Book Look - Scoop, by Evelyn Waugh

Am slowly working my way through the Waugh canon but wish it hadn't taken me so long to get around to Scoop. Finished the book a couple of days ago and I'm still smiling over the final 15 pages.

In this outing Waugh takes a break from heavy social commentary (war, politics, social mores) to take on a much broader mark: the fourth estate. Unrest is brewing in the African country of Ishmaelia; British tabloids scamble to deploy their best foreign correspondents to cover the efray. Alas, through a series of blunders and misunderstandings, the Beast ends up deploying the author of their "pastoral living" column. Regular readers of Waugh will recognize William Bolt's type: steadfast and unflappable in the face of mounting chaos. Thrust into the heart of a forgotten African country, surrounded by a cast of socially/ethically/intellectually compromised foreign correspondents, and laden with an entire train-car full of wholly ridiculous luggage (including a "rather overfurnished tent, three months' rations, a collapsible canoe, a jointed flagstaff and Union Jack, and hand-pump and sterilizing plant, an astrolabe, six suites of tropical linen and a sou'wester, a camp operating table and set of surgical instruments, a portable humidor, and a Christmas hamper complete with a Santa Claus costume and a tripod mistletoe stand"), Bolt weathers a series of increasingly absurd predictaments without ever compromising his dignity.

There's not much subtlety here: the majority of characters are little more than grotesques and much of the humor is broad farce. But it's extraordinarily witty and hugely amusing farce: I laughed aloud so often, people actually began to move away from me on the metro. (A added boon during rush hour!)

Yes, Waugh's treatment of Africans is racist and irreverent - but then again, so is his treatment of his fellow countrymen, so critical reviewers might consider lightening up. The racism is no more than an honest representation of the paternalistic attitude of Britain towards "uncivilized lands" at this time in history; and, besides, all's fair in love, war, and satire.

Scoop is brisk, broad, and fun, fun, fun! Definitely a book I'll be picking up again one day.


Superpowers I'd Like to Have

I've been thinking about superpowers.  Specifically, I've been thinking about overrrated superpowers.  Stopping bullets with your chest?  How many times is that going to come up in your life, unless maybe you've chosen a career in the military?  Leaping tall buildings?  What's the big deal, when you can just drive around them?  Flying? Yes - being able to get somewhere fast would be awesome, but not if it means arriving with bad hair and bugs in my teeth.  And forget invisibility - that's really only helpful if you're a criminal or if you're being hunted by Sauron.

Not unexpectedly, this got me thinking about superpowers that would actually be useful.  Here's my list thus far:
  1. Whine suppression.  Everytime someone whines, I snap my fingers and - poof!  They automatically become reasonable.  This power would be equally useful when dealing with toddlers and politicians.
  2. Calorie zapping.  Zapping the calories out of food in a way that doesn't effect taste = coolest superpower ever!  
  3. Teleportation.  I keep waiting for science to invent teleporters like the ones on Star Trek, but they're taking their sweet time about it.  In the meantime, I'll accept the ability to teleport myself to any location, instanteously.  Goodbye, airports; farewell, traffic!
  4. Biblioportation.  The ability to transplant myself into any book plot that I choose, to interact with the characters and stay for as long as I like.  I'm pretty sure I could win Mr. Darcy away from Elizabeth, and I've always had a secret longing to attend Mr. Fezziwig's Christmas party!
  5. Mosquito repellation.  With a wave of my mighty superswatter (think Thor's hammer but swishier), all mosquitos would flee before me.
  6. Time generation.  The ability to invent extra hours of the day so I could catch up on everything I have to do, then everything I WANT to do, and still get a full night's sleep.
  7. Quickread.  The ability to zip through a book without sacrificing any of the meaning, language, nuance or metaphor.  Some - including myself - would argue that lingering amidst the pages of a great book is one of life's pleasures.  Which is why I wouldn't want to use this superpower all the time, but barring superpowers, I'm not sure how else I'm ever going to make it through my collection of unread books before I die, especially when I just keep adding to the collection with the breezy confidence of a vampire or possibly the last Highlander.
  8. Auto-sort.  I zap papers or accumulated debris with a wand and poof!  Everything returns to its designated place.  No more cleaning!
  9. Bullshit detector.  The ability to tell when someone is lying. A "must-have" superpower for single women, tax collectors and police officers, but there's a dark side (don't all the best superpowers have a dark side?): the superpower would have to be disabled during election seasons to avoid the real possibility of psychic implosion.  
  10. Thesuria.  When writing or speaking, the ability to always be able to lay my hands on exactly the word I am looking for. 
  11. Hippie-ray.  I'd use this to inflict peace and love on passing crazies, forcing them to stop yelling and start coming up with peaceful solutions to their problems. 
If the cosmos suddenly decided to grant you the superpower of your choice, what would it be?