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An unexpected sympathy for women @almaclassics #101pages

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Boule de Suif by Guy de Maupassant
Translated by Anthony Brown

I posted a little while ago about a new range of bite-sized classics from lovely Alma Books under the 101 Pages imprint; the publisher had kindly provided a review copy of Guy de Maupassant’s “Boule de Suif” and I had honestly expected to get to it sooner. You know how it is, though – so many books and they keep jostling for attention… However, these little books are designed to be eaten up in one gulp and I did indeed swallow this one down in a single setting one quiet Sunday morning – and an unexpected and interesting read it was…

OK, OK – I’m sorry about all the eating references in that first paragraph, but it’s kind of relevant to the title story of this collection! “Boule de Suif” is one of Maupassant’s best known works, and I’ve seen it translated as “Butterball” before. However, in his fascinating introduction, translator Anthony Brown goes into detail about the linguistic issues behind rendering the French title in English, and in the end opts to retain the original. But as he makes clear, the story itself is ridden with the imagery of food, and even in the description of the heroine, a prostitute of generous physical form.

Anyway. The book itself contains six stories, mostly set in and around Rouen, and the events in “Boule…” take place during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. Rouen is lost to the Germans and occupied; the citizens adapt to the situation; and eventually a group of ten are given permission to flee to Le Havre by coach. Unfortunately, bad weather causes issues and the travellers are stranded in Totes, Prussian-held territory. Despite their passes, an officer refuses to let them leave; and eventually the travellers realise that unless Elisabeth Rousset (the titular butterball) agrees to sleep with him, they will be stranded indefinitely. The attitude of the travellers to the woman of the night amongst them has been complex throughout; initially they shunned her, until they realised she had enough food for them to eat while they were delayed during the journey. An uneasy tolerance is established, but when it becomes clear that Elisabeth has principles and patriotism, refusing to sully herself with the enemy, they turn against her and bully, cajole and persuade her to give in to the officer so they can leave. Once she has finally capitulated, they shun her.

The author – with a fairly alarming ‘tache!
(Nadar [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

So not a pleasant bunch, and Maupassant is scathing in his descriptions of all of the characters in the story, dissecting them mercilessly; the rich, of course, are beyond the pale, but a pair of nuns who should show kindness certainly do not. And the democrat Cornudet is just as unpleasant, only interested in Elisabeth for her body. The one character who comes out of the story with any kind of dignity is Elisabeth herself; she is the one who is kind and shares her food, she is the one who is patriotic and refuses to collaborate with the enemy; and she is the one with the courage to want to stand up to the Prussians.

And this tendency to empathise with the women characters is a thread that runs through this excellent collection of stories. In “The Confession”, the poverty of a country girl’s life contributes to the ease with which she’s seduced by an unscrupulous carter; “First Snow” is a moving story of a woman married to a cold husband in a cold climate; “Rose” is a humorous tale of a very unusual lady’s maid; “The Dowry” is a cautionary tale for the rich bride; and “Bed 29” returns to the 1870 war, dealing with men and women’s different methods of fighting the enemy, and the differing attitudes to both sexes.

“Boule de Suif” is a real gem of a book. These stories are moving, humorous, tough and tragic, and I really wasn’t expecting Maupassant’s sympathies to be so much with his women characters. The only Maupassant story I can be sure I’ve read is “Like Death” (although I do have “Bel-Ami” on the shelves somewhere) and these short works are quite different to that. The 101 Pages books are obviously a great initiative and if the rest are anything like as good as this collection I may have to be adding yet more books to the shelves…. =:o

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Failed plots and a tragic end – The Race to Save the Romanovs @shinynewbooks

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I really am maintaining the reputation of being Shiny New Books’ unofficial Russian correspondent! So it was a given that I would be the obvious choice to review a fat new volume from Helen Rappaport which takes a look at the fate of the last Russian royal family – in particular, the various plots that were hatched to rescue the hapless Romanovs and save them from the hands of the Bolsheviks.

It’s an intriguing book, although I did have some reservations. If I’m honest, I’ve struggled with previous attempts to read Rappaport’s books as I sensed a bias – which is something I don’t like to see in a historian; I prefer an objective look at things. Also, this is one of a series of books she’s written on the subject and I did feel that it didn’t warrant a whole big volume; her research (which actually seemed to be undertaken by numerous people all over the world on her behalf) would have been better presented in a scholarly journal rather than a work of popular history. And the way that the new discoveries are signposted  in the text by an italicised paragraph *did* jar a lot.

Nevertheless, this is a pretty and well presented volume, with some fascinating photos. I think you need to know a reasonable amount about the historical period to really get the most out of the book, and you can read my full review here on Shiny!

“I can remember a menu long after I’ve forgotten the hostess that accompanied it.” #saki #michaelwalmer

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The Chronicles of Clovis by Saki

I’ve written about the wonderfully witty Saki on the Ramblings before, back in my early days of blogging. His real name was Hector Hugh Munro, and he moved from foreign reporting to writing his witty tales as the first decade of the twentieth century came to an end. Saki’s first stories were about the escapades of one Reginald, a man about town with a witty tongue, and two volumes of his adventures made their appearance. In this, Saki’s third book, Clovis makes his entrance and has just as cynical an outlook on the world as his predecessor; in fact, it’s tempting of course to see them both as projections of their author!

It’s difficult, actually, to know quite how to write about Saki! These short stories mix the bizarre with the everyday in a way which is most beguiling. The humour can be refreshingly caustic which is ideal when you’re feeling a little disgruntled with the world and like to imagine taking your revenge on everyone! So, for example, we see Clovis assisting a gentleman having a mid-life crisis to have an un-rest cure with disastrous results; after he has wreaked havoc he simply rides off into the sunset, departing to prepare for dinner while leaving the house in a state of disarray:

That was the last they saw of Clovis; it was nearly seven o’clock, and his elderly relative liked him to dress for dinner. But, though he had left them forever, the lurking suggestion of his presence haunted the lower regions of the house during the long hours of the wakeful night, and every creak of the stairway, every rustle of wind through the shrubbery, was fraught with horrible meaning. At about seven next morning the gardener’s boy and the early postman finally convinced the watchers that the Twentieth Century was still unblotted.

He really is wicked!

That’s just one example, but each of the 28 stories here (some only a few pages long) is a real gem. How, for example, can you not love someone who titles a story “Filboid Sludge, the Story of a Mouse that Helped” (which is actually a story about a romance gone wrong!) “The Talking-Out of Tarrington” is also a hoot, where Clovis rescues an aunt from an unwanted encounter by spouting so much complete nonsense in the direction of the gentleman in question that he retreats, defeated. And “The Secret Sin of Septimus Brope” (Saki is just marvellous with names) opens with this wonderful exchange:

“Who and what is Mr. Brope?” demanded the aunt of Clovis suddenly.

Mrs. Riversedge, who had been snipping off the heads of defunct roses, and thinking of nothing in particular, sprang hurriedly to mental attention. She was one of those old-fashioned hostesses who consider that one ought to know something about one’s guests, and that the something ought to be to their credit.

“I believe he comes from Leighton Buzzard,” she observed by way of preliminary explanation.

“In these days of rapid and convenient travel,” said Clovis, who was dispersing a colony of green-fly with visitations of cigarette smoke, “to come from Leighton Buzzard does not necessarily denote any great strength of character. It might only mean mere restlessness. Now if he had left it under a cloud, or as a protest against the incurable and heartless frivolity of its inhabitants, that would tell us something about the man and his mission in life.”

I’ve seen Saki described as the person who invented trolling, and certainly Clovis seems a little darker in character than Reginald, who tended to float around being cutting for a lot of the time. Clovis, however, likes to subvert and tends to cause disruption wherever he goes. But the bottom line is that these stories are very, very witty and very, very funny (if you like that kind of humour – which I do!) and Clovis is a worthy successor to Reginald.

This edition of the “Chronicles” has been issues by Michael Walmer, who kindly provided a review copy; and it comes with an introduction by A.A. Milne (who was not averse to turning out a bit of wit himself!) Mike has also issued editions of “Reginald” and “Reginald in Russia”, all of which are great delights to read. I’m obviously a huge Saki fan; and if you like your humour more Wildean that slapstick, then Saki is definitely the author for you!

Loving my local library (redux) – plus the Oxfam lowers its prices! #bookfinds #library

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Things really *do* never go as planned, do they??? Like so many bookish types, I try to control the flow of incoming books as we get closer to the C-word time of year as I know lovely friends and family will be gifting me with them. And I had intended to do a very small post (if at all!) this weekend featuring a modest pair of arrivals which had made their way into the Ramblings this week:

The Owen Hatherley book is one I was very excited to receive from the publishers. I’ll be covering it for Shiny New Books; I’ve read a number of his books and he’s an incisive, funny and fascinating commentator. The Friedrich Ani was a result of a giveaway on the lovely Lizzy Siddal’s blog – I have won two books there recently, which is quite unprecedented, as I *never* win things! It’s a beautiful Seagull Books crime novel and I’m *so* pleased. So that seemed quite modest for a week’s arrivals…

However, I’m still in that Baudelaire-Benjamin wormhole and I amused myself mid-week by having a look at the local library’s online catalogue to see if there was anything interesting lurking. I was having an itch to amass more of their works, one in particular, and I wondered whether anything would be available to borrow which would scratch that itch without buying more books. I had low expectations, and the local Big Town didn’t have anything in stock. However, a wider search revealed that Bury St. Edmunds, of all places, seems to be a hotbed of rebellious thought and critical theory, as they had the specific book I was after as well as a number of Other Interesting Titles. Who knew?? Anyway, I placed reserves on four books and expected to wait a while for the library service to get them over here. However, an email pinged into the inbox today informing me that all four had arrived and were ready for collection, which was speedy and surprising, and meant that I ended up lugging these four round town with me today…

Despite the weight, I’m pleased to be able to explore these four volumes. Obviously, Benjamin on Baudelaire is what was exercising my brain most, but “Baudelaire in Chains” is a biographical work which sounds intriguing… The Modernism book also sounded good, and Adorno is one of the authors mentioned in “The Grand Hotel Abyss” which I’ve started dipping into also, so this seemed a good way to have a look at his writing and see if I want to explore further.

However.

As usual on Saturdays, I fell into the Oxfam bookshop to see if anything new was on the shelves, as the stock has been moving a little faster than usual of late – and this might have happened…

Someone has obviously been donating a lot of Julian Barnes and since my love of his writing has been rekindled recently, I really couldn’t ignore these. Particularly as they were marked at 99p each. It seems that my grumpy comment about their increasing prices may have been a little premature, as across the board they didn’t seem too pricy today. As for the Robb… Well, I actually had a copy of this before, then donated it in a fit of madness and clearing out books, and then thoroughly regretted it, particularly after I enjoyed his “The Debatable Lands“. So again, a no brainer, and only £1.99. Four books of such interest at less then a fiver ain’t bad.

And coming across the Robb reminded me that a couple of weeks I hauled home a few books from the Oxfam and then shoved them on a shelf and forgot all about them. Here they are, with an Interesting Other Title on top which snuck in through the front door one day:

The Alexis de Tocqueville is one of two titles by that author I’ve picked up recently to add to the French Revolution pile. I was pleased to get this particular edition, because the translator is Stuart Gilbert, who rendered the version I own of my favourite Camus novel, “The Plague”, and I like his style. And as I said, the other three were from the Oxfam and Very Reasonably Priced. The Eric Newby is one of the few I don’t have by him – I love his travel books and his wonderful self-deprecating style. The Robb is mentioned above and I’m so pleased to have these two volumes. And “Walking in Berlin” is a book I heard about when it came out and *so* wanted to read, but didn’t get round to doing anything about. It was never going to stay on the Oxfam shelves…

So. I’m not doing too well at stemming the incoming flow of books. But do you blame me?????

“…the possibilities of things yet to be discovered…” #williamftemple #blsfc @BL_Publishing

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The Four-Sided Triangle by William F. Temple

Although there are umpteen sci-fi books knocking around the Ramblings, and despite the fact I *do* like certain types of the genre, I still don’t find myself reading enough of it. However, I’m eternally grateful to the lovely British Library publishing wing who’ve now started to produce Science Fiction Classics in the same stunning style as their Crime Classics editions. I reviewed a couple of collections of short stories, which were the first releases in the series, and these were marvellous. So I was very pleased to receive review copies of the first two full novels, a pair of books by William F. Temple, who was featured in the short story collections.

Temple was an early practitioner of British Sci Fi writing, as well as a member of the British Interplanetary Society, and he published a number of short stories before the outbreak of World War 2; he also famously once shared a flat with Arthur C. Clarke! I decided to start with the oldest of the books, “Four-Sided Triangle”, and this was Temple’s first novel; based on a short story he’d published in 1939, it was eventually reworked and published in novel form ten years later. Mike Ashley’s excellent introduction relates the tortured story of the book’s journey into print (the manuscript was lost twice before being finally rewritten and submitted for publication!) and a later film ensured it was the work he was best known for. “Four-sided…” is the kind of Wellsian science fiction set on Earth that I really enjoy, and the scientific element is important to the story – as is the effect of science on human beings.

All I have concluded from a lifetime of studying man and his sickness of body and mind is that if the liver and intestines are in good condition and the sexual urges satisfied, then God’s in his Heaven and all’s right with the world. But if all or any of these are out of order or frustrated, then during that time there is no God and no Heaven, and the world is a sorry, grey, dismal mess. We are in the invisible cages in nature’s mad zoo, cages too big or too small for us; but the bars are very real

The book is narrated by Doctor Harvey, a bachelor country medic nearing retirement who’s usually just referred to as Doc. He chooses to tantalize the reader with a glimpse of some fantastic invention in the first couple of pages, then goes back to the start of the story to relate the events which led up to that discovering. The Doc is a good man, very much caring for his flock of patients in the local village, and he adopts a young boy called Bill. The latter is a prodigy from a violent home, and his scientific knowledge is immense. Doc bring him up and sends him to university, where he befriends the son of local gentry, Robin Heath. Normally these two men would never have mixed and met, but university is a great leveller and they share an interest in all things scientific. When they return to their village they naturally set up a lab together with money Robin manages to squeeze out of his father, and the two begin to invent.

However, a complication is added into the mix in the form of Lena; a beautiful woman with a complicated background and suicidal tendencies, she’s drawn into the circle of the inventors and Doc, and naturally enough both men fall head over heels. Lena, of course, only loves one of them, and so it seems we’re set for all kinds of emotional turmoil. However, Bill and Robin’s invention may be able to assist a little – or is a little scientific knowledge a dangerous thing? I’m not going to say any more about the plot because once you’ve started to read you can probably guess what’s going to happen. Let’s just say the wonderful invention is very good at replicating objects…

“Four-Sided…” is perhaps an unusual choice as one of the first SF Classics but I think it’s a very brave and interesting one. At nearly 300 pages the book is longer than a lot of sci-fi pot boilers were, which allows for much more character development than is probably usual. Again, with a limited range of characters the author is able to do more with them. The book was actually finally finished just after the Second World War (in which Temple served) and the subject matter is quite daring in places: there is nudity (Lena is an early ‘free spirit’ with a feral upbringing behind her); frank discussion of suicide; and equally frank coverage of domestic violence and all but stated outright sexual abuse. The latter is significant in the character of Bill (to whom this happened) as his reaction to Lena is intense and coloured by his young experiences.

Oh, this incurable English habit of pretending to treat as a joke the strange and the new, whether idea or fact; and the more important the subject the lighter the treatment!

Additionally, the book takes on large topics like authenticity (is an identically reproduced copy of the Mona Lisa as valuable as the original?) and human morality. The Reproducer creates something which should solve the problems of the scientists, but it doesn’t; human emotions are complex and unpredictable, and in this story happiness seems to elude everyone. Doc spends much of his time in despair, but manages to effect some kind of balance in the end. More I shall not say… As for the science, well fortunately for me with my non-scientific, grasshopper brain, it doesn’t dominate and the reader pretty much just has to accept that what happens, happens. Which was fine for me! Doc seemed to find it all a little bemusing too, and I’m with him on that:

I can’t quite remember what Newton had thought, nor Dalton, who followed him. As for Thomson (J.J.), Rutherford, Dirac and Planck, they came in to confuse utterly a conception that was already clouding. Bohr had something to do with the Theory of Indeterminacy, which either explained or didn’t explain why electrons jumped from orbit to orbit without apparent cause and oddly taking no time at all for the journey, and Rutherford shot millions of alpha-particles (which might have been the same things as ‘photons’… no, on second thoughts, perhaps they were not) from a cathode ray tube at atoms in the early attempts to split them. Gentlemen named Siegbahn and Hahn were somehow involved with “Uranium 235”, there was such a thing as “heavy water”, and an Italian named Fermi had discovered something pretty important too.

Quite…

Were there any downsides to the book? Well, if I’m honest I *did* struggle a little bit with the author’s (or Doc’s) view of women; Lena, despite her free spirit, is apparently only seeking the fulfilment of a husband, family and home (or so her artistic efforts are dismissed). Additionally, the terminology used to describe her is often somewhat clichéd and verges on titillation at points; I guess that’s a potential issue with all books from this era, but it *did* grate a little.

Nevertheless, “Four-Sided Triangle” was a really engrossing read. I loved its exploration of the morality behind scientific inventions, the consequences of uncontrolled progress (as Bill’s hasty experiments have tragic effects at one point) and also the investigation of human emotions and indeed the effects of class mores. So although Temple’s book might seem an unexpected choice to open this new series with, I think it’s an excellent and fascinating work and I’m keen to spend some time with his other BLSFC, “Shoot at the Moon” some time soon! 🙂

Giving back the lost voices of Russian women @Dedalusbooks

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Slav Sisters (The Dedalus Book of Russian Women’s Literature)
Edited by Natasha Perova

Surprisingly for someone who reads a reasonable amount (ahem!) of Russian literature, it’s only struck me relatively recently that much of what I read has been written by men. Particularly in the era before the revolution, the big names are male – Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov et al – and the women’s voices seem to be either non-existent, or possibly just not translated. I think the tide is starting to turn a little nowadays; the translations of the Columbia University Press’s Russian Library (Sofia Khvoshchinskaya already issued, and Karolina Pavlova forthcoming) are doing much to redress the balance when it comes to authors from the 19th century. The 20th is perhaps a little better represented, though mainly with poets; so I was pleased to be alerted by a post on translator Boris Dralyuk’s excellent blog to the existence of “Slav Sisters”, which had somehow slipped underneath my radar.

Dedalus Books are a publisher of literary fiction with an impressive backlist, which includes much translated literature. Laudably, Dedalus has declared it will celebrate women’s literature from 2018-2028 by publishing six titles a year for the decade to celebrate the anniversary of women getting the vote in the UK in 1918. Apparently most of these will be translated from other European languages, and “Slav Sisters” is a fine entry into that list of books.

This anthology focuses on Russian women’s writing in the 20th century, and the range of writers featured is impressive – in fact, let’s have a list of the contents and translators and celebrate them all:

1. Kishmish and Solovki by Nadezhda Teffi, translated by Robert & Elizabeth Chandler.
2. My Jobs by Marina Tsvetaeva, translated by Jamey Gambrell.
3. Autobiographical Sketches by Anna Akhmatova,translated by Andrew Bromfield.
4. Delusion of the Will by Lydia Ginzburg, translated by Boris Dralyuk.
5. The Lady with the Dog and The Death of an Official by Galina Scherbakova, translated by Ilona Chavasse.
6. What a Girl by Ludmila Petrushevskaya, translated by Joanne Turnbull
7. The Stone Guest by Olga Slavnikova, translated by Marian Schwartz.
8. The Gift Not Made by Human Hand by Ludmila Ulitskaya, translated by Arch Tait.
9. Philemon and Baucis by Irina Muravyova, translated by John Dewey.
10. Landscape of Loneliness : Three Voices by Svetlana Alexievich, translated by, Joanne Turnbull.
11. The Jewess’s Farewell by Margarita Khemlin, translated by Arch Tait.

That’s a staggering amount of talent, both in terms of the authors *and* the translators, to have featured in one volume! And indeed the contents make gripping, absorbing, moving and memorable reading.

People of my generation are in no danger of being saddened by returning to the scenes of our past – we have nowhere to return to…. (Akhmatova)

The content ranges from the factual (Alexievich’s heartbreaking interviews with Soviet women about their lives and loves; Tsvetaeva’s humorous yet dark memories of her attempts to work and survive in the wake of the Russian Revolution and Civil War) to the fictional (Scherbakova’s cynical and realistic take on Chekhov; Ludmila Ulitskaya’s sardonic tale of idealism meeting with reality). Slavnikova’s story brings us into the world of Russian gangsters before veering off into allegory; Muravyova cleverly opens her tale with an old couple’s mutual hatred and co-dependence, which is eventually revealed to result from a dark and truly horrific past. Teffi, of course, is as dry as ever, yet once again there is sadness and human suffering at the heart of her stories. Ginzburg’s genre-defying piece on the psychological landscape of guilt lingers in the mind. And Tsvetaeva and Akhmatova should need no introduction to readers of the Ramblings…

Teffi by Pierre Choumoff [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Well, I could go on and on about the jewels in this collection, but in fact each story is a gem. Editor Natasha Perova (who has an impressive pedigree, including starting the small press Glas) has chosen what I think is a perfect selection of works to not only show the variety of women’s writing from the last century, but also to tell women’s stories. That latter element was what stood out for me most strongly after reading “Slav Sisters”.These are voices that would have been silenced under Soviet rule, and it’s only with the collapse of the Communist regime that they’ve been able to find an outlet.

The human memory is constructed like a searchlight, so that it illuminates separate moments while leaving all around in impenetrable darkness. Even a person with a magnificent memory may and should forget some things. (Akhmatova)

Interestingly, I was reminded when I set out to write this post about the women authors who *were* published during the 20th century; I refer of course to those writing in the science fiction field. I’ve read a number of these authors in recent years and maybe that was one genre women could tell a story in, although many of these works were in coded form, with the actual meaning hidden under the narrative to avoid the censor’s eye.

Has anyone ever seen the place that love goes when it’s run its course? Maybe it isn’t a place at all, maybe love dissipates into molecules and atoms inside one’s own body, and the most searing of the passions turns into a horny toenail? Or maybe it all scatters like ashes, so there’s no use looking for any trace of those hungering, searching hands, or the ardent lips that kissed yours until pleasure mingled with pain. Scattered, like the white bloom of apple trees. (Scherbakova)

I could go on and on about how good these pieces are; how heartbreaking in many places; and how it’s a crime that all of these women have not been better known before. I was aware of many of the names already, of course – Teffi, Tsvetaeva, Akhmatova from the early years, plus Ulitskaya and Petrushevskaya from more recent times. However, several were new to me which makes the anthology especially valuable; I was particularly taken with Galina Scherbakova and Olga Slavnikova. The works are presented in what I assume is roughly chronological order; I *would* have liked to see a little more information included about original publication date and location for the pieces just to provide context. However, if nothing else the anthology proves that women all over the world have the same needs, desires, problems and everyday issues to deal with. We certainly are all sisters under the skin and this exceptional collection really is essential reading.

Review copy kindly provided by Dedalus Books, for which many thanks!

Utopian Ideas and Ideals #utopia #professorrichardclay #bbc4

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One small advantage of being in depths of documentary repeat season is the chance to catch up on favourite progs. I’ve frequently rambled on about Professor Richard Clay’s marvellous three-part series “Utopia: In Search of the Dream“, and so I was very pleased to note that the show is making a welcome return to BBC4 in the wee small hours starting tonight.

“Utopia” takes as its starting point the classic book by Sir Thomas More of the same name and goes on to cover myriad variations on that theme, from utopian visions that go wrong, the dystopian flip-sides, searching for your own personal inner fulfilment, how architecture affects our vision of life and so much more. It’s an exceptionally wide-ranging set of programmes, full of thought-provoking stuff; I highly recommend it and if you have access to BBC4 and/or the iPlayer you can give it a look starting from 00.30 tonight/tomorrow.

The Prof has an intriguing new documentary in the pipeline on the subject of the art of the meme, which sounds equally fascinating. It’s still awaiting a transmission date, and when it goes live I shall be covering it on the Ramblings in depth with some special posts – so watch this space… 😉

*****

As an aside…

I was reminded that I picked up a copy of More’s book back in April (I had one decades ago, but who knows where it went?); and as I posted at the time I was vaguely thinking about setting myself up a little utopian reading list, drawing on some suggestions in the Happy Reader magazine. I revisited that magazine and went on a rampage (oh, all right, a gentle rummage) around the house trying to find what books I already had that fitted into that list. And then I found a few more. And then I couldn’t find some I know I have somewhere (“Flatland”; “Looking Backwards”). And for those of you who love gratuitous pictures of books, I came up with this:

As you can see, there are some awfully interesting books on the pile – here they are without Thomas More blocking them. Yes, I *know* I have duplicates of “We”, “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and “Brave New World” (and there are at least two more copies of the Orwell somewhere in the house) – I’m afraid I have a congenital affliction that prevents me being able to get rid of multiple book copies…. (ahem)

However, what occurs to me looking at the pile is that many of the books suggested by the HR mag (and not all are here) were actually dystopian, not utopian. Admittedly, they began their list with “We”, and that’s certainly not a jolly book. Still – I do wonder if we are naturally drawn to the negative; it does seem that we as a race have trouble in dealing with the concept of perfection and a happy life. But as I’ve said before, we are questing, searching beings and maybe the ideal world would be just a teeny bit boring…

Anyway, one thing the rummage did was produce this behemoth (as in a big book, not a big cat):

I had totally forgotten I have “The Faber Book of Utopias“; it came out in 1999 and I suspect was a gift at the time and I couldn’t tell you if I’ve read it. However, it looks absolutely fascinating, with extracts from all manner of books, from More himself through to modern writers like Julian Barnes. I was very pleased to see that Margaret Cavendish’s “The Blazing World” is in there too, as I’ve been keen to have a look at her work. It’s 500 or so large format pages – I could be in there for some time…

So there you are. Another potential reading project, at which I will no doubt fail. Perhaps I should put the French Revolution and Utopia books in a room together and just let them fight it out, a la Swift’s “Battle of the Books“. Or give up work and sleep. Or stop buying books and thinking about reading projects and just damn well read! 🙂

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