September 13, 2004

Chalk And Cheese Book Reviewing

I'm currently reading two books new to me, one in the evenings and the other on my daily Metro commute.

My evening read is The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico by Bernal Diaz del Castillo. Diaz, after having gone on two other exploratory expeditions from Cuba to the Yucatan, was one of Cortez's soldiers in the campaign against Montezuma and wrote a gripping eye-witness account of his adventures. (Victor David Hanson cites to Diaz's account a great deal in his chapter on the fall of the Aztecs in his Carnage and Culture.) The prose style is extremely dry and straightforward, a soldier's story of what he remembers. In this, Diaz reminds me very much of other soldier-writers like Caesar and Xenophon. Nonetheless, it is absolutely fascinating. At the moment, I am reading of Cortez' contact with various Indian tribes that were sick and tired of the Aztecs' hegemonic cruelty and were eager to ally themselves with a power they thought capable of taking down Montezuma. So much for the myth that the New World was a garden of peace and love before the Eviiiiil Europeans showed up.

My commuter book is James Fenimore Cooper's The Wing and Wing, a novel about the adventures of a French Privateer during the Napoleonic Wars. Talk about radically different styles! While I am hoping to find a lot of good, meaty action in this book, I am chagrined by Cooper's tendency toward long-windedness and a certain air of superiority. Dayum, the man takes a long time to say anything - and to make sure that you know that he knows all about it! His description of a lugger making its way into the harbor at Elba is practically in real-time.

The only other book of Cooper's that I've read is Last of the Mohicans, which was not only long-winded, but pompous and sanctimonious as well, wallowing as it does in a good deal of Noble Savage goo-gooism. I reckon that I'll at least be spared the sanctimony here, since he's talking about the French, the British and the Italians. As for the long-windedness, eh, I've got time.

UPDATE: Outstanding! Don at Mixolydian Mode left a comment linking to Mark Twain's opinion on the writings of James Fenimore Cooper, widely regarded as one of the funniest pieces of literary criticism ever penned, and no less so because Twain is absolutely right. Thanks, Don!

Posted by Robert at September 13, 2004 01:42 PM | TrackBack

The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico

For some reason I read that as "The Discovery Channel Conquest of Mexico".

Which was rather surreal.

Posted by: Matt Navarre at September 13, 2004 02:47 PM

How 'bout "The Weather Channel Conquest of Mexico"? Yet another junket for Jim Cantori!

Posted by: Robert the Llama Butcher at September 13, 2004 02:59 PM

I had to read one of Cooper's novels back in college. Ugh. It took me a month to force my way through the drivel.

Mark Twain's assessment of Cooper.

Posted by: Don at September 13, 2004 04:29 PM

There's a trilogy of fictional histories called Aztec, Aztec Autumn, and I forget the third. They're pretty good, and nobody would ever mistake the America's of that day for peace-loving cultures.

Posted by: Ted at September 14, 2004 07:18 AM

Thanks for the mention of Diaz's book. I moved recently and all my books are still packed up. I had forgotten that I had marked in VDH's book that I had wanted to read Diaz. Thanks!

Posted by: Chrees at September 16, 2004 05:33 PM
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