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Dec 27, 2003 6:43 am


Given the flaming letters to its editors, it's a wonder that the American Historical Association's Perspectives reached me in the mail this week. Paul Moreno of Hillsdale College accuses the"hack historians" who filed an amicus brief in Lawrence v Texas of"prostitution of scholarship for political ends" and throws in a gratuitous attack on AHA president James McPherson, Philip Ranlet of Hunter College accuses Eric Foner of distorting history in an obituary of James Shenton, and E. Taylor Atkins of Northern Illinois University denounces the AHA and the Oral History Association for their roles in the federal government's decision to remove oral history projects from institutional review. Bruce Craig, Foner, and Linda Shopes and Donald Ritchie get equal space to respond. We will, undoubtedly, resolve all those issues over beers at January's AHA convention in D. C. Or, maybe not. One advantage of its enormity is that you may not even see the person you've most recently attacked. You may not even find the people you do want to see. At its worst, however, an AHA convention is a happy family reunion compared to an American Studies Association convention. Leo Marx takes a long look at American Studies and suggests a better way into its future.

By the way, I see that political correctness won't keep the AHA from giving Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia its inaugural Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Award for Civil Service and Jim McPherson will hold his nose long enough to do the honors. Sure, the Senate's King of Pork has ground some sausage in History's direction, but Perspectives doesn't remind its readers that Byrd is a former member of the Ku Klux Klan who was still using the word"nigger" on national television without a wince as recently as two years ago. For more on Byrd's klansmanship, see here. For once, I think I'll out"pc" the AHA and boycott the session.

The British Library is releasing a series of CDs,"Spoken Word," which offers the recorded voices of major Anglo-American writers. The New York Times' Caryn James reviews the series here:

One of the great surprises is finding which writers actually do voices and which don't. When A. A. Milne reads from"Winnie-the-Pooh," his creations sound like Victorian gents — soothing, paternal Victorian gents reading a bedtime story, it's true, but rather Victorian nonetheless.
"He gave a little squeak of excitement," Milne reads about Piglet spotting a paw print, yet sounding not very excited at all.
He goes on:" `Oh, Pooh! Do you think it's a — a — a Woozle?'
" `It may be,' said Pooh. `Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't.'" With Milne pronouncing it tis and t'isn't, Pooh's very proper voice in this 1929 recording is far from the high-pitched sweetness Sterling Holloway later gave him in so many Disney cartoons.
The best of the discs is the"Writers" volume, recorded mostly in the 20's and 30's. There you can hear Tolkien again, speaking Elvish from"The Lord of the Rings." But the happiest surprise must be Joyce, as cerebral and intimidating a literary genius as the world has ever known, and by all accounts not an easygoing guy. Who would have guessed he'd play a washerwoman so convincingly? He actually becomes two washerwomen with lilting Irish brogues who chat while doing laundry by the river."Throw the cobwebs from your eyes, woman, and spread your washing proper!" one says to the other as he reads from the"Anna Livia Plurabelle" section of"Finnegans Wake." In language that is always lyrical, and usually more complicated than that, his voice flows like the river whose rhythm he said he was imitating.
You can order the CDs at the British Library website.

Or, if literary food is more to your taste than literary sound at the holidays, try one of the recipe" STYLE="text-decoration: none; border-bottom: medium solid green;" HREF="|1||||recipe|AA1VDw">recipes Simon Fanshawe culls from English literature for the Guardian. Their names,"Little Balls of Tripe a Man Might Eat For Ever,""Cold Crubeens,""Figgy-Dowdy,""Boiled Baby," and"Syllabub" don't sound too appealing, but we're talking food here, not sound, remember? I recommend Joyce's offering of sound, but not taste. Charles Dickens recommends the cheesecake; and Ian Fleming's James Bond, of course, the scrambled eggs. Thanks to Moby Lives for both tips.

If you love books, read Andre Bernard's"Fear of Book Assassination Haunts Bibliophile's Musings" in the New York Observer.

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