I’ve been on a book binge lately.  Let me tell you all about it.
First I flew through archy and mehitabel by Don Marquis.  Archy is a cockroach, and he types his poetry by hopping from key to key on the typewriter, so he’s can’t quite manage capital letters.  He’s also not fond of punctuation.  Mehitabel is an alley cat who believes she is the reincarnated form of Cleopatra.  Don Marquis is the brilliant soul who was a journalist for The Evening Sun and began publishing the tales of Archy and Mehitabel in 1916.  The poems are wickedly funny, with not a little satire sprinkled throughout.  I highly recommend “the moth.”  Here’s a bit of one of my other favorites, in which Archy is discussing the universe:
it is rushed
perhaps it has private
knowledge to the effect
that eternity is brief
after all
and it wants to get the big
jobs finished in a hurry
i find it possible to forgive
the universe
i meet it in a give and take spirit
although i do wish
that it would consult me at times
please forgive
the profundity of these
meditations
whenever i have nothing
particular to say
i find myself always
always plunging into cosmic
philosophy
or something
Then I read On Stories and Other Essays on Literature by C.S. Lewis.  Top to bottom, all of the essays were fascinating.  I never read Lewis without a pencil; if I try, I end up deeply regretting my inability to underline every other paragraph.  I particularly liked his essay on Lord of the Rings, which was a beautiful tribute to his friend’s work.  He says, “Here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; here is a book that will break your heart.”  While these essays contain a fair bit of literary criticism, they are also hilarious at times.  Lewis tells the story, “Once in a hotel dining-room I said, rather too loudly, ‘I loathe prunes.’  ‘So do I,’ came an unexpected six-year-old voice from another table.  Sympathy was instantaneous.  Neither of us thought it funny.  We both knew that prunes are far too nasty to be funny.”  In another essay, he condemns the bad science fiction or fantasy books “which leap a thousand years to find plots and passions which they could have found at home,” a trait that had been particularly annoying me of late but which I did not know how to properly vituperate until reading Lewis’s description.
I read the Epic of Gilgamesh on the plane to Boston and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  I like reading very old works because it feels like the next best thing to time travel.  Knowing that what you’re reading was written thousands of years ago is a thrilling experience.  In the case of Gilgamesh, however, I had read excerpts before and hadn’t been impressed.  I think I just had a poor translation before; either that, or this one was a particularly good translation.  The text flowed poetically, and I got caught up in Gilgamesh’s adventures.  There were a few unsavory parts, as is usual with ancient pagan stories, I suppose, but many of the lines were undeniably beautiful.  A trapper catches a glimpse of Enkidu, and “His face was altered like that of one who has made a long journey.” The friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu reminded me of that between David and Jonathan: “The one who goes in front protects his companion; the good guide who knows the way guards his friend.”
While I was at the USS Constitution museum, I (naturally) browsed the gift shop, and there I ran into The Captain from Connecticut by C.S. Forester.  I thought I’d read just about everything Forester ever wrote, but I’d never even heard of this book.  The story is his only tale about the American Navy, and Captain Peabody is pretty much an American version of Hornblower, right down to both having silly last names.  Peabody was different enough from Hornblower to carry his story well without making me wish I was back in the Royal Navy, and he certainly had better luck with women.  If you’ve read all of the Horatio books and are looking for new maritime adventures that still contain all of the elements you love from your old favorites, this is exactly the book for you.
I picked up George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation while at the Bunker Hill Museum. This little red book is packed with gems like Rule the 35th: “Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.”  Read and be edified.
Next up!  A Graveyard for Lunatics: Another Tale of Two Cities by Ray Bradbury.  No matter how much I read, there always seems to be more Bradbury out there.  I was a little thrown by this one, I’ll admit.  Bradbury writes vibrantly, forcefully, and rapidly: this is excellent in a short story.  In a novel, though, it’s occasionally disorienting.  I honestly wasn’t quite sure what was happening at times, there were so many exclamation marks, italics, and oblique references being thrown around.  (One can’t be too poetic in conveying that a character is dead, or one’s audience wonders whether he is physically or only metaphorically dead.)  Things did sort themselves out in the end so that I ultimately enjoyed the novel, but the initial feeling of being bogged down by enthusiasm was a new and unpleasant one for me.  Not his best novel, certainly.
On to Among the Shadows: Tales from the Darker Side by L.M. Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables series.  These stories were billed as being “unlike any others L.M. Montgomery ever wrote,” “somber, dark, and brooding.”  I would like to have a discussion with the blurb writer regarding his or her definitions of these words.  Granted, these stories weren’t the Anne books, but they were still awfully full of sweetness and light, and most made for pretty tame ghost stories.  Presumably the publishers were attempting to appeal to a different audience, but I’m afraid it backfired.  Still, I enjoyed the tales, and one or two of them had a hint of the deliciously sinister.
I picked up Famous Mysteries of the Sea by Patricia Lauber at the Wake County Library Booksale, solely based upon the title.  I didn’t look very closely into it at the time (at $4 per box of books, I was casting my net pretty wide), so I was surprised to find that this was a book for young readers or some such.  Not bad for all that, though.  The story of the Mary Celeste, for instance, never gets old.
I’m currently (finally) reading the Elements of Style by Strunk and White and loving it.  Strunk private published his “little book” in 1918 for use at the university where he taught and where E.B. White (author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little) took his classes.  Years later, White expanded and revised the book for publication.  I love this book so far, and its unflinching rules are refreshing after the waffling lists of exceptions and options in today’s grammar books, which are loathe to commit to a single correct usage.  Strunk does not suggest; he commands.  He will make you a better, more concise writer whether or not you want to be one, and he won’t pull any punches in the process.  “Also to be avoided in introduction is the word funny.  Nothing becomes funny by being labeled so.”  Here is what he has to say about the word “flammable”: “An oddity, chiefly useful in saving lives.  The common word meaning “combustible” is inflammable.  But some people are thrown off by the in– and think inflammable means ‘not combustible.’  For this reason, trucks carrying gasoline or explosives are now marked FLAMMABLE.  Unless you are operating such a truck and hence are concerned with the safety of children and illiterates, use inflammable.”  I miss crotchety old professors correcting my grammar.  I’m sure Strunk would have a field day with my blog-writing style: I find myself ignoring an astounding number of rules in these posts.
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