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Three things… #5 – Revolutionary humour – plus swathes of poetry

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It’s a little while (October, actually) since I had a go at the “Three Things” meme created by Paula at Book Jotter (this is where we post things we are reading, looking (at) and thinking). However, I found myself pondering on poetry as well as serendipitous book finds so I thought it was time for another…
Reading
I’m currently deeply involved in this chance find from the Oxfam which I posted about recently. Mark Steel is a left-wing comedian and the book is his take on the French Revolution. It’s absolutely brilliant so far, combining wit and history in a very winning way. A fuller post will follow!
Looking (at)
Not at lot in terms of programmes – we still seem to be suffering from documentary drought though I have high hopes that this will improve soon! 😉 Meantime, I spend far too much time watching arty/crafty videos on YouTube when I should be reading (but am frankly too tired). And anything with the Scottish countryside in it…. I *have* come across any number of wonderful examples of women’s art on Twitter too, proving that you *can* find good things on social media platforms…
Thinking
Yes. I have been pondering on poetry a lot lately. I picked up another interesting slim volume from Salt recently. Then there was the Elizabeth Bishop collection. And last week saw three more poetry volumes sneaking in – these are they:
As usual with me and books, there is a *reason* for each of these making their way into the Ramblings. The Soviet Poets was sitting looking at me in the Oxfam on Saturday (I tend to find myself at the poetry shelves first nowadays) and it had *me* written all over it. It’s one of those Progress Press USSR editions which I sort of hoover up if I come across them; it’s a bilingual edition and I’m hoping to discover new Russian poets.
As for the Adrienne Rich, she’s a name I’ve always been aware of and much like Elizabeth Bishop suddenly kept appearing in my sight line. I ordered a cheap copy online and was let down by the reseller; so in a fit of grumpiness I sent for a shiny new Norton Critical Edition with poetry and prose, hoping this will be a good Rich primer. I think this may be my first Norton Critical Edition and it’s awfully pretty – I mean, on a superficial level, isn’t that cover gorgeous????
Then there’s Mr. Tessimond, and thereby hangs a tale. As far as I’m aware I’ve never heard of him before. However, I stumbled across mention of his poem One Almost Might whilst doing some non-poetic research and when I checked it out online was a bit blown away. A little digging revealed an obscure but intriguing life and a collected volume which now resides at the Ramblings. Strangely when I opened the book at random the first poem I came to seemed oddly familiar, so maybe I have read him in the past…
So there are increasing amounts of poetry infecting the Ramblings, and I particularly seem to be encountering female poets – maybe they resonate with me more strongly? Certainly I have the substantial collections above sitting there looking appealing, but I keep wondering whether I should be exploring the work of Marianne Moore, or maybe Mary Oliver – they keep hitting my eye line too. I do find myself drawn more than ever to poetry nowadays; it seems to be touching me more deeply than other forms of writing, perhaps as a response to the unsettling and often unpleasant times we live in. Even when I opened up the huge but lovely Primo Levi box set recently it was his poetry which was calling. So if nothing else, at least I can feel that I’m well stocked for the rest of my life with collections of verse…. 😁
Previous “Three Things” memes:
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Arrivals and depatures – an update on the state of the book piles! :D

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Those of you who follow me on social media may have noticed the odd image or two recently which might just have indicated the continuing arrival of books at the Ramblings. I cannot lie – they have been creeping in the door when Mr. Kaggsy’s guard is down (or in some cases getting delivered at work). And in the interests of full disclosure and more Gratuitous Book Pictures, it’s only fitting that I share them with you… ;D

Charity shops, of course, making things impossible for the book lover – I guess I should just stop going in them. However, even being as stringent and selective as I have been lately, these have made it past my barriers! The DeWitt is one I’ve wanted to read for ages, so a cheap copy in the Oxfam was irresistible. And Clive James’s essays cover all manner of topics of interest to me. The Finn book is another one riffing on “Three Men in a Boat” – well, I adore the original and so anything that takes that as a starting point is going to be interesting. And Mark Steel’s humourous take on the French Revolution sounds like it might have hidden depths – most intriguing.  As for “New Writings in SF” – well, thereby hangs a tale…

Lurid cover or what!!!!

In the Oxfam yesterday they’d obviously had a donation of a good number of vintage sci-fi titles including lots of “New Writings in SF”; so of course I had to check these out to see if there were any authors I was particularly interested in. If I’m honest, I was looking for uncollected M. John Harrison, as many of his early stories were in these volumes, and I wasn’t disappointed. One book had a story which reappeared in “The Machine in Shaft 10” so I left that behind, alas; but volume 14 had a story called “Green Five Renegade” and I was pretty sure it was new to me. Thank goodness for the ISFDB and a phone with data; a quick search revealed that the story has only been in anthologies so I snapped it up, particularly as it’s an early one. It cost a little more than I would usually pay which I guess reflects its rarity, but it *is* in really good nick. I would’ve liked to bring them all home – so many interesting authors! – but I had to draw the line somewhere…

There there is Verso and their rotten end of year 50% off sale. Quite impossible to resist and I settled on these two titles:

The Benjamin/Baudelaire combo is a no-brainer of course; and I borrowed the Adorno from the library and was intrigued, so was happy to get my own, Reasonably Priced, copy.

Has there been online buying? Yes, I’m afraid so, in the form of these:

A couple of books about Dostoevsky; Rousseau on walking; Proust short works; and a novel of the French Revolution. What’s not to love??

This also came from an online purchase:

I’m always happy to support indie publishers, and Salt are one of the best so I decided to splash out on another of their poetry titles. Why this one? No idea – I liked the sound of it and I liked the cover! I’ll report back on the contents….

And finally, I’ve been spoiled by some review books from a couple of lovely publishers:

Notting Hill Editions, who produce the loveliest essay collections and intriguing titles, sent me a volume I’d somehow missed of Virginia Woolf’s “Essays on the Self”; I can’t wait. “Mentored by a Madman” is a new title which draws on the influence of William S. Burroughs. I read *a lot* by the latter back in the day, so I’m very interested to see what this one is about.

And the three titles by or about Jozef Czapski are from NYRB; another author new to me but one whose work sounds absolutely fascinating. Thank you, lovely publishers.

That’s quite a number of books, isn’t it? Lest you imagine the Ramblings to be collapsing under the weight of printed paper, however, I should reassure you that I *am* being sensible and pruning books I’m never going to read or revisit; a process that’s surprisingly a bit easier than I expected. Here’s just a couple of boxes of books which will be winging their way to the Samaritans Book Cave soon. So hopefully the house won’t collapse any time soon! ;D

Looking forward into 2019 – some bookish non-resolutions!

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The start of a new year is traditionally a time when we book bloggers start looking ahead and making plans and deciding what challenges to participate in and what projects to undertake. When I first began the Ramblings I was well into that kind of thing and used to fling myself into numerous commitments – usually to fail.. I think I know myself better as a reader nowadays, and for the last few years I’ve kept things light; I dip into challenges and projects as the mood takes me, and apart from our Club weeks I commit myself to pretty much nothing! This seems to work well and I can see no need to change things for 2019. 😀

Some post-Christmas book piles…. =:o

However, there are certainly a few aims I have for 2019, so time for some gratuitous book pictures and resolutions that probably will go very much awry!

LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group reads

The lovely LT Virago group plan some wonderful group reads every year; most recently focusing on specific authors every month, and I did dip in last year. 2019 is to be dedicated to reading books written in, or set in, the 1940s, with a particular theme every month. January is ‘family’, and there are a number of books from either Virago or Persephone I could choose from, and as I already have several on the shelves it’ll be a choice from these if I decide the mood is right!


I must admit that “Dimanche” and the Attia Hosain are both calling strongly; I was late to Nemirovsky’s writing but do love it; and I read “Sunlight on a Broken Column” back in 2014 and was transfixed. Watch this space to see if I *do* actually join in!

Penguin Moderns

As I mentioned yesterday, I was very fortunate to receive this box set from my lovely Offspring on Mothers’ Day, and although I was happily reading my way through it I kind of got sidetracked towards the end of the year. Hopefully, I can climb back on the wagon soon…

Poetry

2018 was a year with an increasing amount of poetry in it, particularly Russian but latterly French. I’ve been loving dipping into big collections, and I need to keep myself in the mindset that I don’t need to read a collection in one go; I *can* just dip and enjoy as the mood takes me.

The rather large Elizabeth Bishop collection requires attention, as does the lovely French book I got for my birthday from Middle Child; and I really must finish Baudelaire…

Self-imposed Challenges!

I set myself up for failure, don’t I? I get all enthusiastic about something, put together a large pile of books on the subject, read one if I’m lucky and then instantly become distracted by another subject/author/shiny new book. The curse of the grasshopper mind, I fear.

There’s the French Revolution. There’s Utopia. There’s those lovely London area books Mr. Kaggsy got me. There’s two huge volumes of Sylvia Plath’s letters and all of Katherine Mansfield’s notebooks. Any of these would be project enough for a good few months, but will I stick to anything? Not very likely…

Clearing the decks and reading more

I think ultimately that’s my aim this year. I’m not going to impose a book buying ban, because I would fail instantly, but I *am* going to try not to amass quite so many books, and to pass on a book quickly after reading it unless it moves and shakes me, or I think I want to read it again at some point. I’ve been clearing out books I’ve had for decades and either not read or only read once. I’ve hung onto them out of some kind of sentimentality perhaps, but I’ve taken a long hard look and decided in many cases that I actually don’t want to read a particular book or two, and they will go. Which will make room for the recent incomings…

Plus I need to waste less time on YouTube and mindlessly looking at social media, and simply focus on reading more. I *will* continue to enjoy good documentaries when they turn up (as I mentioned yesterday, I’m very much looking forward to Richard Clay’s forthcoming prog on viral memes) but aside from these I want to give more of my time to reading. Currently, I’m deeply involved in this chunkster for a Shiny New Books review and it’s proving completely absorbing.

Whether I can keep up this level of involvement when I go back to work remains to be seen, but I shall try! What reading plans do you have for 2019? 😉

“Those who have faith, have need of nothing else!” #frenchrevolution

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The Gods Will Have Blood by Anatole France
Translated by Frederick Davies

For some reason, I seem to have been finding myself a little unfocused over the last couple of weeks when it comes to reading. Some books I’ve been drawn to read straight away, but then I seem to find myself flailing around trying to decide where to go next. Book hangovers don’t help either…. I think it’s partly the manic time of year (work is horrendous) and also a plethora of lovely books to choose from.

Anyways, as they say – I decided to fling myself with wild abandon (ok, gently) at the French Revolution pile and settled on Anatole France’s “The Gods Will Have Blood”. Written in 1912, the book comes highly talked up and apparently has resonances with conflicts that occurred in the 20th century. Well – it was *interesting*, but a book not without problems and one that I would argue doesn’t always live up to the hype…

Anatole France is an author I’m pretty sure I haven’t read before (although I *did* own one of his books in the past, though I suspect that might have gone back to the charity shop in one of my periodic clear outs). France won the Nobel Prize in 1921; his reputation as a person and an author seems to have varied over the years, though very laudably he supported Zola during the Dreyfus Affair; and as a man of letters wrote across genres, producing anything from poetry, prose, plays and memoirs to a number of variants of criticism. “Gods…” was one of his last novels, and it’s more literally translated sometimes as “The Gods are Athirst”. This Penguin Classics version perhaps goes for a more inflammatory title, bearing in mind the subject matter, but I’m not sure it’s any better or worse than the other.

The sole destiny of all living beings seems only to become the fodder of other living beings fated also to the same end.

That’s by the by, really; what of the subject matter? Central to the story is Evariste Gamelin, a young painter living in Paris during the aftermath of the 1789 revolution. Evariste is a strong and strident supporter of the Jacobin regime; Marat and Robespierre are his gods; and as he becomes drawn more deeply into the administration of the new leaders, his fanaticism increases in inverse proportion to his compassion and kindness. At the start of the book he is a good man, in love with Elodie, the daughter of Jean Blaise, a print maker. At the end of it, he has become some kind of monster, ready to be devoured by the savage regime he has helped create and perpetuate.

The story is populated with a number of characters, all struggling to survive and carry on some kind of normal life during extraordinary events. Most interesting, perhaps, is Maurice Brotteaux who lodges above Evariste and his mother. Brotteaux is an intellectual, scraping a living from making puppets, and it’s tempting to see him as representative of the author. He’s cynical, susceptible to a beautiful woman, an atheist and somewhat to one side of the main run of the French people (Jacobins, aristocrats and religious types). Despite all that, he’s one of the most moral people in the book, helping a vulnerable monk and a troubled prostitute, and eventually becoming enmeshed in the vicious campaign of violence into which Paris is descending.

You live in a dream; I see life as it is. Believe me, my friend, the revolution’s become a bore: it’s lasted too long. Five years of rapture, five years of brotherly love, of massacres, of endless speeches, of the Marseillaise, of bells ringing to man the barricades, of aristocrats hanging from lamp-posts, of heads stuck on pikes,, of women with cannons between their legs, of little girls and old men in white robes on flower-bedecked chariots, the prisoners, the guillotine, semi-starvation, proclamations, cockades, plumes, swords, carmagnoles, it’s all gone on too long! Nobody knows anymore what it’s all about! We’ve seen too much, we’ve seen too many of these great patriots raised up for us to worship only for them to be hurled from your Tarpeian Rock – Necker, Mirabeau, La Fayette, Bailly, Petion, Manuel and all the rest of them. How do we know you’re not preparing the same fate for your new heroes?… Nobody knows any more!

What of Evariste himself? In many ways, his character may be part of the slight issues I had with the book. He’s rigid, in many ways narrow-minded and I actually didn’t find either himself or his lover, Elodie that sympathetic. However, sympathetic characters are not always a necessity and I reminded myself that France was using him as a tool in this book, to show how a reasonable and good person can be corrupted. At the start of the story he’s living with his mother, for whom he provides, and is capable of acts of great kindness; but his personality traits mean that inevitably his fervour for change will overwhelm his good points. The book throws up so much food for thought: is an ideal more important than a family link? Does terror beget terror, and is it ever justified? Is a pure love ever possible between people who don’t possess like minds? Does power always corrupt? Some of Evariste’s mental monologues are quite chilling and to watch his relationship with Elodie degenerate as he becomes more embroiled in death is not pleasant.

Gamelin was beginning to turn punishment into a religious and mystical ideal, to give it a virtue and merit of its own.

Despite the power of some of its portrayals, I do have some caveats about “Gods…” For a start, the writing seemed a little uneven, with the language veering from lyrical to melodramatic, and taking in long passages of philosophical musing. “Gods…” is very much a book of ideas and France’s need to discuss beliefs sometimes got in the way of the story. The characterisation often seemed underdeveloped, and again there was an unevenness, with important personages (for example, Evariste’s sister Julie) being brought into the story quite late on. It did sometimes seem that France was unsure as to whether he was writing an adventurous story of the Revolution, a political and philosophical treatise or a bodice-ripping pot-boiler; certainly there was a warped sensuality to some of the characters, which I get was intended to reflected strange events, strange times and the brutalising effect of violence – but it still jarred a little.

Storming of the Bastille (Jean-Pierre Houël [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons)

As for the Revolution itself, to be honest that was oddly muted and often seemed to be happening offscreen. Although the book was peppered with historical characters from David to Danton to Marat to Robespierre to the Austrian woman, the events were not particularly strongly delineated, so you would have to be fairly well versed in the French Revolution to really fully engage with the book. And the notation was quite limited, which was a bit of a shame because even with what I’ve read about the period I felt I could have done with a little more support.

Anatole France (Atelier Nadar [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

However, the book *does* have many strengths, in particular its portrayal of the dread of living under the constant threat of denunciation and the guillotine. The horror is visceral and very real, and the parallels with what would come next under Stalin (or indeed any terror-driven regime you could name nowadays) are striking. Much is made of France’s prescience; well, I feel it’s probable that his view of the corruption which exists under any regime was informed by his experiences during the Dreyfus Affair. Yes, the events he describes in his book very much anticipate events following the Russian Revolution and Civil War (even down to the concept of children denouncing their parents), where just as much blood must have been spilled in the name of a cause as was during the French Revolution(s); but let’s face it, we’re a species that is very happy to kill for an ideal…

But “Gods…” captures a real sense of what it was like to live under that kind of terror and regime, and how under even the most impossibly circumstances human beings will still try to get on with their lives. France creates a wonderfully sympathetic character in Brotteaux; Evariste’s sister Julie was also a stand-out creation for me, and I would have like to see her make her entrance earlier in the book – I found her a nice antidote to the insufferable Elodie, who seemed no more than a shallow sensualist. However, despite my reservations, “The Gods Will Have Blood” was a powerful read which has very much lingered in my mind for days after I finished it. As a portrait of the consequences of rigid and unswerving belief, which inevitably lead to a loss of human empathy and compassion, it’s exemplary and France’s achievements here do outweigh the flaws. And if nothing else, reading this book certainly got me thinking that I must attack the very loosely constructed French Revolutionary reading pile soon, and in a slightly more focused way! 🙂

A character in need of a new author @nyrbclassics #germanlitmonth

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Charles Bovary, Country Doctor by Jean Amery
Translated by Adrian Nathan West

Well – I’ve managed to clamber out of the Baudelaire-Benjamin rabbit hole for the time being (although I *am* still reading Baudelaire’s poems!), and I’ve been sidetracked rather unexpectedly off to France. Yes, I know I have a pile of French Revolution books lurking, and yes I know that this one wasn’t on it (it’s a lovely review copy from NYRB). But there are unexpected resonances with 1789 in what is really a rather unusual work…

Amery himself is a fascinating character; born Hans Maier in Vienna (his father was Jewish and his mother half-Jewish, half Catholic), he fled the Nazis to France and then Belgium, where he joined the Resistance. Surviving torture and Auschwitz, he went on to write under the pen-name Jean Amery and probably his most famous work is “At the Mind’s Limits”, a collection of autobiographical essays looking at his state of being as a Holocaust victim and survivor. “Charles Bovary…” might seem to be a very different kind of book, but there are certainly parallels.

The book is subtitled “Portrait of a Simple Man” and takes up the story of the titular doctor after the death of his wife, Emma, the main protagonist of Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary”. The initial pages, a heartbreaking monologue from Charles depicting his grief at her death, are actually acutely painful and difficult to read; here is a man’s suffering laid bare, with the loss of his wife almost too much for him to cope with. The child has lost her mother; the husband his wife; and Charles Bovary is revealed as a man almost obsessed with his love for Emma and his physical need for her. This grief leads him to meditate on the events which led up to her death; her infidelities; his failures as a man and a husband; and his inability to give her the kind of love and romance she craved. However, Amery takes the book in an unusual direction by blending these monologues with essays of his own on the whole Bovary story; and he begins to state a case for Charles having been given a very raw deal by his creator.

The lines between Charles and Amery become blurred, and the latter clearly has issues with Gustave Flaubert and his portrayal of the cuckolded M. Bovary as a pathetic and laughable creature who deserves what is meted out to him. Not only does Amery find Charles unconvincing as a character, calling into question Flaubert’s art and the claims made for it as realist fiction; he also sees Bovary as anything but realistic and goes on to critique not only Flaubert’s writing but also his intellectual heritage and legacy, finding him a lesser artist than his protegé Maupassant.

At the heart of Amery’s issue is his belief that Charles Bovary could never have existed as Flaubert portrayed him. He reminds the reader that Flaubert was an incorrigible haut bourgeois who was dependent on his father’s money, whereas Charles was a petit bourgeois self-made man; yet the latter is portrayed as a clod even though he had fought against his limitations and made his way in the world. Amery offers alternative, much more convincing scenarios of how such a man would have been, how he would have behaved in the situations Flaubert created, and finds the latter’s imagination to be very wanting. Taking a wider view of French fiction, he even takes Flaubert to task for nothing less than betraying the French Revolution in denying Charles the rights fought for during the conflict of liberté, égalité, fraternité, “the undying principles of 1789” as he reminds us. Amery rails against Charles’ passive acceptance of lesser status as unworthy of a man who is the product of a country which had killed its monarchs, arguing that a more convincing rendering would have been of a man who knew that he was equal to any other.

What we see before us is a man from the bourgeois monarchy of Louis-Philiipe. The great adventures of the French nation have come to an end; the universal allure of the Revolution, the imperial-pathetic escapade of Napoleon 1, the Grand Armee dreamer, have run their course. In Waterloo, the eagle, rapacious hunter and heraldic seal, is beheaded; only once more will he rise from the ashes as the outsized general with the oddly small mouth uttering phrases that are the grandest, most solemn literature, before flying off and vanishing forever in the heavens.

In many ways, Amery believes the creation and ultimate fate of Charles Bovary was Gustave Flaubert’s reckoning with the bourgeoisie from which he never escaped. However, his re-working requires acceptance of the possibility of a very different Charles Bovary: one who would have been capable of being a passionate lover; one who could have sent his wife’s lovers packing; one who could have answered back those who bullied him during his life; and one who was so physically obsessed by the beauty of his wife that masturbation and necrophilia crop up as subjects in Amery’s revision of his character.

Do you need to have read “Madame Bovary” to fully appreciate Amery’s book? Well, yes… I read it some time ago and my memories are minimal, so I did check out a plot summary online – which is probably not sufficient to take in all the nuances of the original or to appreciate all Amery’s points. And I need to add a caveat I think. Flaubert’s book is focused on a female character and her needs; this aspect is perhaps diminished by Amery’s reading of it and it’s a focus for which Flaubert should be congratulated. In an era when women’s choices were still very restricted he gave female desires a voice. For the story which Flaubert wanted to tell it was necessary for Charles to be stolid and stupid; although Amery in some ways disputes the point of “Madame B…” as in the end there is a predictable inevitability in the fact that the transgressing women has to be punished in a way that will satisfy the moralists.

“Charles Bovary…” was an intriguing, if at times complex, read. The book is very much an intellectual exercise and your response to it will depend on how willing you are to follow Amery down his path and accept his reinterpretation and reworking of the characters of Gustave Flaubert. Certainly, it’s a fascinating piece of work which left me with much to think about as well as many questions about how much we trust our authors – and whether we should be a lot more critical of how they treat their characters!

Review kindly provided by NYRB, with many thanks to Emma O’Bryen.

*****

I’m claiming this book for German Lit Month too; I hadn’t realised till I picked it up that Amery wrote in that language, so that makes three unexpected and unplanned entries for the reading month. Not like me to manage to participate…. 😉

Additionally, after finishing “CB”, it occurred to me that I had owned a copy of “At the Mind’s Limits” and that I had probably purged it in my recent attempts to downsize the amount of books in the house. However, I had a dig and found that it was still lurking in a donation box:

It had been sitting on my Primo Levi shelf for some time; I’m not sure if I have the moral and intellectual courage for it at the moment, as the world we’re living in seems so full of intolerance and hatred that I’m rather afraid I will see the present reflected in the past. But we shall see; it’s certainly been reprieved from the donate pile…

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?????

Three things… #4 – Revolutions, plus difficulties with older books…

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Time for another go at the “Three Things” meme created by Paula at Book Jotter; this is where we post things we are reading, looking (at) and thinking. The book I’m currently reading has influenced what I’m currently watching (as there is still a dearth of documentaries, alas…), and this ties in also with my thoughts on some bookish and not so bookish things at the moment. So here goes!

Reading

I’m currently deeply immersed in “The Race to Save the Romanovs” by Helen Rappaport, which I’m going to be reviewing for Shiny New Books. Give my interest (alright, obsession) with all things Russia, it’s inevitable that I’ve read a *lot* of books over the decades about the last Tsar of Russia and the fate of his family. This particular volume promises new insights, specifically into the failure of any of the other Royal houses in Europe to intercede and come to the aid of their relations, and it’s intriguing reading so far. This is actually the first of Rappaport’s books I will actually have finished; I bailed out of her book on Lenin fairly early as I sensed an underlying inability to really accept the concept of someone devoting their whole life to a cause which undermined the narrative for me. However, we’ll see what this book brings! Although Rappaport is acknowledging the huge and fatal flaws of the regime, I *am* sensing a slight bias, and so I turned to some vintage viewing:

Looking

Mr. Kaggsy is something of an enabler when it comes to DVDs, and one box set he gifted me a while ago was the complete BBC series “Fall of Eagles” from 1974, which I’m gradually making my way through. A classic drama from what I tend to think of as the golden age of TV (!), it tell in 13 parts of the collapse of the three main royal dynasties in Europe at the time of the First World War and Russian Revolution. It’s stuffed to the gills with marvellous actors (Patrick Stewart perfect as Lenin; Barry Foster actually *is* Kaiser Wilhelm) and I remember being enthralled when I was just a wee thing, freshly captivated by the Russian Revolution. Revisiting it has been a wonderful experience; so after reading a bit of the Rappaport, I watched the episode “Dear Nicky” which deals with the pre-war correspondence between the Tsar and the Kaiser against a backdrop of suffering and unrest in St. Petersburg, and was reminded of a number of things:

1. Just how good the series was – the acting!
2. How it was also even-handed in that the royals were shown as flawed and the people were shown as suffering.

Which led onto…

Thinking

… well, thinking about revolutions generally. I have to say up front that I deplore violence (well, as a vegan, I would.) However, we live in a world which is unequal and unfair, and frankly it’s hardly surprising that the people often have to take up an aggressive stance against those in charge when the latter are exploiting and enslaving them. Russia was a case in point, and I’m finding my reading of the Rappaport book a little problematic because although I can’t condone the violence meted out to the Tsar’s family, neither can I countenance the violence done to the Russian people. It will be interesting to see what I finally conclude.

And as I’ve blogged recently, I’ve been incubating a possible reading project of French Revolutionary fiction. Well, it started as fiction, but might not end up being limited to that, as a few internet searches have thrown up a very tempting list of possible books. Some of which may have slipped quietly through the letterbox when Mr. Kaggsy wasn’t paying attention….

The revolutionary French are obviously breeding…

One in particular really caught my eye because of its focus on women’s involvement; when I posted about “The Declaration of the Rights of Women” by Olympe de Gouges earlier in the year, I commented on the fact that I’d been looking for the female voice int he French Revolution. I also alluded to the figure of Théroigne de Méricourt, who I’d heard mention of in Richard Clay’s excellent “Tearing Up History” documentary, where he credited her with urging on the men who were hesitating to storm the Tuileries Palace. I found very little about her in the books I have relating to the Revolution, so the fact that she features in this recent arrival is rather nice…

I must admit I feel inclined to pick it up and start reading straight away, but the problem is, it’s only one of a number of Big Books about Inspirational Woman that I have lurking…

All of these are crying out to be read instantly, but there isn’t enough time. Plus the French Revolution books are massing offstage… And as I hinted in the heading to this post, some of the older titles are really giving me issues. If you go off to search for a more obscure old book, like a Victor Hugo or a Joseph Conrad which *isn’t* one of the well know titles, you end up being offered weird, expensive reprints on the online sites. (I found this when I was looking for Robert Louis Stevenson’s book on Edinburgh, and ended up buying a very old copy instead – but that’s by the by…) I would like to have actual *physical* copies, as I really hate reading on a screen, but as you might have guessed by the glowing screen in the picture further up this post, I have had to resort to Project Gutenberg. Really not my preferred way of reading, but beggars etc etc as they say… Anyway, onward and upward with the Romanovs – hopefully by the time I’ve finished that, I’ll have more idea of what I want to read after it! 😀

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