Tuesday, November 1, 2016

October Reading

In which I rant vociferously about the first book on the list.
  1. The Borgias and Their Enemies: 1431-1519 by Christopher Hibbert
    • I've said a little spiel about this back in September, but I'm sure I'll repeat some complaints here. All quotes are taken from this book.
    • On the topic of Jofrè's consummation of his marriage (or lack thereof) with Sancia
      • An excerpt from Burchard, quoted from Hibbert: "the groom embraced his bride without shame" (p.59-60), and then later on in the book
      • "His immaturity may well explain why... Jofrè had still not consummated his marriage" (p.95), according to the accounts of one Venetian diarist, Marin Sanudo
      • Unless the consummation of marriage in the second quotation actually refers to bearing children rather than the act of sex itself, which Burchard details as having been witnessed by the legate & the King (i.e. Alfonso II), I'm a little confused as to why the two sources are saying different things - rather, I'm not confused that different sources have different information so much as why Hibbert has chosen to quote from both of them without making a note of the contradiction (if I am interpreting both of these passages correctly).
    • "Cesare was also angered by the favouritism being shown to his brother, but he was careful not to show his furious jealousy" (p.98)
      • On what grounds does Hibbert know about Cesare's "furious jealousy" if he was so careful not to show it? Did he actually mean to say, "assuming Cesare's guilt in the murder of Juan Borgia despite that there were multiple suspects and it was never proven in any case, we can then infer that Cesare must have been furiously jealous - this obviously being the motive for the aforementioned crime - of the Pope's love for Juan"? Sounds a bit like circular reasoning, but who am I to say?
    • "She was, however, like almost everyone else, wary of her brother and his sadistic streak" (p.93), although Hibbert cites no proof of her wariness, either in her behaviour or in direct quotation, so it's hard to see how we know about this.
    • Also, if Vasari is your best source concerning the topic of Pinturicchio (p.84-85), I am inclined to believe that the passage should also come with a warning about the unreliability of Vasari as a source, which is not to say I'm discounting Vasari completely so much as saying it would be great if reference to him came with a disclaimer. See Vasari on the topic of the Mona Lisa and her wonderfully rendered eyebrows.
    • THERE WAS SO MUCH MORE TO BE SAID ABOUT CESARE AFTER THE DEATH OF THE POPE. Hibbert made the choice to focus on Lucrezia after the election of Giuliano della Rovere as Pope Julius II, glossing over pretty much everything Cesare tried to do to secure power again by checking in with him from Lucrezia's POV, that is, "Then, on April 22, 1507... one of Cesare's squires, who had travelled from Navarre [told] Lucrezia that her brother was dead, killed in battle, as Cesare had always suspected he would be, some six weeks earlier, fighting for the king of Navarre" (p.291)
      • I understand that this is not a book about Cesare, and that due to the slim nature of the book, there was a lot of information that didn't quite make the cut. That being said, nothing was said at all about Cesare actually going to Navarre: how did he arrive there from being imprisoned in Chinchilla? What about his attempts at escape?
      • Also, on another subject, what of Cesare's strictness with his own troops, e.g. when attempting to take Faenza, resting at the nearby town, banning theft from the citizens on pain of death? I can't much remember where else I was thinking while reading that quite a bit of information didn't make it into this book, and that it's pretty much all the ones that would have made Cesare seem less of a monster.
    • Let's end this on a positive note though: I learned a bit more about Lucrezia. I have to approach whatever I have read about her with a touch of skepticism and suspicion of bias on the part of Hibbert, but I would say I did learn a little more about Lucrezia.
      • Sorry, I lied; I'm ending this on a criticism after all: even just for writing a paper for an undergraduate class on Cesare Borgia I felt inclined to at least read up on all the books & electronic resources I could get my hands on about Cesare in particular, in addition to searching up and bringing home with me materials on Lucrezia, even though time prevented me from cracking into Lucrezia. All this to say: wouldn't it be best to do as complete a research as can be done into all personages involved in the Borgia family relevant to discussion if you're going to write a book generally on the Borgias? (I would even say to do further research on "their enemies" to see if all the facts match up, as well as to offer insights as to possible interpretations of actions the Borgias took or may have taken, and (political or personal) motives for both sides for doing what they did.)
  2. The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches by Gaétan Soucy
    • I was pretty confused for a bit after reading this, although not nearly as much as with The Epiplectic Bicycle. Soucy turns the traditional fairytale archetype on its head: the prince charming arrives, sure, but on a black steed that brings with it the noise of destruction, not to mention losing to the antagonist, being powerless to save the damsel. I'm sure there's a bunch here to write about on the themes of religion, fairytales and myths, with a particular focus on Soucy's use of language and how the reader should interpret all the events written by this "secretarious", as it is all through her eyes.
  3. On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History by Nicholas A. Basbanes
    • Pretty comprehensive, but doesn't cover much how to actually make paper, since that's not really the topic of this book. To be honest, because I read this as an e-book & over the course of many days, in between doing other things, I'm sure a lot of this just wasn't retained at all, so I can't be a good judge of this book. It served its purpose well, and I'm pretty sure I learned a lot from it, but I can't think of anything in particular to say about it.
  4. High Rise (2015)
    • I feel as though the message was supposed to be about class divide and the absurdity of it all, but I can't help but simply wonder: what did I just watch? Perhaps I'm missing a lot of references (e.g. the Margaret Thatcher statement at the end about capitalism, which I suppose was supposed to sum up the entire movie in the sense that power - money - was held in the hands of the architect & higher floor residents, and how the mess of this movie came out of that, except is there more to it than that?), but I was so very confused and lost throughout most of it. I mean, a couple of times I thought there might be a slightly more coherent plot coming up, e.g. when Laing told Toby something like, "when I was your age, I was always covered in something. Mud, jam, failure. My father would never associate with anything dirty" or something along those lines, and I thought, oh here we go, it's going somewhere! Except it totally wasn't! Or if it was, it was a bit too obscure for me to realize it.
  5. KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps by Nikolaus Wachsmann
    • This was an incredibly comprehensive and detailed history of concentration camps, starting from pre-war following post-war decisions regarding the camp property and grounds. Well-written and easy to follow, although there's a lot to keep in mind at once because of the vast reach of the KL, in addition to which although there were a number of familiar names (from If This is a Woman), I still had a bit of trouble keeping up with all the names of SS officials and officers, not to mention specific prisoners. In comparison to If This is a Woman though, it was more well organized, and felt less like it was jumping all over the place, with fewer one-off prisoner mentions (or at least with the impression that there were fewer of them).
  6. Bad Singer: The Surprising Science of Tone Deafness and How We Hear Music by Tim Falconer
    • Not quite as in-depth as I had expected for the parts to do with the actual science of tone deafness, although I suppose the importance of timber was a bit surprising. Not in the "I never even considered it" sort of way so much as having an actual term to whenever I think about the colour of a song, or the taste of it, the round quality of a song or a note that's almost like a bubble at its peak - neither sagging nor about to pop, but holding robustly - and other sorts of similar descriptions.
  7. The Setting Sun by Osamu Dazai
    • To be honest, I'm not quite sure how to feel about this. The letter from Naoji to Kazuko, at the end, was I think the heart of the entire novel. I enjoyed it, but if I had to say, No Longer Human is for myself more relatable, and by far more tragic. Naoji's  attitude regarding oweing people debts and letting people pay for you, however, I can relate to more than I would like to; there's something to oweing debt in any degree to anyone for any amount of time that strikes me as unpalatable (though not entirely unavoidable at all times, or for the sake of convenience), and that rigidity, not limited solely to the subject of monetary debt, appears to me what drove Naoji to suicide, in large part. Oddly this standard does not apply to my treating others or having others in debt to me, and although I doubt (or at least I truly hope) I don't hold it over anyone's head that they owe me money or some favour, I wonder if there's something in it?
  8. Snark: It's Mean, It's Personal, and It's Ruining Our Conversation by David Denby
    • It makes me wonder whether any - all? - of my biting humour might be called snark. I would like to object in part to Denby's statement about everyone's involvement in celebrity culture though: I'm pretty sure I live under a celebrity-cultural rock. That being said, perhaps I'm more embroiled than I'd like to think and am simply in denial.
    • The shallowness of this slim volume is a touch disappointing, as I was hoping for more history and etymology, more in-depth discussion and analysis, something much more engaged and personal, than was presented. Of course, the slimness of the book should have signaled as much, but I had high hopes, expecting something like, perhaps, Snobbery (Epstein). As it is, Snark only scrapes the surface and leaves the reader hanging, dissatisfied. I suppose if I were so inclined, at this point I should make a further inquiry myself into the subject, but when the title is so snappy and promises so much, it's a bit hard to lift myself from my disappointment in search of more on snark.

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