The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I’ve been on a semi-nostalgic run through kids’ literature, and I wanted to see how my perception of Witch had changed since I last read it in high school, now that I actually know a thing or two about American history and culture. The setting felt far more familiar, though of course many characters seemed more caricaturish than I remember — this being a children’s book, after all — and the happy ending fairy tale resolution left me hanging, somewhat.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Another romp through nostalgia for the sake of seeing what I have picked up from greater knowledge of American history and culture. Mark Twain’s humor runs thick, his intended parody of sixth Century barbarism also steeped in facetiously double-edged parody of the mechanized utopianism of the industrial age and the intellectual arrogance of Enlightenment thought. The Yankee mocks the pervasive credulity of the medievals, but his own anachronisms betray him as well — probably my favorite part in the whole book was his very first step to beginning a progressive modern civilization: establishing a patent office, “for I knew that a country without a patent office and good patent laws was just a crab, and couldn’t travel any way but sideways or backways.”
Sense and Sensibility. I have lately felt about Jane Austen as I’d once felt about Dickens, i.e. it was about time to get acquainted with a literary great whom I’d been missing out on. And what better way to start on Austen than with her first full published novel? If you can get past the first couple of chapters, which read more like a primer on Victorian-era home economics and annuities, you are rewarded with a moderately interesting story of love lost and found, and of finding happiness outside of family money.
Bare-Faced Messiah. The unauthorized biography of L. Ron Hubbard turned out to be quite a fun and engaging read. Psychopathic liar and megalomaniac cultist though he may have been, it can’t be denied that he was well-traveled in his youth even without the embellishments he would later add, and aspects of his life as a 1930s pulp science fiction writer are almost inspiring. Hubbard actually had admirable determination and drive to Get Things Done. Such a pity those efforts went into so many lies. Probably the funniest embellishment Hubbard told about his life was about being in the Philippines before World War II and learning the 300-word vocabulary of “Igoroti” by the light of a gas lantern. I’m part-Igorot from some north Philippine ancestry on my mom’s side (there’s no “i” at the end of “Igorot,” by the way) and there are six tribes, each with their own dialect (somewhat related to Tagalog), all having significantly more than just 300 words.
Next on the Reading List: Manhunt, the 12 Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer. Yeah, yeah, kind of mainstream and not too challenging, but it’s a decent overview of the events leading up to and immediately following Lincoln’s assassination, and I’m enjoying reading the blow-by-blow account, mostly assembled from real evidence, of a catastrophically tragic event in American history that took place just a few blocks from where I’m sitting.