Thursday, June 23, 2005

The March of Folly

From the diary: “April 13, 1985

“I have now read all the newspapers of 1985. I still have 10 months worth in my bedroom to go thru – 1984. … I’ve been reading The March of Folly, but it’s slow going. I may quit. Too much like a school text. Too dull.”

I still pile up newspapers, only these days it’s mostly the free gay weeklies from San Francisco. If I subscribed to the daily paper you know I’d stack it up. If I’m paying for it, I’m going to read it, even if what I’m reading is months old. So I make sure I don’t subscribe to the paper. Plus I do manage to throw out the free papers that are getting yellow and cat-scratched, even unread. Often I’ll cursorily flip through them just to assure myself their existence hasn’t gone wholly unnoted, their contents no more a complete mystery. Even so I seldom see things I would’ve hated to have missed. You can’t read everything.

I am not going to read every page of my New Yorker subscription; issues will have to pass by in which I do little more than flip through them. But it stacks up anyway. I’ve read a few pieces, many go unscanned. The cartoons? Not even all the cartoons.

Books. We’re going to read books.

As though books were, by virtue of their bindings, of greatest value/importance/timelessness. I steer myself away from fluff. And tedious prose. But I’ve forced myself through lots of dull books, haven’t I? For the information, I tell myself. The duller they are, though, the easier it is to forget everything I read.

In The March of Folly: from Troy to Vietnam historian Barbara Tuchman reviews bad policies governments cling to even as events show the policies were bad from the beginning. Especially when the policies were bad from the beginning? With Reagan’s misadventures in Central America in mind I thought this a good idea for a book. It wasn’t long before I got lost in the details of the crooked Popes, however. A problem with history for the storyteller is that history isn’t one story. It’s many intersecting stories and many of the incidents don’t really fit into something you could call “story”. In order to craft a narrative, particularly one from which she can draw conclusions, the historian has to prune the mass of data and clip it to a constructed plot. I didn’t feel drawn into any of Tuchman’s plots; they stayed a mess of names and dates, details that I had a hard time remembering as the pages crept by.

1 comment:

pam said...

yeah, piles of New Yorkers... I'm totally there...