No. 118 (essentialsaltes) wrote,
No. 118

Lots of things - even a book review

First off, probably no photo shoot on Saturday. That's just as well, since I have to run a game on Saturday night, and it doesn't exist yet.

This is pretty hardcore. 400 years ago, you'd get burnt at the stake -- now it's just another place to get pierced.

More sidewalk art

The plumbers have come and gone. It has been a traumatic experience for everyone, particularly, the cat, who has spent a great deal of time locked in the garage and locked in the closet. The poor thing is so demoralized that the last time we shut her away, when I dropped her on the floor of the closet, rather than bolting for the exit, she meekly walked in and hid under the blanket we put in there for her.

The Armenian plumbers have given us a fair amount of run-around as well. A one day job turned into a two day job, which then lingered over the weekend because they couldn't get an inspector to okay the work, so the patchers could come. And then the inspector went to the wrong place one day, so the cat got locked up for nothing. But now it's all done.

Except that they cracked some tile, messed up our hose, and Bog knows what else.

Apropos of nothing, Kevin L O'Brien is a stubborn prick.

Okay, I promised a book review. This requires a bit of backstory. Long ago, on Plastic, I was involved in a heated discussion of Tolkien. I was defending Tolkien against the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism. At some point, I mentioned that I felt (as I do) that Tolkien wrote simply masterful prose. One person scoffed. I asked him what he would consider fine prose. He mentioned a couple books, which I put on my Amazon wishlist (ooh, pretty slick way to work in my wishlist) and I got one of them at Christmas:

Peter Ackroyd's London: A Biography

I like London, I like history. I was prepared to like this, since I saw many favorable reviews on Amazon. But I'm sorry, the book is a mess.

I can deal with the fact that it's not strictly chronological. Although it's quasi-chronological, many of the chapters are more related to themes, like prisons or alcohol or fire. I'll even grant him the use of some poetic license to say that these themes say something specific and useful about London. Sure, London has suffered from many fires (and one Big One) but does that mean the city has a fiery nature? But as I say, these poetic flights are not what bothers me most about the book.

Someone thought this book was a paragon of prose, but I find it to be quite tedious. The prose isn't flawed, but it is largely written in an insipid journalism-ese. Worse yet, the structure seems to be drawn from those five paragraph essays we used to write in school. Except that it is extended to 800 pages.
Every paragraph has at least one illustrative quote, and Ackroyd ploddingly tells us afterwards just what the quote tells us about London. In places, it truly looks like the work of a schoolboy, only with better spelling and vocabulary.
I can't fault his sources or his research. He must have spent countless hours combing all of literature for references to London. The quotes themselves are often highly interesting, and many crackle with a liveliness that is utterly absent from Ackroyd's own words.
I'm 300 pages in, and more and more I find my eyes sliding from quote to quote, savoring the wheat among all of the distracting chaff. But now I'm not reading a book at all, I'm poring over a collection of quotes about London, and it gets wearying very quickly.
As a 'biography', it is a failure. As a reference, it is of some use, but even then only as a starting point. The truly amazing story of Jack Sheppard, who made multiple escapes from Newgate Prison, is told with far less detail than in those links. Jack the Ripper received even less coverage, though the book also suffers from the occasional repetition, so there may be a more thorough account elsewhere.
All in all, a very unsatisfactory reading experience.
Tags: book, house

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