on June 7, 2002
This is the first of Herbert's books I've read. I should probably have started with one of his more-acclaimed works. The essays in this book are urbane, literate, and ironic, but they're also extremely inconsistent. Though each is centered on a mythological figure, each jumps around a myriad of topics, only very casually touching on any of them.
Often I felt his mythological inversions were facile or far-fetched to the point of being irritating - maybe they had been leavened with a humor that was lost in translation. What remains is a tone that seems academic, ponderous, and occasionally repetitive to me, like a lecturer who likes too well to listen to himself speak, and makes sweeping statements that seem, on scrutiny, to be a load of hooey - "Two gifts that rarely come in pairs and are therefore considered contradictory: beauty and strength. Beauty . . . is content with itself, sure of its own rights, and can ultimately dispense with confirmation, a contest or wreath. The beautiful lead a quiet life and are rarely entangled in dramatic adventures." Prettily put, but you could negate every sentiment and declare the result with just as much authority.