Wednesday 7 May 2008

A stern discipline

On Sunday, my husband's father and step-mother were down from Thunder Bay and took us out for brunch. We were talking about books and I asserted, quite without either shame or qualification, that I couldn't bear to read non-fiction.

A mere 3 or so hours later, we were in Type on Queen West and I found myself in possession of a decidedly non-fiction tome called Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea. I was clearly paying for my close-mindedness about books (or arrogance in imagining I know what I like, if I want to use some self-help speak designed to make me feel bad) but hey, if I could pay off all my bad karma with books I'd be signing up 15 times in a row and stealing other people's identities to pay off their bad karma.

I'd planned, of course, to put this on the shelf behind the millennium-long list of books I already have and really ought to read first (and I already had a novel on the go, which I still haven't finished) but I found myself stranded in, of all places, Crappy Tire waiting for Brook to return something and this was all I had so I started reading...and I was hooked.

I don't know why I was hooked exactly, though. The writing is just fine but in no way mind-blowing; indeed, one of the reasons I have so much resistance to non-fiction is that (I imagine) the writing itself isn't usually part of the point. The historical accuracy I also can't speak to as I know only nothing/hearsay/dimly remembered factoids from watching Jeopardy! as a nerdy/sullen/loserish teen.

I do know I'm not sure I trust the whole "history via a long string of anecdotes" M.O., but I'm also not sure that all history isn't written that way.

Mark Kurlansky is definitely biased (as at least one online reviewer asserted) but I feel like that's okay here. Really, part of his argument is that nonviolence needs more advocates and he appears to be one. Or he's a really good liar. He does work for a newspaper, so you never know. But I digress.

I liked the insights this book had into the successes nonviolence has had (in mostly western culture), but also the realistic view put forth of how difficult the "stern discipline" of consistently practicing nonviolence really is. There was no flower-throwing flakiness here - resisting peacefully is portrayed as damned difficult work, work that's much more difficult and dangerous than simply responding to force with force.

I suspect that while I quite enjoyed this book, it'll be at least another 6 months before I read any more non-fiction. Non-fiction is as low priority for me as Can Lit and for anyone who knows me that simile is kind of like kicking the non-fiction in the arse and telling it to get lost. Oooh, a simile to explain a simile...I should be careful or someone's going to start beating me with the nerd stick.

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