What I’ve been reading

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway.  I’m not quite sure why I picked up this one, except that I heard it discussed on the radio one day and it caught my attention.  I found Hemingway’s emotional distance from his characters to be a bit off-putting – although it’s written in first-person, the narrator never really discusses his feelings about things, just the events themselves.  But that said, I did enjoy it overall.  Certainly well worth the time I spent on it.

The Civil War: A Narrative, Vol 3: From Red River to Appomattox, by Shelby Foote.  I wrote about volumes 1 and 2 of this, which I read last summer.  Volume 3 was also excellent, though some of the things in it did annoy me.  In particular, I am an admirer of Grant and his generalship.  I think that Foote, although not the fan of Grant that I am, did him justice in the previous volumes.  But in this one, when Grant squares off against Lee (whom Foote reveres more than I do Grant), I think he gave Grant short shrift.  A warning: Civil War geekery follows.

In particular, look at the discussion of Cold Harbor, admittedly not Grant’s finest moment.  But Foote particularly castigates Grant for not providing detailed planning for the assault, instead setting general goals and leaving it to his subordinates to work out the details.  But about two pages later, Foote discusses Meade and his actions at Cold Harbor.  Meade was the actual commander of the Army of the Potomac, serving under Grant, who was general-in-chief of all of the Union armies, though Grant was present with that army for almost all of 1864.  Foote tells how in the previous battles of the 1864 campaign, Meade had provided the detailed planning, but at Cold Harbor, annoyed at the lack of recognition that he was getting, Meade sat out the planning.

Now Foote does not put two and two together here.  Up until this point, Grant had provided general guidance while Meade provided detailed planning.  But at Cold Harbor, when no one provided detailed planning, Foote blames Grant.  To my mind, the blame here lies primarily on Meade.

But I will say that aside from this, Foote is consistently readable.  I particularly enjoyed his discussion of the gradual collapse of the Confederacy – there was a real sense of poignancy in the abandonment of Richmond, the gradual surrender of the armies in the field, and the sight of the soldiers making their way home as best they could.  (And it was clear Foote would treat this as something special when I realized that I still had 300 pages to go in the book and there was only a month left to the war.)

If you want to read 3000 pages on the Civil War that focuses primarily on the military campaigns, Foote is hard to beat.  (If you want a shorter read that does a better job of covering the entire period, including a more detailed description of how we ended up in the war, I’d recommend James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom instead.)

The Nibelung’s Ring by Peter Bassett.  I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to the radio show Radiolab lately, and have mentioned it here previously.  One episode that I caught up to on the podcast was about Richard Wagner’s opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen.  I’ve been toying with the idea of trying to pick up opera lately, and this show made Wagner sound extremely attractive.

But Wagner’s opera cycle is a huge work of art – four operas spread over 15 hours in a language that I don’t know.  I figured that I’d need to do a little homework before diving into it.  The Nibelung’s Ring was my homework.  It’s an overview of the operas, covering the musical elements, the plot, and the history of their writing.  Overall, I found it to be a bit fluffy – I did not need to hear about Wagner’s genius quite as much as I did, or how sublime this or that moment is.  But it gave me a basic grounding, and Julie and I have started watching the operas themselves.  So far, we’ve watched “Das Rheingold,” the first opera, and enjoyed it far more than I hoped.  So I suppose I got what I wanted from this book.

– A special bonus movie recommendation: Julie and I went to see “Duplicity” last night.  A great caper flick built around a solid romance in which Clive Owens and Julia Roberts play former spies now working in corporate espionage.  I strongly recommend it – in particular, it makes a great date movie.

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One Response to What I’ve been reading

  1. Kedar says:

    hmm.. I remember having read “Farewell to arms”, but it was so long ago that I have almost forgotten what it was 🙂 Maybe a repeat read is in the order.

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