A Nasty Bit of Rough by David Feherty

A Nasty Bit of Rough is a very silly book. Written by on-course CBS golf commentator David Feherty, it tells the tale of ancient golf rivalries in Northern England and Scotland. The main character is “Uncle Dickie” a retired Major General who owns Scought’s Wood Golf Club – the oldest golf club in the world, or so its members claim. They chief rivals are the McGregors Clan of Scotland, owners of the Tay Club who also lay claim to having invented the game of golf. These too clans face off in a match play golf contest every fifty years to win the petrified middle finger of St. Andrew – a prize known as “The Digit.”

The book is mostly a description of the wild characters that make up these two groups and the ridiculous antics they get up to in the course of their feud. The plot is rather simple but there are a couple of twists here and there. The journey is the point, however, not the plot. The book is also rather ribald with its humor leaning heavily towards the locker room sort. Here is an example:

As Flnagan bent over to put on his underwear, Dwilby hopped silently into the bed, and just as his master lifted his left foot off the ground to search for the leg whole in his Y-fronts, the little dog jammed his cold, wet nose between the cheecks of Flanagan’s backside, and took a good sniff.

“AAAAAARGH!” Flangan screemed as he jerked bolt upright, banging his head on the windowsill and getting tangles up in his shorts. Holding his head with one hand and the shorts in the other, he took two hops sideways and fell into the wardrobe.

Dwilby sneezed violently, and started to scratch at the bed-clothes until he had rucked them into a comfortable heap. Then he turned around twice, lay down, and began to energetically lick his balls.

The book is full of silly stories like this, usually involving alcohol, accidents, and someone’s orrifice. In fact, the climatic finish to the golf match involves a golf ball stuck between one of the McGregor’s butt cheecks. I won’t spoil the ending for you.

All in all, I must say that while the book is funny in parts and interesting at times, it left me a little cold. Perhaps, I was just not in the mood for such an oddball or ribald sense of humor. I enjoy golf and have enjoyed golf fiction before, but this story was a little too thin. It is like those dirty jokes you told in junior high and high school – they were funny but they tend to wear thin. A little more plot and a little less vulgarity might have given the book some substance. However, if you enjoy wacky antics and jokes about dogs having sex with sheep then A Nasty Bit of Rough is for you.

Nuremberg: The Reckoning by William F. Buckley Jr.

I am a big fan of WFB. I own every single one of his books. I own his siblings books, I own his son’s books. I even own a privately published book about his father. WFB was a big part of my introduction to conservatism.

So as you can see it is sometimes hard for me to be objective about Mr. Buckley. Even with my little obsession, however, I can admit that Buckley is not one of the greatest novelists of our time. But what is interesting is to watch as his style and strategy change over time. WFB started writing fiction with a series of spy novels. His blackford Oakes series are a mix of James Bond style espionage, historical fiction, and Buckley’s own unique views. Again, while they are not Tolstoy or Hemingway, they are fun and enjoyable reads. After Blackford Oakes, Buckley begin to work with historical fiction in a more serious way tackling the personalities of Joe McCarthy, James Angleton, and even Elvis Presley. These books were interesting and enjoyable because they provided not just a good story but also insight into the lives of historical figures. At his best (like Redhunter) Buckley brought the characters to life and you felt you understood them better after reading the book.

Which is what brings us to Nuremberg. The book approaches the Nuremburg trial through the eyes of a young German-American GI Sebastian Reinhard. Sebastian leaves turbulent inter-war Germany to live in America, the home of his maternal grandmother. Growing up in Arizona he soon sees America as his home and enlists in the army as WWII winds down. Because of his language skills he is sent to do interpreter-interrogation work at the Nuremberg trial. Sebastian’s complicated lineage and his unique experiences allow Buckley to explore issues of loyalty, patriotism, morality, and anti-Semitism as Sebastian interacts with Nazi war criminals, local German’s and his own relatives. Buckley paints the characters and story line with interconnected vignettes. The story line does not lead in a straight line from one point to another, there are plot twists scattered throughout. Rather Buckley seems concerned with allowing the reader to “feel” the lives of the characters. To walk in their shoes, to think like they think, to wrestle with the issues they must have wrestled with in order to make sense of their lives and times. In this way, it is similar to the way he had led James Angleton. Spytime was not a espionage thriller or a mystery; it was a extended character sketch. Nuremberg is the same type of work. Buckley explores and examines people, places, and ideas through his characters.

I think this is likely what Buckley enjoys about writing these type of books. The skill necessary to describe the characters and events of history – trying to make the people real. Buckley wants us to look back on these events and see that there were real people involved with complex lives, emotions, and questions. In Nuremberg he wants you to wrestle with the difficult ideas and the difficult moral choices. He wants you to ask yourself what would I do?

I enjoyed reading Nuremburg as I enjoy reading all of WFB’s works. If you enjoy interesting characters in a fascinating historical setting I think you will enjoy it as well.

Recommended: YES

Martin Amis, Literature, and Religion post 9/11

Martin Amis reflects on literature in this Guardian article: The voice of the lonely crowd. Amis is a good writer. He has an amazing ability to craft prose and to paint imaginative scenes with words. I have enjoyed reading his novels and his short essays. I plan to read his autobiography as well. Like most writers and artists, however, his politics and worldview are a bit off. This essay reveals Amis’ anti-religious attitude:

The 20th century, with its scores of millions of supernumerary dead, has been called the age of ideology. And the age of ideology, clearly, was a mere hiatus in the age of religion, which shows no sign of expiry. Since it is no longer permissible to disparage any single faith or creed, let us start disparaging all of them. To be clear: an ideology is a belief system with an inadequate basis in reality; a religion is a belief system with no basis in reality whatever. Religious belief is without reason and without dignity, and its record is near-universally dreadful. It is straightforward – and never mind, for now, about plagues and famines: if God existed, and if He cared for humankind, He would never have given us religion.

This may be powerful prose but it is a load of BS. His definition of both ideology and religion are meaningless and warped. Amis reveals nothing but the schoolboy’s atheism. Just because some religionists are ignorant and irrational does not mean religion is “without reason and without dignity.” In fact religion has been the motivation for much of the intellectual progress in this country and much of its dignity. Considering that religion played a key role in the founding of most of the prestigious universities in this country and around the world; considering that theology, law, history, and philosophy are all encompassed in religion it seems weak at best to paint religion as irrational or anti-reason. Did the abolitionist lack dignity? Was the dignity of Martin Luther King Jr. unrealted to his religious belief? Was Mother Teresa’s dignity and grace removed from her religion?
I know it may seem silly to attack Amis for this hyperbole but it is one of my pet peeves: the ignorant slander of faith based on little more than oversimplified history and a disdain for others beliefs. Surely Amis must know that the worship of reason and science has led to more than its fair share of death and destruction but we do not toss them aside because flawed human beings warped their true meaning. {If one is looking for a more intelligent critique of ideology, one with a true appreciation for the role of religion, Russell Kirk would be a far better choice.}

Amis argues that writers turned to political op-eds because their fiction seemed obsolete and out of place on September 12 but he is fooling himself if he thinks novelists and the literati are “individual voices, and playfully rational, all espousing the ideology of no ideology.” In fact we have learned that much of the cultural elite are instead trapped in leftist ideology and irrational anti-Americanism. Far from being the people we turn to in a time of crisis they have been the people we mock for their lack of insight. Sadly this seems true of Amis as well. For all his talent and skill with words Amis offers nothing but sophistry and emptiness. I will take my religion thank you.

Nabokov's Speak Memory

Speaking of Classics, here is a quote from a great one:
The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour). {Opening paragraph of Vladimir Nabokov’s autobiography Speak Memory}

Dark poetry no?

My book addiction continues

In the ongoing saga of my addiction to book buying, I fell off the wagon hard tonight! A bookstore in town (actually a chain) called half-price books got a hold of a bunch of the Everyman’ Library versions of classic works. I had picked up some Nabokov, Conrad, Faulkner, and Mann previously but it proved too great temptation and I returned for Kafka, Kipling, and Hemingway. I also got a beautiful edition of Moby Dick and a couple of quality paperback versions of The Wandering Jew and Balzac’s The Bureaucrats. Whew! Now I have more books than I can possibly read but these are works that will be relevant for a long time so no rush.

I also bought my wife a beautiful art book on The Oriental in Western Art that she had been drooling over recently – see I am not selfish I can share my addiction!

The firs step is admitting you have a problem right?

Ambrose and plagiarism I wanted

Ambrose and plagiarism
I wanted to comment on the Stephan Ambrose plagiarism story, as it is one area where I have a small bit of qualification (I have a graduate degree in History and have read much of Ambrose?s work). I think the left right issue (raised by Kausfiles) is a stupid one. Oddly enough I think Talking Points is just about right – in other words this was sloppy scholarship and writing that should embarrass Ambrose but not serious plagiarism that should put him outside the pale of respectable scholarship (my paraphrase). I think the likely cause of the mistake is Ambrose’s recent slide from serious scholarship to quick topical books based on the historical record already available. This is all too typical of book publishing. An author gets hot and his publisher naturally wants to get as much product out as he can. Ambrose?s work on Eisenhower, Nixon, Lewis and Clark, the Transcontinental Railroad, and World War Two are all readable, enjoyable, and scholarly work. His recent spat of WWII works, however, seem to be increasingly focused on speed rather than precision. If you are putting out a book a year it is likely that you are not doing research but rather compiling material – hence Ambrose?s slide towards journalistic history and/or works made up of secondary source material. I am sure Ambrose has a great deal of material on WWII but does he need to constantly be issuing books focused on smaller and smaller areas of the war? It looks like his rush to publish has finally caught up with him. (BTW – The riddicuous number of books on the Cival War, World War II, and Vietnam, often linked to the lack of popular works on other subjects, frustrates some historians. The Greatest Generation hoopla has only added to this problem. Although I see some merit in this critique, I am a fan of Ambrose?s work.)