Short Reactions To Books That Probably Deserve Long Reactions, Vol. II

Hey Blog Readers,

I kind of fell sick again, but also, even before that, I fell victim to a kind of malaise. Malaises come in many kinds, and I am sure that almost all of them are familiar to you. But, then again, maybe not, because it seems to me like each new malaise is new and even interesting. Each one is a working-out, in inactivity, of some new problem. Inactivity is kind of a luxury, even as it is also sort of a problem in itself. Anyway, you know what I liked? That time when I gave my short reactions to books that I had read recently:

A Short Account Of The Destruction Of The Indies By Bartoleme De Las Casas – In the 16th century, former conquistador and Spanish monk De Las Casas goes through every single province in the New World and gives a short account of the atrocities that took place in each. After every single province, he will usually say something like, “Atrocities were committed such as had never been seen before in the history of the human race.” Which, when you think about it, might be kind of true, at least in scale. As someone long desensitized by Holocaust memoirs to all sorts of ethnic violence, my first reaction was a kind of wonderment at how large the New World was, and at how very many cities and civilizations and tribes there were to decimate and enslave.

Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row by John Steinbeck – None of these had the raw power as Grapes of Wrath. In fact they didn’t really even partake of that power. There was none of the same anger at social injustice (or even the realistic-seeming social observation). It was like they were written by a different man. But they were still kind of good. What I found interesting is that the two books were both vaguely Knights-Of-The-Round-Table-based books about groups of impoverished men in the town of Monterey, California, but they were actually quite different because they took place in entirely different substrates of impoverishment. Tortilla Flat is about drunken bums, while Cannery Row is about shiftless idlers. The former are unable to hold a job and unable to improve their lives (not that there’s anything wrong with that), while the latter just don’t want to. Both are sad in slightly different ways.

Candy Girl by Diablo Cody – Kind of a great book. Long portions of it are taken up with Diablo Cody talking about how she failed to really ever make it as a stripper, and felt very insecure about that. I was kind of expecting there to be some kind of revelatory epiphany (like there are at the end of addiction memoirs), but there wasn’t one. And that was great. One expects a stripper memoir to be kind of angsty, somehow, and this one wasn’t. It was a memoir about someone who took up a strange job that was inappropriate to her social class…and not a memoir about someone’s dark descent into the sex industry. Also, I dunno…it’s fun to hear about what it’s like to be a stripper, and the economics of it, and the demographics of it, and how it all works…

War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells – Not very different from a modern alien invasion novel, but considerably more impressive, considering that Wells was inventing most of these tropes. He not only invented big tropes, like heat-rays and walking mechanical invasion vehicles, but also little tropes: tropes that one does not realize are tropes. For instance, there is a very stirring scene midway through the book where several alien tripods are menacing a convoy of refugees trying to evacuate Britain for France, and the tripods are successfully defeated due to a suicidal ramming charge by a British cruiser (constituting one of the only military victories over the aliens)….now, I am pretty sure we’ve all read that scene many times, but it is possible that this was the first. Reading the book is a strange experience, the combination of tropes makes it seem like some strange mash-up or parody – like Pride and Prejudice and Aliens or something. I think this is how some people feel when they read Lord of the Rings for the first time after having had extensive reading in the fantasy genre.

Oliver Twist ­by Charles Dickens – Maybe it’s just because I was sick when I read it (okay, it was probably due to that), but I found this book pretty dull. Maybe I just don’t care for stories about tiny children. When the book is talking about evil beadles or pickpocketing rings, then I am good, but Oliver bored me. He was hardly a protagonist at all. And when the story talked about how good and kind and well-mannered he was, it made me gag. Why couldn’t the nice rich folks have rescued the Artful Dodger?

A Lost Lady By Willa Cather – I had forgotten how much I loved Willa Cather! I really love her. And I had forgotten that I love Willa Cather even though whenever I read a capsule description of one of her novels it sounds like the most unappealing garbage in the world. For instance, this one is about the wife of a railroad construction magnate. Her husband falls sick and falls on hard times and dies. She goes from being bright and charitable to kind of morally dissolute. It is complicated, and sometimes seems maybe a little bit sexist, but it is also really good. It is about the decline of the frontier and the American West, which is for once not being told through the lens of some idiotic (albeit probably awesome) cowboy parable.

Comments (



  1. Becca

    Oh man, I love Dickens, but Oliver Twist is like the MOST BORING Dickens. Because Oliver is so boring! He is exactly the kind of kid who is played by a boy soprano in a Rogers & Hammerstein musical.

    (Okay, I don’t think the musical of Oliver is actually Rogers and Hammerstein but I think my point stands.)

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Yes, Oliver Twist (the character) royally sucks. But don’t worry, this has not at all soured me on Dickens. Bleak House was really good, and David Copperfield was pretty much mindblowing. I just need to figure out which one to read next. Maybe I will read the one that Dickens wrote which has nice jews, to erase the badness of Fagin from my mind.

      1. Becca

        The one with nice Jews is my favorite! Not because of its quality necessarily, mostly because it’s so hilarious to me how the whole book seems to be sheepishly saying ‘no seriously guys I REALLY AM SORRY about Fagin’.

        1. R. H. Kanakia

          I like the story I read once, about how Dickens received a fan letter from a Jewish person (while he was writing Oliver Twist) which was like, “Umm, what is up with the anti-semitism, here?” and he immediately went back and took out the word “Jew” as an epithet (or alternative name for Fagin) in the sections that were yet to be printed. I kept looking for the switchover point in Oliver Twist, but I never did (probably because I became too bored at some point). Not so many authors would have done that (although there are a great many authors who can and did have had the sense to refrain from using the epithet in the first place, but it’s not like Dickens is known for his sense)

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