29 January, 2007


A charming and rather surprising novel by Thomas Mann, Royal Highness. This was delightful: set in a comic operetta sort of principality in late 19th century Germany, it's a fairytale-ish sort of plot about the regeneration of the declining society when the Prince falls in love with a modern, liberated American heiress. Being by Thomas Mann, of course, it's full of gentle irony and reflection about the islated nature of royalty, but is nonetheless delightful. [4]

At the other end of the fairytale spectrum, Angela Carter's The bloody chamber was also fun: modern feminist retellings of fairy tales (without all the worthy seventies feminism that implies - awful memories of leaden retelling where all the princes are wusses and the princesses ride motorbikes). These were sexy and stylish and fun. I was particularly pleased by the sheer catness of the cat narrator of Puss in Boots. [5]

24 January, 2007

French and German poetry

I've been reading two shortish Faber collections of poetry in the last week: the Faber book of 20th century German poetry, edited by Michael Hofmann, and 20th century French poems, edited by Stephen Romer. Both in translation, as these were the small, portable books! - the dual language editions are all very long. Both were interesting: I know nothing about 20th century poetry not written in English, or very little, anyway, although I like some of Brecht's poetry and have read a little of Paul Celan. Interesting reading the two side by side: the French poets seem highly surreal while the Germans (post-Brecht) are incredibly concrete and realist, using a very everyday sort of imagery and simple (as far as one can tell from the translation) pared down language and form. The exception being Celan, who is beautifully, eerily elusive. I must read some of him in German as it seems he is pretty much untranslatable. [2] [3]

NB if any of my readers are stuck for a birthday present for me (just over four months now, chaps!) I would be very grateful for this book. See also my Amazon wishlist...

15 January, 2007

Christmas book tokens, hooray!

I bought Christopher Booker's The seven basic plots: why we tell stories and the Bloodaxe anthology Being alive which is a follow up to a previous anthology called Staying alive.

Books I want to buy this year: I want more art and photography books, if I can find ones that aren't too expensive. I'd like to buy a bit more poetry, particularly contemporary poetry and poetry in French and German.

08 January, 2007

And here we go again

So, the first book of the new year is Sebastian Faulks's Human traces. Like the other Sebastian Faulk novels I've read, it's essentially bonkbuster for radio 3 listeners. It's a novel based around the period on which Freud was making his discoveries: the two central characters are 'mad-doctors', researching mental illness in a sanatorium in Switzerland. Lots of research which Faulks shows off at every opportunity (no chapter is complete without a conversation in which someone starts 'Let me see if I can explain this more clearly...' followed by three pages of research). Bizarrely, although most of Freud's colleagues are mentioned by name and even appear in the story, he shys away from mentioning Freud by name. It's very odd, and I can't see any reason for it, since he is happy to mention, say, Charcot, and anyone who has read a tiny little bit about Freud will have heard of Charcot. Still, it was absorbing and not too insulting to my intelligence, even if very little happened. A nice distraction from the essays. [1]

07 January, 2007

... and new year

So, here are my reading resolutions for this year.
  • Read 100 books
  • Read more in French and German
  • Read more about the French revolution, the European eighteenth century and the Enlightenment generally
  • German philosophy: read around my course. Get to grips with Kant, Hegel and Nietzsche
  • Read more Marx (again!) possibily even in German
  • Read more eighteenth century French lit
  • Concentrate on late 19th century and 20th century German writers
  • As a mini-project, try and read more European writing on the First World War
I'll try and do a best of 2006 blog at some point soonish.

Happy New Year to my four readers! Have a great year.

Old year...

So, I didn't make it to a hundred books, but I read eighty-two, which I think is a good start. And that included two longish reading blocks.

The last three books of the year were the truly excellent The middle parts of fortune by Frederic Manning, an Australian who served as a private in the British army in WWI. It's an excellent novel about the experience of war in the trenches and particularly interesting as it's written from the point of view of a man who could have been an officer but preferred to stay a private. The central character, Bourne, is constantly resisting a commission: in real life Manning was eventually made an officer but then narrowly escaped court martial after being drunk on duty. [80]

A Christmas treat to myself was a lovely Georgette Heyer novel The quiet gentleman which was like most Georgette Heyer novels: like a hot bath or some really expensive chocolate, not exactly trashy, but an indulgent treat that doesn't really do one any good at all. Also like most Georgette Heyer novels inasmuch as half an hour after reading it I couldn't have told you about any of the characters, or indeed anything that happened. [81]

The last was a present from ma, a collection of Germaine Greer's early writings called The madwoman's underclothes. Amusing and clever and witty, if occasionally rather silly (much like marvellous Germaine herself), and always very much of their time. [82]

Later edit - it's actually 83 books as I forgot to add a course book, Ludwig Feuerbach's The essence of Christianity. [83] Yay!

So, looking back at my literary resolutions, I haven't really kept any of them except the last: 'To avoid rereading children's books and trash and to read new worthwhile things instead'. The attempt to read a certain number of books has done me good, though, I think; I haven't succumbed to the temptation to mindlessly kill pages in the quest for 100 books, but have been quite focused on keeping reading, which I think is a good thing, on the whole.

I'm also pleased that I've kept on at this blog: it is good to have something more on the books I've read than just the date I read them (which is what I previously kept a record of). It also motivates me to read decent books and not trash - not that many people read this but it would annoy me to keep having to list a whole lot of rubbish...