February 3, 2005

My tendency these days is not
to read one single book, but
to read many of them at once.

Sometimes I'll read a
radically different kind of
book as a "break" from the
others, but often I'll just              (Dangerbaby makes fun of
follow a chain of associations           me shuffling around the
and read a set of books that             house with a stack of a
supplement each other in some            half-dozen books...)

   Pursuing the history of popular
   trash, I choose to trace
   Alan Quartermain to the source:          QUARTERMAIN

      H. Rider Haggard
      "King Solomon's Mines" (1885)

   From there, I wondered a little about
   the source of this source:  What about
   the African explorers of Haggard's day?

      Henry M. Stanley's
      "Through the Dark Continent"
      (1879, with preface from the 1899 edition)
      Dover ediiton.

   And that reminded me about the
   great Victorian quest for the
   source of the Nile.

   A mention of Burton (not entirely
   complimentary) reminded me of this book, which
   has been on my stacks for nearly 15 years:

      "Sir Richard Francis Burton"
      by Edward Rice (1990)

   All of which, also prompted me to break
   out some of the prime reference materials
   I keep on hand...

     "Life Pictorial Atlas of the World" (1965)

     "The World Guide" for 2001/2002 sub-titled
     "An alternative reference to the countries of our planet"

     "Corto Maltese in Africa"
                                       The Coro Maltese
                                       provides the helpful
                                       cross-connection to
                                       "The African Queen".


Burton-Spekes and the "discovery
of the source of the Nile":

Which of them deserve credit for
"discovering" the source of the Nile?
Well, Spekes got to "Lake Victoria"
first, on a side trip of the Burton              Biographies come in
expedition, though Rice makes much of            alternating waves
Speke's sloppiness in nailing down that          of hero-worship and
the lake he visited really was the               debunkery.
source, and complains of his
treacherousness in cutting Burton out                It's very clear
on credit, and so on.                                which side this
                                                     one is on.
        The Life Pictorial reveals something
        Rice neglected to mention: most of
        the water in the Nile comes from the
        "Blue Nile", whose source is over in

        Burton-Spekes were fighting over the credit
        for the somewhat smaller "White Nile".

          Maybe the right answer is "neither"?

I got into the Burton bio following
an "Africa" chain, but Burton's
interests really centered on Arabia
more than anything...

So then, following that line I read the
beginning of the Paul Bowles novel
"The Sheltering Sky" (1949).

      I've been a little curious about
      this book for some time --
      Burroughs mentions it as a book
      that got him interested in going     Burroughs later complained
      to Tangiers --                       about this, and called Bowles a
                                           "fakir", though what that was
      Also Eno borrowed the title          about I don't know -- "The
      for one of his ambient               Sheltering Sky" doesn't seem
      pieces (and a friend of              terribly romanticized to me...
      mine uses another Bowles
      title for his radio show
      "Baptism of Solitude").

                    So, many lines converge on
                    Paul Bowles...

                       But I'm not sure I'm
                       going to continue on
                       with it.

                          Idle, whiney, unsympathetic
                          characters going through
                          existential crisis.  Ho hum.

Also following the Arabian
line, I pulled out some
Kahil Gibran (largely terrible).

But that was this odd volume
"Tears and Laughter", which
I can see is a bit inferior   A case where
to the more famous works.     websearches
                              do a better
  He died in 1931, but        job than
  "Tears" was published       haunting used     (I was originally interested
  in the late 40s: over       book sales.       in Gibran because his name
  a decade posthumous.                          was dropped by David Bowie in
                                                "Width of a Circle".)

                                     If I had an "Arabian Nights"
                                     around, I would probably start
                                     working on that, also.

                                         There's the Gutenberg version,
                                         but I lack the discipline (or is
                                         it desire? insanity?) to plough
                                         through it on the computer...

   Taking a break from the
   Africa/Arabian trajectory,
   I switched to a Ross Thomas          (Someone *must*
   book, "Out on the Rim" (1987).       have done a porn
                                        movie called
                                        "Pacific Rim", right?)
   Much of the action took
   place in the post-Marcos
   Philippines.               It seemed to me like the
                              Philippines had come up
                              several times recently.    E.g. in discussing
                                                         Kipling's "White
                                 It occurred to me       Man's Burden"
                                 that not only was
                                 I weak on the
                                 history of the
                                 place, I wasn't
                                 sure where it was

                                   So, it was off to
                                   "The World Guide",         Soverienty
                                   which is good for the      of the
                                   lefty slant on history.    Phillipines
                                                              was handed
                                                              to the US
                                                              by Spain
                                                              as part of
                                                              a deal at the
                                                              end of the
                                                              American war?


                               And the "Life Pictorial Atlas"
                               pins down the location:

                               Starting at eastern
                               Austrailia, if you head
                               north you'll travel
                               through Indonesia and
                               then the Philippines on
                               your way to Taiwan.         I think the reason I
                               They're across the South    couldn't place the
                               China Sea from Vietnam.     Phillipines is that
                                                           in a glance at a
                                                           world map, they're
                                                           subsumed into
                                                           Indonesia.  They
                                                           just seem like part
                                                           of the same system
                                                           of islands.

This is just one of the chains
I'd been following of
late... another complex of
associations could be listed
concerning my project of
reading "the Illiad".

              All this means is that it
              takes me quite a while to
              get through a half-way
              serious book, with all of
              the various interruptions
              (not counting all of the          Avoiding
              other things I read:              television
              web-sites/mailing                 helps quite a
              lists/newsgroups...).             bit though.


You can't follow every reference, but I try
and follow some, though I couldn't tell you
how I pick and choose between them...

   Many a blue tab just sits there                    TABS
   on the page, some get promoted to
   a todo list, and others -- very few --
   I actually get around to reading.