29 April, 2008

A question

Why do comment spammers always use the phrase 'this post is likeable'? What could be more damning-with-faint-praise than that?


Reading: just coming to the end of Bowen's The death of the heart, and half way through La peau de chagrin; now that I'm more used to the style, I'm settling into it, although it's a very odd little book.

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


Reading: I've mostly been stressing about my essays and not reading but I managed to really get going with La peau de chagrin today.

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

Sweet Valley

A lovely funny blog in which someone is reading all the Sweet Valley High books and commenting sardonically on them. I love the fact that there is a blog about everything.

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

Synopsis of the great Welsh novel

Dai K lives at the end of a valley. One is not quite sure
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


Tom Lehrer videos on Youtube. Tom Lehrer celebrated his eightieth birthday last week on April 9th. Happy Birthday!

Magnolia shoals

Up here among the gull cries
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


Reading: Elizabeth Bowen's Death of the heart, La chartreuse de parme (still)

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

Photography and war

Two related books. I finished Sontag's On photography a couple of weeks ago and followed it up with Regarding the pain of others: interesting to read two connected books by the same author, written twenty-odd years apart, on similar topics. I thought they were both fascinating

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. [20]

The catch

the long, smouldering
afternoon. It is

this moment
when the ball scoots
off the edge

of the bat; upwards,
backwards, falling

beyond him
yet he reaches
and picks it

of its loop

an apple
from a branch
the first of the season.

-- Simon Armitage

11 April, 2008

Did I miss anything?

I love this poem on the excellent 37 days blog.

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

Le vide

Je descendais, je m'accrochais à des broussailles
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

Recent acquisitions - poetry

Components of the scene - poetry and prose from the Second World War, ed. Ronald Blythe
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'."

Recent acquisitions

Walter Benjamin - Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit
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

The end is nigh

Sped through Cormac McCarthy's The road in the plane back from Lisbon and absolutely loved it. It's a post-apocalyptic novel about a father and son travelling through a devastated landscape in which unburied corpses litter the roads and bands of cannibals roam in search of humans to kill and eat. The language is beautiful: the desolation and the dead landscape are wonderfully evoked, and at times it reminded me of Samuel Beckett, particularly the conversation they have with a blind old man, who speaks like a strange prophet.

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. [19]

08 April, 2008


Reading:Cormac McCarthy's The road, Balzac's La peau de chagrin, various stuff on the GDR for an essay, La chartreuse de Parme.

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

National poetry month

So, I forgot about this last year, and I forgot about this the year before, and I nearly forgot this year, but April is National Poetry Month and this year I'm going to make sure I read some poetry. It's actually an excellent time - just as I'm approaching exams - as it's so much easier to read poetry in little bits, picking it up and putting it down again without getting engrossed in it as I do novels (some novels...). I've signed up for the poem-a-day from poets.org and I'm going to post some poetry on here as well.

Feminist book club - part 1

So, it's my unilateral decision this time - democracy can come later - and I'm suggesting two books, to read over two months, as that gives us all a bit more flexibility, especially those of us with finals in May...

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!
Just a quick post about this excellent article in New Left Review by the Italian communist Rossana Rossanda (what a great name). Beautifully written and the description of her life as a partisan in the second world war is gripping. It's an excerpt from her autobiography, which I'd love to read, but it doesn't seem to have been translated into English, except this extract. Maybe it will be translated into French at some point.

01 April, 2008

Love and literary taste

A friend brought this New York Times essay to my attention, about whether romantic compatibility goes with shared literary taste. I tend to agree with Ariel Levy that shared tastes are irrelevant: it doesn't matter to me whether my boyfriend reads or likes the same books as me; in fact, it wouldn't matter to me if he didn't read at all. I'd rather share a sense of humour than a taste in music.

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.