Over at Ordinary Times, I’m proposing an anti-rent-seeking (or as it may be better said, and anti-rent-granting) amendment to the Constitution. The first part, defining and giving examples of rent-seeking and legalized economic privileges has received a good response, and the discussion has been very good, with the exception of one pathetic ideologue who manages to convince himself that eliminating entrenched economic privileges will somehow solidify private power. The second piece, giving the actual text of my proposed amendment, will probably be up in the next day or two. Meanwhile, physician Russell Saunders pushes back with exactly the kind of challenge people ought to push back with. (He may not know this, but he’s one of my favorite writers on the internet.)
I recently finished–and it took a while–the classic Czech novel The Good Soldier Svejk and His Fortunes in the World War It’s a tremendous sprawling mess of a novel that ends abruptly before even beginning to hint at a denouement, but that’s what you get from an anti-authoritarian malcontent who writes for money and to pull polite society’s nose. Svekj is a perverse Bartleby. Instead of saying, “I would prefer not to,” he cheerfully follows orders while bolloxing everything up. Whether he’s truly just a cheerful incompetent, or a cheerfully mad saboteur, is uncertain. But if you want an undisciplined and relentless mocking of pretentiousness, authority, and patriotic duty, this book is highly recommended.
Sveijk at times required a break, and I’ve been reading a couple of histories of Belize as I develop a course that will take students to Belize on a spring break trip. The histories are nothing special (Belize’s history is mildly curious, and as the only region of Latin American never actually controlled by Spain, somewhat distinct, but certainly nothing of world-shaking import), but I supplemented them with a novel by Belize’s most noted author, Zee Edgell. The book, Beka Lamb, is a girls’ coming of age story, not my usual fictional fare. It’s good on its own terms, though, and Edgell writes evocatively, with realistic but interesting and sympathetic characters. Of greatest benefit for me, though, is that it humanized some of the significant historical events I’ve been reading about, showing the rough economic effects of the currency devaluation that followed the devaluation of the British Pound, the privileged, but still subordinate, position of Belizean Creoles, and the nascent struggle for independence. It’s a great way to make that dry history stick in my mind.
And now I’m finally, deep into my 4th decade, tackling Moby Dick. I have a copy I picked up used somewhere so long ago I can’t remember, although my hunch is it was probably at one of the many used bookstores I used to frequent in San Francisco. I’m no stranger to long novels, but somehow I’ve always been too daunted to give this one a serious go. I know I’ve stopped in the first page before, or in the oh-so-serious literary scholar’s introduction. Pathetic, really. But I decided to give it a whirl, and to my delight I was enjoying it from the start. I’m a bit bemused by it’s pre-modern style, how long it takes to get the plot moving forward. I’m 1/4 of the way in, and the protagonist has just now found his ship, after a journey that was pretty uneventful excepting for meeting and befriending the “savage” Queequeg. Wow, that could all have been done in about 1/5 the space, and no publisher today would allow any differently. And after the sometimes infuriating rambling non-progression in Sveijk, I’m amazed I have the patience for it. But I’m enjoying the slow measured pace, and am now really caught up in the story. I suspect that it may be my now long-familiar acquaintance with the Aubrey-Maturin series that has made Moby Dick attractive to me now, having thoroughly inculcated me to the thrill of the sea-going story. I’ve even begun on the Horatio Hornblower series (the name had always put me off), although I’ve only read one so far.
There’s a couple of more academic non-fiction books, too. Maybe I’ll talk about them another time.