Book reviews

Books Have Ideas

You may think this is obvious, but good books are usually full of allusions to other books, other ideas, and, in the middle of a fascinating story or plot, they talk to us about deep topics, they have insights on human quandaries, they shape and shake our own thoughts.

The orange book is my read, A Confederacy of Dunces.

I thought of something very different when my friend Heather mentioned this title for the first time. I thought it was about civil war (confederacy), and I am such a dunce I did not even know what dunce meant, in my head, it was something like dukes.

Now I am reading it with Heather, and it’s a book in its kind. I had never before read something so sardonic before. I laugh but I also think a lot with it.

This is a part when Mancuso (a patrolman that cannot hit it right) is undercover in a bus station bathroom booth for his whole shift, trying to make an arrest.

He leaned his head against the side of the booth for a moment and closed his eyes. Red and blue clouds floated across his eyelids. He had to capture some character and get out of that rest room before his ague got so bad that the sergeant had to carry  him to and from the booth every day. He had always hoped to win honor on the force, but what honor was there in dying of pneumonia in a bus station rest room? Even his relatives would laugh. What would his children say to their friends at school?

Patrolman Mancuso looked at the tiles on the floor. They were out of focus. He felt panic. Then he stared at them more closely and saw that the haze was only the moisture that formed a gray film over almost every surface in the rest room. He looked again at The Consolation of Philosophy, which was opened on his lap, and turned a limp, damp page. The book was making him more depressed. The guy who wrote it was going to be tortured by the king. The preface had said so. Now all this time the guy was writing this thing, he was going to end up with something driven down into his head. Patrolman Mancuso felt sorry for the guy and felt obliged to read what he had written. So far he had only covered about twenty pages and was beginning to wonder whether this Boethius was something of a gambler. He was always talking about fate and odds and the wheel of fortune. Anyway, it wasn’t the kind of book that exactly made you look up to the brighter side.

The bluish/grayish book it’s our read aloud, Mistress Masham’s Repose. It’s our first read of T.H. White, but it’sclear he is simply a master of weaving very intricate thoughts and references and teachings, in a fascinating story.

Many allusions, Latin words and sentences, a part where Maria tears  two pages of her governess, Miss Brown’s Pilgrims Progress book that made us gasp. an exquisite reference to Alice in Wonderland, and a whole dilemma about using force on weaker people, what it is to become a tyrant, who is human and who is not, do we “own” others? Read some yourself.

This is what you will have to do, if you want to make it up with Lilliput. You must never, never force them to do anything. You must be as polite to them as you are polite to any other person your own size, and then, when they see your magnanimity in not exerting brute force, they will admire you, and give you love.

And part of the dialogue of Miss Brown interrogating Maria:

She turned up the last corridor and opened the door.
“Good evening!” said Miss Brown smoothly, sitting on the bed. “So here is our little vagrom, returned from her clandestine tour.”
“Yes, Miss Brown.”
“And what has tempted her to brave the inclement airs of night? What horns of elfland, if one may so express oneself, have summoned the tender cheek to leave its downy pillow? Eh, Maria?”
Miss Brown moved her hand on purpose, and there was the painful ruler which was used at Algebra.
“I went for a walk.”
“The midnight ramble. Yes, indeed. The moonlit constitutional, to coin a phrase. And why this promenade among Diana’s minions?”
“I wanted to go out.”
“Exactly. So explicit. And yet, to some ideas, the time would scarcely seem conventional?”
“It was the moon.”
“The Moon! How true! How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank, et cetera.
“And these,” added Miss Brown, opening the other hand to show the spider scarf and the handkerchief and the other presents, which she had discovered by tracking her pupil to their hiding place, “and these delicious triffles, fairy fragments as one might designate them if devoted to the Essay Form, are these as well, Maria, nothing but moonshine and Titania’s dreams?”


“I know it is difficult,” he added gently, “because the trouble about loving things is that one wants to possess them. But you must keep hold of your emotions and always be guarding against meanness. It will be very difficult indeed.”
“You see, Maria, the whole situation is wrapped in such unusualness that it is difficult to consider it clearly. For instance, are these creatures human or not? What is the legal definition of a human being? Does he cease to be human when he is six inches high? If they are human, presumably it would be illegal for your guardians to sell them, as there are laws in England against slavery. But again, if they are human, what is their nationality?Should they acredit an Ambassador to represent their interests at St. James’s? Will they be regarded as British Subjects By Birth, and as being Domiciled in England for the Purposes of Income Tax? Certainly the latter, if what I hear about the Inland Revenue is true. And then, on the other hand, if they are not human, are we to regard them as ferae naturae, wild animals which become the property of the landlord? If so, you are the landlord, but, as you are a minor, Miss Brown and the Vicar could sell them on your behalf.”

There are many ideas and references we get, and the many we miss… but in our reading journey, in our daily encounter with ideas, the ramifications continue to grow, and the experience extends throughout a life time.


4 thoughts on “Books Have Ideas”

  1. I had almost forgotten about confederacy of dunces! Read that in grad school. Now I must re-read. Wish I was heading to Texas this summer…a girl can wish, right?!


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