What am I reading?
Last week, I finished David George Hogarth’s tour of the Hejaz region. I am glad to have read it, though really only because D G Hogarth wrote it. The book wasn’t boring but beyond Hogarth, T E Lawrence and perhaps one or two others, the First World War is not really an area of historical interest for me. As it was, I skipped over the second half of Hejaz as it focusses solely on explaining routes from one location in the Hejaz to another.
I am now coming to the end of Just Juliet by Charlotte Reagan. I don’t think I will read a more gentle book than this all year. To recap, Just Juliet is about how an American high schooler named Lena falls in love with a girl named Juliet. After doing so, she comes out to her friends and parents. Coming out isn’t easy for her but, if truth be told, it isn’t hard, either as she has a great support network behind her.
As I approach the last chapter and epilogue my abiding impression of Just Juliet is that Charlotte Reagan treats Lena too kindly. For however difficult coming out is for her there is no sense that if things go south between Lena and her friends and parents she will be out on her ear: Juliet is there for her, as is her family who really are a saintly bunch.
That’s my criticism. I have to say, though, for this book, Reagan’s softness doesn’t matter so much; I believe it is her first published work. She can be allowed to give her characters a pass. I would be disappointed if she did it again, though.
Having said all that, I haven’t finished the book yet so maybe a nuclear bomb will fall on Lena’s house at the end – though I rather doubt it. I hope not. I want the characters to go through more, but not that much!
Replacing Hejaz is The Hill and the Sea by Hilaire Belloc. I decided to read this after reading K. V. Turley’s excellent* review at Crisis magazine here. His review struck a nerve and from that moment I just had to read it. The book is a collection of Belloc’s journalism up to 1906 (from when – ? The book doesn’t say) and is based on his travels. My two favourite articles so far are The North Sea in which Belloc and a friend sail across a very turbulent sea and The Wing of Dalua in which Belloc and a friend (the same one with whom he sailed?) get lost in the mountains of Andorra. It is quite a long article (being 12 pages) and you get a real sense of the danger that the two men are in.
from The North Sea
I looked windward and saw the sea tumbling, and a great number of white waves. My heart was still so high that I gave them the names of the waves in the eighteenth Iliad: The long-haired wave, the graceful wave, the wave that breaks on an island a long way off, the sandy wave, the wave before us, the wave that brings good tidings. But they were in no mood for poetry. They began to be angry, roaring waves, like the chiefs of charging clans, and though I tried to keep up my courage with an excellent song by Mr. Newbolt, “Slung between the round shot in Nombre Dios Bay,” I soon found it useless, and pinned my soul to the tiller. Every sea following caught my helm and battered it. I hung on like a stout gentleman, and prayed to the seven gods of the land. My companion said things were no worse than when we started. God forgive him the courageous lie. The winds and the sea rose.”
from The Wing of Dalua
For a storm broke, and that with such violence that we thought it would have shattered the bare hills, for an infernal thunder crashed from one precipice to another, and there flashed, now close to us, now vividly but far off, in the thickness of the cloud, great useless and blinding glares of lightning, and hailstones of great size fell about us also, leaping from the bare rocks like marbles. And when the rain fell it was just as thought it had been from a hose, forced at one by a pressure instead of falling, and we two on that height were the sole objects of so much fury, until at last my companion cried out from the rock beneath which he was cowering, “This is intolerable!” and I answered him, from the rock which barely covered me, “It is not to be borne!” So in the midst of the storm we groped our way down into the valley beneath, and got below the cloud; and when we were there we thought we had saved the day, for surely we were upon the southern side of the hills, and in a very little while we should see the first roofs of the Andorrans.
* full disclosure – KVT is a friend of mine!