I would like to engage something Rusty said and use it as an excuse for an outdated book review and a meditation on mountain-climbing.
Mr. Schwartz identifies rollercoasters as "pedestrian thrill-seeking a [sic] really embarrassing way to get maimed or killed." I am in hearty agreement. Hear hear!* This observation got me thinking about the time I went to go see Touching the Void (hahahaha, hahahahaha, hahahaha, ok, out of system) a fantastic and wrenching film about an ill-fated trip up an Ande. Now, I gleaned my lessons about friendship and the nature of life from it, about the connection between nature's beauty and harshness but the main lesson I gleaned was mountain climbers are mentally deficient. I can say this a) because it is true and b) because my father and brother are big climbers and they are often all and on this mountain! a father and son team! just like us! died of exposure! because they did not bring an extra fleece! WTF, right? I feel like there are plenty of spectacular natural settings where the line between life and death is not marked by narsty synthetic pullovers, but that is not how mountaineers think.
The basics of Touching The Void are recounted in The Dangerous Book For Boys (warning: crap Flash). This is a book about things, ostensibly for boys, that was much talked-about about a month ago. Here is Flea talking about it. She's right about everything, so yeah.
Anyway, I got this book for my brother-in-law and my sister-in-double-law who are moving to Paris, France and may need to know how to skin a rabbit. I liked it! It was pretty! It talked about the history of artillery! Onager, what?! I got that the super-gendered slant was perhaps not enlightenment em-bookified, but I couldn't get worked up about it, really, and in general, since I am pretty touchy, I figure that if I'm not upset about something, it's not that big a deal. Solop-who? (Also, the one guy who wrote it, Conn Whassit, writes like, historical novels about Rome, and I can't take any posturing about Manliness to seriously from someone who is obviously approaching it in a pretty oblique way himself.)
Then, I read more, and I realized, oh my god, this book does piss me off, for reasons other than the reasons I had been ready for it to piss me off. Though if I'd thought about it and not been like, ooh, shiny cover, I probably could have anticipated.
This book is like, amazingly neglectful of non-white people - honestly, to an extent I feel goes beyond clumsiness. All the Amazing Stories about Amazing Dudes are about white dudes, and the history of America in the American edition is like, 15whatever, America appears! No Indians present! Resources bountiful! Also, Rudyard Kipling is made much of in the Poems section. Ahem.
Two, wtf with the weird squickiness about the gays? Ok, so the section about girls kinda presumes that the object of any boy-child's romantic interest will be a girl, but that, I can in fact, chart to clumsiness. But then, I read the story about Robert the Bruce. The story of Robert the Bruce is closely linked with the stories of Edward I and II of Inkland. Edward II was a big gay, and also a bad king. Presumably, these qualities were not particularly related (other big gay kings of Inkland of the top of my head - Richard I (Robin Hood!), James I (Bible!), William III). Ok. Notable fact about Edward II, he was killed by being reamed with a hot poker. Nice, right? TDBFB, after explaining that he was "impaled" on a hot poker, explains that at the time, this was considered "a suitable commentary on his lifestyle."** You guys, what? Ok. I think there are two ways to approach this. 1, probably more appropriate, just say the guy was impaled on a hot poker, the ravenous children get the grossness they crave, everyone is good. Two, say he was impaled on a hot poker to mimic his presumed LIKING TO GET FUCKED IN THE ASS, and note that striving for this sort of synchronicity in executions is like, not ok. Probably not for a kids' (or fake-kids') book, right? But this weird, "impaled, if you know what I mean, nyuk, nyuk, nyuk" tone that occurs in the one place in the book gheyness turns up is pretty alienating.
Look, I think that at least the racism problem is a result of this book trying to hit a Golden-Age-Of-English-Something note and using that as an excuse to abandon discretion about this sort of thing. You guys, you know you can take the book-as-objet aesthetic, and the love of nature and so on and leave the ethnocentricity? Anyway, to that extent, I think shopping parents and/or nostalgiacs would be better off shopping around for, say the old Scout's Handbook or The Boy's Own Book of Frontiersmen or simply The Boy's Own Book. I had this and The Girl's Own Book. Excellent. And these are all reprints on Amazon, but you can get beautiful old editions too. ANYWAY. At least the racism in these (oh, and it will be rife) can be engaged in the context of history, and how thoughts evolve, and not in the context of nerdy nostalgic twuntism.
Updated 6/26/07 to note developments in C. Whassit's nostalgiac twuntism.
*Though it should be noted - note it! that my aversion to roller-coasters is founded in something much less rational than this proposition, and dates back to a traumatic experience on a kiddie rollercoaster when I was five. (I mean, not traumatic beyond the standard trauma of a kiddie rollercoaster ride, all feet were maintained.) A date tried to get me to go on the Cyclone once ("aw, come on! Everyone likes rollercoasters! Being scared is part of the fun!") and I got all the way to the front of the line, shaking, paid for my tickets, and then collapsed in uncontrollable shuddering sobs. AWESOME date, let me tell you.
**I am pretty sure that the word used was not "lifestyle," bc that is not a Man Word, but the effect was the same. Maybe it was "proclivities." .