Reading Report

January 07, 2004


I decided to start commenting more on my readings, and linking to the comments from the side-roll.

I just put Margaret Visser's Much Depends on Dinner back in its box. I made it to tape 8 of 11, which is pretty good for me and an audiobook. Now I am reading a KKK western instead.

Visser's book was frustrating - she had some good information, she had some pop anthrobabble, she had some careful commentary on the gains and weaknesses of the green revolution, and she had some stuff that was just plain wrong. I have read some food history and history of manners before; I like both subjects. Visser is good on them. She also has some good information about agricultural history, another subject I have read a little on and am vaguely interested in.

What I found frustrating about it was two things. The first was the anthrobabble. The book is a commentary on food and society, organized around a meal. So she writes about corn, about salt, about chicken, and so on. For each substance, she goes on rants saying that it is this but that, A and B, C but only sometimes D; she talks about the symbolism - salt is white, butter yellow, corn comes in many colors but North Americans don't like most of them - and quite frankly I felt like I could have created most of those paragraphs myself using a perl script and a set of adjectives. Consider the subtitle: "The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos, of an Ordinary Meal." It runs on a bit, doesn't it. It is a fair warning - the whole book reads like the subtitle. And, while it was entertaining for a while, eventually it all ran together.

The book suffers from something that much creative non-fiction struggles with - there was no point to it. Or rather, she made a few points again and again with each foodstuff, to the point where I could predict where we were in the chapter by the sorts of things she was saying about each substance. I got bored and stopped listening.

Now I am listening to a truly fine and biased western, Gone To Texas. Forrest Carter [Asa Earl Carter] writes from within the Lost Cause, frames his characters according to the Lost Cause, and carefully creates his setting and situation so as to avoid any awkward questions. It is a novel about border outlaws and indians, it is set after an American Civil War without slavery - the war starts when Kansas outlaws burn the farm of Josey Wales the Missouri hill farmer. Not only was the war was not started by Southerners, I am pretty sure that there is not a single black person in the text - I read it in book form a few years ago, and the book is in a box in storage.

So, the book works on two levels, as a rollicking adventure tale and also as a document about how to tell a story that subtly shapes our understanding of the past. I like it for those reasons.

What I hate is that Carter uses TOO MANY "of" clauses. Josey Wales does not take the boy's hand, or the horse's reins, he takes the hand of the boy or the reins of the horse. It is jarring and obtrusive - I want to copy edit the thing as I listen to it.

Still, it is a good story and with only four cassettes I might even finish it. I don't have a good record with finishing books on tape.

Posted by Red Ted at January 7, 2004 08:20 AM | TrackBack