15 May 2010

Reading projects for the summer

I have set aside an enormous pile of books to read this summer. Probably overly ambitious, but I might as well dream.

One that I am reading on Gutenberg.org is Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence, a memoir of his service during World War I among the Arabs of what would become Saudi Arabia. It is fascinating on many levels, not least as a peek into an arresting and complex personality. Lawrence is a superb observer of the natural world and an even better one of human natures. The pen-portraits he draws of so many are fully fleshed, subtle, and convincing.

But Lawrence is a peculiar person, one who constantly goes off on tangents you would not expect. Here he is after a battle in which the Arabs destroyed most of a battalion of Turkish troops.
The dead men looked wonderfully beautiful. The night was shining gently down, softening them into new ivory. Turks were white-skinned on their clothed parts, much whiter than the Arabs; and these soldiers had been very young. Close round them lapped the dark wormwood, now heavy with dew, in which the ends of the moonbeams sparkled like sea-spray. The corpses seemed flung so pitifully on the ground, huddled anyhow in low heaps. Surely if straightened they would be comfortable at last. So I put them all in order, one by one, very wearied myself, and longing to be of these quiet ones, not of the restless, noisy, aching mob up the valley, quarrelling over the plunder, boasting of their speed and strength to endure God knew how many toils and pains of this sort; with death, whether we won or lost, waiting to end the history.

After a battle that had lasted most of the day in a heat Lawrence describes as the worst he had ever experienced in Arabia and in which he had exerted himself far beyond his last nerve, he finds time to wander among the dead, admiring their beauty and arranging them in neat little rows.

A most peculiar fellow. And absolutely ruthless.

actually it was Anactoria who showed me how to find Lawrence on the internet. I don't think she visits anymore, but thanks anyway.

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