Pardon the infrequency of posts here recently. Aside from experiencing a greather-than-usual amount of disruption on one of the three fronts,* I lost a long-ish post I wrote upon completing Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I reacted to losing it with the same dignity and grace that I normally display, which is to say, like a child whose ice cream fell out of the cone and on to the pavement. Rather than try to recreate that whole post, I'll just go over the takeways:
- Susanna Clarke's characters are the richest, most human I've ever read in any genre. Reading this book, you can't help but notice how few authors do it really well.
- The story itself is strong and the complaints I've read about the conflicts not being strong enough are, I think, ill-founded.
- Reading a hardcover book the size of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell while standing up on a train is isn't the sort of thing I can do very often.
All-in-all, it's a fine novel, one of those rare books that's both "literary" and a joy to read.
The outcry regarding San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to protest by not standing for the national anthem is, I think, a good thing. An act of protest should force people to look at an issue they've taken for granted, to learn more about it, and to take sides. Personally, I think he's well within his rights to do what he did and he's got an awfully good reason to protest, so more power to him.
What did I learned? I learned that the national anthem has a line in it about killing slaves. I had no idea. Did you? It's right there in the third verse:
Why, exactly are we ok with that line being in our national anthem? Honestly, it's long since time to replace that unfortunate, unsingable song. Replace that only English melody with something more American. I've long advocated the P. Funk's "Give Up The Funk," but I'm open to suggestions.
Speaking of that old English song, I don't think I'd ever known that the melody for the Star Spangled Banner was lifted from "The Anacreontic Song" or, as it is more popularly known**, "To Anacreon In Heaven." This song was the anthem of the Anacreontic Society, which, according to the most definitive of sources, was a club for men interested in "wit, harmony, and the god of wine." It was a bunch of musically-inclined gents who drank and wrote dirty songs about women.
In other words, it sounds like almost any institution devoted to keeping women away so men could talk shit about them. It sounds weirdly familiar and "ripped from today's headlines" for an organization which disbanded in 1786. It's worth noting that the reason they disbanded was equally familiar:
The curious Duchess of Devonshire, barred from the society by its all-male membership rules (barmaids were allowed, since they weren’t members), sometimes hid in a secret room under the stage in the tavern to hear the goings-on, enjoying the bawdy songs that were sung. Unfortunately, the duchess was a dampening influence on the society. Because the men were mortified that a woman of rank would hear them being so obscene, they disbanded in 1786 rather than continue, never knowing when the duchess would be in obscure attendance.
(from Richard Nilsen's blog)
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose indeed.
So anyway, that's where the title of this post came from. I feel like it's the title of a good story, but I don't have that story yet. If I were to write it now, it would be a little too obvious a stab at targets which are entirely too easy. I need to let it simmer a little first, but I wanted to get it out there now so I don't forget, and so I can point at the dirty thief who uses it and call them out on it.
Hell of a title though, isn't it?
* I break 'em down into three areas: Personal, professional, and relationship. If two of the three are stable, things are fine. So long as one of them is a safe harbor, I can get by. Things get ugly when all three are boiling.
** Using an exceptionally loose definition of "popular" here.