Christopher de Hamel's book is an unusual combination of enthusiasm for a subject and an ability to write engagingly on it for the casual reader. I have no experience as an amateur historian with the genuine article of old sources, but I can see myself bothering the Sheffield Archive, or a local church or two for a bit of real history. There's an odd but nevertheless fascinating mix of the contents of the manuscripts themselves, their stories as objects through history, and de Hamel's own experience of the meetings. He seems to have a deft touch for focusing for just the right amount on any particular aspect, and then moving on to something else, in a way - highlighted in a review on the back of the book itself by no less a figure than the impossible-to-spell Diarmaid MacCulloch - that is slightly lacking in the fiction of Umberto Eco. He also praises de Hamel's sense of humour, although I cannot help but feel that Umberto Eco's jokes are obscured by Umberto Eco's insistence on displaying his depth of knowledge. Eco is also susceptible to the need to pack in all the possible references to other works (probably some of which works appear in de Hamel's book!) which in most writers of middling ability comes across as a bit of showing off. Yes, I accept the charge, of course, but given that half of my references are to 20th and 21st century pop-culture rather than literature in its sense of morally superior stuff, perhaps showing off isn't quite the right analysis.
Just to offset the serious history bit, here's an interesting observation: my eight-month-old child distinguishes the world into four categories of object. They are:
Small / sweet berries which I like to eat;
Things that other people around the table have that I don't have that I'd like to eat;
Other stuff (that isn't...)
He seems to have developed a concept of 'be-screened object that can, at a push, show me Maui singing You're Welcome' . And if he is in the company of one of said objects and it is not showing him Maui, or a closely related video (limited to Moana singing about the sea, that one about being explorers, and Tamatoa doing Shiny), he kicks off with the force of a small, loud hurricane. He doesn't like other Disney, he doesn't like other music, he'll just about put up with that duck song, but beyond that, nothing. What a tiny monster. At least he hasn't worked out how to ask Alexa for it yet... The other stuff in his world is a very large category of objects, including his toys, house, parents and so on, which can be more or less interesting depending on the situation. The other three are the reliable ones. I wonder if he is convinced that Maui is actually a real demigod of the wind and sea, and therefore ought to be worshipped. I haven't worked out how to slide a reference to Moana into the books yet, but look out for it! I have also noticed that our household Furby seems to be referencing the ermahgerd meme, which gave me an idea to try to embed at least one meme somewhere in the next book. One does not simply seems to be almost both too easy and too obvious.
On a thoroughly unrelated note, I was interested by a Buzzfeed article (which I now, of course, cannot find to link to) which expounded the view that love is a choice, not a feeling, as expressed by someone on some manner of social media. Given that so much writing - be it fiction, poetry, songs, drama, whatever - is about love, it's a bold claim. There was a telling point in there, but I don't think it established what it set out to. I think - as I have tried to show in my writing - that love is the feeling, the inescapable, unignorable and consuming feeling that doesn't need an explanation (you can ask why someone falls in love with someone else, and there may be a good answer, but somehow that answer is still uninformative). Love - in this sense, of course, not the Christian caritas that I have discussed before - is the subject of endless literature, good and bad, of whatever form. What isn't the subject of endless literature is the separate but related idea of building a lasting and stable relationship, and I think the original writer ended up conflating love with that idea - more mundane, perhaps, but more relevant to most people's actual existences. I would be interested to know if there was any successful literature or drama of the stable long-term relationship, but given that the whole point of that stability is to lack drama, I suspect not. So is love a choice? No. The choice is what you do with it when it's there, and - something which I can only really think I've read being taken seriously as a practical, decision-requiring issue in the work of A C Grayling - when it isn't any more. Plenty of 'trapped in a loveless marriage' literature exists, of course, and I haven't read all of it, but Grayling takes seriously the possibility that a relationship could survive in its sense of family, home and so on, whilst the more romantic elements of love are fulfilled outside that relationship. I am not sure he is entirely in earnest, but like all good thinkers he is not afraid to draw out the conclusions of his view, and that seems in this case to be that you can have your cake and eat it. I wonder what his marriage was like when that book came out...
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When to the sessions of sweet silent thought