Well, it’s been a very long time since my last Book Report, hasn’t it? That’s because my choice for Challenge #11 “Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location,” was this:
(Oddly, according to Goodreads, this is the paperback cover, but it’s the image on the cover of my hardback copy.) So, before I get to the book, let me give a little backstory on why I had this sitting around waiting to be read. In my family, everyone writes Christmas lists every year, so that gift-giving isn’t a pain in the backside. Because a list of nothing but DVDs/Blu-rays would be excessively dull, I always make sure to put some books on there, specifically ones that feel appropriate (the one about the mistresses of Charles II, for example, did not seem holiday-appropriate) and usually hardbacks, typically new releases that I find browsing idly at Barnes & Noble. Last year’s list had a paucity of books at first, but after another browsing, I spotted this one and figured “may as well add it” even though it didn’t particularly scream out that I needed to read it. So naturally this is the one my mother decided to give me. (Should I have ever expected anything else?) I chose to read it at this time because the other Christmas gift waiting to be read (which would also have worked for this challenge) is a book about Mycenae that’s about the size of a coffee table. Not really convenient to read unless you do all your reading at a table, which I don’t. Aaaanyway, that’s all somewhat irrelevant, so I’m not sure why I’m going into it.
Now, you may be wondering if it would normally take me a month and a half to read a 368 page book. (The page numbers go up a lot higher than that, of course, but that’s due to the notes and bibliography and such. The text stops on page 368.) And the answer is “absolutely not.” The reasons it’s taken me that long are multi-part. One, I haven’t had as much time to just sit around reading, due to one thing and another. Two, because I’m swimming again, I’m not taking baths very often, and I usually read in the bath. (Why waste water bathing when I take a full shower after getting out of the pool?) Three, this book was very frustrating to read.
Number three, of course, is the big one. This is a very heavily researched book, but the author tried her hardest to obscure that fact. Not only are there no in-text citations or endnote markers, the endnotes themselves are horrible. Basically, only quotations are cited, and they’re done in the most infuriating way I’ve ever seen. If you see a quote, you have to turn the back, where you’ll find a list (in order, thank goodness!) of all the quotations, listed by chapter but without any reference back to which page they were quoted on, which then gives you a source, by author’s last name and year of publication only, so you have to flip still further back to find the author’s works in the bibliography to see where it actually came from. And if you want to know where some of her non-quoted information comes from? You’re just plain out of luck. There were many times when I wanted to know what her sources were on things that weren’t quotes, but she didn’t cite them, so for all the evidence she provided, she could have outright made those things up. (I doubt that she did make them up, of course, but any teacher on the planet would fail her for such miserable citations.) And when I say there are no in-text citations, I mean it. Any time she wants to admit she’s quoting someone, she’ll just say “an historian said” or “according to one ancient source”, sometimes being as “specific” as Greek or Roman…but she never gives the historian’s name. As if anyone would be reading a nearly 400 page book on ancient history who’d be put off at seeing the name Herodotus in the text? Not giving the names of modern historians I can understand, but avoiding naming the ancient sources is not just annoying, but downright misleading; knowing something came from Herodotus is very different than it coming from Plutarch, Diodorus, or whoever else. And given the way these citations were handled, I wasn’t about to sort through them to look up which ancient source said every thing she quoted. Some of the translations she chose for the ancient historians were entirely inappropriate for modern works, particularly the one for which I’ll present the entire citation:
‘a thieving effeminate ballet boy in curlers’, Cicero in Graves 1968, p. 96.
Seriously? “Ballet boy”? Ballet didn’t exist for another 1500 years! How is such an anachronistic translation appropriate to a scholarly work? And as to “Graves 1968″…it is not in the selected bibliography. So what book is it? Assuming that “Graves” means the classical scholar (and novelist) Robert Graves, one can go to Goodreads and see what he wrote in 1968…and find nothing. According to Goodreads’ sort by original publication year, Robert Graves had things first published in ’67 and ’69, but not ’68. So is it a reprint? Is it someone else named Graves? Fletcher doesn’t tell us. (Admittedly, given the decidedly old-fashioned manner of dealing with an ancient Roman insult to a man’s masculinity, it’s almost certainly Robert Graves, and undoubtedly simply something that was reprinted/re-edited in 1968, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that she quotes and cites something without providing the most basic information on the work. And in this case, she ought to have stated which of Cicero’s works it came from, so the reader could have sought out a more accurate translation if desired.)