Book Thirtyone: Vile Bodies

Vile Bodies, Evelyn Waugh

There are those kinds of books with titles that you often wonder about, and as you're reading the book you think, "When am I going to get to that part where I am supposed to realize the significance of the title?" and then suddenly you do get to that point and the words of the title hit you like monkey poop in the face and everything kind of sinks in? Ok, so this is totally one of those cases, but in the best possible way, I swear. Everyone talks about Vile Bodies being riotously funny and savagely satirical and wickedly witty and all that, but no one really talks about--or, no one told me anyhow--that there are moments in this book that will break your little heart. Case in point:

"Oh Nina, what a lot of parties."

(... Masked parties, Savage parties, Victorian parties, Greek parties, Wild West parties, Russian parties, Circus parties, parties where one had to dress as somebody else, almost naked parties in St. John's Wood, parties in flats and studios and houses and ships and hotels and night clubs, in windmills and swimming baths, tea parties at school where one ate muffins and meringues and tinned crab, parties at Oxford where one drank brown sherry and smoked Turkish cigarettes, dull dances in London and comic dances in Scotland and disgusting dances in Paris--all that succession and repetition of massed humanity... Those vile bodies...)

He leant his forehead, to cool it, on Nina's arm and kissed her in the hollow of her forearm.

"I know, darling," she said and put her hand on his hair.

Of course, it really is quite funny, even the names are utter silliness: Mrs. Melrose Ape, Lord Outrage, Lady Throbbing, Miles Malpractice, Lady Metroland, Ginger Littlejohn, Miss Mouse, and oh, the list could go on and on. And there's more: the madness and ridiculousness of all the party people, the engagement between Adam Fenwick-Symes and Nina Blount, which is either on or off depending on whether or not Adam has money, the drunk Major who owes Adam 35,000 pounds but can't remember when he is drunk.

This book is, to me, the just-right mix of funny and tragic, and thinking back to Brideshead Revisited, it quite similar really. Evelyn Waugh gets an A+ and a gold star.

Book Thirty: Assassination Vacation

Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell

Woo hoo, my thirtieth book! Never mind I'm now eight solid weeks behind in my project, I still feel quite accomplished and hopeful that I'll ultimately reach my goal. Even if that means I spend the last week of the year hunkered down reading a book or two a day.

This was a nice little book, jam-packed with fun facts. While reading it, I had the John Hodgman/Jonathan Coulton ditty "Fast facts, fast facts Philadelphia, fast facts!" running through my head. A few things I learned from this book:

  • After shooting Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth yelled, "Sic semper tyrannis," which means "Thus always to tyrants," which also happens to be the state motto of Virginia, which is really quite gross, if you think about it. Timothy McVeigh was also wearing a t-shirt with this slogan written on it along with a picture of Lincoln, when he was arrested for the bombing of the Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building. The company who made the t-shirt, along with other icky confederate-related items, sold out of this t-shirt quickly after McVeigh was seen wearing it, which is super-duper gross.
  • Robert Todd Lincoln, Lincoln's son, was present at or very close to the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. He was at his father's deathbed, witnessed Garfield being shot, and just arrived in Buffalo by train moments after McKinley was shot there. Sarah Vowell, at one point in the book, calls him Jinxy McDeath.
  • The guy who assassinated Garfield, Charles Guiteau, was, for a period, a member of the Oneida Community, a kind of free love commune thought up by this guy, Noyes, who wanted to have sex with lots of people, and probably, in my opinion, specifically young girls. Guiteau was not popular at the Oneida Community, and was apparently nicknamed "Charles Gitout." The Oneida Community eventually morphed into the corporation that now makes Oneida flatware and dishes.
  • Sarah Vowell talked about how cute one of the members of the Lincoln assassination conspiracy was, Lewis Thornton Powell, who was the guy who tried to kill Lincoln's Secretary of State, William H. Seward, but failed. As I read the book, I thought, "No way can an assassin be cute," but then I saw this picture and decided that I agree wholeheartedly with Ms. Vowell, though I do feel a little icky about it.
  • McKinley's campaign manager, Mark Hanna, is who Karl Rove modeled his campaign strategies on. Which gives you a pretty good idea of how nasty Mark Hanna probably was. McKinley kind of sounded like a turd, too.

There's so so so much more in this book. Very highly recommended.

Book Twentynine: The Careful Use of Compliments

The Careful Use of Compliments, Alexander McCall Smith

It is a great compliment to an author when I decide to buy a hardcover edition of a book. I stood at the bookstore staring at this book, wondering how long it might take for the paperback to come out and measuring that against my own patience. Obviously my patience lost this one. I liked this book quite a bit more than the last, and there was, in this, the faintest glimmer of a mystery. Early on in the book, I almost lost patience with Isabel--she seemed so silly and insecure and superficial (despite all the moral philosophizing). But the book really picked up about half way through and I was finally glad I decided to suck it up and buy the hardcover. My own quibble is how convenient the baby seemed, how easy it was for her to go about her regular business and yet conveniently have the baby around--a quiet, happy, sweet baby--when she wanted. Ah, if only real life is like that... we'd all have babies! Three or four, heck, twenty babies!

Book Twentyeight: The Whole World Over

The Whole World Over, Julia Glass

A pick for book club. To be fair, I really did enjoy reading the book, but I found it difficult to sympathize with or even like many of the characters. The story follows many different characters over a year or two, and I found some side stories more interesting than others. It's funny how when you find that you just don't like a person in a book, it's hard to like much else. There were several characters I liked more than others--Walter, Fenno, Saga--but they were outnumbered by the ones I didn't really care for--Greenie, Charlie, and sometimes Alan. I've heard from many people, including half of my book club, that Three Junes is very good, and they were slightly disappointed by this one. I think I can see that, as there's some very good writing hiding underneath some less-than-appealing characters in here.