Sunday, 11 February 2018


Regular readers may recall my reading of MEMOIRS OF A FOX HUNTING MAN, which was - astonishingly - about fox hunting.  You would have thought I would be well prepared for the second book in the trilogy, MEMOIRS OF AN INFANTRY OFFICER, to be about the Infantry, but I am not sure anyone can really be prepared for what Sassoon went through.  Here is a representative sample of his experience, as an officer in the first World War:
Shell-twisted and dismembered, the Germans maintained the violent attitudes in which they had died. The British had mostly been killed by bullets or bombs, so they looked more resigned. But I on remember a pair of hands (nationality unknown) which protruded from die soaked ashen soil like the roots of a tree turned upside down; one hand seemed to be pointing at the sky with an accusing gesture. Each time I passed that place the protest of those fingers became more expressive of an appeal to God in defiance of those who made the War.  Who made the War? I laughed hysterically as the thought passed through my mud-stained mind. But I only laughed mentally, for my box of Stokes-gun ammunition left me no breath to spare for an angry guffaw. . . . . Such sights must be taken for granted, I thought, as I gasped and slithered and stumbled with my disconsolate crew. Floating on the surface of the flooded trench was the mask of a human face which had detached itself from the skull.
I for sure was not prepared for this, and neither was Sassoon.  Particularly horrible is the periods when his regiment knows they must 'go over the top' at a certain time or date.    The majority of them know they will not survive it, and the waiting is almost more terrible to read about than the fighting itself.  

Sassoon is great at quickly describing a person, and it is unnerving how often he brings someone to life, only immediately to casually kill him (they did not survive to the Autumn . . I heard he died two weeks later . . etc).  It especially awful how many of them are just eighteen or nineteen.  He has huge admiration for the courage of his comrades, and his previous ideas as to class crumble quickly.  
As we entered it I noticed an English soldier lying by the road with a horribly smashed head; soon such sights would be too frequent to attract attention, but this first one was perceptibly unpleasant. At the risk of being thought squeamish or even unsoldierly, I still maintain that an ordinary human being has a right to be momentarily horrified by a mangled body seen on an afternoon walk, although people with sound common sense can always refute me by saying that life is full of gruesome sights and violent catastrophes. But I am no believer in wild denunciations of the War; I am merely describing my own experiences of it; and in 1917 I was only beginning to learn that life, for the majority of the population, is an unlovely struggle against unfair odds, culminating in a cheap funeral. Anyhow the man with his head bashed in had achieved theoretical glory by dying for his country in the Battle of Arras, and we who marched past him had an excellent chance of following his example.
We leave these MEMOIRS just when Sassoon is planning to publicly denounce the war in the newspaper, probably leading to his courtmartial.  He's furious at Generals who don't understand what they are asking of troops, at civilians, at churches, at anyone who speaks badly of the Infantry - even German infantry. I'm definitely going to read the next book; he looks like he is going to survive the war - the question for me is how he manages to survive the peace.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

CHERRY by Mary Karr

This is a story of a wild adolescence in Texas.  The most interesting part was about sex.  Perhaps this is unsurprising.  But what surprised me was that it was about a girl wanting to have sex. There was a lot of crushes, and dates, and deflowering.  It made me realise how rarely one reads about women wanting sex.  I have read so very very many books about male desire (Roth's PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT; Miller's appalling TROPIC OF CANCER); and suddenly reading this one I was aware of how little I'd read about women.  I can't believe i never really noticed this before.  No wonder men so often think we're not up for it.

Less interesting was the extensive drug experimentation.  Writing about tripping is as dull as writing about your dreams, but druggies rarely seem aware of this.  Even recovering addicts, whose books are all about how drugs destroyed their lives, often have the idea that it is interesting for you to hear about this time a kitten turned into a flower.   This book has lots of that, so I mostly skipped those bits.  I felt a bit bad; I always feel bad when I find memoirs boring, because they are the actual story of someone's life.  No doubt, we all think we are interesting.

I was also a little annoyed by the author's clear conviction that she had a tough childhood.  There is lots in here about how awful small town Texas was, which is a little hard to take.  She had two parents and a car and a free public school to go to.  It's not exactly Darfur.

I did find one great piece of wisdom in this book.  I do on some level read to learn, and I didn't exactly expect this book to be a source of profound insight.  But here it is; the advice of the girl's mother on competing with other girls:  YOU JUST HAVE TO BE SMARTER THAN THOSE WHO ARE PRETTIER, AND PRETTIER THAN THOSE WHO ARE SMARTER.

If I ever have a daughter, I'm giving that to her as a crossstitch sampler the year she turns thirteen.

(If interested, I recall I have also read another book by Karr, about her descent into alcoholism - LIT)

Sunday, 28 January 2018

TIES by Domenico Starnone

This is a fine novel, translated from the Italian, about a man who leaves his wife and children for a graduate student twenty years his junior.  Eventually he gives her up and goes back to them.  In many stories this would be a story about a mistake that ends in redemption.  TIES is the reverse.  The affair is the redemption; and returning to the wife and small children is the mistake.  The novel is set some thirty years after the affair,  and we see how both husband and wife's lives have been wasted; the one in staying in a relationship in which he is not truly interested; the other, in dishing out revenge on a daily basis for decades.    Sometimes being happy takes courage.

Affairs are rarely positive in fiction, which is I think interesting.  Does this reflect life?  Or does this reflect a morality we wish applied to life?  In any case, TIES is an unusual and very excellent upending of the traditional story.  It made me wonder what is going on in Italian fiction.  It reminded me of the remarkable Italian author Elena Ferrente, and her novel DAYS OF ABANDONMENT, which tells a similar story from the wife's perspective (and very similar; Naples, elderly upstairs neighbour, smallish children).  Then you guys I googled it and, Starnone and Ferrante are not just both Italian authors, and not just both from Naples, and not just both married, but they are married to each other.   This somehow confounds me.  What a strange joint literary project.  I don't know why, but I find it kind of sleazy.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

THE ADVERSARY by Emmanuel Carrere

This is a French true crime novel.  Why am I reading it?  Who knows.  I can't even remember where I found it.  I do love true crime TV, but am typically too embarrassed to be buying true crime fiction.  Perhaps it being French gave it a veneer of respectability.  Anyway, I'm glad I read it, because it tells of a truly fascinating and bizarre crime.  Actually, the crime itself is not so fascinating, or bizarre.  Some man kills his wife, children, and parents.  I mean in America this is hardly even a crime.  What makes it interesting is that the murderer, Jean-Claude Romonde, an apparently boring bourgeois family man, has been living a life of total deception before the murders for almost twenty years.  It takes some going for the mass murder you commit to be the least interesting part of your life story.

It all starts in his second year at University, where he oversleeps and misses his last exam.  Instead of just retaking the exam, he decides to pretend he has passed.  He continues to pretend to his friends that he is a student, and to buy books, and study, and walk around the hospital, for the next five years, until he 'graduates' with the rest of them.  He marries his college sweetheart, and moves on to pretending he is a high profile doctor at the WHO.  In fact, he just goes to their lobby and sits there for a bit, before going to sleep in a lay-by.  Then he goes home.  And he does this for twenty years!  Sometimes he pretends to go on a business trip, checking into the airport hotel for a few days, and reading the guide book for where he is supposed to be.   

He also does a lot of 'investing' for his family and friends - in fact, just stealing their money to fund his lifestyle of daytime napping.  So for years he knows that the whole thing must come to an end at some point.  When it does - when someones asks for their money back - he responds by killing everybody + the family dog.  I mean, wow.


Mindy Kaling begins this book by answering a few questions: 
This sounds okay, but not as good as Tina Fey's book.  Why isn't this more like Tina Fey's book?
It's true.  Tina Fey's book is much better.  So is Amy Schumer's.  Amy Poehler's on the other hand is much worse.   Why have I read books by pretty much all the female American comedians?  I don't know.  I wouldn't have even thought I cared about them as a group.  It's a bit like when Netflix's algorithm identifies a theme in shows you might be interested in, like  "shows with strong female leads" and it's the revelation of hangups you didn't even know you had.

In any case, perhaps the quality is not especially important. Here is another question: 
I don't know.  I have a lot of books already.  I wanted to finish those GIRL WITH A DRAGON TATTOO books before the movies come out.This book will take you two days to read.  Did you even seen the cover?  It's mostly pink.  If you're reading this book every night for months, something is not right.
This is also true.  I had terrible jet lag, so I read it in a day.   It was fun and perky.  I was struck by her confidence.  Most of her professional issues seem to come from over-confidence, which is really unusual for a woman. 

The main thing however I will remember from this book is the description of one great truth which, in a lifetime of reading, I have never before seen described in writing.  This was the chapter entitled "Why Do Men Put On Their Shoes So Slowly?" A profound question.  Sample:

Why do all the men I know put their shoes on incredibly slowly? When I tie my shoelaces I can do it standing, and I’m out the door in about ten seconds. (Or, more often, I don’t even tie my shoelaces. I slip my feet into my sneakers and tighten the laces in the car.) But with men, if they are putting on any kind of shoe (sneaker, Vans, dress shoe), it will take twenty times as long as when a woman does it. It has come to the point where if I know I’m leaving a house with a man, I can factor in a bathroom visit or a phone call or both, and when I’m done, he’ll almost be done tying his shoes. 
There’s a certain meticulousness that I notice with all guys when they put their shoes on. First of all, they sit down. I mean, they need to sit down to do it. Right there, it signals, “I’m going to be here for a while. Let’s get settled in.” I can put on a pair of hiking boots that have not even been laced yet while talking on my cell phone, without even leaning on a wall.

This topic, of men taking forever to put their shoes on, is one I have wondered at many times myself, but I thought it was just me.  Now having read this, and then googled it (do this, there is an incredible number of hits on this topic), I am only amazed that men have time to run the patriarchy.  I really don't know how they squeeze it in.  Maybe this is why powerful men tend to wear loafers.

Sunday, 21 January 2018


I was surprised to find that this book, MEMOIRS OF A FOX-HUNTING MAN, is mostly about fox hunting.  I am not too sure why I thought that the title was going to be metaphorical, like maybe the fox was going to be happiness or something, but  I can report the fox is definitely an actual fox.  Sassoon really liked hunting, and thinks (perhaps justifiably) that those people buying books about fox-hunting might like it too.  And want to read about it in great detail.

Aside from the majority of the content, I quite enjoyed this book.  Sassoon is a lovely writer, and I love a good memoir.  Here's the first line: 
My childhood was a queer and not altogether happy one.
You and everybody, Siegfried.  But there follows a lovely few hundred pages of clear, unfussy prose, such as is rare to find and a joy to read.   It's simplicity that requires great skill.  Initially I struggled with some class-based rage.  Sassoon has a medium size unearned income.  He thus enjoys spending his twenties hunting (four days a week in the winter) and playing cricket (four days a week in the summer).  He has a fabulous time with his "friends" Stephen and Dick.  (I have not wikipedia-ed him, but he is for SURE gay).  He is rather exceeding his income, as horses are apparently expensive, so his guardian tries to interest him in reading law, but he reacts with horror at the idea of being trapped in a London office.  You and everybody, Siegfried.  

When the First World War comes he signs up.  The book takes an abrupt and terrible turn.  After pages of hounds and horses and hunting calls we have, in a conversation on signing up: 
It may be inferred that he had no wish that I should be killed, and that . . . but he would have regarded it as a greater tragedy if he had seen me shirking my responsibility.  To him, as to me, the War was inevitable and justifiable. Courage remained a virtue. And that exploitation of courage, if I may be allowed to say a thing so obvious, was the essential tragedy of the War, which, as everyone now agrees, was a crime against humanity.

It's a neck-stepping change of pace and environment.   If Sassoon for the first two hundred pages seems strangely childish and idealistic, with what reads to us today as a rather babyish respect for tradition and authority, he grows up fast. His friends and 'friends' start to die, and he goes through a phase of wanting to die too; as he puts it, if a man  "laid down his life for his friends it was no part of his military duties."  You know things are bad when someone starts to talk about what 'a lovely train' the 5.30 from Paddington used to be.  Truly, I can't imagine how bad things would have to get for a Londoner to reminisce fondly about their commute.  

Sassoon gets to go home on leave, and sits surrounded by paintings of his horses, realising that his "past is beginning to wear a bit thin."  Apparently the next book is MEMOIRS OF AN INFANTRY OFFICER. I'm going to try it; I'd like to see where his future goes.    

THE HISTORY OF PENDENNIS by William Makepeace Thackeray

This book is a mix of cheerful meandering and remarkable bleakness.  It is, apparently, more or less a telling of the author’s own life, and despite it being a story of mostly success and getting the girl, it made me feel rather sorry for him.  It’s remarkable how much of the book is about disillusionment, about loss, things not being what you thought they were, and success being mostly a matter of luck.  Here’s the last paragraph:
If the best men do not draw the great prizes in life, we know it has been so settled by the Ordainer of the lottery. We own, and see daily, how the false and worthless live and prosper, while the good are called away, and the dear and young perish untimely, — we perceive in every man's life the maimed happiness, the frequent falling, the bootless endeavour, the struggle of Right and Wrong, in which the strong often succumb and the swift fail: we see flowers of good blooming in foul places, as, in the most lofty and splendid fortunes, flaws of vice and meanness, and stains of evil; and, knowing how mean the best of us is, let us give a hand of charity to Arthur Pendennis, with all his faults and shortcomings, who does not claim to be a hero, but only a man and a brother.
I hope that’s not how I would ever end my memoirs. 

It’s been a while since I’ve adventured a really large Victorian, and it was cosy to be back in their verbose but orderly world.   I was having the full Alan Bennett experience
The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours
But it kept being disrupted when Thackeray insisted on letting me know he was not holding my hand.  He would occasionally make it clear he was writing to a male reader. Apparently ‘we’ must find ways to deal with women, and ‘we’ don’t know what women think, and so forth and so on.  I guess Thackeray’s been dead two hundred years, so it makes no odds now, but I’m sorry he didn’t think I was among the ‘we’.
I also had to laugh at how heavily he emphasized the lesson learnt by young Pendennis, which was – don’t be overconfident – after he made some bad choices at univesity.  He made it sound like that was a general lesson it would do us all good to absorb.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that’s not typically a female problem.

This was apparently written right after VANITY FAIR, and it is not a book that comes within a country mile of that one; but I enjoyed it.  Not quite managing to match up to your own masterpiece is a problem we all should be so lucky as to have.  

Sunday, 31 December 2017


Writing this blog I realise that 2017 has been a really good reading year, because I’m struggling to narrow it down to my usual two or three favourites; so many books were special to me this year. 

Particularly: CALL ME BY YOUR NAME by Andre Aciman, a fantastic story of adolescent love and adult loss; CAPTAIN SCOTT’S LAST EXPEDITION by Robert Falcon Scott, a transfixingly wonderful account of his journey to the Pole, which ended in full ugly-crying on the Gatwick Express (for me, not for him; he was dead, I was just coming back from Cyprus); and THE CAZALET CHRONICLES, by Elizabeth Jane Howard, a fabulous 3000 pages on civilian life in WWII.  Then there’s INSTEAD OF A LETTER by Diana Athill, a story about a really, but really, bad break-up; JG Ballard's EMPIRE OF THE SUN, which is really remarkable account of a Singaporean prison camp, and, though it hardly needs me to give it the nod, LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding, which is even better than I remember it in high school.  And then I can’t help but mention LIFE AND FATE by Vasily Grossman, a story about who of his friends and family he sold out to survive the Stalinist purges.

Lowlights were WE THAT ARE YOUNG by Preti Taneja, BEL CANTO by Ann Pratchett, and FEROCITY by Nicola Lagioia.

In other good news, I’m proud to report that I’ve managed to be about 50:50 men and women, without particularly needing to aim for female authors.  Here’s my 2017:
1.    FEROCITY by Nicola Lagioia
3.    WE THAT ARE YOUNG by Preti Taneja
7.    PANCHINKO by Min Jin Lee
11.  ALL CHANGE by Elizabeth Jane Howard
12.  ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT by Jeanette Winterson
15.  THE FRY CHRONICLES by Stephen Fry
42.  BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL 1762-1763 by James Boswell

I wonder if 2018 can come close.  Sneak peek: it's beginning with 800 pages of PENDENNIS by William Thackeray . . . 

FEROCITY by Nicola Lagioia

I left this book in Luxembourg, so was just wondering how to write up a blog post on it when I can't type up any extracts.  I googled without much hope and was surprised to find that the New York Times and I are almost entirely in agreement, down to the sections they quote.  This book, marketed as a mix of Franzen and Ferrante is in fact a bog-standard thriller with ideas about women that are lame even by this genre's low standards of gender equity.    Take it away, NYT:

“Ferocity,” . . .  begins with a woman, “naked, and ashen, and covered in blood,” stumbling down a highway in the middle of the night. Her toenails are painted with red polish and the bruises on her ribs stand out like ink stains against her paper-white skin. The woman — her name is Clara Salvemini — is the glamorous, good-hearted, and mysteriously self-destructive daughter of a Pugliese construction baron, but her biographical details are the least important thing about her. This is how you introduce an archetype, not a character. . .. .  After this opening scene, it is possible to predict the remainder of the novel’s plot with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Readers will not be surprised to learn that Clara was involved in an illicit underworld of drugs and sex or that the investigation into her death uncovers a tangled conspiracy that implicates her town’s most respected citizens.


 This is the most Japanese book I have ever read. I haven't read that many Japanese books, but I think it would be hard to imagine another one besting this.  First, enjoy this hilariously tragic part of the author's bio:
After Mishima conceived the idea of The Sea of Fertility tetralogy in 1964, he frequently said he would die when it was completed.  On November 25th, 1970, the day he completed The Decay of the Angel, the last novel of the cycle, Mishima committed seppuku (ritual suicide) at the age of 45.
The book itself tells the story of a young man who is in love with a temple.  Yes, you can re-read that sentence if you like,but that's pretty much what it's about.  The young man has a serious stutter, serious issues with women, and is in training to be a priest.  It is quite interesting to see what a Zen priest's life involves.  Waking up is the 'opening of the rules'; then breakfast is 'gruel session' accompanied by the recitation of 'gruel session sutras,' while dinner is 'medicine'.   Also interesting is the fact that this takes place during the second World War, making this I think the only book I've ever read that tells the Japanese civilian experience of that war; odd, when I think of how many European and American versions of this story I've read.

There is lots of interesting hijinks, such as stealing flowers, so his friend can indulge his passion for flower arranging.  What a crime!  There is lots of moralising about this.  A Zen puzzle is brought up: A kitten enters a temple, and two monks fight over her. The Superior resolved this by cutting the kitten's head off.  Another monk responds by putting his shoes on his head.  I don't find this very puzzling: clearly, the Superior is some kind of psychopath.  However, this is not what we are supposed to get from it.  Indeed there is lots more moralising, about other topics, but especially about the beauty of the temple, and this kitten puzzle comes up a lot.  I feel like a bad person, but I couldn't follow.  And I also sort of couldn't be bothered to follow.  Temple?  Zen? Flower arranging?  Kitten murder?  An enjoyable strange last read of 2017.

WE THAT ARE YOUNG by Preti Taneja

This book came with a great cover and glowing reviews.  A Dickensian story of contemporary India?  I am so in.  But unfortunately two hundred pages later I am so out.

It is extraordinarily slow moving - there is some party that goes on for about fifty pages, during most of which the main character is thirsty and for some reason keeps telling us about it.  I mean wow.  Even Proust can only sort of get away with that kind of pace.  Also the style was just gratingly annoying.  Read the below, and if you can't see why this is annoying WE CAN'T BE FRIENDS:
She is Gargi, the key is in her hand.  How good it will feel to put it in, turn it, open Bapuji's office door.  She will lock herself inside. Alone.  The silence . . . She will order the blooms for her father's Mughal desk herself. Swollen, pink-scaled Gingers, bright orange Birds of Paradise with thirsting beaks and spiked blue tongues that pierce the air.  
I felt bad about giving up, but life is short, and so is life's potential reading list.  One thing my blog has made me realize is that I typically only read about fifty books a year - so life time, I probably can only read about three thousand books total.  That makes me feel like panicking.  There is no way WE THAT ARE YOUNG is getting one of those slots.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

HOMEGOING by Yaa Gyasi

Occasionally a book takes the literary establishment's fancy, and HOMEGOING was lucky enough to be the book that did that taking this year.  It is an interesting premise, being a family story across centuries.  It begins with a pair of sisters in Ghana, one of whom is enslaved, and the other of whom becomes a slave trader's wife.  From these very different destinies their descendants' lives diverge utterly, and the book carries on through the generations, giving a chapter to one person on each side in each generation.  It is therefore essentially a series of short stories.  They are well and engagingly written, and I was impressed by how quickly the author got you to care about each new character.

I am however I find curiously unmoved by the book, and I can't quite think why.  First, perhaps there is something about it that seems a little too facile.  The American stories in particular did sometimes read a bit like a well-behaved walk through key moments of African-American history: picking cotton, being unjustly imprisoned, doing heroin, etc.  I suspect the author may be young, and might have an undergraduate degree if African-American lit or history. 

Second, I was sort of taken aback by the turn the African stories took.  As I began I was interested to see how the author in the twentieth century would manage the tension of the gulf between Ghana's $1,500 GDP per capita and the USA's $60,000 (See The Atlantic for a very interesting discussion on what black American GDP would be - clue, it's still 20x what Ghana's is).  The answer is, she doesn't; strangely, while the American stories follow a more or less 'typical' family, the African stories suddenly veer off into the atypical, following a tiny minority into the diaspora.  It feels like a weird ducking of a very important fact.  Also, troubling somehow - in these stories there is definitely no 'greatest hits' approach to Ghanaian history, with Independence barely featuring.  This I found really strange; at least for the rest of Africa, Ghanaian independence is an enormous event, a beacon for the rest of us, as Ghana crossed that finish line first.  Somehow, this bothered me.  I felt like Ghana was given the same attention as America, as if history wasn't happening there somehow.  Perhaps that's not fair; but I suppose this isn't a courtroom and I don't have to be.

Friday, 29 December 2017


Feast your eyes on this abomination of a cover.  Truly, publishers have utter contempt for women.  I can only hope that this is not based on cold hard analysis of what women actually buy, though I fear it may be.  But my god, it won the PULITZER and they make it look like something out of Hallmark. 

You have to have sympathy for women buying it hoping for Hallmark, because it is in fact a hair-raising story of child abuse and revenge, wrapped in a sort of retelling of the Lear story. 

A THOUSAND ACRES is set on a farm in Iowa, and tells about the father of three women signing over his farm to them as his health fails.  He is a terrible old tyrant, and gets worse as he gets sicker, changing his mind about the farm and making their lives miserable.  They decide not to give in to him, as they recognise how he has hurt them over the years.  The sisters manage to keep the farm from him, but lose everything else in the process, including their marriages, the respect of their community, their relationship with each other, and eventually even the farm itself, which goes to that eternal winner, the bank.  There is however something really triumphant in the bitterness with which they fight.  Here is the middle sister, Rose, dying of cancer at 37 from her hospital bed:

"I have no accomplishments.  I didn't teach long enough to know what I was doing.  I didn't make a good life with Pete.  I didn't shepherd my daughters into adulthood.  I didn't win Jess Clark.  I didn't work the farm successfully.  I was as much of a nothing as Mommy or Grandma Edith.  I didn't even get Daddy to know what he had done, or what it meant.  People around town talk about how I wrecked it all.  Three generations on the same farm, great land, Daddy a marvellous farmer, and a saint to boot." She used my hand to pull herself up in the bed.  "So all I have is the knowledge that I saw!  That I saw without being afraid and without turning away, and that I didn't forgive the unforgivable.  Forgiveness is a reflex for when you can't stand what you know.  I resisted that reflex.  That's my sole, solitary, lonely accomplishment."
Rose in many ways fights the hardest to build a new life on the farm.  Her sister visits her home after her death:
The living room, I realized, hurt me the most, because that was where Rose made her last stand . . .
I loved this evocation of the grandeur of the domestic struggle. Indeed, this book is beautifully written throughout - here Smiley is, even finding romance in a Perkins, which I would have thought impossible.  It's  the oldest sister describing the relief she feels when she gives up a life on the land for a life in the town:
I liked the same thing about that as about working my waitressing job at Perkins, where you could get breakfast, the food of hope and things to be done, any time.  There was nothing time-bound, and little that was seasonal about the highway or the restaurant.  Even in Minnesota, where the winter was a big topic of conversation and a permanent occasion for people's heroic self-regard, it was only winter on the highway a few hours of the year.  The rest of the time, traffic kept moving.  Snow and rain were reduced to scenery nearly as much as any other kind of weather, something to look out the window at but nothing that hindered you.