Composed around 730 B.C., Homer’s Iliad recounts the events of a few momentous weeks in the protracted ten-year war between the invading Achaeans, or Greeks, and the Trojans in their besieged city of Ilion. And, as told by Homer, this ancient tale of a particular Bronze Age conflict becomes a sublime and sweeping evocation of the destruction of war throughout the ages.
Carved close to the original Greek, acclaimed classicist Caroline Alexander’s new translation is swift and lean, with the driving cadence of its source—a translation epic in scale and yet devastating in its precision and power.
Wrath – sing, goddess, of the ruinous wrath of Peleus’ son Achilles that inflicted woes without number upon the Achaeans, hurled forth to Hades many strong souls of warriors and rendered their bodies prey for the dogs, for all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished; sing from when they two first stood in conflict — Atreus’ son, lord of men, and godlike Achilles.
Homer’s Illiad is a Classic-with-a-Capital-C. I think I must have read some of it as part of a comparative literature course in college, but I don’t remember it at all, so aside from vague recollections of Greek mythology and a middle school play about the Trojan War (mostly memorable for a joke that none of us understood at the time), I came to it without any background.
I really appreciated Arnold’s introduction, which went over what is known about Homer and the Epic Cycle, as well as the historical setting and the major players in the drama. The map and family trees provided were a helpful reference – for some reason, I had particular difficulty remembering that Alexandros is Paris, and who was related to whom on which side of the war.
War is the center of this poem, and it is not pretty. There is chapter after chapter of This-Guy-Son-of-That-Guy-Brother-of-This-Other-Guy-King-of-That-Land slew That-Guy-Son-of-This-Guy-Nephew-of-That-Other-Guy-Ruler-of-Such-and-Such-People in graphic ways that emphasize the absolute brutality of battle (even if the grasp of anatomy is questionable). And there are lots of animal sacrifices described in detail.
The sacrifices are meant to keep the favor of the gods, who are busy squabbling amongst themselves on Olympus. That both sides are performing sacrifices and praying to the same fickle gods is also a factor, it seems.
The last few chapters, in which Achilles is finally prodded out of his truly epic sulk and joins in the fighting, take the stakes up a notch, but in the end, the war still hasn’t reached its conclusion. So much horrific bloodshed, and this is only a tiny portion of the Trojan War.
The Iliad is one of the books on my Classics Club list, which I have been neglecting. It’s one of the earliest works on my list, and an important text in Western Literature and History, but I suspect it’s never going to rank among my personal favorites.
Source: Purchased at The Last Bookshop, Los Angeles, February 2020
Challenges: Back to the Classics: Classic Set in a Place You’d Like to Visit (we’re going to assume visiting the modern-day site counts, since I don’t particularly wish to visit the last year of an epic war, thanks); Official TBR Pile Challenge; Mount TBR; and Classics Club.
Published to coincide with the centenary of the first expeditions to reach the South Pole, An Empire of Ice presents a fascinating new take on Antarctic exploration. Retold with added information, it’s the first book to place the famed voyages of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, his British rivals Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton, and others in a larger scientific, social, and geopolitical context.
Efficient, well prepared, and focused solely on the goal of getting to his destination and back, Amundsen has earned his place in history as the first to reach the South Pole. Scott, meanwhile, has been reduced in the public mind to a dashing incompetent who stands for little more than relentless perseverance in the face of inevitable defeat. An Empire of Ice offers a new perspective on the Antarctic expeditions of the early twentieth century by looking at the British efforts for what they actually were: massive scientific enterprises in which reaching the South Pole was but a spectacular sideshow. By focusing on the larger purpose, Edward Larson deepens our appreciation of the explorers’ achievements, shares little-known stories, and shows what the Heroic Age of Antarctic discovery was really about.
When I tell friends that I’m writing a book about the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration, they typically respond in one of two ways.
Larson won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in History for Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion, which is (of course) now part of my never-ending virtual TBR. I added this book to that list in April of 2011, making it – as of the first of this year – the oldest entry. Since the book published in May 2011, I suspect I ran across it while doing collection development for the library.
I picked up a physical copy at The Strand in NYC in January 2018 (for a Sherlockian gathering – I do spend a lot of time thinking about the Victorian era), along with a copy of Apsley Cherry-Garard’s The Worst Journey in the World. The latter is on my Classics Club list.
Larson is a historian, and this book came out of Yale University Press, so it’s no surprise that it is not a light read. It delves into details about the major British Antarctic expeditions – the Discovery (British National Antarctic Expedition 1901-04, under Commander R.F. Scott), the Nimrod (British Antarctic Expedition 1907-09, under E. Shackleton), and the Terra Nova (British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13, under Captain R.F. Scott) – and connects them to the broader history of Arctic and Antarctic exploration.
As Larson points out, there have been many works published about these voyages, but few focus on the scientific research that was a main focus of the expeditions at the time. Power struggles between the Royal Society and the Royal Geographical Society were a constant behind the scenes, affecting the structure, the crew selection, and the objective(s) of each mission. Larson looks at the lasting social, cultural, and scientific impacts of the Heroic Age, using each chapter to focus on the developments in a specific field (including biology, glaciology, and paleontology) over the broad time period, highlighting the ways earlier expeditions affected later ones on multiple fronts.
There is a lot of information packed into this book. I expect I’ll be revisiting it in future. I’m very happy that there is a nice index. I do wish there had been a full bibliography included, since I’m now combing through the notes to compile my own.
In 2018, Larson published To the Edges of the Earth: 1909, the Race for the Three Poles, and the Climax of the Age of Exploration. It’s also on my to-read list, naturally.
Source: Purchased at The Strand, NYC, in 2018
Challenges: Read Harder 2022: Read the book that’s been on your TBR the longest; Mount TBR 2022
With Halloween just around the corner, the fall colors in Georgetown are brilliant. As manager of the Color Me Read bookstore, coloring book creator Florrie Fox has arranged for psychic author Hilda Rattenhorst to read from Spooktacular Ghost Stories. But the celebrity medium arrives for the event in hysterics, insisting she just saw a bare foot sticking out of a rolled-up carpet in a nearby alley. Is someone trying to sweep murder under the rug? Florrie calls in her policeman beau, Sergeant Eric Jonquille, but the carpet corpse has disappeared without a trace.
Then in the middle of her reading, Hilda chillingly declares that she feels the killer’s presence in the store. Is this a publicity stunt or a genuine psychic episode? It seems there’s no happy medium. When a local bibliophile is soon discovered missing, a strange mystery begins to unroll. Now it’s up to Florrie and Jonquille to expose a killer’s true colors . . .
The crate was delivered to Color Me Read around noon on Thursday.
It’s Spooky Time in Georgetown in the third Pen & Ink Mystery. Florrie Fox is comfortable in her renovated carriage house home, her job as bookshop manager, and her other job creating adult coloring books. So, naturally, things take a turn for the wacky. A human skull arrives in the deliveries. Strange noises come from nowhere. The celebrity psychic booked for an author event shows up claiming she just saw what might be a murder victim, but there is no corpse to be found.
In addition to the present-day mystery, a 200-year-old ghost story is told in pieces, eventually tying into the main story and adding to the atmosphere. In the end, of course, all the seemingly-supernatural happenings get rational explanations. Well, mostly.
This is a fun addition to the series. I only wish I’d read it in the fall for the proper mood. I’ve read both of the previous volumes, but it’s been a while, so I don’t really remember the details. I didn’t really need to, though; there’s enough information in the text to bring readers up to speed on the important things without doing a full recap of everything that’s happened. There’s also a “Cast of Characters” in the front that I found very useful.
There is an ongoing thread about the disappearance of a child (the daughter of Florrie’s boss) years ago that I hope gets some resolution eventually. That was one detail that I had completely forgotten about, so when a reference to it popped up, it was jarring. If harm to children is a no-go for you, dear reader, you might want to skip this series. Other than that, I really enjoy these cozy mysteries and look forward to the next book, A Colorful Scheme, currently slated to publish in August 2022.
Source: Checked out from my public library
Challenges: Read Harder 2022 Task #2: Read a book set in a bookstore
I actually started this post in December, which might say something about how this is going already.
I’m signing up for four reading challenges this year, along with my ongoing Classics Club list, which is going to play a large part in three of the challenges.
My 2022 Reading Challenges:
Read Harder 2022: From the folks at Book Riot, this challenge (now in its 8th year) is “designed to help you break out of your reading bubble and expand your worldview through books.” I managed 22/24 tasks in 2021, largely thanks to a big push in December. Goal for 2022: spread the effort out a bit more.
Mount TBR Challenge 2022: Another one I completely dropped in 2021. One thing I did do last year, though, was purchase several of the books I want to read from my Classics Club list, which means they all count toward this goal. I also have at least half a shelf of books received when I was part of a mystery-of-the-month club that I would like to read and then probably donate to the library.
Read a nonfiction book about anti-racism: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
Read a non-European novel in translation: The Others by Sarah Blau
Read an LGBTQ+ history book: Stonewall: A Building, an Uprising, a Revolution by Rob Sanders
Read a genre novel by an Indigenous, First Nations, or Native American author: Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
Read a fanfic: Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse
Read a fat-positive romance
Read a romance by a trans or nonbinary author: Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
Read a middle grade mystery: Linked by Gordon Korman
Read an SFF anthology edited by a person of color: A Universe of Wishes: A We Need Diverse Books Anthology edited by Dhonielle Clayton
Read a food memoir by an author of color: The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African-american Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty
Read a work of investigative nonfiction by an author of color: The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell: A Dyslexic Traitor, an Unbreakable Code, and the FBI’s Hunt for America’s Stolen Secrets by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee
Read a book with a cover you don’t like: Shirlick Holmes and the Case of the Wandering Wardrobe by Jane Yolen
Read a realistic YA book not set in the U.S., UK, or Canada: If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
Read a memoir by a Latinx author: Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx by Sonia Manzano
Read an own voices book about disability: The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer
Read an own voices YA book with a Black main character that isn’t about Black pain: Tristan Strong Destroys the World (Tristan Strong #2) by Kwame Mbalia
Read a book by/about a non-Western world leader: No Room for Small Dreams: Courage, Imagination, and the Making of Modern Israel by Shimon Peres
Read a historical fiction with a POC or LGBTQ+ protagonist: The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan
Read a book of nature poems: The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane
Read a children’s book that isn’t about disability that includes a main character with a disability: Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly
Read a book set in the Midwest: Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
Read a book that demystifies a common mental illness: Empty by Susan Burton
Read a book featuring a beloved pet where the pet doesn’t die: Murder Always Barks Twice (Chatty Corgi Mystery #2) by Jennifer Hawkins
There were several books that I sought out specifically to satisfy challenges, so I feel this did what it was supposed to do in broadening my reading horizons. I had a book picked out for task 7, but I just ran out of time. And I never did figure out what to read for task 1. At least, not with enough time left in the year to finish.
I know I’m missing some books from my reading log – I’m sure I read something in the month of April. I checked out a lot of books from the library, though. Almost 82% of the books I read, according to the log stats.
So, the thing about this challenge is that it counts books that you add to your virtual TBR within the year. It’s really a count of books I read that I don’t own, including a bunch I read for work after the Youth Media Awards were announced. If I only count books that I added to my GoodReads list prior to 1/1/21, the total drops to 19.
Overall, it was a pretty good year of reading. But in 2022, I’ve really got to tackle my physical TBR and those classics. My Classics Club deadline is coming up fast.
Why do some infectious diseases make headlines and others fall by the wayside? After her aunt’s death, Hernández begins searching for answers about who our nation chooses to take care of and who we ignore. Crisscrossing the country, she interviews patients, epidemiologists, and even veterinarians with the Department of Defense. She learns that outside of Latin America, the United States is the only country with the native insects—the “kissing bugs”—that carry the Chagas parasite. She spends a night in southwest Texas hunting the dreaded bug with university researchers. She also gets to know patients, like a mother whose premature baby was born infected with the parasite, his heart already damaged. And she meets one cardiologist battling the disease in Los Angeles County with local volunteers.
In the aftermath of September 11th, ongoing violence in the Middle East, and resurgent antisemitism, Kushner reflects on a Biblical understanding of humanity and justice. Wolf Lamb Bomb wonders equally about our relationship with an inherited past and our desire to understand the precarious present. These poems place the prophet Isaiah in the position of poet, crooner, and rival as they search for a guide in poetry and in life.
In 1954, sixty-three-year-old Maine farmer Annie Wilkins embarked on an impossible journey. She had no money and no family, she had just lost her farm, and her doctor had given her only two years to live. But Annie wanted to see the Pacific Ocean before she died. She ignored her doctor’s advice to move into the county charity home. Instead, she bought a cast-off brown gelding named Tarzan, donned men’s dungarees, and headed south in mid-November, hoping to beat the snow. Annie had little idea what to expect beyond her rural crossroads; she didn’t even have a map. But she did have her ex-racehorse, her faithful mutt, and her own unfailing belief that Americans would treat a stranger with kindness.
A 23-year-old realises her subway crush is displaced from 1970’s Brooklyn, and she must do everything in her power to help her – and try not to fall in love with the girl lost in time – before it’s too late . . .
Join Grace on a journey back through the pop culture moments of the early 2000’s, before the cataclysmic shift in LGBTQ representation and acceptance―a time not so long ago, that people seem to forget.
Equal parts memoir and reporting, After the Fall is a hugely ambitious and essential work of discovery. Throughout, Rhodes comes to realize how much America’s fingerprints are on a world we helped to shape: through the excesses of our post-Cold War embrace of unbridled capitalism, post-9/11 nationalism and militarism, mania for technology and social media, and the racism that shaped the backlash to the Obama presidency. At the same time, he learns from a diverse set of characters – from Obama to rebels to a rising generation of leaders – how looking squarely at where America has gone wrong only makes it more essential to fight for what America is supposed to be at home – for our own country, and the entire world.
The trouble starts when the Museum of Antiquities hires Avery to appraise a rare, resplendent ruby. It bears a striking similarity to a stone in the museum’s bejeweled dragon’s-head medallion. One of the dragon’s ruby eyes was stolen long ago–replaced with a fake. Now, Avery’s colleagues–pompous Sir Robert Lane and fatherly Micah Abbott–suspect they may have the missing gem. But facets of the case remain cloudy. Detective Art Smith is snooping around. Another body turns up. And Avery finds mysterious notes that, impossibly, seem to be written by her father.
Millions have sat under the “big top,” watching as trapeze artists glide and clowns entertain, but few know the captivating stories behind the men whose creativity, ingenuity, and determination created one of our country’s most beloved pastimes.
As a nonbinary, transmasculine parent, Krys Malcolm Belc has thought a lot about the interplay between parenthood and gender. Giving birth to his son Samson clarified his gender identity and allowed him to project a more masculine self. And yet, when his partner Anna adopted Samson, the legal documents listed Belc as “the natural mother of the child.”
Belle has a secret, one she must protect at all costs. She was born not Belle da Costa Greene but Belle Marion Greener. She is the daughter of Richard Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard and a well-known advocate for equality. Belle’s complexion isn’t dark because of her alleged Portuguese heritage that lets her pass as white–her complexion is dark because she is African American.
It’s time once again to take a peek at the TBR and a few books I’m especially excited about in the next month. Publication dates are as listed in February 2021 and are subject to change.
The Soul of a Woman by Isabel Allende (March 2) As a young woman coming of age in the late 1960s, she rode the second wave of feminism. Among a tribe of like-minded female journalists, Allende for the first time felt comfortable in her own skin, as they wrote “with a knife between our teeth” about women’s issues. She has seen what the movement has accomplished in the course of her lifetime. And over the course of three passionate marriages, she has learned how to grow as a woman while having a partner, when to step away, and the rewards of embracing one’s sexuality.
Women in White Coats: How the First Women Doctors Changed the World of Medicine by Olivia Campbell (March 2) Motivated by personal loss and frustration over inadequate medical care, Elizabeth Blackwell, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Sophia Jex-Blake fought for a woman’s place in the male-dominated medical field. For the first time ever, Women in White Coats tells the complete history of these three pioneering women who, despite countless obstacles, earned medical degrees and paved the way for other women to do the same. Though very different in personality and circumstance, together these women built women-run hospitals and teaching colleges—creating for the first time medical care for women by women.
June is a brilliant but difficult girl with a gift for mechanical invention, who leaves home to begin a grueling astronaut training program. Six years later, she has gained a coveted post as an engineer on a space station, but is haunted by the mystery of Inquiry, a revolutionary spacecraft powered by her beloved late uncle’s fuel cells. The spacecraft went missing when June was twelve years old, and while the rest of the world has forgotten them, June alone has evidence that makes her believe the crew is still alive.
She seeks out James, her uncle’s former protégée, also brilliant, also difficult, who has been trying to discover why Inquiry’s fuel cells failed. James and June forge an intense intellectual bond that becomes an electric attraction. But the love that develops between them as they work to solve the fuel cell’s fatal flaw threatens to destroy everything they’ve worked so hard to create–and any chance of bringing the Inquiry crew home alive.
Emma is a die-hard romantic. She loves a meet-cute Netflix movie, her pet, Lady Catulet, and dreaming up the Gay Rom Com of her heart for the film festival competition she and her friends are entering. If only they’d listen to her ideas. . .
Sophia is pragmatic. She’s big into boycotts, namely 1) relationships, 2) teen boys and their BO (reason #2347683 she’s a lesbian), and 3) Emma’s nauseating ideas. Forget starry-eyed romance, Sophia knows what will win: an artistic film with a message.
Cue the drama. The movie is doomed before they even start shooting . . . until a real-life plot twist unfolds behind the camera when Emma and Sophia start seeing each other through a different lens. Suddenly their rivalry is starting to feel like an actual rom-com.
One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.
In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.
Emma Goldman–yes, that Emma Goldman–takes tea with the Baba Yaga and truths unfold inside of exquisitely crafted lies. In Among the Thorns, a young woman in seventeenth century Germany is intent on avenging the brutal murder of her peddler father, but discovers that vengeance may consume all that it touches. In the showstopping, awards finalist title story, Burning Girls, Schanoes invests the immigrant narrative with a fearsome fairytale quality that tells a story about America we may not want–but need–to hear.
In 1932, Roy Chapman Andrews, president of the men-only Explorers Club, boldly stated to hundreds of female students at Barnard College that “women are not adapted to exploration,” and that women and exploration do not mix. He obviously didn’t know a thing about either…
Follow in the footsteps of these rebellious women as they travel the globe in search of new species, widen the understanding of hidden cultures, and break records in spades. For these women dared to go where no woman―or man―had gone before, achieving the unthinkable and breaking through barriers to allow future generations to carry on their important and inspiring work.
When Jennifer Doudna was in sixth grade, she came home one day to find that her dad had left a paperback titled The Double Helix on her bed. She put it aside, thinking it was one of those detective tales she loved. When she read it on a rainy Saturday, she discovered she was right, in a way. As she sped through the pages, she became enthralled by the intense drama behind the competition to discover the code of life. Even though her high school counselor told her girls didn’t become scientists, she decided she would.
Driven by a passion to understand how nature works and to turn discoveries into inventions, she would help to make what the book’s author, James Watson, told her was the most important biological advance since his co-discovery of the structure of DNA. She and her collaborators turned a curiosity of nature into an invention that will transform the human race: an easy-to-use tool that can edit DNA. Known as CRISPR, it opened a brave new world of medical miracles and moral questions.
In Auburn, New York, in the mid-nineteenth century, Martha Wright and Frances Seward, inspired by Harriet Tubman’s slave rescues in the dangerous territory of Eastern Maryland, opened their basement kitchens as stations on the Underground Railroad.
Tubman was an illiterate fugitive slave, Wright was a middle-class Quaker mother of seven, and Seward was the aristocratic wife and moral conscience of her husband, William H. Seward, who served as Lincoln’s Secretary of State. All three refused to abide by laws that denied them the rights granted to white men, and they supported each other as they worked to overturn slavery and achieve full citizenship for blacks and women.
The 1857 Divorce Act paved the way for a new career for women: that of the private detective. To divorce, you needed proof of adultery – and men soon realised that women were adept at infiltrating households and befriending wives, learning secrets and finding evidence. Whereas previously, women had been informal snoops within their communities, now they were getting paid for it, toeing a fine line between offering a useful service and betraying members of their sex for money.
I know. I know. Every December I sign up for a bunch of challenges, and then life happens, and they fall by the wayside. And then it’s December again, and I sign up for another bunch of challenges.
Well, I just can’t help myself.
My 2021 Reading Challenges:
Read Harder 2021: From the folks at Book Riot, this challenge (now in its 7th year) is “designed to help you break out of your reading bubble and expand your worldview through books.” I managed 19/24 tasks in 2020.
2021 Netgalley and Edelweiss Reading Challenge: I joined NetGalley in 2011, so I’ve requested a lot of books over the years. NetGalley recommends a feedback ratio of 80%, and mine is (at the end of 2020) a dismal 6%. I would have to give feedback on over 500 books to hit 80% right now, and that’s obviously not going to happen, but I’d like to get to, say, 10%. So, I’ll be aiming for the Silver level (25 books). Wish me luck.
On May 30th, 1887, Julian West closes himself in his sleeping chamber, a hermetically sealed, asbestos-coated underground vault. He has such difficulty sleeping that even in this dark and quiet space, on occasion, he calls in a hypnotist to put him into a trance, with the expectation that in the morning, his servant will bring him back to full consciousness.
This time, that doesn’t happen. Instead, Julian West is woken up by strangers. They inform him that is now September of 2000, and the world is a very, very different place from the one he knew. All industry is run by the government, which pays every worker conscripted into its industrial army at a set rate. Goods for purchase, too, are standardized, distributed across the country to stores where citizens use a “credit card” instead of cash.
It’s an interesting vision of a possible world, rooted in Bellamy’s own philosophical convictions about “Nationalism” (read: socialism) as the way for society to move forward.
There are plenty of flaws in this “utopian” world, most of which are immediately glaringly obvious to anyone who isn’t an able-bodied white Christian male, but I was struck not only by how different our current 21st-century America is from Bellamy’s construction, but more so by how familiar Julian West’s description of nineteenth-century America is:
By way of attempting to give the reader some general impression of the way people lived together in those days, and especially of the relations of the rich and poor to one another, perhaps I cannot do better than to compare society as it then was to a prodigious coach which the masses of humanity were harnessed to and dragged toilsomely along a very hilly and sandy road. The driver was hunger, and permitted no lagging, though the pace was necessarily very slow. Despite the difficulty of drawing the coach at all along so hard a road, the top was covered with passengers who never got down, even at the steepest ascents These seats on top were very breezy and comfortable. Well up out of the dust, their occupants could enjoy the scenery at their leisure, or critically discuss the merits of the straining team. Naturally such places were in great demand and the competition for them was keen, every one seeking as the first end in life to secure a seat on the coach for himself and to leave it to his child after him. By the rule of the coach a man could leave his seat to whom he wished, but on the other hand there were so many accidents by which it might at any time be wholly lost. For all that they were so easy, the seats were very insecure, and at every sudden jolt of the coach persons were slipping out of them and falling to the ground, where they were instantly compelled to take hold of the rope and help to drag the coach on which they had before ridden so pleasantly. It was naturally regarded as a terrible misfortune to lose one’s seat, and the apprehension that this might happen to them or their friends was a constant cloud upon the happiness of those who rode.
That comes near the beginning of Julian West’s narrative, which is presented as being a book about the past America that the advanced 21st-century industrial army folk have difficulty believing was real. He imagines them asking if his fellows had no compassion and says:
Oh, yes, commiseration was frequently expressed by those who rode for those who had to pull the coach, especially when the vehicle came to a bad place in the road, as it was constantly doing, or to a particularly steep hill. At such times, the desperate straining of the team, their agonized leaping and plunging under the pitiless lashing of hunger, the many who fainted at the rope and were trampled in the mire, made a very distressing spectacle, which often called forth highly creditable displays of feeling on the top of the coach. At such times the passengers would call down encouragingly to the toilers of the rope, exhorting them to patience and holding out hopes of possible compensation in another world for the hardness of their lot, while others contributed to buy salves and liniments for the crippled and injured. […] It must in truth be admitted that the main effect of the spectacle of misery of the toilers at the rope was to enhance the passengers’ sense of the value of their seats upon the coach, and to cause them to hold on to them more desperately than before.
The metaphor is still depressingly applicable these hundred-plus years later.
I read the novel back in September as my Classics Club Lucky Spin. I then went back to read Dr. Cecelia Tichi’s introductory essay, which takes a look at Bellamy’s life and philosophy, and how those are reflected in his writing. (And now I’ve gone and added Dr. Tichi’s Civic Passions: Seven Who Launched Progressive America (and What They Teach Us) to the TBR, because I’m interested in seeing what she has to say about some other figures of the time who got brief mentions in relation to Bellamy.)
I’m almost certain I read the book once before. I took a class on Utopian Thought in college, in 19-mumble-mumble. I really wish I had a copy of the reading list from that class. Not least because there was another book we read that I remember a fragment of, and not knowing what it’s from is really annoying. But all that stuff is long gone, and I don’t even remember what my 22-year-old self thought about this book, if it happened to be on the syllabus. Which is probably for the best, really.