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January 02, 2011

Sunday Book Thread

Happy new year, Morons!

I have a few books under way right now, and more on my "to read" stack.

I just finished Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity. What's interesting to me is how the concepts of personal heroism, bravery, and sacrifice have changed since ancient times -- not so much among soldiers themselves, who are in most respects very much as they have always been, but among the civilians. The coin of personal heroism and bravery are very much debased these days. I suppose you can attribute at least some of this to the distance between most modern civilians and the battlefront; we no longer witness much violence at first-hand, and so come to devalue to skills involved in both inflicting it and defending against it. Technology also plays a part -- it's a far different thing to kill a man at a distance with a projectile weapon as opposed to up-close with an edged weapon or a spear.

I also finished Delta Blues: The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters Who Revolutionized American Music. This book is a fairly brief overview -- I wouldn't call it a history, exactly -- of some of the Delta bluesmen who created and advanced that specific style of blues. It's a good book, but it just reminds me all over again of how strange it is: a musical style created and performed almost exclusively by black musicians up until 1945 or so is now almost exclusively the province of white musicians. And blues have become "academized" in the post 1960's era, which means that earnest young men (again, almost exclusively white) write books about it and try to explain it. I'm not saying this is a bad thing (I am a white guy myself, after all), but I do find it...strange. About the only modern black bluesmen I can think of are fairly old guys: B. B. King, of course; and Buddy Guy; maybe Keb' Mo'. Blues is the main circuit-cable of American roots music: Jazz, Rock, and much country music spring from it. I guess you could argue that rap and hip-hop are modern extensions of the old "field hollers" and "blues groans" that were so much a part of the old blues, so maybe in that sense black musicians didn't really abandon the blues after all.

What is everyone else reading to kick off the new year?


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posted by Monty at 10:41 AM

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