23 March, 2007

PG Wodehouse quote generator

A lovely way of whiling away five minutes here.

Halfway through

My reading in progress:

I'm struggling with Adorno and Horkheimer's Dialectic of enlightenment, but I think with a bit of serious study I'll beat it yet.

Halfway through:
Rousseau's Reveries d'un promeneur solitaire
Grossman's Life and fate
Barbusse's Le feu

Just begun:
HAL Fisher's History of Europe

Need to reread:
Freud's Civilisation and its discontents
Montesquieu's Lettres persanes

Another book about reading

So many books, by a Mexican author called Gabriel Zaid. This was an interesting short little book, in which Gabriel Zaid argues that in focusing on bestsellers, the publishing industry has lost sight of the way that books are part of a public debate, or conversation, as he puts it. He has some lovely things to say about how cheap and successful the book is as a technology, but ultimately stops short of saying anything very radical about the publishing industry. [19]

I'm also reading four different poetry books at once at the moment - The Penguin book of Spanish civil war verse, The terrible rain, an anthology of WWII poetry, and the two Oasis collections of Second World War poetry. The Spanish civil war book also includes letters of the writers who fought in the International Brigades, and a fascinating introduction about the perception of the war as the poets' war. The Oasis books focus almost entirely on poems by combatants and are marvellous because of this; there's a certain amount of barrack room doggerel but some of the poems are really wonderful. I've decided to use my spare blog as a poetry blog, now that I have a bit more time to spend on such a thing (some of my readers may have realised I've stopped posting on GU indefinitely) so I may post some of my favourites over there.

21 March, 2007

The decline of a family

I finished Buddenbrooks a couple of weeks ago and am still mulling over bits of it and thinking about it intermittently. It was a wonderful, wonderful novel: I loved the way the historical change of the nineteenth century was shown, even though the novel never steps outside the immediate circle of the Buddenbrooks family, and the way that he talks about teeth all the time (I read somewhere that this was his attempt to mimic literarily Wagner's musical use of leitmotifs). I love the incredibly detailed descriptions of people's appearances and also the quiet, detached, ironic tone. [17]

This has prompted me to start reading Marcel Reich-Ranicki's Thomas Mann and his family, which has filled me in on what an insane egotist and neurotic Thomas Mann was. I'm never sure how I feel about this kind of literary gossip; there a part of me that feels that you shouldn't concern yourself with what an author is like, but with what he writes. The Heat reader manquée in me loves all the gossip and the details of the nasty letters Thomas Mann wrote to his brother and the insanely self-obsessed diary entries, though. [18]

Incidentally, Wikipedia has given me a link to the FBI's file on Thomas Mann. Which other writers are there with publically available files?

20 March, 2007

Writers' lectures

An article on the Guardian site has led me to this series of lectures by various famous authors, which look really interesting.

I've also discovered that Radio 4's In our time programme has an archive of old programmes which one can listen to (you need RealPlayer).

19 March, 2007

Madrid books

There's an enormous FNAC (I love the word FNAC) in Madrid so I bought Daniel Pennac's Comme un roman, Jorge Semprun's L'écriture ou la vie, and Madame Bovary in French, which I have only read in English so far. Then I instantly read the Pennac, which is a lovely book about reading, learning to read, and how people become book lovers. It finishes with his ten Rights of the reader, and a short essay on each, and was truly delightful. The rights of the reader are proposed to be

1. The right not to read.
2. The right to skip pages.
3. The right to not finish.
4. The right to reread.
5. The right to read anything.
6. The right to escapism.
7. The right to read anywhere.
8. The right to browse.
9. The right to read out loud.
10. The right to not defend your tastes

I agree with all of those... [15]

In the plane on the way out I finished Elisabeth Badinter's Dead End Feminism, which was madly interesting although I skipped some of the more theoretical bits (typical French feminist). It's a little book arguing for a more positive kind of feminism, in which the advances that feminism has already made are fully acknowledged, and where the abilities of women to shape their own destinies takes a more central role, moving the focus away slightly from male oppression and towards female power. I enjoyed it a lot although will have to reread it and write a fuller review at a later date, but definitely food for thought. [16]

It's my birthday!

... on May the second. Okay, it's still nearly two months away, but here's a list of books I'd be very glad to receive on that joyous day.

  1. The Penguin book of Spanish Civil War verse.
  2. The Mirror and the Mask: Portraiture in the Age of Picasso. Catalogue for the excellent show at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid.
  3. Postwar: a history of Europe since 1945, which was recommended to me by someone or other.
  4. Twentieth century German poetry: an anthology. Edited by Michael Hofmann. The long US one, not the very short Faber paperback.
  5. The biography of Karl Marx by Francis Wheen
  6. The English Auden

01 March, 2007

Light reading

A lovely light fluffy book about being a secret musicals fan, called What would Barbra do? Charming and silly and very readable, although it felt a bit like stretching a concept for a feature article into an entire book. The only quibble I have is that she spends a lot of time writing about very, very famous musicals: Oklahoma!, Guys and Dolls, even the Sound of Music. Surely the people reading her book will already be musicals fans and know a bit about Oklahoma!? It would have been more fun to hear about some of the madder musicals of the MGM golden age... [13]

Gah. Every time I try and put a link in this post it deletes everything following it. An exerpt from the book was published in the Guardian Weekend magazine a few weeks ago and is available here:


I also finished Alan Furst's Kingdom of shadows which I have now written about twice and had blogger delete it for me so I'm not writing it out again. Gah. [14]

Those of my readers who have been complaining...

...that it's 'cheating' to count short books like Candide as part of my 100 books target will be pleased to know that I'm currently three quarters of the way through Buddenbrooks and half way through Life and fate. Those two books together comprise a whopping 1,500 pages, people!