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Friday, July 14th, 2017 03:15 pm
The first quarter of this was pretty good, being a standard biography of Samuel Johnson. (The dictionary guy, that one.) Unfortunately it then hits the point at which the author (Boswell) became friends with Johnson. From that point on, it's a never-ending series of anecdotes, mostly with the goal of demonstrating just how cool it was that Boswell was such close friends with such a great figure. The density of the material increases non-linearly as we approach the end of Johnson's life, ending with pretty much every letter he wrote in the last year of his life.

I stalled out a bit under 50% last December, but I recently dove back in to finish it off. It definitely was improved by >1 playback speeds, and I was able to go as high as 2x without any noticeable loss of absorption. Helps that it was pretty breezy material for the most part, and I'm now wondering if the narrator was unusually slow to begin with.

I was a bit surprised just how turgid this book was. It's quite famous for inventing the modern biography. I guess I'm just glad it was the more grounded and human, less hagiographic aspects that caught on with other authors, not the obsessive day-by-day chronicling.

As often in pre-modern contexts, I can't help but wondering if their friendship had a sexual component. I think I have some very close friends, but I really can't imagine expressing my deep affection for them in the overtly romantic ways that Boswell and Johnson regularly did for each other. But is that just a modern tendency to view everything through a sexual lens? Certainly the open acknowledgement of homosexuality has been a mass-extinction-level event for the expression of male-male affection in my culture over the last several decades. I don't know how to begin to detangle my own cultural programming in this instance.

With this finally finished, I'm getting to the end of the Great Book series. (At least all the ones I'm ever likely to read. I doubt I'll ever be up for Plotinus or Aquinas, for instance.) I have a bit more John Locke on my Kindle right now that I'd like to get through, and I suspect I'll eventually get around to all 120 hours of Gibbon's Decline and Fall, but that's it. Oh well! It's been convenient, having a big list like this to work from, but it's not like there is any shortage of other things to be read.