28 February, 2006

RIP Linda Smith

Linda Smith, writer and comedian, has died of ovarian cancer aged forty-eight. She was a wonderfully warm and funny person, and one of my favourite comedians. I'm very sad to hear about her death.

Jeremy Hardy's
obituary of her in the Guardian.

Simon Hoggart and others
pay tribute.

25 February, 2006


A non-book related post: anyone who hasn't yet discovered www.last.fm really should have a look. It's a site which will make you a personalised radio station based on things you already like and things you listen to on your computer. You have to sign up, download the player and the audioscrobbler, and then start listening. You can either choose a tag radio to listen to - so if you chose easy listening you would get random selections from all the music other users have tagged as easy listening - or you can go to the radio page, enter a list of music you like and it will play you recommendations based on that. Alternatively, the audioscrobbler will tell last.fm all the music you listen to on your computer and it will choose your preferences accordingly. And it's free - although you can subscribe for not much money to get extra features.

15 February, 2006

A rediscovered modernist

I have discovered a wonderful author called Dorothy Richardson, by accident in a charity shop. I picked up three old Virago Women's Classics, and read a few pages and was gripped. The books are called Pilgrimage 1, 2 and 3, and are the collected short novels all with the same set of characters. There's a fourth one which wasn't in the charity shop.

The books so far is charming and beautiful. Like another favourite author of mine, Olivia Manning, she has an ability to preserve a moment so that you are there with her: not just in her surroundings, but in her mood. She also reproduces the fleeting, changing moods of early adulthood very well: the central character is a girl of seventeen who is about to start working in a German finishing school and the way she veers from feeling terribly happy to crippled with nervousness is very familiar from when I was that age.

Also there's something very nice about discovering an author for yourself. It's such a change to read something just because it looks good, not because you feel you ought or someone has recommended it. More on this when I finish it...

11 February, 2006

Tumbrels, psychoanalysis and New Left polemic

Two fantastic books in the last week: Dickens's A tale of two cities. [10] Why have I never read this before? The language is beautiful, the story is gripping, the whole thing is much tauter than Dickens usually is (while still not actually being taut, of course). Here's a beautiful quotation, with such a wonderfully ambiguous, subtle reaction to the French revolution:

Along the Paris streets, the death-carts rumble, hollow and harsh. Six tumbrels carry the day’s wine to La Guillotine. All the devouring and insatiate Monsters imagined since imagination could record itself, are fused in one realization, Guillotine. And yet there is not in France, with its rich variety of soil and climate, a blade, a leaf, a root, a sprig, a peppercorn, which will grow to maturity under conditions more certain than those that have produced this horror. Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.

The other book was Herbert Marcuses's An essay on liberation. Rollicking, New Left stuff, fabulously polemical and joyous and angry at the same time. Highly recommended. [11]

Books for this weekend - some decent reading towards my Linguistics essay, and the rest of Freud's Short introduction to psychoanalysis. Freud's also good fun. You'll be trotting along, enjoying the slightly dry, infinitely sensible writing style, and out of the blue suddenly he brings up your mother's penis. Not her actual penis, of course; just the penis that you as her son imagined her to have had - which in itself leads to your terrible fear of a similar mutilation. Good fun, and another writer I must read more of.

07 February, 2006

Note to self

Books I want at the moment

Robespierre: portrait of a revolutionary democrat and The crowd in the French revolution by George Rudé

The age of empire and The age of extremes by Eric Hobsbawm

Keywords by Raymond Williams

The struggle for mastery in Europe, 1848-1918 by AJP Taylor

The French revolution by George Lefebvre