Thursday, February 19, 2015

casual-reading nf

The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth (Picador, 2014)
British journalist resident in Denmark decides to explore the psyches of the Scandinavian and Nordic peoples. I see little going into this much detail on this part of the world, so I was curious. Booth claims to be irritated by the Scandinavians, but spends more of the book being fond of them, which at least is better than the other way around. However, his findings are extremely facile and superficial, despite his claims to subtlety and profundity. According to Booth,
1) The Danes are disconcertingly cheerful;
2) The Icelanders think they're latter-day Vikings;
3) The Norwegians are isolated loners;
4) The Finns are taciturn, but aggressive drunks;
5) and the Swedes ... according to Booth, the Swedes are just weird.
The strangest thing in the book is Booth's social experiment to break through Swedish reserve. He tries talking to people in his Stockholm hotel elevator, occasionally succeeding in holding a conversation and then realizing the other guest is a foreigner. (He doesn't say what language he's speaking. I don't think he knows Swedish: most of the time he seems to be trying to get by on his Danish.) Most of the time, he gets monosyllabic replies. Well, look: if a stranger started up with random small-talk on me in a hotel elevator, he'd get monosyllabic replies from me too. Does that make me Swedish?

At least Booth is an amusing writer, and the silliest parts of the book are his accounts of visiting a Finnish sauna and then the Wife-carrying World Championships.
The race itself turned out to be a kind of Japanese-game-show-style steeplechase, with the men and their female cargoes racing in a time-trial relay around a 200-meter course featuring various hurdles and water hazards. ... There were interesting variations on how to carry the wives: some male runners favored the straightforward piggyback, some employed a fireman's lift, while others opted for an undignified arrangement - like something rejected from an early draft of the Kama Sutra - in which the woman was slung, head pointing downward, over the man's shoulders, her legs straddling his neck and her face bouncing off his backside. The latter was especially ill-advised when it came to the water hazard as the 'wife' would find her head submerged for some moments while the man waded slowly to the other side.
The Lost Book of Mormon by Avi Steinberg (Doubleday, 2014)
If there was ever a book that should have been a magazine article, it's this. Jewish journalist takes Book of Mormon archaeological tour of Guatemala with LDS families. Far less funny than Booth. Every insignificant moment of the rather tedious tour is grist for his musings. Frames this with accounts of visiting Jerusalem in search of a copy of the book (because its beginning is set there) - what, he couldn't find one in the US? - and of infiltrating himself into the cast of the Book of Mormon pageant in Palmyra, NY, under a pseudonym, for reasons obscure even to himself. Visits some other Mormon sites, but not either Utah or Nauvoo. Professes neutrality over whether the story told in the Book is real or not, on the grounds that the book is real, and that's more important.

Well, I'm interested in the Book, even though I don't believe a word of it, and I read this one mostly for quick clarity into the Hemispheric vs. Limited Geography theories of Book of Mormon internal history. The Book tells of Hebrews who migrated to the Americas in 600 B.C., but it's vague on where they settled when they got here. When I read the Book some 40 years ago, and then read books about it that were 20 or 30 years old even then, the assumption was that they spread all over the Americas. Nowadays that's considered implausible, and that the descriptions better fit a smaller area of Mesoamerica. Steinberg is clear on that, though incorrect in implying that the Mayan-inspired iconography associated with the Book only dates from the rise of the latter theory. But he's uninterested in exploring the questions about the Limited Geography theory that rise in my mind:
1) The Hemispheric theory holds that those settlers struck dark by God for their wickedness (like Ham in the Bible) were the ancestors of the Native Americans. All of them. Does the Limited Geography theory hold this true only of the Mayans?
2) The Hemispheric theory holds that Moroni, last survivor of the palefaces, buried his inscribed plates on the site of the final cataclysmic battle, someday to be at Joseph Smith's farm in upstate NY. If this all took place down south, why did Moroni travel thousands of miles north to unknown territory to bury the plates?
3) Why was Smith himself absolutely convinced that the lands between NY and MO that he traveled through were settled by the peoples from his Book? I was not aware until reading Steinberg how much attention Smith gave to digging up things and identifying them as relics. According to LDS theology, Smith was an inspired prophet, so "he was just wrong" is not an answer I'd accept from a believer.

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