Monday, August 23, 2010

The Great Game

I finished Rudyard Kipling's Kim. For a long while I found Kim a bit annoying in his smugness, but I warmed to the character through the relationship with his lama, to whom he remained so loving and devoted in what seemed a very un-British way. I also enjoyed Kipling's descriptions of the landscape and the culture of pre-partition India; whatever one may think of his imperial attitude, you get the feeling that his connection to this place and time was very deep and something close to his heart and identity.

I have only a nodding acquaintance with the Great Game intrigues that move the plot and found the details hard to follow, so as one book always leads me down the rabbit hole to the next, I just got Peter Hopkirk's history, The Great Game, from the library to help me out. I always find myself wanting a map when I read novels like this. It's funny to read those place names -- Lahore, Peshawar, Kashmir -- and think how little has changed. The players have changed only nominally. The West is still trying to gain control in a place that has never in its history been tractable to outsiders, whether it was the British, or the Russians, or the Americans. Fascinating? Depressing? Will we ever manage to untangle ourselves from that formidable landscape and complicated past?

Kipling had his idealized Kim, master of all those "Asiatic" mysteries, leaving his adult future, mercifully, to the reader's imagination. And we have the sad story of Pat Tillman as our modern-day pawn in yet another iteration of the Great Game. I know that history and the current political situation are too complex to boil down into such easy parallels -- still, it is poignant to have one in mind while reading the other. It reminds you that Kipling is not just some dusty, old Victorian writer who's strictly out of mode, but in fact, someone who still has something meaningful to say to the 21st century reader.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Summer vacation?

I've done some fun stuff this summer and traveled over a few long weekends, but I haven't had a chance to have one of those lay-about extended vacations, sipping cold drinks by the water and catching up on my reading. It's been very active -- squeezing in chores between dashing in and out, picking up food on the way home, and not having nearly as much of a social life with my pals.

We had two major music festivals in Louisville in July, both of which I was covering as part of my side job as a music writer/reviewer for It's usually much more loose, where I can spread out the shows I'm going to see, but last month everything was packed together. The highlights have been getting to see The Flaming Lips, She & Him, Dwight Yoakam, and Loretta Lynn -- plus interviewing one of my favorites, Tift Merritt (below). I've got a little breather to gear up for a sprinkling of fall shows and the upcoming Arts season. After scrabbling around, dirty and sweaty in the outdoors, it will be paradisical to sit in cool, comfy auditoriums watching the opera and the orchestra.

Meanwhile, I had the Amen corner of family birthdays to attempt to remember -- two nieces, my husband, and both my parents. Whew!

Reading and everything else has taken a hit. I started Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale, but bogged down somewhere in the Second Part. When I get distracted from a book for so long, it's hard to get back into it. Plus, I get bees in my bonnet about other things in the meantime. I've been learning about telescopes and trying to brush up on astronomy, so I was in the mood to read something related. I found Simon Singh's Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe and zipped right through it. It was really fun to read, but very thorough and methodical at the same time. I have a hard time wrapping my head around a lot of the math and science -- not to mention the mind-blowing concepts -- but he actually did a fine job of boiling it down to my level. Thank god for people who know how to use analogies, graphics, and charts to explain things to people like me.

Time. Space. Space-Time. It kind of makes the stupid crap I wade through on the Internet and TV everyday seem...well, like the stupid crap it is. I think that would be notated Stupid12.

Next on my reading list are books picked up from the library today: Farenheit 451 (which I don't think I ever read -- or I will remember on approximately page 112 that I read it in 10th grade) and some Kipling -- The Light that Failed and Kim, which takes places between the 2nd and 3rd Afghan Wars (the British version). Those Afghan wars just never seem to go out of style.