25 November, 2008
Listening: bought the Barenboim box set of Brahms' symphonies. Also v good for rain-lashing winter afternoons.
Watching: opera on Youtube. The post-apocalyptic BBC1 drama Survivors. Elektra at the ROH. Take me out to the ballgame.
26 October, 2008
1 - Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
2 - A Death in the Family, James Agee
3 - Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis
4 - Money, Martin Amis
5 - The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
6 - Go Tell it on the Mountain, James Baldwin
7 - The Sot-Weed Factor,John Barth.
8 - The Adventures of Augie March, Saul Bellow
9 - Herzog, Saul Bellow
10 - The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles
11 - The Death of the Heart, Elizabeth Bowen
12 - Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret Judy Blume
13 - A Clockwork
14 - Naked Lunch, William Burroughs
15 - Possession, A
16 - Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather
17 - The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
18 - Falconer, John Cheever
19 - White Noise, Don DeLillo
20 - Ubik, Philip K Dick
21 - Deliverance, James Dickey
22 - Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion
23 - Ragtime, E L Doctorow
24 - An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser
25 - Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
26 - Light in August, William Faulkner
27 - The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
28 - The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
29 - The Sportswriter, Richard Ford
30 - A Passage to
31 - The French Lieutenant's Woman, John Fowles
32 - The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
33 - The Recognitions, William Gaddis
34 - Neuromancer, William Gibson
35 - Lord Of The Flies, William Golding
36 - I, Claudius, Robert Graves
37 - Loving, Henry Green
38 - The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene
39 - The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene
40 - Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett
41 - Catch-22, Joseph Heller
42 - The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
43 - Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
44 - The
45 - Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
46 - On The Road, Jack Kerouac
47 - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey
48 - The Painted Bird, Jerzy Kosinski
49 - The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, John le Carre
50 - To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
51 - The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing
52 - The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C S Lewis
53 - Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry
54 - The Assistant, Bernard Malamud
55 - Blood
56 - The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
57 - Atonement, Ian McEwan
58 - Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
59 - Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
60 - Watchmen, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
61 - Beloved, Toni Morrison
62 - Under the Net, Iris Murdoch
63 - Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
64 - Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov
65 - A House for Mr Biswas, V S Naipaul
66 - At Swim-Two-Birds, Flann O'Brien
67 - Appointment in
68 - Animal Farm, George Orwell
69 - 1984, George Orwell
70 - The Moviegoer, Walker Percy
71 - A Dance to the Music of Time, Anthony Powell
72 - Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon
73 - The Crying of
74 - Wide
75 - Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson
76 - Call It Sleep, Henry Roth
77 - American Pastoral, Philip Roth
78 - Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth
79 - Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie
80 - The Catcher In The
81 - White Teeth, Zadie Smith
82 - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark
83 - The Man Who Loved Children, Christina Stead
84 - The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
85 - Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
86 - Dog Soldiers, Robert Stone
87 - The Confessions of Nat Turner, William Styron
88 - The Lord of the Rings, J R R Tolkien
89 - Rabbit, Run, John Updike
90 - Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
91 - Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
92 - All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren
93 - Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
94 - A Handful of Dust, Evelyn Waugh
95 - The Day of the Locust, Nathanael West
96 - The
97 - Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf.
98 - To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
99 - Native Son, Richard Wright
Edit - found the link. They're in alphabetical order of title here.
24 October, 2008
Empire of the sun, JG Ballard. This was quite amazing and I would like to write more about it. You can see why Ballard writes such weird books, given a childhood roughly like this (I think he was in a Japanese camp, but not separated from his parents). The bit when he is alone in Shanghai, eating cocktail food from the bars of the deserted but opulent houses of departed Westerners (the servants have already taken the food from the kitchens; all that's left is chocolates in bedside tables and bar snacks) has a haunting, post-apocalyptic feel. 
Just in case, Meg Rosoff. 
From the Boer war to the Cold war, AJP Taylor. A sort of follow-up to his colllection of essays on the nineteenth century, From Napoleon to the Second International, which I thought was terrific (although, looking back, I didn't manage to write anything about that either). This was very interesting as it deals with the twentieth century, and so a lot of the essays concern events that took place during Alan Taylor's lifetime. I really like the way he writes: he's very clear and understandable, and often very witty. 
Resistance by Welsh poet Owen Sheers was one of those rare books that I finished reading despite the fact that it actually wasn't very good. This was an alternative history novel, in which the Germans had successfully invaded the UK, and is set in a remote Welsh valley. I liked the evocation of wild Wales, but the alternative history bit of the story seemed a bit pointless, and the characters were very wooden, particularly the central woman, a farmers' wife whose husband has left to join the resistance. There were also a few grating bits - would a Welsh farmer's wife in the 1940s compare the smell of gorse to coconut? Perhaps that's very picky, but that sort of thing is very jarring. 
Confessions of a survivor, Doris Lessing. I really enjoyed this. One of the things I really like about this is that it's sort-of a post-apocalyptic novel, but the disaster (which is never fully explained) is gradual, rather than drastic: it's described in terms of things getting worse and worse, not some sudden event. I also really like Doris Lessing's almost squinty-eyed honesty about the way her characters think and behave. 
Dead end feminism, which I re-read for my women's group, but have written about briefly before. I like the critique of Andrea Dworkin, and what she characterises as 'victim feminism', but I think she goes too far in, for example, her claim that breast-feeding is fetishised in order to keep the mother tied to the child. (Although I think in France breastfeeding isn't considered as important as it is in other Western countries?) . The other smart-arse light-hearted book by a French philosopher I've read recently was How to talk about books you haven't read by Pierre Bayard, which was mildly entertaining, but which I now remember nothing about.  
A collection of poetry about london, London lines, selected by Kenneth Baker. 
The ballad of Lee Cotton, by Christopher Wilson, which was light, entertaining, but trying a bit too hard to be unpredictable. 
15 October, 2008
Hilary Mantel's A place of greater safety was utterly gripping, despite being about eight hundred pages long, and I spent most of my time in France unable to put it down. It's a fictionalisation of the French revolution, following Camille Desmoulins, Danton and Robespierre from early life to their various deaths by the guillotine. I thought this was an utterly fantastic novel. It's very political, and in fact the characters talk almost exclusively of politics, but they are incredibly vivid for all that. And despite following the three central figures from childhood to adulthood, she manages to avoid biographical clichés and cheap sentiment.
In fact, I really like Mantel's view of history: there's a sense of irresistible forces constantly pushing change (the hunger of the people; migration of the starving to Paris), but at the same time with the key events - like the storming of the Bastille - there's a sense of randomness and chaos. People know that something big is going to happen, but when it actually does happen it almost comes as a surprise, even for the people who are later seen as leaders. There's no inevitability to the storming of the Bastille, or even the beheading of Louis XVI: these things are symptoms of the greater historical forces at work. And the way she represents this can be very powerful, cutting from a discussion of politics in Danton's bourgeois home to a short separate paragraph:
Under the bridges, by dim and precarious fires, the destitute wait for death. A loaf of bread is fourteen sous, for the New Year.It's a very good representation of the way that material conditions force change, but when that change comes, it's difficult to predict exactly what it will be.
Despite the chilling depiction of the starving population, though, (the paragraph about the starving migrants who come from the country to Paris is genuinely spooky), the novel is actually very funny in parts. Camille Desmoulins in particular is very entertaining with a ridiculous love life and a sort of childish helplessness. 
10 October, 2008
08 October, 2008
07 October, 2008
Listening: the library was selling off CDs, so I have Stravinsky's Firebird and (I think) some random Brahms to listen to this evening.
Watching: spent quite a lot of the weekend rewatching the 70s BBC adaptation of Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy. I love 1970s London.
08 September, 2008
Listening: I meant to go to hear Friday's prom, but it was raining (yeah yeah I know). But it was lovely on the radio.
Watching: I'm surprised how entertaining I'm finding The Sweeney, which was my birthday present to my cohabitant. They're so splendidly South Londony and seventies.
30 August, 2008
This led me on to a couple of things - E.M. Delafield's Diary of a provincial lady, which was a very charming fictional diary: a sort of 1930s Bridget Jones, but funnier and a lovely period piece.
More interesting was Elizabeth Bowen's Death of the heart, which was a very odd and unsettling novel, but I'm still trying to put my finger on quite why it was so unsettling. The story is about Portia, an orphaned teenager, who moves in with her half-brother and his wife into their grand, chilly London home. They don't really want her there, and she is desperately lonely, so that in the end she turns to the wastrel Eddie for love and companionship. The reader can see that Eddie is not serious, but nonetheless Portia is devastated by his casual betrayal of her.
Another set of diaries, but not fictional this time, Joan Wyndham's Love lessons and Love is blue, which were wonderful: the first one is her teenage diary, which is precocious and totally sex-obsessed, and the second about her adventures in the WAAF, which mostly involve sleeping her way around Scotland. Fascinating to see how limited women's sexual expectations were at the time: she records her various lovers' pieces of advice about how women are very unlikely to come, and spends a long time having fundamentally unsatisfactory sex and only vaguely wondering whether it might be better somehow. But these were very funny and excellent reading with a hangover.
Finally an interesting book in the form of one of those collections from the Mass Observation Archive, this one a collection of articles written as part of a collaborative correspondence magazine set up between a group of women in the late 1940s. Can any mother help me? is the title, after the letter sent to a magazine by a depressed housewife, asking for suggestions of how to overcome her depression and sense of isolation. The articles are amazing - the women write very frankly about things like childbirth and medical experiences, as well as their marriages, divorces, childcare and career and social successes. The group fairly diverse, although they are all middle-class, and it's very interesting to see how they have a similar dynamic to, say, a talkboard: beginning with anonymity and the freedom of expression that that offers, but eventually becoming close friends - which correspondingly limits, sometimes, the things they feel free to say. I would have like to read some of the less personal articles - through the book they refer to things like 'such and such's article on socialism', but the editor, Jenna Bailey, has pretty much confined her choice of articles to ones on personal experience.      
L'assommoir is the novel where Zola introduces the parents of Etienne (from Germinal) and Nana, and it's got a lot of his theories about heredity: essentially, that alcoholism and violence are passed down in families. Thankfully, this isn't stated explicitly (I can't bear 19th century novels full of essays on science) but is made clear through the story: Gervaise has plenty of opportunity to make good, but her natural laziness and alcoholism lead to her downfall. (Etienne, of course, is a good and admirable man, but it's made clear in Germinal that this is because he manages, with great effort, to keep his inherited alcoholic and violent tendencies in check - if he ever gets drunk, he may kill a man.)
It's fantastically detailed, as a picture of life in mid-nineteenth century Paris: I like the way Zola shows the landscape changing as the slums are cleared (I guess as part of Haussmann's projects?), and he's excellent with the details of life. I always like it when authors tell you about costs and prices, and particularly here, the details of how much everything costs add to the feeling of grinding poverty in the area, particularly in the beginning where Gervaise and Lantier are first living in horrible squalor.
I also really like the way Zola captures the experience of some really ghastly social events. The big binge in the middle of the novel is so horribly evocative, as they all stuff themselves and are then sick in the street. He does a similar thing in Thérèse Raquin: the evenings above the shop with the horrible stuffy pompous guests are wonderfully cringey and awful. Otherwise, I enjoyed this less than the Rougon-Macquart novels I've read: Zola's obsession here is with temperaments and types, and how people's lives play out according to their natures, which I find less interesting than his mad heredity theories, and I can do without all the stuff about human brutes as well. But on the whole, I enjoy tragic melodrama and liked this well enough.  
These were all particularly entertaining books as they're loosely connected: characters from previous novels turn up again in completely different contexts (lovely Jonathan from Brother of the more famous Jack turns up in The travelling hornplayer as 'the Novelist', having an affair and a mid-life crisis). And they're funny, full of eccentric familes and clever funny people. I'm tempted to track down all the ones I haven't yet read in the library, but think I might leave it for a while until I really need some comfort reading.   
26 August, 2008
Listening: very much enjoyed the Sleeping Beauty in last week's proms.
Watching: watched Empire of the Sun with a massive hangover and a Chinese takeaway.
28 July, 2008
Listening: the Proms have started, yay! I particularly enjoyed the Saint-Saëns organ symphony last Monday.
Watching: we have no TV at the moment, which is nice, but I'm looking forward to the Clint Eastwood season at the NFT next month.
01 July, 2008
I thought this was so clever because the tone is so subtle, while the novel as a whole is bleak and angry. Daniel mocks his parents and ironises their politics, but he doesn't despise them, nor is he cynical. And although Daniel is sadistic and fucked-up, he's still terribly sad and basically sympathetic: he treats his wife and child badly, but we feel for him. And his view of events is so beautifully captured: the narrative drifts between contemporary events as he is writing and the events of his childhood: his parents' arrest, imprisonment, trial and execution are given as random chunks of memory. He sometimes refers to his father, or our father, sometimes to Mr Isaacson; the passages in 1967 switch between first and third person, but even in third person there's a sense of Daniel as narrator, as though he's trying to make sense of his life by writing about it.
The book has a terrible sense of tension and unease and dread (electricity is used as a metaphor all the way through), and I wondered how Doctorow would sustain this in dealing with the execution of the Isaacsons. There is no coy 'and when it was done': it is brutally clear and horribly dispassionate. It's a fantastic, intense, sad book, one of the best I've read this year. I have Doctorow's Ragtime waiting: looking forward to it. 
30 June, 2008
Then as a post-exams mindless indulgence, four Georgette Heyer novels: The Nonesuch, Cotillion, Arabella and A marriage of convenience. Reading Georgette Heyer is like taking a hot bath, really. But I do like the fact that all her lovely men are so well-dressed. I can't think of any other novels in which such attention is paid to the details of the men's outfits. Maybe Gone with the wind? I think Rhett Butler does dress well, but I can't remember if there's any detail about it. The regency period is interesting, though: it's the point where men's outfits (that is, upper class men's outfits) lose the extravagance of the eighteenth century and start being modelled on riding clothes: women's clothes remain impractical and decorative. I suppose the fascination with the period is to do with the men being beautifully, elegantly dressed but also wearing recognisably 'manly' clothing: clothing which looks good on strong, athletic male bodies with broad shoulders and long legs.    
Listening: the Summer Stock and Kiss me Kate soundtracks.
Watching: Mary Queen of shops on BBC1 which is moderately rubbishy but enjoyable.
23 June, 2008
Listening: I lasted about ten minutes of Harrison Birtwhistle's Punch and Judy on Radio 3 on Saturday night. So not much at the moment.
Watching: the Sex and the city movie. Have you ever bought a six-pack of crappy chocolate mousses from the supermarket and eaten them one after the other?
21 June, 2008
The Weimar republic - Eberhard Kolb 
Weimar and the rise of Hitler - A.J. Nicholls 
The Weimar republic - J.W. Hiden 
Balzac - Wendy Mercer 
Zola: Germinal - Colin Smethurst 
La peau de chagrin - Alain Schaffner 
Germinal - Colette Becker 
I'm actually much less of a book hoarder and compulsive book buyer than I used to be: I almost never buy new books these days, but I still find it difficult to pass a second hand bookshop without acquiring one or two. I had a massive clearout a couple of years ago when I got rid of around three hundred books, discarding the ones that I was never likely to read again, the ones which would be freely available in the library if I did want to read them again and the duplicate copies. Since then I try to limit my library to books I definitely do want to read or reread, and try and keep books that are freely available in the library to a minimum. I like this passage from Luc Sante's article:
It occurred to me that I had little need for most of the shrubbery surrounding the works of major authors: the letters (with one or two significant exceptions), the critical approaches (unless they are worth reading on their own terms), and any biography over 500 pages long (except maybe those by Richard Ellmann and Leon Edel). I also had no need for books with funny titles, books acquired only because everybody else was reading them, books with no value except as objects, and books that inspired a vague sense of dread whenever they caught my eye -- possible cornerstones of culture that nevertheless only solitary confinement would ever compel me to read.
I still have a lot of books. I like having them, I like being around them, I like the fact that I can go to the shelf and look up a half-remembered passage whenever I want to. It sometimes seems to me, though, that owning books is not recognised as the materialist act it actually is. Because having a library is seen as a cultural, educated thing to have, it's as though it's somehow morally superior to owning a lot of clothes, say. In some ways I'd like to be more like my partner, with his half dozen books and his library card.
Wonderful article in the New York Times about shared parenting. OK, the people they talk to are all quite affluent middle-class parents, and therefore have many more options to take fewer hours and less pay, but it's a really positive interesting article.
This made me laugh.
And the Guardian review of Leonard Cohen's concert made me look forward to seeing him even more than I already am. Roll on July 18th...
13 June, 2008
05 June, 2008
12 May, 2008
Listening: Tosca tonight!
Watching: went to see Jeremy Hardy doing stand-up in Stratford on Saturday as my birthday treat with my family. Also, The good soul of Szechuan on Friday at the Young Vic, which was well... ok.
08 May, 2008
11 Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.
12 And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers,
13 Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.
14 And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.
15 So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day. 
07 May, 2008
Phil's review of it is here.
06 May, 2008
Listening: Birthday presents - the latest Kris Kristofferson album and Ella Fitzgerald's Cole Porter songbook.
Watching: series 3 of the Wire! Yay. The first episode was already so funny and good. And looking forward to The good person of Szechuan at the Young Vic on Friday - my birthday treat.
29 April, 2008
Listening: truly fantastic concert last night; a newish piece by Thomas Adès and Steve Reich's Music for 18 musicians. The first one was accompanied by a 'video interpretation' which was pretty amazing, and it was really fascinating to watch the Steve Reich being performed: some of the noises are very odd and it's interesting to see how they're done with perfectly normal musicians and singers, not computers or trickery.
Watching: just been lent series 3 of The wire, yay! Can't wait.
21 April, 2008
Listening: Philip Glass's Satyagraha, on Radio 3's Opera from the Met on Saturday evening was surprisingly enjoyable, and what's more, compelling. Which is, I admit, not what I was expecting.
Watching: nothing apart from Have I got news for you and Bremner, Bird and Fortune.
18 April, 2008
The New York Times blog about the seven deadly words of book reviewing. The blog post isn't that great, but the comments are pretty funny.
Young me-now me is a great collection of matching photos of people as children and as adults.
A marvellously grumpy interview with James Kelman. I really must get round to finishing How late it was, how late some time.
16 April, 2008
Whether it has been drowned or not. His Mam
Loves him too much and his Dada drinks.
As for his girlfriend Blodwen, she's pregnant. So
Are all the other girls in the village-there's been a Revival.
After a performance of Elijah, the mad preacher
Davies the Doom has burnt the chapel down.
One Saturday night after a dance at the Corn Club,
With the Free Wales Army up to no goood in the back lanes,
A stranger comes to the village; he is, of course,
God, the well known television personality. He succeeds
In confusing the issue, whatever it is, and departs
On the last train before the line is closed.
The colliery blows up, there is a financial scandal
Involving all the most respected citizens; the choir
Wins at the National. It is all seen, naturally,
Through the eyes of a sensitive boy who never grows up.
The men emigrate to America, Cardiff and the moon.
The girls find rich and foolish English husbands. Only daft Ianto
Is left to recite the Complete Works of Sir Lewis Morris
To puzzled sheep, before throwing himself over
The edge of the abandoned quarry. One is not quite sure
Whether it is fiction or not.
-- Harri Webb
we stroll through a maze of pale
red-mottled relics, shells, claws
as if it were summer still.
That season has turned its back.
Through the green sea gardens stall,
bow, and recover their look
of the imperishable
gardens in an antique book
or tapestries on a wall,
leaves behind us warp and lapse.
The late month withers, as well.
Below us a white gull keeps
the weed-slicked shelf for his own,
hustles other gulls off. Crabs
rove over his field of stone;
mussels cluster blue as grapes :
his beak brings the harvest in.
The watercolorist grips
his brush in the stringent air.
The horizon’s bare of ships,
the beach and the rocks are bare.
He paints a blizzard of gulls,
wings drumming in the winter.
15 April, 2008
Listening: George Jones, Doris Day
Watching: just finished series 2 of Deadwood. Not as good as the first, but still pretty good and v funny. Al Swearengen is just such a fantastic character.
12 April, 2008
With regard to On photography, I'm finding it hard to think of things to say now because I find I'm more mulling over questions she raises than agreeing or disagreeing with things she says. Like, what is the effect on society when it is 'saturated' with photographic images, as ours is? She uses the phrase 'image junkies'. What is the relationship between a photograph and reality? We see photos as more real than paintings, but how real does that make them? She suggests that photographs can be very unreal: for example, in the section on Diane Arbus she talks about the way that Diane Arbus's photos distance the viewer/photographer from the bizarre or freakish subject.
In Regarding the pain... she talks about images of war and suffering, something I think about a lot. As I get most of my news from the radio and the newspapers online, I miss out on the visuals of the TV and printed papers. This isn't a moral choice, but convenience and personal preference (TV news pisses me off even more than the Today programme). Sontag writes about the authenticity of war photos, and how the way they are used can change their meaning, but she also discusses whether the enormous number of photos of wars and suffering lessens their impact. In contrast to her earlier ideas about society's saturation with photographic images, she concludes than no, they don't.
I think this has been discussed a lot in the media, whether shocking pictures on the television cause 'compassion fatigue' (horrible term) and make people become numbed to tragedy. I think someone looked into this and found that on the contrary, while shocking pictures are there, people's awareness is raised and they are more likely to donate to causes and charities. When the pictures go, people (unsurprisingly) forget about that issue.
I should also say that I love the way Susan Sontag writes: she is so clear and elegant, and these books are no exception. Anyway, what I really want is to own these books so I can come back to them, but a really crappy Penguin Modern Classics edition of On photography is ten pounds! for a really flimsy paperback printed on horrible cheap paper. So if anyone sees either in a charity shop/second hand bookshop/being sold off by a library, please can they snap them up and I will reimburse them. 
the long, smouldering
afternoon. It is
when the ball scoots
off the edge
of the bat; upwards,
yet he reaches
and picks it
of its loop
from a branch
the first of the season.
-- Simon Armitage
11 April, 2008
I've also been reading my way slowly through the archives of the So Many Books blog.
An interesting article from the New York Times about Antoine Saint-Exupery and his disappearance in a plane crash during the Second World War.
Some debate about women's representation or under-representation in poetry, following the Guardian's recent poetry booklets series.
Amazing photos of an abandoned library in Russia, via Things magazine, as well as a flickr set of pictures of an abandoned book depository in Detroit.
10 April, 2008
Cherchant quelque rocher pour assurer mes pas.
D'habitude nous avons en nous ce compas
Qui mesure vite une pente à notre taille.
On sait s'il faut continuer une voltige
Et même si le goufre est un peu en retrait.
Mais ici plusieurs fois de suite le vertige
Du vide me laissait imaginer après
La même chute encore.
-- Edith Boissonnas
Anthology of modern French poetry, ed. C.A. Hackett
Spells, ed. F. McEachran
French poetry today, ed. Simon Watson-Taylor and Edward Lucie-Smith
The book called Spells is a lovely collection of all sorts of bits of verse, from Homer to Auden. The introduction explains: "Essentially a 'spell' is an incantation, and all I can say is that the actuall practice of saying verse aloud, stressing the incantatory side, is the origin of the term here... I have defined a spell as 'concentrated poetry, of sound or sense'."
Gore Vidal - United States (essays)
AJP Taylor - From the Boer war to the Cold war (essays)
György Lukács - The meaning of contemporary realism
György Lukács - Essays on Thomas Mann
Decca: the letters of Jessica Mitford
09 April, 2008
It's also really scary, more scary than any book I've read for a long time. Two passages actually made me shudder with fright. I'm not sure quite why I had such a strong reaction. I suppose because the world depicted is both horribly alien and completely familiar: everywhere they go the father and son find traces of our own world - an unopened can of Coke, supermarkets and garages, and a complete train sitting in a siding - but the world around them is completely dead, no sun, no animals, no plants, no food except in the few tins they can scavenge. The two very horrible and frightening bits seem particularly upsetting in that context. 
08 April, 2008
Listening: Kris Kristofferson at the Albert Hall last week, fado music in Lisbon - both terrific.
Watching: I've been away for the weekend in Lisbon, so nothing much. Sleeping Beauty at the ROH tonight, though.
02 April, 2008
Books one and two are The female eunuch by Germaine Greer and The dialectic of sex by Shulamith Firestone. Anyone interested in reading along is very welcome to, and eventually we'll have a drink and discuss the books. Men are very welcome to join in!
01 April, 2008
Sharing tastes is tremendous fun: one of the nicest things about spending time with my sister is that she's just about the only person I know who shares all my musical tastes. But for someone to live with, make a life with? After a while it all feels a bit like navel-gazing. It's nice to get away from each other now and then, and the things that only I like stay special in part because only I like them.
The fatuousness of this man:
James Collins, whose new novel, “Beginner’s Greek,” is about a man who falls for a woman he sees reading “The Magic Mountain” on a plane, recalled that after college, he was “infatuated” with a woman who had a copy of “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” on her bedside table. “I basically knew nothing about Kundera, but I remember thinking, ‘Uh-oh; trendy, bogus metaphysics, sex involving a bowler hat,’ and I never did think about the person the same way (and nothing ever happened),” he wrote in an e-mail message. “I know there were occasions when I just wrote people off completely because of what they were reading long before it ever got near the point of falling in or out of love: Baudrillard (way too pretentious), John Irving (way too middlebrow), Virginia Woolf (way too Virginia Woolf).”
is superb. What exactly would be acceptable reading for him, one wonders? Apart from The Magic Mountain, surely a strange choice for a sexually alluring book.
31 March, 2008
Listening: Bobby Darin & Johnny Mercer's Two of a kind, Debussy's Études played by Mitsuko Uchida
Watching: series two of Deadwood. Particularly enjoying the way the relationship between EB Farnum and his servant Richardson is becoming more and more bizarre, like something from a Beckett play.
19 March, 2008
Naomi Segal: The adulteress's child 
Cormac McCarthy: No country for old men 
Ann Petry: The street 
Edith Piaf: My life 
Susan Sontag: On photography 
Anglo-Saxon verse 
Ibsen: Hedda Gabler/A doll's house 
Yevgeny Yevtushenko: Selected Poems 
Michelle Tea (ed.): It's so you 
12 March, 2008
'We are sad, it is true, but that is because we have always been persecuted. The gentry use the pen, we the gun; they are the lords of the land, we of the mountain.'
As a modern-day fictional bandit said, 'I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase; it's all in the game though, right?'
04 March, 2008
I finished, and really enjoyed - not sure if 'enjoy' is the right word, but whatever - The hothouse by Wolfgang Koeppen, a loan from my friend N. I read Koeppen's book Death in Rome last year and thought it was superb and vicious. The hothouse is about the Bonn parliament in the fifties - which I am just in the middle of studying - and is sour and angry and despairing. The Bonn parliamentarians are the Christians and Social Democrats who have kept their hands clean during the Nazi period but are now middle-aged cynics, working for a public of self-satisfied, apolitical bourgeois. Short, but very powerful, sad and bitter.
It's translated by Michael Hofmann, who is such a good translator of German. His translations never jar, the way they can sometimes, and you can hear the German behind the English without it ever becoming intrusive. 
27 February, 2008
- Simone de Beauvoir's The second sex (I've only ever read bits of this as it's pretty wordy and heavy-going)
- Mary Wollstonecraft's A vindication of the rights of woman (I read this as a teenager, but don't remember much about it)
- Betty Friedan's The feminine mystique - again, I read this when I was a student, but fancy rereading it
- Susan Faludi's new book The terror dream, about gender roles in America since 9/11
- Sheila Rowbotham's Woman's consciousness, man's world
- Élisabeth Badinter's XY, de l'identité masculine
- Virginia Woolf's Three Guineas
- Deborah Siegel's Sisterhood interrupted
Suggestions are welcome!
Edit: just want to add a couple of links to articles about inspiring feminist books: feminists name important books in the Guardian, and Guardian readers respond; the f-word has a similar article here.
11 February, 2008
08 February, 2008
05 February, 2008
04 February, 2008
01 February, 2008
On my other blog I quoted this passage:
Chanel created the 'poor look', the sweaters, jersey dresses and little suits that subverted the whole idea of fashion as display; although her trenchcoats and 'little nothing' black dresses might be made of the finest cashmere and her 'costume jewellery' - careless lumps of what looked like glass - were uncut emeralds and diamonds.
I also enjoyed Janet Radcliffe Richards' The sceptical feminist, which I've been reading for a while and finally finished: it's a lovely logical examination of some of the tenets of feminism and whether or not they're valid. She does quote some truly bonkers ideas, so I have to keep reminding myself that she's writing at the end of the 70s/beginning of the 80s when there were more truly bonkers ideas around. But her careful tracing and refutations of the arguments why women should be excluded from certain jobs or activities - or, on the other hand, her questioning of whether feminists should reject 'feminine' adornment - is a real delight. 
22 January, 2008
I find reading blocks very difficult to deal with. I have successfully managed half of Barbara Trapido's Brother of the more famous Jack since yesterday, so I may be emerging from this one, but I have spent most of January feeling antsy and not-right. Partly this has been because I have been in an essay swamp (this evening I hand in To what extent did the fascination with the ‘new woman’ reflect social realities in Weimar Germany? Woo!) and haven't been able to settle to anything without guiltily worrying that I should be reading essay stuff. Then the chicklit novel I started to celebrate my emergence from the essay swamp turned out to be terrible, overly arch and full of anachronisms, so I've laid it aside. (I'm working on my new 'Life's too short to read crap' rule. It is too short. I don't need to finish a book before I judge it unworthy of me.)
Also, due to the aforementioned essay swamp, I haven't had time to tidy or clean the house, or to do any of my other projects (knitting, sewing, cleaning out my wardrobe) so I haven't got to the point where after a busy day I reward myself by sitting down with a book. And bus journeys have been spent staring into space and making mental lists of all the things I need to do rather than reading. Do any of my readers ever get reading blocks, and how do you get out of them?
16 January, 2008
03 January, 2008
02 January, 2008
I need to update this blog more regularly, although as I'm planning on starting another blog about clothes, this may require some dedication. Giving up the threads (again) should help with this aim.
I'll try and carry on reading more French and German stuff until June, when I'll graduate, at which point I want to rediscover all the science I've forgotten, and read lots of Russian stuff. Read more poetry, and maybe have a go at Proust, I think.
Happy New Year to all my readers.
Other Christmas reading included my wonderful Christmas present of Nigel Slater's Kitchen diaries (a really beautiful book as well as a great read), and the Tales of Hoffmann, which entirely by accident turned out to be the most fantastic Christmas reading: spooky and gripping. I also finished a history book about twentieth century Germany - my German courses this year are on the Weimar republic, and Germany 1945-reunification; a children's book about 1940s Vienna and Nazi persecution called Emil and Karl; and Stefan Zweig's Confusion, a brilliant, sad short novel about closet homosexuality.     
So, 91 books this year, which is better than last year, and my best ever, I think. The discipline of trying to read a certain number of books is good for me, discouraging me from re-reading things I have read a million times before, and making me think about what I really want to read rather than just picking things up from the library at random. I haven't really been successful at most of my 2007 resolutions, although I've read more in French, and more modern German stuff.
Ten best books of the year, in no particular order:
Life and fate, Vladimir Grossman
Germinal and Nana, Émile Zola (really two books)
Civilisation and its discontents, Sigmund Freud
How I live now, Meg Rosoff
Buddenbrooks, Thomas Mann
Death in Rome, Wolfgang Koeppen
The bloody chamber, Angela Carter
A literature of their own, Elaine Showalter
Flight without end, Joseph Roth
Le chat du rabbin, Joann Sfar
There ought to be some poetry in there, as I've read a fair bit of poetry this year, but it always seems to be individual poems I really love, rather than collections or anthologies. Honourable mentions to John Cornwell, Billy Collins, Paul Celan and Keith Douglas.