Reading for pleasure and profit

(The profit being that you end up better read than you were when you started.)

One of the good things about limited internet over the holidays was that this gave me oodles of time to read.  I re-read The Letter of Marque by Patrick O’Brian and fell in love with his style and storytelling all over again, but Jack didn’t quite get reinstated, so I’ve got to dig out The Thirteen Gun Salute now, because I can’t leave him stranded in the misery and disgrace of being a hugely successful and wealthy privateer, poor man.

I also read Bomber County: The Lost Airmen of World War Two by Daniel Swift, which is a very thought provoking and fascinating book about World War Two war poetry, focusing particularly on the imaginative experience of the airmen in Bomber Command.  He tracked down the story of his grandfather, who was shot down on the coast of Holland, but I had the feeling that his grandfather was a convenient bit of pathos for him, and that his real interest lay in the poetry.  I had something of the experience, reading this, that I had at university studying English and Philosophy.  Philosophy demanded that you try to be clear and specific about what you said and meant, while English was all about getting as much resonance out of a piece of text as was humanly possible, whether or not the text actually supported that reading.  My sympathies were all with the philosophers, and judging from my reaction to Swift’s musings, they still are.  I thought he got more resonance out of his stories than they really justified, (Icarus?  Seriously?!  Are you missing the whole point of the Icarus story, or what?) but it was interesting watching him do it, nevertheless.

I’m now reading One of the Boys: Homosexuality in the Military During World War II by Paul Jackson which is also proving to be very interesting. It’s about the Canadian military, but I don’t know of an equivalent book about the British military, so beggars can’t be choosers. He strikes me as being much less biased about his subject than the bloke who wrote Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition and Boys at Sea: Sodomy, Indecency, and Courts Martial in Nelson’s Navy, both of which were spoiled, for me, by the author never admitting that his data might support other conclusions than the ones he draws, depending on how you interpret it.  Jackson strikes me as being much more thorough and more decently reticent about his ability to discern the absolute truth of something that was complicated and contradictory even to the participants and has to be even more so to us after 70 odd years of distance.

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