My review of Richard and John: Kings at War by Frank McLynn ran today at PopMatters.
I can say without reservation that I enjoyed this book immensely. I’m fascinated by history and love getting immersed in the finer details of the past, to really get a feel for the way the world worked in those eras. Author Frank McLynn provides just that with a finely researched, well-crafted narrative that seeks not only to inform but to engage the reader with its artful prose.
Some of the reviews I had read at Amazon.com were discouraging. A few people found McLynn’s writing style difficult to parse and his use of big words to be off-putting.
As someone who was once instructed to “embrace the beauty of the simple sentence” by a professor, I greatly admire McLynn’s compound-complex acrobatics and impressive vocabulary.
In a college writing workshop, I was once told by a peer reviewer that my use of the word “ostensibly” in the opening paragraph of a story might dissuade people from reading further. I wasn’t pleased. It was a perfectly valid and appropriate word in context. As a reader, when I stumble across a word I don’t recognize, I’m never shamefully baffled or resentful, nor do I believe the author is being condescending or showing off their knowledge. I’m excited. If I don’t know the word, I consult a dictionary. It’s easy, and I get a new word to play with in the future.
So I told the peer reviewer that I didn’t care, and kept the word. When I first read the word “ostensibly” I didn’t know what it meant either. I didn’t scorn the author for not writing down to my level, I rose to the author’s level by seeking out the meaning. Reading should not be passive, it should be engaging and challenging. McLynn clearly agrees, as Richard and John demands a lot from its readers. Yet, it never feels difficult. He has a knack for making the vast, distant worlds of medieval Europe seem approachable and enticing.
Of all the words in Richard and John that I did not recognize (and there were quite a few), my favorite would have to be “uxorious,” which is defined as:
Doting upon, foolishly fond of, or affectionately submissive toward one’s wife.
How could you read that and not think that’s awesome? It’s so specific, so tailor-made. Sure, McLynn could’ve written out “He was foolishly submissive to his wife,” but where’s the fun in that? Especially when there’s a brilliant word that fits the situation perfectly?
[tags]Frank McLynn, Richard and John: Kings at War, Medieval Europe, History, Book Review[/tags]