sobering as a first-person narrative.  Like so many real-life struggles, it hangs loosely together instead of being tied up neatly; you look for closure and find questions instead.
Men prayed me that I set our work, the inviolate house,                                               as a memory of you. But for fit monument I shattered it, unfinished: and now The little things creep out to patch themselves hovels                                             in the marred shadow                                                                      Of your gift.
9 & 10 - Balancing for a Last Effort; The House is Perfected

Exasperated one nig…

Seven Pillars of Wisdom - 7 & 8: The Dead Sea Campaign; The Ruin of High Hope

The Arab Revolt as led by Lawrence was not a solely independent effort.  Money and reinforcements came from Britain, and in return the Arab tribesmen and leadership collaborated with General Allenby against the common enemy.  The Dead Sea Campaign came after Allenby had taken Jerusalem, and would benefit both Arab and British objectives:
"The Arabs were to reach the Dead Sea as soon as possible; to stop the transport of [enemy] food up it to Jericho before the middle of February; and to arrive at the Jordan before the end of March." (p. 465)This seemingly moderate plan became a source of extreme frustration for Lawrence.  Part of this was circumstantial, playing out in the alternate taking and retaking of the town of Tafileh, a tiresome and unpleasant part of the campaign.  Some of it, too, was the challenge of working with Zeid, Feisal's younger brother, who like Feisal's older brother and father was not of one mind with Lawrence's methods.

At one poi…

Seven Pillars of Wisdom - 5 & 6: Marking Time; The Raid upon the Bridges

Previously: Introduction, Book I, Book II, Book III, Book IV

After the capture of Akaba, the Arab Revolt was again able to re-focus on its core strategy: destroying the Turkish railway in Hejaz.  This followed Lawrence's philosophy of undermining Turkish resources instead of targeting their forces directly, following the priority of utilizing the Arab advantage - mobility and knowledge of terrain - and preserving Arab lives.

With the help of British expertise and the leadership of Arab sherifs, Lawrence set this plan into reality, both leading and training the Arab fighters in a series of bomb attacks on the railway.  The most materially valuable points were the stations, full of loot for the men to take back to their tribes...the most vulnerable points were the bridges.

These two parts were rich with Lawrence's insights on not only his own actions, thoughts, and struggles during this time, but also the geographical features he saw, the behavior and attitudes of other Br…

Reading England 2016: London challenge

The Reading England challenge is coming back next year, and I'm pretty excited for it!  I'll be committing to Level 1 (1–3 books), though I haven't decided if I'll focus on one county or read from multiple.  So far, I know I want to read The Mint by T. E. Lawrence, which is a London book...after that, anything goes (though I'm reserving a spot for Conrad on the list :)).
1/2/16 update: at the risk of excluding Conrad, I've decided on multiple counties, since I feel most of my British reading so far has been London-centric
8/6/16 update: Leaning back towards London now, since I've read two London books this year. London:The Mint (T. E. Lawrence) ✓London:The Man Who Was Thursday (G. K. Chesterton) ✓London:The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde) ✓