Tuesday, November 14, 2006

“Naturally. Your artist’s soul has been transported. You require peace and quiet to contemplate the full wonder of what you have seen. And,"

I added, "perhaps a whiskey and soda."

That is the voice of Amelia Peabody in Tomb of the Golden Bird by Elizabeth Peters. Amelia is one of those characters who stays with me. I think of her a lot. I am not sure why. She is a forceful woman, way ahead of her time, yet she is a bit nostalgic for the older norms in manners, and feminine style. She believes in equality of treatment for men and women of all races. She is the ultimate feminist, she wears clothing appropriate to archeological digs while working, she carries tools and weapons on her belt. She is practical and smart, competitive, loyal and gushingly romantic about her husband. She speaks her mind. She is a parody, but she knows this, and laughs it off. She even takes advantage of it when necessary.
This book is the latest in a long series about a rich upper class British woman in the Victorian era. Her family members are "renowned" Egyptologists, or so she says. Each book is another season at the annual digs in the land of the Pharaohs, with another crime or murder to be solved.
I really have enjoyed the series, although I don't really have that much interest in Egyptology. The books provide a wealth of color about Egyptology, and also about the political and social climate from 1884 to 1922. I really love the characters. Because they are satirical, to some extent, they are extreme. They are the smartest, the best looking, the most ethical, the most clever, strong, perceptive, and on and on. Sometimes you wish people were really this good.

On a slightly related topic... a few weeks ago, a book came out entitled "The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived: How Characters of Fiction, Myth, Legends, Television, and Movies Have Shaped Our Society, Changed Our Behavior, and Set the Course of History". http://www.101influential.com/ . The authors have compiled a list of characters, like Sherlock Holmes, and Mickey Mouse who have had an impact on our lives. A quote from a journalist for the Evening Bulletin, Herb Denenberg, said "The book shows the power of ideas, and does offer further proof that, at least at times, the pen is mightier than the sword. The list shows why poets, novelists, artists, playwrights, musicians, advertising executives, movie producers and other creative souls are often more influential than politicians,..." I haven’t read the book yet, but it seems like the concept is endlessly fascinating. Who are the characters that stick with you?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

"And the sad part about it is that if you let yourself think you are satisfied with husks, you'll have no appetite left for the real grain."

This is a quote from The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley, written in 1919. The story is about a bookseller who ruminates about how important is it to read the right books. This struck a chord with me, as I have been wondering, am I reading the right books? I haven't been reading all the books I want myself to read...the classics, history, travel, biographies...On the other hand, I don't see the harm in reading the fun stuff, the science fiction, the mysteries, the current hot novels. Is great literature really that much greater? I am sure some of it is. Do you think more, have more ideas, learn more about the world, about human nature? Perhaps. Even a light mystery can start you thinking, or give you an insight or two. Sometimes you just want a little entertainment or distraction. Is the quality of writing a factor? I would argue that if a book holds your attention, it doesn't matter how lyrical, or poetic, or even intellectual the writing is. You could say it is a bonus... but that argues for reading more "Great Literature", since reading time is limited, why not get more bang for your buck? I am definitely of at least two minds about this issue...Hence the selection of the quote from Michael Dirda, Prowling Through the Stacks"