July 17, 2005

· Books

I gave up on Cryptonomicon shortly after my despairing post about it and decided I needed something a bit funnier. So I picked up Cold Comfort Farm and Scoop. The latter was OK, but the former was terrific, right down to the helpful marking of “the finer passages with one, two or three stars.” An ancestor of a well-known blogger shows up early on, too. This should really find its way into Dr. B’s sidebar:

Mrs Smiling’s second interest was her collection of brassieres, and her search for a perfect one. She was reputed to have the largest and finest collection of these garments in the word. It was hoped that on her death it would be left to the nation. She was an authority on the cut, fit, colour, construction and proper functioning of brassieres; and her friends had learned that her interest, even in moments of extreme emotional or physical distress, could be aroused and her composure restored by the hasty utterance of the phrase: “I saw a brassiere to-day, Mary, that would have interested you…”

The urge to quote more is hard to resist. Here a particular religious psychology is accurately diagnosed:

Flora was surprised to find him so astute, but reflected that religious maniacs derived considerable comfort from digging into their motives for their actions and discovering discreditable reasons which covered them with good, satisfying sinfulness in which they could wallow to their heart’s content.

And a persistent vice of academics:

She knew intellectuals always made a great fuss about the titles of their books. The titles of biographies were especially important. Had not Victorian Vista, the scathing life of Thomas Carlyle, dropped stone cold last year from the presses because everyone thought it was a boring book of reminiscences, while Odour of Sanctity, a rather dull history of drainage reform from 1840 to 1873, had sold like hot cakes because everybody thought it was an attack on Victorian morality.

All this and Aunt Ada Doom (who “saw something narsty in the woodshed”), too.

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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