Home

Big Books Update – plus some incoming….

31 Comments

Surprisingly enough, I’m finding it quite enjoyable to read several big chunkies simultaneously – although perhaps I’m cheating slightly as two of them are short story collections, and I’m also reading a slim poetry volume too. Yes, that’s right – *two* short story collections, as there has been a new arrival and here is the state of the currently reading:

big books plus

The new arrival is the Aldiss collection – his short stories from the 1950s. I stumbled across this recently and managed to snag it for a *very* reasonable price online. Staggeringly, his 1960s stories will run to four volumes – what a prolific man!

This is progress so far (ignore the bottom book, the second volume of Ballard, as I obviously haven’t yet started that):

big book progress

As can be seen, I am gradually making my way into them, and I’m finding this method of reading working well. I’m reading at least a chapter of each of the big books, a short story from each of the collections and a couple of poems a day, and this has had several beneficial effects: it’s slowing down my reading, so I’m having time for each chapter to sink in; I’m not feeling I must rush to get through a book so I can pick up another one; I’m able to read a variety of things all at once!

The Dickens is proving to be excellent, and each chapter so far is introducing a new set of characters which I’m having time to get to know. I’d forgotten just how good a writer Dickens was… I’m enjoying DQ very much, though I have to admit that at the moment it reminds me very much of Pokemon: DQ and SP travel along, encounter someone or something, have a fight, get beaten to a pulp, recover, travel along, encounter…..!

As for the short stories: Ballard, of course, is masterly and each story so far is a pure gem. I’ve only read a few of the Aldiss ones so far, but I love them – so clever and so pithy and so imaginative. The poetry is coming along nicely and I’m about to start the third poet in this collection, Peter Porter.

So – thus far things are going ok with the big books – watch this space!

As for incomings, obviously the Aldiss arrived in the week, plus another couple of Modern Poets have made their way in. I hadn’t intended to do much book browsing this weekend, but things never go as planned…


finds 2

I hadn’t been into the RSPCA shop for a while, so I popped in on the off-chance to be met with a BL Crime Classic for 95p! It appears to be brand new and unread, so quite why it’s there I don’t know – but I’m not complaining! I’m trying very hard not to start a collection of these, because lovely as they are I suspect most of them are one-read books for me. But I haven’t seen this one around yet, so I figured it was worth less than a pound to try it out!

finds 22 8

The other three titles were from the Oxfam – Howard’s End is on the Landing because I’ve heard good things about it; The Man who knew Everything because it’s a Capuchin Classic; and the Vintage short story collection because it has a lovely selection of authors. All four for less than the cost of a new book, which can’t be bad…. 🙂

Advertisements

#WomenInTranslation Month – Adrift in Europe and the Wider World

17 Comments

Child of All Nations by Irmgard Keun

I first stumbled across the writing of Irmgard Keun in 2013, when I picked up her book “After Midnight” in (old) Foyles as it sounded excellent. It was, and I reviewed it here, and was keen to read more of her work. “Child of All Nations” came my way via ReadItSwapIt shortly after, but it’s taken the impetus of WIT month to get me to pick it up…

child

The book is translated by Michael Hofmann, who’s also responsible for many translations of Joseph Roth and he provides a useful afterword too. The story is told from the point of view of Kully, a nine-year old girl who’s leading anything but a conventional life. Her father is a writer, and he and her mother and Kully herself are on the move in 1930s Europe (the book was published in 1938). They cannot return to Germany because Kully’s father is obviously persona non grata because of his writing and his views.

When I was in Germany, before, I did go to school, and that’s where I learned to read and write. Then my father didn’t want to be in Germany any more, because the government had locked up friends of his, and because he couldn’t write or say the things he wanted to write and say. I wonder what the point is of children in Germany still having to read and write?

However, the family is a very dysfunctional one: Kully’s father is permanently penniless, and he drags the girl and her mother from place to place trying to borrow from friends and acquaintances, get advances on books or payments for articles. Often the two females are left behind in a hotel as a kind of surety while he goes off to get cash – how he ever manages to write is a mystery! And sometimes the absences are longer ones, and you find yourself reading between the lines and suspecting there are other women involved.

The family is constantly shifting location, taking in Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris, Marseilles and Italy amongst other places, and all the time there is the threat of starvation and their political enemies. Finally, Kully’s father decides to try his hand across the Atlantic and here things take a stomach-churning turn. The end is suitably ambiguous and it is unclear whether this fractured family will ever be whole.

In the morning when we woke up, the whole world was different. The sky was three times as big and three times as high as anywhere else, and it was such a brilliant blue that it hurt your eyes. We passed bare-looking mountains with strange black and silver trees growing on them.

Using a child as a narrator is always going to carry risks, but I felt that Keun got the tone just right. Kully is an engaging companion in this story, innocent and yet knowing, and Keun cleverly has her reveal more than she knows without realising it. As adult readers we recognise the meanings of events that Kully does not, and Keun handles this element brilliantly. The girl is remarkably self-reliant, yet vulnerable at the same time, over-reaching herself and getting into scrapes. And because she’s a child, people talk freely in front of her thinking that she doesn’t understand or isn’t listening, when of course she’s a remarkably sharp observer.

Irmgard_Keun

“Child of All Nations” was an excellent portrait of the dispossessed of Europe during the 1930s. All through the book the shadow of what was to come is lurking in the background and of course we know what Keun could not, i.e. what would hit Europe in 1939. If I had a criticism to make it would be that the American section somehow seems a little unnecessary and doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the book. Despite this, however, I got very attached to Kully and her story and I definitely want to read more of Keun’s work.

#WomenInTranslation Month – In Search of Colette

19 Comments

It’s obviously no secret that I have a great love of Colette’s writing, and my recent reads and re-reads set me off checking what I have of hers and what I don’t. The pedant in me likes to make a nice list in publication order and check it off as I buy/read the relevant books – yes, I’m a book-collecting obsessive!

colette

However, with Colette, things are not quite so clear-cut. Any list has to be a list of titles translated, rather than her complete oeuvre, and even the one of those I found had her ‘notable works’ – I want the minor works too, as anything she writes is going to be good in my view, and I need to possess  it!

Glancing through the list, I found that I have most of her available works already (which is what I thought), neatly shelved in as chronological order as possible. However, I found two notable omissions – “Mitsou” from 1919 , and “Dialogues de BĂȘtes”/”La Paix Chez les BĂȘtes” (the latter being her works about her dogs and cats). Irked, I went off searching online to see if any of these were available…

This was my first find:

barks

It came preposterously cheap from the Big River, and has some lovely illustrations and appears to be a translation of “Dialogues”. All well and good, and I was happy with this. However, I thought I would see if there was an English version of “Paix” and in doing so, I came across this:

creatures

“Creatures Great and Small” is part of the Secker and Warburg Uniform Edition of Colette (I will *not* try to collect this, I will *not* try to collect this!), and not only does it have “Dialogues” and “Paix”, it also contains “Sept Dialogues des Betes” and “Douze Dialogues des Betes” – so I guess that’s all Colette’s animal stuff in one volume – result!!

And yes, there is a second book in the picture – that’s “Mitsou”, also in the Uniform Edition. So I have new-to-me Colette to read, and I just *wish* there was a nice complete list somewhere, or a complete lovely matching set of translations. Meantime, I’ll just have to keep digging….. 🙂

 

Re-reading Colette for #WomenInTranslation month

26 Comments

The Blue Lantern by Colette

As you might be aware, August has been designated “Women in Translation” month (you can read more here) and it’s an initiative I’m happy to support. Looking through my shelves, I think I’ve always read a lot of WIT, mostly in the form of French and Russian authors – I have piles of Simone de Beauvoir, Kollontai, Akhmatova, Leduc and of course Colette. You would think, perhaps, that Colette wouldn’t need much promotion nowadays, but I’m not so sure. In my early feminist days, she was highly regarded and many of her books published in a lovely matching set by Penguin. But I just feel that in this country particularly she doesn’t get as much press as she should; her writing and her life are inspirational and so I felt moved to carry on my WIT reading with a re-read – “The Blue Lantern”.

blue lantern

Back in the day, it was very hard to get hold of non-mainstream books (pre-Internet, of course), and some of Colette’s less well-known works proved impossible to track down. “The Blue Lantern” was one of these and it was only in recent years that I managed to find a copy (it must have been pre-blog though). It was Colette’s last book, a volume of jottings, recollections and thoughts on life, and it was pure joy.

Written between 1946 and 1948, “The Blue Lantern” finds a Colette who’s approaching 75 and dealing with physical restrictions. Crippled by the arthritis that plagued the last years of her life, she’s restricted to a divan in her Palais Royal apartment, where the lamp with the blue shade is always burning and where she continues, against all the odds, to write. There are occasional trips away, to the south of France or to taste the new Beaujolais; visits from friends and neighbours, particularly Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais (the latter of whom springs vividly onto the page); thoughts and observations on her life, the local children, animals and plants – in short, everything you might expect from Colette’s ever-observant gaze.

colette

All of this sounds very simple, but the prose is shot through with Colette’s vivid writing, her sharp eye for detail and her zest for living. Even at the end of her life, in great pain, she was irrepressible and unique. Colette laments the loss of her great friend Marguerite Moreno; describes visiting Switzerland to have treatment for the arthritis; takes us through some of the strange and often impertinent letters she receives; and at all times she is accompanied by her third husband, the wonderful and faithful Maurice Goudeket, her “dearest friend”.

I’ve yet to find something Colette wrote that I don’t love (which is quite a wild declaration, I know), and I find myself wishing that some enterprising publisher would bring out a beautiful uniform edition of all her works. Penguin did a lovely job with the paperbacks I have from the 1980s, but they didn’t bring out everything, plus not everything has been translated – and Colette is a writer than needs to be read by all lovers of France, beautiful prose and pioneering women!

(We’re very lucky that a young film-maker was clever enough to record Colette during these last years of her life, and the film can be seen here – Cocteau visits, her dearest friend is beside her and Colette reminisces about her past. It makes a perfect accompaniment to this book and is a pure delight….)

Books Big and Small

34 Comments

At the moment, there are a number of books of varying sizes jostling for my attention. I’ve just read quite a lot of smaller volumes (getting very behind with reviewing in the process); and with a slight hint of a chill in the air, I’m feeling rather like getting lost in a big book.

On the shelves there are a few choice volumes crying out to be read:

proust

Proust has been knocking about for a while – I finished the first volume of “Remembrance” but I’ve yet to embark on the second. Also I need to catch up with my Slightly Foxed and Manchester Modernist mags.

skinny ppoetry

Then there are the skinny poetry books – volume 1 of the Penguin Modern Poets is finished! Though the review will no doubt take a while to get to as I’m a bit behind with these… Volume 2 is proving excellent so far and I’m finding myself unexpectedly positive about Kingsley Amis’s verse.

big books

And here are the chunkies! I’m a reasonable way in to Don Quixote, and I read the first chapter of Our Mutual Friend last night and loved it. Plus I’m restarting the Ballard short stories from the beginning again – the first is just marvellous, what a writer that man was…

Whether I’ll manage to read all or some of these simultaneously remains to be seen – watch this space!

 

In which I (gasp!) read a graphic novel…

26 Comments

Yup – I really did! It was “Red Rosa” by Kate Evans, and this is the first time I’ve read a graphic novel since, ooh, probably around 1991 when I blubbed through “Maus”. If I’m honest, it’s not a genre I often dip into, much as I love good comic book art, but reading about this one on the Verso site (such temptation on there) made me keen to explore, and fortunately a proof was available via NetGalley. The book is out in November, and I really, really recommend it.

red rosa

The titular Rosa is of course Rosa Luxemburg, left-wing thinker and revolutionary, and the book tells not only her life story, but also fills the reader in on her theories and thinking in a way that makes it approachable and understandable. Born into a Jewish family in Russian-controlled Poland, she had disadvantages from the start; her sex, her religion and a hip ailment causing a limp were all against her. But Rosa had a ferocious intelligence and fought for education and to go to one of the universities which would accept women. After obtaining her degree, she made her life in Germany, devoted it to the cause, as well as having a very healthy love life!

It’s clear from the graphic novel that Luxemburg was a formidable intellect, with many regarding her as on the same level as Marx (and indeed she did take many of his ideas and develop them further). She was involved in agitation all her life, imprisoned at times, and pivotal in the German revolution of 1918-19. However, as the book makes clear, the revolution failed when the Social Democrats (who should have been sympathetic to their cause) had the uprising crushed; and Rosa and fellow revolutionary Karl Liebknecht were brutally murdered.

Author Kate Evans' view of herself.

Author Kate Evans’ view of herself.

“Red Rosa” is inspirational on a number of levels: there are Rosa’s feminist struggles in a world that is really not comfortable with intelligent women; her belief in her right to love who she wants when she wants; her anger at the poverty and inequality she encounters; and her constant fight to overcome the prejudice she meets as a Jew. Kate Evans’ artwork is excellent, capturing brilliantly Rosa’s look, and some of the larger spreads, covering double pages, are dramatic and impressive. The pages dealing with the effects of WW1 are stunning and the book is a perfect example of what a graphic novel can and should be. The book also succeeds wonderfully in explaining complex theories and issues, and is an excellent primer on Luxemburg’s thought. It does deal graphically (though always tastefully!) with her many loves, and gives a rounded portrait of a woman who was much more than just an anarchist bomb-thrower.

I was absolutely entranced by “Red Rosa”; both the artwork and the concepts made the book one I just couldn’t put down. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to read the life of an inspirational woman!

(Many thanks to publisher Verso and NetGalley for the proof copy – the book comes out in November, and I’d highly recommend getting a physical copy so you can appreciate the artwork properly. Kate Evans has a website here which is worth checking out).

A pair of Verso Volumes

12 Comments

Bento’s Sketchbook by John Berger
America by Jean Baudrillard

It’s becoming quite obvious that I’m spending much too much time hanging about the Verso Books site lately… Trouble is, they keep having wonderful flash sales and offers, and I confess to being something of a sucker for these. I went a little mad when their e-books were all on sale with 90% off (!) but these two titles are hard copies I picked up recently, and both rather thought-provoking volumes.

bento

John Berger is, of course, an author I’ve been reading recently, and I loved his novel “A Painter of our Time”. “Bento’s Sketchbook”, however, is something completely different; it’s a lovely, large format paperback filled with Berger’s sketches and musings, as well as extracts from the philosopher Spinoza – the Bento of the title. Spinoza was rumoured to have always carried a sketchbook during his short life, which was lost after his death. Berger had often wondered what the sketchbook would hold and when a friend presented him with a brand new sketchbook of his own, he decided this would be Bento’s Sketchbook, and went on to fill it accordingly.

It’s a fascinating work, full of random thoughts and musings; autobiographical tales; quotes from Spinoza; and some wonderful sketches by Berger. He recalls visits to Dresden after the bombing; a recent visit to sketch in the National Gallery when a jobsworth guard behaves like a moron (I’m still cross about that bit); an encounter with an exiled Cambodian artist; and each of these pieces is shot through with Berger’s humanity and intelligence. Much of the writing is concerned with the process of drawing, and as a total amateur who’s always wanted to draw but never been able to, I found these pieces fascinating. Berger observes the world around him with a clear eye, seeing and recognising the inequalities, and I ended up feeling that nothing he writes could ever be dull. The scope is wide-ranging too – in a long life, full of experience, Berger has encountered many people and events, all of which inform his philosophy.

What’s distinct about today’s global tyranny is that it’s faceless. There’s no FĂŒhrer, no Stalin, no Cortes. Its workings vary according to each continent and its modes are modified by local history, but its overall pattern is the same…

I came to the end of Berger’s book intrigued, interested, thoughtful and oddly reassured – while there are minds like his in the world there is still hope.

amereica

“America” however is quite another kettle of fish. Baudrillard is a highly regarded French postmodern thinker, and the book is a collection of his meditations on the USA. Framed by thoughts on the desert landscapes (which haunt the book), Baudrillard muses on the differences between American and French culture, the attitudes of both countries and how geography shapes personality. It’s a complex work which I confess often lost me (I’m not that knowledgeable when it comes to philosophical terminology) and yet there are parts that jumped out at me; places where he nailed the essence of things and also some wry humour at the expense of both countries.

The book was written in the 1980s and much of his analysis still seems relevant. However, once place where I think he was off-centre was in his thoughts on race; he almost seemed to be implying that though there were racial tensions in Europe, in the USA these did not really exist any more and all peoples were getting alone fine in the country’s melting pot. Recent world events show that that’s not the case on either side of the Atlantic and in some ways Baudrillard’s analysis seems a little simplistic.

Nevertheless, this was an intriguing book, if difficult in places, and I might be tempted to try another of his books one day… 🙂

Older Entries Newer Entries

%d bloggers like this: