22 June 2010


———————— THIS MONTH'S BOOKS ————————
Knitting in the Old Way: Designs & Techniques from Ethnic Sweaters by Priscilla A. Gibson-Roberts and Deborah Robson (Fort Collins, Colorado: Nomad Press, 2004)
Hot Broke Messes: How to Have Your Latte and Drink It Too by Nancy Trejos (New York: Business Plus, 2010)
Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously by Adrienne Martini (New York: Free Press, 2010)
Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History by Simon Winder (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010)
iPhone Application Development for Dummies by Neal Goldstein (Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley, 2009)
Cheerful Money: Me, My Family, and the Last Days of WASP Splendor by Tad Friend (New York: Little, Brown, 2009). Kindle edition
Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope (Kindle edition)
In the Hebrides by Alice Starmore (Blairstown, N.J.: The Broad Bay Company, 1995)

Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History by Simon Winder
Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously by Adrienne Martini
Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope (Kindle edition)
Cheerful Money: Me, My Family, and the Last Days of WASP Splendor by Tad Friend

The Seven of Cups card in TarotThe knitting world has coined a term for the chronic condition of beginning more projects than you can possibly finish: Startitis. With myriad attractive things to choose from, you choose—all of them! Throughout most of June, I have been afflicted with Startitis in my reading world—though it is a matter of opinion whether it is actually an affliction.

Suffice it to say that Kindle is unlikely to provide a respite. Being able to get entire books downloaded to my iPod in less than a minute (for a price, of course) has supplemented, but not supplanted, my library habit. It used to be that, when I heard of a book I thought I'd like, I would request it from the library or, if I thought I needed constant access to it for the rest of my life (what was I thinking?!), buy it at the nearest bookstore. Impulse purchases were reserved for trips to worthy venues like St. Paul's Common Good and Nisswa's Rainy Days.

Now I am yielding to impulse as I sit in a coffeeshop or surf the Web at home. My pocketbook is suffering, but my patronage of my public library is not; I put 12 items on hold there this month.

But let's look at the things I'm actually reading. This month I finished Phineas Finn and started Phineas Redux, both on the iPod. This is at least my second time through both of them, and this time I am trying not to skip over the political bits—just as, when I read Moby-Dick all those years ago, I made myself read all the whaling parts, and actually ended up enjoying them.

So far Trollope's mine is not as rich as Melville's, but neither is it unrewarding. For example, I went to my college reunion this past weekend and, in one of those chance conversations one has at these affairs, I ended up talking to a fellow who's edited a book by the man believed to be Trollope's model for Phineas Finn: John Pope-Hennessy, 1834–1891. (M.C. Rintoul's Dictionary of Real People and Places in Fiction, available here in Google Books, discusses the various historical figures thought to be Trollope's Irish M.P., as well as providing a key to other less thinly disguised political lights; Daubeny turns out to be Disraeli, for instance. If you have access to Academic Search Premier or another database that indexes the journal English Studies, also check out John Halperin's April 1978 article therein on the subject, "Trollope's Phineas Finn and History.")

Emperor Maximilian IIn the physical world of old-fashioned print, I'm really loving Germania. Simon Winder has that light, ironic tone that seems to be wound into the DNA of the best British writers—I am thinking of my hero Nick Hornby as well. Winder is irreverent, but I find myself trusting him implicitly as he romps through German social and political history, which he cheerfully acknowledges is justly considered a cultural dead zone for today's scholars, tourists, gastronomes, and politicos. "I want to get round the Führer and try to reclaim a bit of Europe which is in many ways Britain's weird twin," he says.

Picking a page practically at random, here is Winder on the founding father of the Habsburg kaisers:

"The Emperor Maximilian I died in 1519 having spent a long and enjoyable life, fighting, having children, feasting and fixing up marriages for his own children. His reign has the air of a vastly prolonged international card game where through debonair luck and skill Maximilian winds up with virtually everything. ... Sadly Maximilian died before the [soap-opera] episodes where ... the marriage of his son Philip the Handsome to the Castilian Joanna the Mad was going to have the sensational result of their six children turning into two emperors and four queens."

I'm happy just living in a world where nutty royalists can trace their ancestry back to someone named Joanna the Mad. Aren't you?

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