Flynn (Gregory McDonald, 1977)
Inspector Flynn is a lot more loquacious than Fletch. Has a lot of Father Brown in him truth be told–except he has family in place of religion. Which might be why McDonald felt the need to make him–and his family–exemplars of superhuman tolerance and competence. I read it at the beginning of the month so I’ve already forgotten everything about the plot except that it involved a plane crash and a superhuman dwarf (also superhumanly tolerant and competent) who works for the secret bureaucracy in some superhuman capacity. Protecting us all of course.
Good book to read on a train, though. I do remember it making the time pass more quickly.
What Was The First Rock ’N’ Roll Record? (Jim Dawson and Steve Propes, 1992)
Romantics posing as hardheads trying to make sense of it all. Black people in particular come across as being not quite of this earth (in entirely good ways), though hillbillies, too, seem a bit like aliens who would save our naturally funky souls from ourselves if we would only let them.
Still, all in all, a valuable read. I learned things I didn’t know about the 1940s record industry. Or, more accurately, I learned about some subjects worthy of further research. As usually happens with romantics, they got just enough of what I already knew wrong to call everything I didn’t already know into question.
I give them full credit for trying, though, and for seeing it all the way through. It’s a great, important subject and in case you don’t think it’s under reported–that there isn’t a dearth of options for those of us who always want to learn more about this subject–check the price for beat-up used copies on Amazon some time and know that, for all the grains of salt I have to throw in, chasing it down is probably worthwhile.
Hollywood (Garson Kanin, 1967)
The history of the place told as it should be–by anecdote. Kanin was the right person for the job. Wonderful writer, successful director, knew everybody who was anybody, loved his two subjects: movies and people.
And, most important in an anecdotalist, perfectly–and I do mean perfectly–semi-reliable.
How the Scots Invented the Modern World (Arthur Herman, 2001)
Great, incisive overview of the Scottish Enlightenment’s birth and–by virtue of a diaspora that spread (via immigration, voluntary and involuntary) to the Americas and Australia and a missionary zeal which gave the Scots a prominent place (via military and diplomatic service plus actual missionary work) to the remainder of an empire on which the sun never set–its journey to the far corners of the earth.
Everything from the modern notions of democracy and capitalism to the historical novel and the steam engine to southernisms like “fixin’ to” and Shitbritches Creek resulted and Herman does a masterful job of moving the story along without leaving anything out and of giving each stage of the epoch its just due.
In addition to the world-changing names (Adam Smith, David Hume, Walter Scott, Andrew Carnegie, Alexander Graham Bell) he’s especially good on the true exemplars. The semi-famous if you will.
On that list two stood out for me–the academic clergyman and secret intellectual hero of American independence, John Witherspoon, and the missionary doctor David Livingstone (who’s life story matched the final waxing and initial waning of the “invention” with almost eerie precision and who’s fate would probably move a Martian).
The book is finally discomforting, because it ends in the present, where we are so busy throwing away so much that was hard and narrowly won–most specifically the religious faith that was the driving engine for the believers like Witherspoon and Livingstone and the whetstone against which skeptics like Hume sharpened their thought.
Thankfully, Herman doesn’t oversell this last point, but it’s sobering all the same.