I’ve been agonizing over posts on the last couple of books I read, because I don’t think I can do them justice. I finished Shirer’s excellent Berlin Diary, which I blogged about earlier. Shirer was able to tour the Netherlands, Belgium, and parts of France immediately after the invasion, before leaving Germany at the end of 1940, his work increasingly obstructed by Nazi censors. Reading about events from such an immediate perspective raises important questions with an urgency that I don’t think I’ve gotten from regular histories. Perhaps the most important: How are the Germans and the French (to take just one example) able to live next to each other, not only in peace, but with apparent openness and cooperation?
In a similar vein I picked up George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. I couldn’t figure out what to be most astonished at: the story Orwell had to tell, the utterly straightforward way he told it, or the fact that I hadn’t gotten to this great work sooner. Orwell spent parts of 1936 and 1937 in the trenches fighting against Franco only to be turned on by his own cause. It was a fascinating mess that played out right before World War II and I’m glad to have learned just a little bit about it.
I’ve been on a bit of a World War II thing in recent years, having also read E. B. Sledge’s account of his fighting in the Pacific and also the novels Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky and The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell. They were all interesting in various ways. Next I think I may finally read Human Smoke, Nicholson Baker’s controversial take on the war; I’ve seen Baker speak and if anyone makes pacifism interesting, it’s him.
At the moment I’m reading Sister Miriam Joseph’s Shakespeare’s Use of the Arts of Language. She takes a very old school liberal arts (grammar, rhetoric and logic) approach to the details of Shakespeare’s language, explaining many, many figures of speech with quotations from the plays. It’s mainly those quotations that make it fun, especially what she calls vices of language. I overheard someone affectedly quoting from another language today and immediately thought, “Ah! Soraismus!”