CBR14Bingo – Question: Why are so many Americans obsessed with this book (especially Libertarians and Sovereign Citizens)
Common Sense –
This is one of those books whose main ideas and arguments I ostensibly know through cultural osmosis. If I had ever read it before, I am less sure, but I have taken a handful of early American classes, so maybe. One of the prevailing ideas that came to me as I read this and thought more about why it holds such a special place in so many people’s in this (the US) country’s heart is the reminder that Thomas Paine, however independent is a British citizen. This is important because he spends the first two sections really attacking the core ideas of the British constitution and the concept of hereditary monarchy. I think these rejections play an important role in understanding how deeply ingrained this book and the other founding documents were in forming American attitudes that are still squarely present.
The biggest irony of the book of course is the irony and the tragedy at the heart of all American founding documents of this type, and of course at the heart of the lies that conservatives and libertarians tell about America is that America has never actually been about liberty and equality, but privilege. While it talks a good game, this document was written during the literal subjugation of Black people in slavery, the de facto and de jur subjugation of women, and the furthering of policies that would lead toward the eradication of most of the Native American population (and certainly their rights). These lies continue today as conservatives don’t actually want freedom, but status above.
Here are the four sections of the text:
I. Of the Origin and Design of Government in General, With Concise Remarks on the English Constitution
II. Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession
III. Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs
IV. On the Present Ability of America, With Some Miscellaneous Reflections
CBR14Bingo – Scandal — the books themselves not so scandalous; the story behind them, very much so
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – 4/5 Stars
If you’re like me, the Disney version of these two books stands in for a lot of what the books contain, and the Disney version is still an absolute banger of a movie. The issue of course is that a lot of the word play and math play are lost in that edition, and of course, you lose the continuity of the two distinct texts.
In the first novel, we begin Alice reading under the tree with her sister and her cat when she sees the white rabbit run by. She follows him, falls down the hole, and ends up in the room with the various drinks and cakes. We get the sea of tears, the caucus race, the lobster quadrille and all that. We get the duchess, whose baby turns into a pig, the Cheshire cat, the Mad tea party, and finally the meeting of the kingdom of cards, and the trial at the end.
The best part remains the poems of course, and how delightfully silly the parody of other classic songs are. Whatever else is true about this book, the verse is delicious in its distinct ways.
Through the Looking Glass – 4/5 Stars
When we return to Wonderland, everything is just so much better. This is a sequel that just absolutely expands in the best of ways on the first book. The Jabberwocky scenes, and especially the poem have always been my favorite from the two books, and I recall as a kid, learning and memorizing the poem and reciting it in class. The scene that follows with Humpty Dumpty breaking down the poem is a hilarious exercise in the coded language of literature and the ways in which an author’s cleverness can easily get in the way of a reader’s understanding, not in the sense of complexity, but in terms of obtuseness. It’s a funny prefiguration of the writing of someone like Gertrude Stein.
This book also has the Walrus and the Carpenter, the scenes with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, and the scenes in the garden. As well as all the chess moments.
Anyway, enjoy the “Jabberwocky”
Cbr14Bingo – Cozy – Just two “close friends” who have deep care and feelings for each other
Frog and Toad Audio – 5/5 Stars
These are the first five books of the Frog and Toad series, a group of books I absolutely loved as a kid, mostly for their art, which is the reason I loved almost any book as a kid. This audio collection is read by Arnold Lobel, who is a truly lovely and joyful reader. So while we’re missing the art, the thing we do have here is additional audio material. Music peppers all of the stories, but the absolute best moments come in the form of the sad sack music in the series most famous (to me) moment where Toad is waiting for mail that will never come. When Toad tells Frog that “This was his sad time of the day” just the dreariest, and droopiest sad music plays and it’s hilarious.
CBR14Bingo – Cold – Our narrator is so deeply cold for so much of this novel.
A Lesson Before Dying – 4/5 Stars
This novel was a sensation when it came out and one of the prevailing things that came through for me at the time was the idea that Ernest Gaines wasn’t already a very famous novelist. He had written two very famous novels, one a huge hit The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, and the other A Gathering of Old Men. Both are very good novels. Another thing that came out of this book is the idea that it’s a kind of “triumph of human spirit” novel, and I have my doubts.
Grant Wiggins is the local Black parish teacher near Bayonne, Louisiana. It’s a few years after WWII and something has recently happened in town that is on people’s minds. The white owner of a liquor store is killed in a robbery in which two young Black men are also killed. A third Black man was found at the scene drinking whiskey, but claimed his innocence. His story is that he got picked up along the way, that he didn’t know where the two other men were going, and that the robbery was more of a misunderstanding or unplanned situation that went terribly wrong, and that regardless, he had nothing to do with it. The prosecutor on the other hand painted a picture of the boy as a sadistic killer who toasted the murder of a white man with stolen whiskey, and not a scared young man who drink a bit to calm his nerves. His attorney told a story of a young man no better than an animal who was too dumb to even run away and that putting him on death row would not serve justice and would do nothing but take an otherwise useless man off the streets, but also deprive his aunt of his company, the only people either had in this world. With no surprise, the twelve white jurors quickly find him guilty.
This is all foreground. Grant comes home to find his aunt waiting for him. He knows he’s going to be asked something he doesn’t want to do, and sure enough, his aunt and young man’s aunt ask him to visit the man and try to further his education just a little in the last remaining time in order to avoid the idea that he is just a “hog” (as the attorney calls him) lead to slaughter. Grant is sour and angry for a lot of reasons, namely that he got away and lived in California for a time where things were better, but that he returned to Louisiana to teach out of a sense of guilt and obligation that has left him angry and resentful. His aunt presses him on this and he agrees, not because he wants to, but because he doesn’t think he can avoid it. Part of the reason this also angers him is that he has to debase himself further and ask the sheriff permission to do so.
The novel continues on in this way, and this is where I differ from the over-arching sense of hope here. There is growth, and that’s good, but this book is an indictment left and right, and while something happens, this is not a story of redemption, but a portrayal of responsibility.