2/20/2015

Everything I Know About the English, I've Learned from English Literature


I've only spent a couple of weeks in England, but I feel like I enjoy an intimate acquaintance with the country based on all the novels I've read about the realm.  Here's a partial list of things I've inferred about the British, based solely on my study of British literature:

  1. At all times, English villages are either planning a church fete or actually in the midst of one (Christie)
  2. Forebear crossing the moor in those dark hours when the powers of evil are exalted (Doyle, Bronte)
  3. Anything worth saying, sounds even more impressive in iambic pentameter (Shakespeare)
  4. The London poor are a whimsical class populated by fallen gentlemen, endearing orphans, adn picturesque villains (Dickens)
  5. The country is disproportionately inhabited by single men in possession of good fortunes, all of whom are in want of wives (Austen)
  6. All wild, gay young bucks come automatically furnished in imperturbable butlers (Wodehouse, Sayers) 
  7. Portals to alternative worlds are everywhere (Carroll, C.S. Lewis, Rowlings)
  8. The best way to conceal your pain and inner despair is behind a veil of acerbic wit (Pope, Swift, Waugh)
  9. When caught in a potentially ridiculous situation, tell a preposterous lie and then hope for the best (Wilde, Congreve, Sheridan)
  10. Tea makes everything better - and if tea doesn't work, there's always the corner pub (Wodehouse)
  11. The best death is a heroic death (Malory, Wren), but if you can't manage that, at least endeavor to die tragically from thwarted love (Bronte, McEwan)
  12. Everything's funnier in drag (Shakespeare)
  13. True nobility is determined by character, not by birth (Scott, Kipling, Stevenson)
  14. Sexual matters are best dealth with by repressing them until they either become twisted and perverse, and/or erupt with a fury sufficient to consume all the guilty and at least a few innocents as well (Lawrence, Eliot, Hardy)
  15. The best poet is a tormented poet (Byron, Shelley)
  16. Forests are generally untrustworthy places, inclined to be teaming with fairies, green men, and merry-making highwaymen (Spenser, Shakespeare, Robin Hood)
  17. If Scotland Yard doesn't find out your crime, then that seemingly innocuous lord/vicar/old lady/foreign visitor down the way is sure to (Christie, Sayers, Chesterton)
  18. Revenge is best served up raw and bloody (Marlowe, Johnson, Shakespeare)
  19. Nice girls get their reward in heaven (Milton, Richardson), but naughty girls get their reward here on earth (Chaucer, Cleland)
  20. In a world ruled by chaos, the only honorable way to cope is to maintain a stiff upper lip and carry on (Waugh)

2/19/2015

Book Look - Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis


This is going to be a tough review for me because what apparently makes the book notable – its portrayal of rapidly-evolving British social conventions regarding class and academia in the 1950s – requires background knowledge that I, as an n-th generation American female, definitely don’t possess. Anthony Burgess has said that the main character, Dixon, a provincial lad who finds himself teaching at a stuffy, bourgeois university, “makes little dents in the smug fabric of hypocritical, humbugging, class-bound British society,” and “Amis [has]caught the mood of post-war restiveness in a book which, though socially significant [is] still extremely funny.” I’m going to have to take his word for it, because my impressions of the tale were somewhat otherwise.

First, there’s the fact that what constitutes “funny” in this book doesn't align well with what most folks would find funny now. Dixon’s sense of humor is infantile: when displeased, he makes childish faces at people behind their backs or plagues them with stupid/cruel practical jokes (defacing photos with mustaches; placing prank calls). I’ve seen enough Monte Python to accept that it's possible that British readers would find this content funny, but Dixon’s boorish antics mostly left me unsympathetic and annoyed.

Then there’s Amis’s portrayal of “hypocritical, humbugging, classbound British society,” which I didn’t quite see either. Yes, Amis’s bete noir, a college professor named Welch, is old and doddering, a little too fond of recorder music and madrigals and the ideal of “merrie England” – a construct that exists more in imagination rather than fact (as the final scene of this novel successfully mocks), but at least he cares about his college and has manners. Dixon, on the other hand, cares little about scholarship (“Good God, you don’t think I care about any of this stuff?” he confesses at one point) and less about his students (the only criteria for his summer session topic is whether it will appeal to most attractive women at the university). I had a hard time not siding with Welch in this dispute. There is another subplot pitting Dixon against Welch’s son Bertrand, a pretentious snob who is genuinely easy to hate. The problem is that he’s a little TOO easy to hate, and so comes off more as a villain than as an honest representation of British bourgeois society, thus lessoning the impact of Amis’s satire in this direction.

Overall, I found the subplot involving Dixon’s love life to be more thought-provoking; though, again, I think it may be necessary to possess a British sensibility to understand it fully. By modern standards, it’s hard to understand why Dixon remains loyal to neurotic, needy fellow-academic Margaret rather than pursuing the woman of his dreams, Christine. (I’m going to omit mentioning my distaste, as a female, for the condescending way that basically all the female characters in this book are depicted, as I’m attributing this to the general backwardness of the era rather than a particular flaw of the author’s.) But the relationship makes more sense in the context of British morality, especially British morality during the war years, when “duty” was drilled into young men along with their letters. Though the introduction to the volume I read, penned by David Lodge, attributes Dixon’s loyalty to pity, I would argue that it’s Dixon’s sense of duty/obligation that prevents him from straying. (To paraphrase an exchange from a recent television show: “What was the name of that Gilbert & Sulliven operetta about duty?” Answer: “They’re all about duty.”)

Jim does finally does hit a lucky streak in the final pages of the book, winning (SPOILER) both the job and the girl of his dreams. After 100s of pages of enduring his whining, peevish, petty, drunken antics, can't say I was convinced he deserved to live happily ever after. But there’s no denying that “nasty things are nastier than nice things,” as Dixon notes. And there’s no denying that Kingsley Amis’s narrative style is distinctive and a fascinating time capsule through which to view mid-century British sensibilities.

2/10/2015

My 40+ Favorite Sounds


Some sounds you love because they're gentle or pleasant.  Some you love because they evoke a particular mood.  Some you love because they trigger a special memory.  Below, in no particular order, are some of my all-time favorites.  If you're like most people, just reading each item on the list will trigger so many memories, you'll feel like you're travelling through time and space to all your happiest places.  I hope these make you smile as much as they do me!
  1. The crack of a baseball bat
  2. Cheering at a little league baseball game
  3. The sound of a high school announcer at a football game
  4. Whippoorwills
  5. Peeper frogs
  6. Snow falling/snow crunching
  7. rustling/crunching leaves
  8. children laughing
  9. a marching band
  10. crickets
  11. thunder
  12. rain falling on a tin roof
  13. babies giggling
  14. crackling campfire
  15. horses footsteps on cobblestones
  16. a stream running over rocks
  17. waves crashing on a beach
  18. wind chimes
  19. fireworks exploding
  20. a distant train calling
  21. wind rustling through tree limbs
  22. a golf ball falling into the hole
  23. bacon frying
  24. the whirr of a fan on a hot day
  25. tractors plowing distant fields
  26. waterfalls
  27. church bells on Sunday
  28. the musical sound of an approaching ice cream truck
  29. distant foghorns
  30. insects buzzing in a meadow
  31. owls
  32. kids splashing in a pool
  33. jingle bells on a sled
  34. street musicians
  35. splashing puddles
  36. organ music at baseball games
  37. my car thumping over a cement road laid in segments
  38. crunching gravel
  39. chicks peeping
  40. fountains
  41. tumbling dice
  42. drum lines
  43. jump ropes
What have I missed? Add your own favorites sounds below!

2/08/2015

A Thousand Words - How to Survive Various Animal Attacks

how to survive deadly animal attacks!. . How to survive various animal attacks Bears: Sharks: Wolves; Roll into a hall Beep It on Throw a stick and start rollin

Love this list!  But it seems to me that it omits some useful tips, which I've summarized below:
  1. Komodo dragon - armed dwarf
  2. Polar bear - global warming
  3. Fire ants - picnic
  4. Piranha - chewing gum
  5. Cobra - wind instrument
  6. Lion - catchy Disney tune
  7. Killer Whale - gig at Sea World
  8. Jellyfish - peanut butter
  9. Tokay gecko - acting contract
  10. Hippopotamus - marbles
  11. Vampire bat - very tiny wooden stakes
  12. Chicken hearts - jello