The Occasional Joke

Nurse: Patient's name?

Centurion: Marcus Licinius Crassus

Nurse: And his date of birth?

Centurion: 115 BC.

Nurse: All right. And what is he here for?

Centurion: Cataphract surgery.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Recent Reading

My reading has been, as per usual, all over the map, depending on which particular distractions new areas of interest take hold of my loosely articulated attention span.
  • First, lots and lots of material by or about Walt Kelly, the creator of Pogo. In my ongoing effort to inventory every darn thing in the house, I made a list of the volumes I had and then went out to Alibris and ordered reading-quality copies of missing books, all in the category of actual material authored by Kelly. I was also handsomely presented with a new book about Kelly, Walt Kelly: The Life and Art of the Creator of Pogo by Thomas Andrae and Carsten Laqua. Great production values, exhaustive research. Better than many of the older attempts at Kelly bios, especially those produced under the thumb supervision of his widow, Selby Kelly. Although she was devoted to Walt, she was also intent, it seemed to me, on canonizing him rather than letting a lot of light shine in. This book does a much better job with Kelly-the-man, rather than Kelly-the-saint. Very nice interview with one of his colleagues at Disney, too, with a certain amount of Disney-dirt. Highly recommended if you're a fan of Pogo or the growth of the comics art form.
  • Another present which I am now absorbing is Sausage by Nichola Fletcher. This is another of DK Publishing's fabulously produced food-porn encyclopedias, with more gorgeous full-color pictures of sausages than you can imagine. Recipes, too, and a brief section on charcuterie techniques. Lovely stuff, and it will probably result in local shortages and price hikes in the pork market, once I get well into it.
  • Hesiod: Works and Days and Theogony, trans; Stanley Lombardo. Hesiod is usually mentioned together with Homer as among the earliest European authors we know of. Works and Days reads something like a blog, but Theogony is our first peek at what the Greeks thought about the origin of the universe, the family tree of the gods, and techniques for castrating your father with a flint sickle. Great stuff, and Lombardo's is the best translation I've looked at.
  • Herodotus, the Histories, trans: Aubery de Selincourt. This was sort of an "oh, all right," choice for me, since if you claim to be interested in history at all, and you've gone sixty years without reading him, you're probably faking it. Or so I argued. In fact, just as Larry Gonik said, it was intriguing, and I read it cover to cover. I don't have a basis to compare this version with other translations, but it's highly readable and heavily annotated. Whether Herodotus really visited all the places he claims to or talked to as many sources as he says or whether he made lots of it up, it's still enlightening. For example, of a part of what we'd now call North Africa, he says, "Here, everyone paints himself red and eats monkeys." My kind of town.
  • Plutarch, Lives of the Noble Greeks, selected and edited by Edmund Fuller. Plutarch wrote a series of short biographies, pairing up a Greek and a Roman personality in order to illustrate what he saw as similarities or common themes. Fuller split them apart into two volumes, one Greek and one Roman, and didn't preserve every pairing, but selected the more important people, historically. I'm not crazy about the translation (my copies are from 1959, when classic scholarship was even more pedantic than it is now,) but it's still readable.
Given the vast number of books that are sitting around in plain sight, I must have read more than just that in the last couple of months, but that's what comes to mind. Next up: The Conquest of New Spain, by Bernal Diaz. Whup the Aztecs before they whup you. This is the guy MacLeish based his poem on: "... but I fought in those wars!"