I finished Gilbert Highet’s Poets in a Landscape. It was pretty great. I recommend it.
It’s the type of book you can read a chapter of and then put aside for weeks or months and then pick up again when you’re on the way to the can or wherever, read another chapter, and continue on this way until the book’s done. It’s a collection of biographies, so it never feels like you missed anything.
Here’s a bit about Nero’s swinging megadungeon:
“What they saw as a labyrinth of rooms within a mound of earth, with tunnels and cells buried deep in darkness and trees growing high above its topmost story, had originally been a large and sumptuous mansion on the street level, open to the air and sky all around, and that it had simply been buried by age, disaster, neglect, and oblivion. They looked at the richly decorated halls, far beneath the level of what they knew as Rome; they saw the elegant and comparatively fresh decorations, satyrs and garlands and wreathed columns, sacrificial emblems and trumpeting tritons; they decided that such fantasies were appropriate for the subterranean orgies of a bad emperor, and that, just as Tiberius had gone to the topmost summit of Capri to indulge his nameless vices, so, Nero, to hide his delights from the eye of heaven, must have buried himself in a subterranean cave, a grotto, secret but brightly lit and brightly decorated.”
Lastly, in all the books I’ve read about Rome’s history (this is three books) there’s always mention of how in the Middle Ages Rome consisted of mostly fortified noble houses from which the nobility would fight one another in the ruins. AND THAT’S IT, like one little footnote. I want to read a book all about that. Seriously. If there was an Osprey Book, Gangs of Medieval Rome, I would eat that shit up.
In other news, Pelican died. I was sad. Now I have to play a paladin. It sucks.
And, Elmore Leonard died, which also sucks. I’ve only read one book by him, though I have a few of his Westerns here on my shelf. His books are one of the half dozen or so ubiquitous ones you find in expat used book store coffee shops.
“Lonely people write letters, so that they can communicate with those whose eyes are turned elsewhere. Often such letters are merely negative, calls for sympathy, cries of despair. Often they are dreary personal reports, tedious self-analyses, lists of miniscule happenings within one tiny system.”
– From Poets In A Landscape by Gilbert Highet (the Horace chapter).
“It is the notion that being exposed to the Great Books and the Great Thoughts must lead to Great Morals; unfortunately, we should probably be satisfied if it leads to a decent vocabulary now and then.”
– from Robert Sapolsky’s, The Trouble With Testosterone
“All of the faces, young, old, male, female, white and brown and black, were part of the many faces of the great sad thing that moves itself from here to there and back again in all forms of transit. Faces staring into space, faces reading faces looking inward at the stories inside them.”
– From Russell Hoban’s Linger Awhile
“Fools! Fools! I thought. Love it! Love the loss as well as the gain. Go home and dig it. Nobody was killed. We saw victory and defeat, and they were both wonderful.”
– Barry Hannah, “Midnight and I’m Not Famous Yet”
So I get these awful headaches. I don’t know what causes them. They basically creep up on me and floor me for a day or two. This weekend has been one of those instances. I slept twenty hours on Saturday and hardly moved from the bed today. My doctor (God bless him and his luchador mask) told me not to take any caffeine or alcohol when I get them, so I’ve tried to stick to that.
But, jeez, what a drag.
Anyway, enough of my whining, here’s Lewis Carroll from his pamphlet Feeding the Mind:
“To ascertain the healthiness of the mental appetite of a human animal, place in its hands a short, well-written, but not exciting treatise on some popular subject—a mental bun, in fact. If it is read with eager interest and perfect attention, and if the reader can answer questions on the subject afterwards, the mind is in first-rate working order. If it be politely laid down again, or perhaps lounged over for a few minutes, and then, ‘I can’t read this stupid book! Would you hand me the second volume of “The Mysterious Murder”?’ you may be equally sure that there is something wrong in the mental digestion.”
“He had read endless books, he had digested them, pondered over them. Day by day, year after year, he had turned over all the problems of human beings. Yet there were all sorts of simple things he didn’t know how to do: he couldn’t even walk into an inn and sit down at a table.”
– Georges Simenon, The Strangers in the House
Finished this book this afternoon. I think Simenon’s terrific but he’s one of those authors I can’t read a lot of in one go. Great stuff and he’s writing on all cylinders here, but if I spend too long with his style it becomes so transparent it’s like seeing how the magician does his tricks.
Character-arc spoilers: The novel’s about a drunken recluse. At the end he’s still a drunk, but no longer a recluse. This is something of a happy ending.