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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo finds himself with a nice, tall stack of new-to-me books with which to wile away his moments of leisure.  Let’s have a look at ’em:

First, I mentioned borrowing Monty Python Speaks from my brother in a post below.  However, he also pressed upon me another book about which he has been raving for some time:  Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson.  It tells of the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 through the lens of the story of one Isaac Cline, the resident meteorologist with the Gubmint Weather Bureau, apparently by means of lots of original documentation and testimony.

Ol’ Robbo has had pretty good success with what might be called forensic natural history books.  (See, e.g., Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm and Simon Winchester’s Krakatoa.)  So I’m looking forward to this one.

Next, a large bumper of wine with Our Maximum Leader for his recent recommendation of Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men In A Boat!  The book, which relates a two-week jaunt upon the Thames by three boon companions plus the dog Montmorency, is an absolute hoot (apart from a few Gawd Help Us passages in which the author waxes lyrical about Truth, Beauty, and Nature), combining Edwardian middle-brow smart-assery with Shaggy Dog stories in a most delightful and jaunty style.

Jerome was a generation or two older than Plum Wodehouse, but I believe I see a definite gunnegshun between the two in terms of background, light presentation, and tongue-in-cheek sensibilities.  (Also, Jerome was pals with W.S. Gilbert, who Plum knew and admired as a young man, so there’s that, too.)

(By the bye, I picked up the Penguin Classics edition of this book which also contains its sequel, Three Men on the Bummel, in which the same trio of friends takes a bicycling tour in Germany.)

Also, another bumper of wine with long time friend of the decanter Old Dominion Tory, who recently sent Ol’ Robbo a package containing three historickal novels about Colonial America by Allan W. Eckert: The Conquerors, The Wilderness Wars, and Wilderness Empire.  Ol’ Robbo has no objections whatsoever to history set in novel form, so long as it is accurate and well done, of course, and greatly looks forward to trying these books out.  ODT also sent The Old Dominion At War:  Society, Politics, and Warfare in Late Colonial Virginia, by James Titus.  This is a straight academic study, but is of particular interest to Ol’ Robbo because of my own family connections to the Virginny Frontier in the 1750’s and ’60’s.

I should also here mention ODT’s previous gift of David Preston’s Braddock’s Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution.  Immensely informative, particularly about the shear logistical problems faced by both the British and the French in trying to put forces into southwestern Pennsylvania in the 1750’s (and to get them out again).  I will admit, however, that there is something about Preston’s prose style that is very slightly off-putting to me.  (I confirmed this when I also bought and read his The Texture of Contact: European and Indian Settler Communities on the Frontiers of Iroquoia, 1667-1783.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but as a chronicler of the great struggle between France and Britain for control of North America and the rise of the New American Republic, I don’t think he’s quite as clear as his modern contemporary Fred Anderson, nor is he anywhere near as dramatic as the great Francis Parkman.  But never mind.

Oh, and I don’t want to get in copyright trouble here, but I do encourage you all to go look up the painting Washington at the Battle of Monongahela by Emmanuel Leutze, which is used to illustrate the cover of Preston’s book.  It’s part of a series Leutze did on Washington which also includes the famous Crossing of the Delaware.  A thoroughly, thoroughly beautiful piece of art.  (I must go see the original some time, which I believe is in a local museum dedicated to the Battle.)

And finally, speaking of books and art and historickal matters, let me circle back round to something I mentioned here a few days ago, namely that I was planning to watch the 1954 Kirk Douglas movie, “Ulysses“.

Whelp, all I can say is that if any friend of the decanter was considering following my lead, I can strongly advise not to bother.  The film is pretty hum-drum, contains very cheesy special effects, and is mostly in Italian with badly-dubbed English superimposed.  (And I never liked Kirk Douglas, anyway.)  In fact, the movie even screwed up Ulysses’ famous encounter with the Sirens, in that it didn’t even show them! You only get Douglas being lashed to the mast (I’ll be he enjoyed it, too, IYKWIMAITYD), and then some ethereal voices cooing about Home and Penelope.  Yeesh!

You want Ulysses and the Sirens? This is how you Ulysses and the Sirens!

“Ulysses and the Sirens” by Herbert James Draper (1864-1920)

Sigh….

Anyhoo, what I really wanted to say relating back to historickal fiction was this:  Most people these days, if they’ve heard of Robert Graves at all, associate him only with either Goodbye To All That, his WWI autobiography, or his I, Claudius historickal novels.  The fact of the matter is that Graves wrote around ten such novels, some set in Classickal Times, some set in other eras.

Among the Classicks novels is one called Homer’s Daughter.

You see, there is a theory (generally accepted, I believe), that The Iliad and The Odyssey were not composed by the same author (and that there may not, in fact, have been a historickal “Homer” at all).  There is another theory (perhaps less accepted) that The Odyssey was actually composed by a woman (based largely on the fact that so much more attention is paid in it to domestic themes).  Graves took this idea and composed a novel in which a young princess named Nausicaa tells the story of how her father’s kingdom on a little island off Sicily came under peril from bumptious and ambitious noblemen who sought to loot her father’s house, marry her, and depose him, and how a mysterious royal castaway appeared and helped her, her mother, and her little brother defeat these nobles in the absence of her father, the King, and her elder brother.  At the end (and I don’t think I’m giving any spoilers here), Nausicaa allows one of the suitors, a member of the Poets’ Guild, to live in exchange for his promise to take her story, transpose it into verse, and insert it into the Homeric Cycle.

It’s nicely done, pays keen attention to the sensibilities of the period, and is a fun afternoon’s read.

So that’s that.

And for those of you who may be thinking, “But Robbo, you do know it’s Advent, don’t you?”  I say yes, yes, I am planning to put in time on that reading front, too.  I believe my author of choice this season is going to be Frank J. Sheed, who I find has a singular talent for clear, crisp theological discussion nicely calculated to penetrate the brains and souls of even such shallow, debauched, and ungrateful louts as Ol’ Robbo.

UPDATE: Middle Gel is reading “Hamlet” in school.  This evening, she approached me seeking advice on a question she has to answer about the play: What do the characters of Polonius, Laertes, and Ophelia “symbolize” to Hamlet?

“Whaddaya mean by ‘symbolize‘?” I asked.

I don’t know,” the Gel said, “That’s just the question.  My teacher said something about ‘Oedipal complexes’.”

Cor lumme, stone the crows. Freudian freakin’ analysis.  The Gel came to me because I was an English major back in the day, but unfortunately for her, I managed to get a degree that concentrated on things like the Bard’s linguistic beauty, his dramatic deftness, and his keen insights into all (emphasis, all) aspects of human nature, not just those associated with funny feelings in his characters’ pants or the dark sides of their brains.

God forgive me, but my advice to the Gel?  Make up some psycho-babble answer.  They can’t get her for that, after all….

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