27 April, 2007

Wasting time at work, no. 736 in a continuing series

Goodreads.com is my latest discovery while searching for non-talkboard ways to pass the time at work. (I did try doing lots of work but I slightly terrified my boss, so I've cut back on that a bit.) Goodreads is a way of sharing reviews and letting other people know what you're reading at the moment. It's a bit fiddly to use; it took me some time to work out how to add friends but seems interesting. Like a lot of these things the more people you know on there the better it is.

26 April, 2007

Three quick books

I was off sick on Tuesday so I ended up spending the afternoon in bed reading. I should have taken the opportunity to press on with Les liaisons dangereuses but didn't, instead polishing off Doris Lessing's Martha Quest which I realised part of the way through I had started before but not finished (that's such a strange feeling), Angela Carter's Heroes and villains which was great but weird and a collection of interviews with Doris Lessing, Putting the questions differently. I love Doris Lessing, and her novel The golden notebook had an enormous influence on me when I was eighteen, but sometime she comes across as just plain loopy. She noticeably moves from quite a common sense materialist view of the world in the early sixties to believing in all sorts of things like ESP. (A friend who heard her speak tells me that she also believes in David Icke's lizard theories.) [25] [26] [27]

23 April, 2007

Essay fatigue

I am exhausted after a weekend spent writing essays: one on Voltaire, and one on Adorno and Horkheimer. I hate coursework: my natural inclination is to leave everything until the last minute and then work long days and nights to get it done, I seem completely unable to work steadily no matter how early I begin. Also, I actively enjoy exams: under high pressure I can work really well and do myself justice. However, I can only blame myself for choosing to write an essay on Adorno: I thought it might be interesting to get to grips with one of the more challenging writers on the course but in fact it's mostly been difficult. Still, I think my essay is all right.

I haven't read much recently: short frustrating chapters of books on Voltaire and Adorno, interspersed with bits of kids' books and trash to switch my mind off after studying. Next one up is Les liaisons dangereuses, though, for my French lit class - I started it in the bus this morning and it looks good. I might also have a bash at Diderot: La religieuse and Jacques le fataliste, perhaps.

I've also started considering what to read on holiday this year - perhaps having read some French eighteenth century stuff I'll read Clarissa. Roll on June the 6th when exams finish and I'll be able to read whatever I want, though...

21 April, 2007

Killing time at work

It's amazing how many semi-constructive ways there are to kill time on the internet. Between tagging my photos on flickr, Facebook, writing this blog and clicking 'random article' on Wikipedia, I've discovered LibraryThing, which allows you to catalogue your books online. It makes it very easy to catalogue books: you can search for them in different libraries including the Library of Congress, or on the various Amazons (.com, .co.uk, .de, etc); you can even edit your catalogue so it displays the correct covers for your books. It's also got a social aspect - like MySpace for readers - where you can comment on other people's collections, chat, or see whose collections overlap with your own.

I've only catalogued 80-odd books so far - partly by memory at work, partly from taking random books off the shelf today - but oddly, in the list of people who have the same books as me I've spotted two people I think I know. It's a small world...

17 April, 2007

Play it again, Max

The debate about the Classic FM countdown in the Guardian has led me to this very interesting speech by Peter Maxwell Davies about the way that classical music is perceived as inherently élitist. A wonderful defence of sixties democratic values in cultural education and the power of serious music.

Classical music is a most excellent way of making clear and meaningful to our human understanding our instinctive perceptions about the nature of time, and possibly, it gives us intimations of eternity.

16 April, 2007


So it looks like going to Heidelberg has fallen through. I'm very disappointed.

12 April, 2007

By the way

I hope no one finds the post below about leaving GU to be smug or self-righteous; it's not meant that way at all.

Thinking and reading

I'm reaching the point in the year where I become a grumpy hermit and do nothing but study: I've an essay on Adorno & Horkheimer and an essay on Candide due in by the end of April, and then I'll have to start revising for my exams at the end of May.

I'm finding giving up the threads a really positive thing; I think not being able to ramble on about trivialities almost constantly on chatty threads is giving me a lot more space to think more and to be more creative. During the first few days of giving up I noticed how I have got into the habit of automatically externalising every trivial thought: my reaction to anything noteworthy in my life at all was to frame it as a post on the threads. I'm slowly starting to lose that habit and am having more interesting thoughts as a consequence. This is helped because I still have lots of time at work to spend on the internet, so instead of posting I have been reading lots of articles and blogs (as well as the cricket over-by-over reports, admittedly) which is more stimulating than about 80% of the Guardian talkboards. I could happily live my life without ever seeing another debate on whether feminism means that council swimming pools should not have women-only sessions, or another debate on poverty that descends into a lengthy diatribe by someone who has never wanted for anything in their life on how poor people aren't really poor because they live in houses and not under Waterloo Bridge or in sub-Saharan Africa.

The dialectic of enlightenment is so difficult but is making me think a lot: interestingly, a lot of the stuff about instrumental reason chimes with the excellent documentary (documentary? Perhaps polemical TV essay would be a better description) about liberty called The trap that was on TV recently. The more I think I understand Adorno the less sure I am whether I agree with him or not, though; perhaps I'll have come to a conclusion when I finish my essay. [21]

I've also been reading a fair bit of poetry: I've now finished The Penguin book of Spanish Civil War verse and both of the Oasis collections of poetry about the Second World War. These were utterly fascinating; the intersecting point where literature meets history is one of my favourite things about reading (by the way Phil, if you are reading this, how are you getting on with Life and fate?). I think when I go to Barcelona later this year I'll read Homage to Catalonia, I'm currently finding the Spanish Civil War so fascinating.[22] [23] [24]

04 April, 2007

If I were a rich man

In the library I randomly picked up Sholom Aleichem's collection of stories Tevye's daughters, the stories that Fiddler on the roof was based on. They're very charming and folksy, and it's noticeable how much has stayed in the musical from the book: there's a passage where Tevye speculates on what he'd do if he was rich which is very close to If I were a rich man.

It's more a collection of short stories than a novel, although through the book we keep coming back to stories about Tevye and his daughters; the rest of the short stories are bits and bobs, some no more than folksy Jewish anecdotes, some really interesting about pre-WWI Jewish life in Eastern Europe. The narrative voice is delightfully chatty and fun. [20]