Saturday, September 29, 2007

History

There is a new book called, "Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History," written by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. And yes, that is the bumper sticker and t-shirt slogan, but Ulrich is the actual author of the phrase in a 1976 essay. Her new book is not an exhortation to women, but rather an actual study of some less polite women of history such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and also Virginia Woolf.

I was reading the review (because the review is just as good, right? Kidding! Kidding.) and was struck by this phrase:
History is a conversation and sometimes a shouting match between present and past, though often the voices we most want to hear are barely audible.

Isn't that exquisite?

I wish I read more non-fiction, but I find it a slower read, like surfing the internet--things lead to other things, things to be checked, looked up, references followed, etc.

I have friends who claim to read only non-fiction (although I might argue that some non-fiction IS fiction). In the same part of the paper there is a review by Katherine A. Powers of Alan Bennett's new novel, "The Uncommon Reader."
"The story follows the unthinkable consequences of Queen Elizabeth II's becoming a problem reader, that is, a person who lives for her book and for whom, in her case, the affairs of state come second." The upshot is that the Queen becomes "more curious, humane, and sensible of the human condition."

I like that idea--that reading fiction makes us more aware of the actual struggles of our fellow humans than reading non-fiction or even merely being involved in the world (as the Queen obviously is). It rather continues Bennett's theme from "The History Boys," that it is the arts and the random and quirky that make us better people, not the rote of standard lessons.

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