Across the Pond

One of the cool things about having a blog is that, occasionally, people send things to you. I mean, things you can use, or actually want, not something like the e-mail I got from one Anna Laura Festa reminding me that the 28thof August is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and using that uninspiring nugget of historical trivia as a specious springboard to segue into a plug for Candace Allen (who I assume Ms Festa is representing in some capacity, though she never really specified) in case I wanted to write about her, or interview her, or invite her to my grandson’s birthday party to make balloon animals, or something.

ML King and Candace Allen: Apparently there is some connection.

No, the e-mail I received from Annie Marshall was less non-sequitur and more welcomed (though just as non-specific):


“Dear Mr. Harling,
     I recently came across your blog and thought that you might be interested in Terry Eagleton’s ACROSS THE POND: An Englishman’s View of America. … After perusing your blog, I also think you will enjoy EVERY CONTACT LEAVES A TRACE by Elanor Dymott, which is a mystery set in Oxford…
     I would love to send both of these titles your way, so please respond with your mailing address.”
Wow, free books. And from someone who knows the proper use of the word “peruse” no less! So I sent her my address and when the books arrived I leafed through Every Contact Leaves a Trace and came to the sad realization that, although Ms Marshall knows the meaning and proper usage of “perused” she did not, in all likelihood, actually do that to my blog because I was not the least bit interested in the book and gave it away, unread, to a charity shop.
The other book—Across the Pond by Terry Eagleton—I did enjoy, and not just because my own book shares a very similar title and is loosely based on the same theme.

Twin books, separated at birth, and one brought up a little more POSH than the other?

While we both share an interest in humorously recording UK/US differences and similarities, any comparison between our two books ends there; Mr. Eagleton (or perhaps “sir” or “professor” or “lord”) is a prominent British literary theorist who is currently Distinguished (I have no idea what that title means) Professor of English Literature at Lancaster University, Professor of Cultural Theory at the National University of Ireland and Distinguished (there it is again!)\”Visiting\” Professor of English Literature at The University of Notre Dame, where, presumably, he stopped in for tea and they offered to let him stay a while.

It also should be mentioned that Distinguished Visiting Professor Eagleton has written ten times as many books I have, with titles like Literary Theory: An Introduction, The Ideology of the Aesthetic and The Illusions of Postmodernism.
Terry Eagleton
Just some of Terry Eagleton\’s books.
All this is the long way of saying that his book is a little bit, um, deeper than mine. In fact, it almost reads like a philosophy book, or what I imagine a philosophy book might read like if I was smart enough to read one, and if the philosopher in question had an extremely dry sense of humor. 

Across the Pond is small and handsome, and would make a fine addition to any Anglophile\’s library. It’s also a good deal more erudite than I am used to and I found I could not read more than a few pages at a time. This is not a criticism; I consider it value for money, as the book lasted a lot longer than one of its size normally would.

Mr. Eagleton obviously likes a great deal about America and Americans but, like many observers, he finds much to criticize, albeit in a friendly, unassuming way. This book should not incense Americans, as Mr. Eagleton also critiques his own country, as well as a number of other countries that were innocently standing by. He touches on a variety of areas, such as language, duty, spirit and morality, and highlights his points with surprising insight and wit. I would not call it hysterical, but it certainly is humorous, thoughtful and, occasionally, snicker-out-loud funny.
Here is an excerpt from the chapter entitled America the Dutiful in the \”Law and Anarchy\” section:
“The British dislike authority not because they are opposed to the state on principle, but because they want to be left alone to breed pigeons or attend classes in flower arranging. They do not want to be free of regulation so they can aspire, rise through the ranks and accumulate profit, but so that they can potter about as they please…their resentment of those in charge is less politically militant than passive-aggressive. It is part of the ‘free-born Englishman’ syndrome, which is less strident and self-conscious than the ‘Free American’ complex.”
And in the chapter titled The Affirmative Spirit, he dryly notes that, “…any society which calls its prisons ‘correctional facilities’ is excessively optimistic.”
So, even though Ms Marshall did not specifically request that I endorse the book, I willingly do (and also note, for legal reasons, that I received a copy of said book in exchange for this review and endorsement though I was not pressured in any way to be overly fawning or obsequious concerning Distinguished Professor Eagleton or his book as recompense for this freebie).
Across the Pond can be purchased as a Hard Cover, Paperback or eBook from:

Amazon the Original (American) company:

Amazon UK:

And very likely a slew of other places I couldn\’t be arsed to link to.

2 thoughts on “Across the Pond

  1. Regarding the term \”correctional facility\”, it is indeed optimistic but we are a comparatively young and optimistic country. We have pulled away from the ponderous weight and pessimism of our European forebears. We came to realize that the harsh penitentiary didn't correct the incarcerated \”penitents\”. Sadly, our country now has the highest percentage of prison inmates in the free world. I guess our youthful optimism isn't working!

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  2. Like any good observer of cultures, Mr. Eagleton doesn't say one culture is better than another. And you have to compare our optimism against the British, who tend to regard events in a less than favorable light. Many regard America's optimism–misplaced or not–one of our finest attributes.

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