The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century, by Ian Mortimer on my fall reading plan (as well as multiple nightstand posts). It was with some degree of excitement that I finally picked it up and started read. Unfortunately I found myself, well, bored out of my mind. Firstly, I found Mortimer's writing style dull and bland, being more punctuated by facts and figures (not necessarily a bad thing!) than a descriptive trek through the middle ages. Furthermore, whenever Mortimer did feel inclined to be wordy and descriptive, he couldn't seem to do so without sticking his oar in and telling you of his own personal opinions about the habits and practices of days gone by. Mortimer himself seems to make no attempt whatsoever to remain objective which is distracting to the reader at best, and annoying at worst. (In my case, I found it annoying.)
Now, I at least like to think that I'm smart enough a reader to figure out that times and customs have changed since the middle ages so I find it rather insulting that Mortimer thinks that he needs to educate my entire view point of the period. I would rather have him just left this book to general statements of facts (with the figures) than to opine on the way women were viewed in that society or the belief systems present in that age. Most of the time that I was holding this book I felt compelled to either a.) fall asleep and/or b.) pitch it across the room. Reading this was becoming more of a losing battle the further along I got.
I felt guilty not completing this read because I bought it at Barnes & Noble on a date night. But I just couldn't do it. I've set this one aside.
Amore: An American Father's Roman Holiday was one such book. It is written by Roger Friedland who is a Professor of Religious Studies and Sociology at the University of California in Santa Barbara and at New York University. He studies sex, love and God. Whether or not He had a good grasp on any of those subjects was a question mark in my mind but the premise caught my attention.
In this book, Friendland sets out to take note of the erosion in the sexual culture of America (i.e., we offer it early, often, without rules or taste and separate it from any notions of commitment). Through his own studies on the topic of sex and love in this country, he decided that he would like to take his daughters to Rome to live during their middle school years in order to give them exposure to a culture which he feels to be more honest and vitally alive than that which his girls have had plenty of opportunity to witness in America.
I was three chapters into this read and very interested as Friedland made his arguments for how politics and sex have combined to our misfortune. He made the connection that the Muslim jihadists don't hate American politics but American sex which resulted in the attacks on 9/11. Friedman himself is disturbed by how callously we ourselves treat the idea of sex, which ought to be a sacred (and private) act of love between two people who have committed their lives together. (Ok, ok, I went further than he in saying that it belongs to two people who have committed to share the rest of their lives together. He would leave it at "love one another.") Basically the argument that he lays out in this book is that Rome's citizens love beauty in all things and do not separate love and sex and we should take some notes on their culture and learn to do the same.
After chapter three, Friedland took a turn away from comparing the two cultures (fascinating) to describing his own sex life and the sex lives of his college students (not fascinating, but somewhat horrifying). I can't unread those descriptions and I don't feel that they were significant points necessary to make his argument appear valid. The book does profess to be part memoir and by that, I guess, it means that he was interested in documenting the way he approached sex for himself with all of the nitty, gritty details included. The result, in my opinion, is tasteless. I read on for two additional chapters, hoping to get to the part where his daughters appear on the scene in Rome and begin noticing the differences between American teenagers and Roman ones but it would seem that all's the same in this modern age, pretty much. (If it's different, I didn't make it far enough into the book to figure out how.) More details about the sex lives of teenagers emerged and, with that, I was pretty much done.
If he had kept to discussing the differences in American and Italian cultures and made his (very interesting and noteworthy) political and religious arguments, then I would have likely read to the end. But I feel the book went from practical and thoughtful to bewilderingly tasteless. I didn't want to ingest any more.
After I read the book I looked up Amazon reviewers' thoughts. One reviewer wrote that "by the end of the book, I had extremely negative feelings about Rome, Santa Barbara, teenagers, college kids, Roger Friedland and his family." Unfortunately I was left with pretty much the same taste in my mouth. So, hastily, I've moved on to other books.
I accepted a copy of Amore: An American Father's Roman Holiday from Harper Perennial for the purposes of facilitating this review. I received no additional compensation for this post and all opinions are my own.