Two Readings

One thing about blogs on the Internet – I get a lot more interesting feedback on books (past and future) than I did before. Two of them from this morning:

Four or six draught animals were needed to pull a coach and they had to be changed every 6 to 12 miles, depending on the condition of the roads. In England it was calculated that one horse was needed for every mile of a journey on a well-maintained turnpike road. So, for the 185 miles from Manchester to London, 185 horses had to be kept stabled and fed to deal with the seventeen changes required by the stagecoaches which traveled the route. Those horses in turn required an army of coachmen, postillions, guards, grooms, ostlers and stable-boys to keep them running. As a coach could carry no more than ten passengers, fares were correspondingly high and out of reach of the mass of the population. A journey from Augsburg to Innsbruck by stagecoach, although little more than 60 miles as the crow flies, would have cost an unskilled laborer more than a month’s wages just for the fare.

This is from The Pursuit of Glory, Europe 1648-1815. I’ve already seen three reviews of this book, and it is the very next one on my reading list.

The following is an older article on Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye by John Scalzi.

I never got Holden Caulfield anyway. This partially due to having my own reading tastes bend towards science fiction as a teen rather than the genre of Alienated Teen Literature, of which Catcher is, of course, the classic. If you were going to give me a teenage hero, give me Heinlein’s Starman Jones: He traveled the galaxy and memorized entire books of log tables and became Captain of a starship (for procedural reasons, granted). All Holden did was bitch, bitch, bitch. Put Holden at the controls of a starship and he’d implode from stress. Not my hero, thanks.

Fact is, I liked neither Holden nor the book. One can recognize the book has a certain literary merit without needing to like the thing, of course. But it’s more to the point to say that Holden has a certain fundamental passivity that I dislike — the desire for people and things to be different without the accompanying acceptance of personal responsibility to effect those changes. To go back to Heinlein and his juvy novels, his teenage characters are not very big on internal lives, but they’re also the sort who go out, do things, fail, do things again, and eventually get it right. Holden merely wishes, ultimately a man of inaction. He’s a failure — a particularly attractive failure if you’re of a certain age and disposition, admittedly, but a failure nonetheless. I remember reading the book as a teen and being irritated with Holden for that reason; I couldn’t see why he required any sympathy from me, or why I should empathize with him.

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