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I have been playing a lot of Banner Saga 2 and writing a lot of dissertation words.

Sara Wheeler, Chile: Travels in a Thin Country (1994) -- In this travel memoir, a well-connected British woman journeys the length of Chile in 1992.

While I prefer the author's travelogue of Antartica (Terra Incognita), this memoir of Chile is warm and affectionate. In particular, I loved her succinct summation of reading Isabel Allende, "each [novel] more overblown than the last."

Afterwards we settled our account in the shared courtyard at the back of the house, where we found our hostess turning a mangle in the middle of a scene of Brueghelian vigour, fires smoking and dented kettles steaming, small children playing with empty tins, babies crawling on dried mud, women kneading, men drinking beer and a policeman fiddling with a gun in a corner. [32]

I fancied myself as something of an expert on paila marina by now, and my friends, hardly conservatives in the matter of food themselves, raised their mutual eyebrow at the heap of unidentified tentacled, swollen or blood-red shellfish that arrived, gurgling and alcoholic. We drank a lot of cold Chilean Sauvignon blanc and rubbed our favourite arguments threadbare. [189]

A man at the naval headquarters announced triumphantly, on my fourth visit, that he had secured me a passage on this ship. I returned later for the final details. Another man came into the room, and when he saw me he let out a kind of sharp hiss.

'But we can't take you.'

'Why not?'

'Because you're a woman.'

Later that afternoon I heard a naval officer who was present describing this incident to a colleague. 'Then,' he said, 'there was a very small explosion.'

Robert McKee, Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting (1997) -- I have random books on my Kindle that I dip into whenever I need a palate cleanser between "real" books, and McKee's Story -- solemn to a silly degree, and myopically focused on Hollywood blockbusters released from 1988-1992 -- was one of these books. After reading it, I do have a new appreciation for Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation.

Sara Wheeler, Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrad (2001) -- In this biography, a survivor of Robert Scott's ill-fated 1910 polar expedition tries to grapple with a modern England.

I gather that the author became interested in this story after writing her Antartica travelogue. I love the prior book, but this biography is not good. Wheeler is weirdly in love with her subject, eager to make apologies for him. ("The tension between competing demands and responsibilities, combined with a highly strung disposition, was a heavy burden for a young man. No wonder he got a third-class degree.") Her evaluation of his one book seems...overly generous: it was "a superlative piece of art that vaults above the human experience which gave it form." Also, she's apparently oblivious to how the historical record works. She makes a great deal about the amount of ink that Cherry-Garrad spills on his book deals and interprets this as a sign of his obsessive, neurotic fixation on the failed polar expedition -- which seems likely, but also, you know, letters about royalties to publishers is the kind of financial record that tends to survive. No historian worth her salt is going to see this particular documentary strata and think that their survival indicates anything about their biographical importance (beyond a possible plaintiff and a possible defendant keeping records in case of a possible lawsuit).

Also, the author is curiously...incurious about Cherry's patterns of human attachment. She blandly documents his passionately warm attachments to men, many of whom will later turn out to be either gay or into non-mainstream sexual practices. ("[T. H.] Lawrence suggested, 'If our sexes had been different (one of us, I mean) we could have pulled of a eugenicist's dream.'") Instead, Wheeler dutifully catalogs what information she has about his many girlfriends -- who never seem to have names or much in the way of documented existences, and who are treated with great ambivalence by Cherry-Garrad. ("In middle-age Cherry said he was afraid of women. He once told Lillie that a happy married life was impossible for him...") His eventual marriage, to a woman a generation younger than he, is presented by Wheeler as a happy union (and seems to be based on oral interviews with his surviving widow) but objectively seems less than satisfying. ("The irony was that the peaceful relief of his happy marriage allowed his anxieties to take hold.") And it would be anachronistic to apply the sexual identities of the twenty-first century to Edwardian actors, but basically Cherry-Garrad seems super gay.


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