29 June, 2007

Reading block

I can't seem to settle to anything serious at the moment, so what I've been reading recently have mainly been children's books and trash.

First, two more Rosemary Sutcliff books: The eagle of the ninth and The silver branch. Last year I read the third book in the trilogy, The Lantern Bearers, which is about the end of the Roman rule in Britain: these first two books are set earlier. She's very good on the eerie wildness of the uncivilised parts of Britain and she gets in a lot of the small ways in which the Romans changed Britain:
the lasting legacy of the Romans in Britain which, along with Hadrian's wall and underfloor heating, included cabbages, apples, roses and the domestic cat. (Guardian review of The Eagle of the Ninth)
Vaguely following on from these (a couple of the characters appear) is her re-telling of the Arthurian story, Sword at sunset, which is truly excellent. [35] [36]

I've also read a few graphic novels: I re-read a couple of the Sandman ones and also read 'V' for vendetta, by Alan Moore (writer) and David Lloyd (artist). Set in a post-apocalyptic, fascist Britain of the late nineties (following nuclear World War III in the late eighties), it's about freedom and anarchism, with the central character V as an anarchist dressed as Guy Fawkes, committing terrorist acts with the intention of wreaking havoc and encouraging the population to revolt against the fascist leadership. It was too Orwellian to really please me: as in 1984, the people are an undifferentiated silent mass, with no individuality or any apparent will of their own. I also had problems with the connection of destruction and creation: it reminds me too much of my own immature revolutionary ideas. Still, the book was cleverly done; I only noticed afterwards that it had been done without thought bubbles and 'scene-setting' captions, which adds real tension to the story. [37]

Lastly, I read Cashelmara, by Susan Howatch - I love Susan Howatch's early blockbusters, they're spendidly melodramatic but not badly written and the plot thunders along. [38]

Awfully written, on the other hand - so terrible that I couldn't actually read more than a third of it - was Jilly Cooper's latest bonkbuster, Wicked! Set in a sink school - featuring 'feral' care children who quote Shelley and a sexy young headmistress who 'really communicates' with the children by comparing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth with Tony and Cherie Blair - this was part Tory education manifesto (the sexy headmistress makes her school a success by establishing a link with the local private school, of course, which in proper Jilly style is run by an equally sexy headmaster), part sleepwalking assortment of the worst of Jilly's favourite clichés, part unreadable idiocy demonstrating very clearly that Jilly wouldn't recognise a poor teenager if she were mugged by one. Quite possibly the worst book I've read this century. [39]

19 June, 2007


I joined Camden Libraries in my lunchbreak - St Pancras Library is the closest, which is a ten-minute walk from work through lovely Bloomsbury backstreets. This brings the number of libraries I'm a member of up to seven:

Southwark Libraries
Newham Libraries
Redbridge Libraries
Camden Libraries
Senate House (and technically all the little research libraries around it)
The Poetry Library on the South Bank (currently still closed for refurbishment, I think)
Birkbeck library

Libraries are reservoirs of strength, grace and wit, reminders of order, calm and continuity, lakes of mental energy, neither warm nor cold, light nor dark... In any library in the world, I am at home, unselfconscious, still and absorbed. -- Germaine Greer

14 June, 2007

Michael Hamburger dies

I'm sorry to hear of the death of poet and translator Michael Hamburger, who translated several of my favourite poets into English including Paul Celan, Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Rilke. He was a good poet himself - see my poetry blog for one of my favourites. I must get round to reading his book The truth of poetry at some point.

07 June, 2007

The summer starts here

I finished my last exam yesterday, which couldn't have gone better, so I'm free for the next four months. The nicest thing about the end of exams is that I no longer have that feeling of guilt whenever I pick up a non-course-related book - it's nice to feel I can read anything I want. Went straight to the library after my exam and got out lots of books that weren't about German philosophy or French literature of the Enlightenment.

At the moment I'm reading Imelda Whelehan's Overloaded: popular culture and the future of feminism, for my women's group, and this weekend I'm going to try and finish Life and fate, finally. I'm now making lists of all the things I want to read over the summer, including some of the reading for next year's course on Realism and the 19th century novel. I've already read Madame Bovary but have never read any Stendhal or Balzac, so that should be interesting.