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Reading and writing and things and stuff

I have finished reading 'Blackout' and it's sequel, 'All Clear.' These are the last part of Connie Willis' great Oxford time travel books. The premise is that historians at Oxford can go back in time to observe historic events. The books are 'Doomsday Book' which i love, and 'To say Nothing of the Dog' which is splendid too. There are also some interconnected short stories here and there. She obviously loves playing with the idea, and does it very well. She manages to be funny and sad in the way, it seems to me, that life is.

These last two are really one big story about the historians, (undergrads in their 20's,) visiting WWII era Britain. They end up observing Dunkirk and the Blitz and the RAF and all, up close. Which I knew little about.

It took me ages to read these last two. I gobbled up the one about visiting 1348, and the one that riffed on Three men in a Boat. I think the WWII ones did not appeal to me as much because that is not where I would choose to go. Not that I have any doubt of heroes then. But if I could go I would go further back, and see things we have less complete records of.

Which brings me to the book I started today. 'Boys at Sea.' It is about sodomy courts in Nelson's Navy. I know that a number of Following Sea people have read this already. I have been waiting ages to get a copy, and now I have one!!

There was one little paragraph that struck me, today. It was talking about the books that went to sea, how much they cost, and the fact that books were pretty easily affordable, and also most likely got shared around. I know that that is also true in the modern Navy. (USN.) We have an incomplete record, of course, as to what the sea officers preferred, when it came to light reading. There is little reason to make a record of that.

But the book then said we have no idea what they talked about at all. I mean, they talked about the ship, of course. But when the wind was right, and everything was going fine, we have to imagine they had plenty of time to speak, casually, of other things. Nobody wrote that down at all. It is lost. It wasn't really important. Probably just the everyday joking, complaining, examining, that we do, because we are social apes. Then as now, we talk mostly about other people.

But, if I could go through time, that is what I would like to see. Not the grand heroics, but the everyday stuff.

Connie Willis made the point, of course, that the everyday is the heroic. And I am sure she's right. I wish I could write like her. Her books make me cry, but in a good way.

In other news, I am persisting with the Spanish lessons. They are being harder and less wacky than before. I can understand people on the street, a little. Or I would if they would slow down!

So onward. To Thanksgiving, and beyond into the winter. Zoom!

****Edited to correct the plague year. I wrote it down wrong.****


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 19th, 2013 05:52 am (UTC)
Time travel as a concept is something more fun to read about than to experience. For all its attractions, it's not something sensible for someone like me to try. I'm a mono-lingual who is ethnically Chinese, but as my one language is English, it is hard to see how travelling more than a few decades back in time is in any way safe.

(ISTR that in her stories, it is explicitly stated that massive chunks of the past (in a geographically European context) are forbidden to the Oxford staff & students who are non-white.)
Nov. 19th, 2013 06:51 am (UTC)
I figure that is why Badri is never shown going anywhere. I would fit in ok,as far as looks, but son says 'Mom you freak out if the internet goes down for an hour. What makes you think you would like the past?'
Nov. 19th, 2013 06:56 pm (UTC)
There are other timelabs, IIRC one in China, but that doesn't help me either; I may be able to go back to China's past & not look out of place but as soon as I open my mouth? Game over.

Nov. 19th, 2013 12:28 pm (UTC)
Oh - those time travel books sound brilliant.
Nov. 19th, 2013 02:32 pm (UTC)
Oh, I think you would love them. All Clear has a brief appearance by Alan Turing, riding his bike.

Also, she writes compellingly while not having any 'bad' people. (Except the Nazi's who you never meet.) Everybody has motivations that are real and make sense, and they get in each other's way and make plot without being bad for the sake of bad. (You know what I mean?) Tricky to write.
Nov. 19th, 2013 02:33 pm (UTC)
Tricky, but brilliant if you can do it!
Nov. 19th, 2013 06:58 pm (UTC)
Fire Watch, a novelette in that universe, is available free online. It's great.
Nov. 19th, 2013 04:08 pm (UTC)
I must see if I can read some of these. Like you, I would choose to go further back - to Shakespeare, of course, but also probably to Roman times in Britain.
Nov. 19th, 2013 06:57 pm (UTC)
Fire Watch, a novelette in that universe, is available free online. It's great.
Nov. 20th, 2013 12:34 am (UTC)
Glad you finally managed to get a hold of a copy of Boys at Sea. It's an excellent book, very scholarly. The author is absolutely rigorous in his work and rarely deviates from the evidence. That's why the passage you mention is so striking, it's one of the few times he allows himself to speculate. It struck me when I read the book too, it's really rather poignant. If you're interested, my review of the book is here, and I picked out exactly that paragraph!
Nov. 20th, 2013 01:07 am (UTC)
We so often think the same things. I was also going to make about Nodbear's suffragette having a silly hat like Horatio!

I am further into the book now, and it is very scholarly, but an easy read too.

You really get the feeling of long ago voices-- some of them kid's voices, coming through the years.

The author lets himself get in one other flight of fancy, when he quotes Jack Aubrey saying 'Don't talk to me of rears and vices, I have been in the Navy all my life.'

That might almost be grown up Archie, worldly and a little exasperated.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )