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Rounding up my 2022 reading! 😊📚

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As we approach the end of yet another year (where *does* the time go????) I face up to the difficult task of trying to sum up my best books of the year. Many admirable bloggers manage to pick out top fives or tens or whatevers of their books in an actual countdown to a single favourite book!!! I can rarely manage that, and I put this down to my grasshopper mind and the number of different types of books I read. So as usual, I’ll just do a little round up of some highlights of the year, singling out themes or types of books or those which really stuck in my mind!!

British Library Crime Classics and Women Writers

British Library Publishing have been responsible for many, many hours of happy reading this year! I’ve long been a fan of their Crime Classic reissues and the more recent range of Women Writers reprints has also been a treat. Alas, their Sci Fi classics seem to have slipped away, but I did enjoy them too! Particular favourites have been the E.C.R. Lorac and John Dickson Carr titles they’re published, but I’ve also enjoyed their anthologies!

The Year of Rereading

As a rule, I don’t reread enough and it’s my own fault; I’m so easily distracted by all the shiny new releases, newly translated works, reissued classics and the like that I barely get to the older books on my TBR, let alone re-reads. But over the last year or so, I took part in three wonderful reading events which saw me revisiting much-loved books – and the experience was wonderful!

The Narniathon kicked it off, and I adored going back to C.S. Lewis’s wonderful series; I saw so much in it as an adult, and found his writing and storytelling to be superb.

Then there was Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” which I’d meant to revisit for some time. Our 1954 Club set me off reading the first book and then of course I had no excuse to not follow quickly with the second and third. Both these sequences were pivotal reading experiences in my young life, and it was a powerful and emotional experience to get reacquainted with them.

Another vitally importance series to me was Mervyn Peake’s “Gormenghast” books, which I first met in my late teens. I had reread the first book in the sequence, “Titus Groan“, in 2017 and adored it all over again; so, prompted by my success with LOTR (and also the Backlisted podcast episode on the books) I went back to the second one “Gormenghast“. Once again, this was a stunning reading experience which kept me entranced from start to finish!

And the end of this year saw me taking part in Annabel’s readalong of Susan Cooper’s “The Dark is Rising” sequence – an outstanding series and one I’d intended to get back to for many years. I finally did and adored it – brilliant books!

I’ve also had marvellous rereads of Cocteau’s “Les Enfants Terribles” and Colette’s “Sido“; loved them both and am now even more convinced that I had good taste in books at a young age!! 😀

Club Reading Weeks

In 2022 I was happy to co-host two more of our Club Reading Weeks with Simon at Stuck in a Book! This year, we focused on 1954 and 1929 and both years had a wealth of wonderful books. Both were responsible for much rereading on my part, as well! It’s always such fun to see what books people bring to the club and share, and thanks go out to all who take part.

The next club runs from 10-16 April 2023 and the year is 1940! It looks to be another bumper one, with so many marvellous titles to choose from – we hope to see you there!

Shiny New Books

I’ve continued to provide reviews for Shiny New Books during 2022, and have shared some marvellous titles. The site is a wonderful place to discover excellent books and no doubt there will be more to come on SNB next year, so watch this space!!

Translated Literature

Literature from other countries and languages has continued to provide some of my favourite reads. Although I always take part in #WITMonth, I try to read translated books all year round; and in fact one of the strongest books I’ve read in 2022 was a random discovery in a charity shop, translated from Italian – “Pereira Maintains“. Translators are some of my favourite people as without them I wouldn’t have such a rich range of literature from which to choose!

Independent Presses and #ReadIndies

Independent publishers are some of my favourites in the world, and I’ve been so happy to continue to support them this year. A highlight was co-hosting the second #ReadIndies month with Lizzy and it was such fun, with so many amazing books to read!

My favourite indies are actually too numerous to mention, but I’ll give shout-outs to a few, including Renard Press (who I’ve been happy to support with a monthly subscription since their early days); Nightjar, who produce wonderfully spooky little chapbooks and are definitely worth your attention; Fitzcarraldo Editions, a small press with mighty heft who always bring out fascinating and genre-defying works; Notting Hill Editions, who champion the art of the essay in beautiful editions; Glagoslav, whose dedication to translations is exemplary; Michael Walmer, whose handsome editions of works from the Shetlands are fascinating… Well that’s just a few of them. I love indie presses and will continue to support them where I can!!

A few favourites…

This is the hard bit – picking favourites when there have been so many stellar reads this year! Of course I’ve highlighted my rereads above, but of new books I should pick out “Wolf Solent” by John Cowper Powys. A long, absorbing and very original read which I undertook for the 1929 club, it was quite mesmerising.

Another outstanding read was Celia Paul’s “Letters to Gwen John” which was an unforgettable exploration of two women’s lives and art. “Last Times” by one of my favourite authors, the amazing Victor Serge, accompanied me on my summer travels and was the perfect companion.

I reconnected with the writing of Robert Macfarlane via his “Landmarks” which was a beautiful read. And the bumper collection of “Letters of Basil Bunting“, curated so brilliantly by Alex Niven, was an immersive and fascinating read.

A final mention should go to Gertrude Trevelyan and her “Two Thousand Million Man-Power“, reprinted by Boiler House Press this yes – a brilliant and innovative novel, and why it’s been out of print is anyone’s guess.

I could go on – I’ve had very few duds this year – but these are just a few of the highlights. You see now why I can never pick a simple list…

*****

So those are my thoughts on my year of reading in 2022; and I’ve been lucky to encounter some marvellous books. I hope you’ve had a good reading year too – what have been your highlights, and have you read any of *my* favourites?? 😊📚

 

“…the true world of childhood must prevail…” #1929Club #cocteau #lesenfantsterribles

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As I hinted in my review of “Letter to the Americans” earlier in the month, there was every chance of me returning to another Jean Cocteau book before too long; and truth be told, I have been planning to read “Les Enfants Terribles” since we decided on the #1929 Club six months ago. I first read the book in my early twenties and it was one of those pivotal books of my life, leading me to a lifelong love of the man and his art. I was a tiny bit nervous about revisiting a book which had meant so much to me after so long a gap, but I needn’t have been – it’s just wonderful!

“Enfants”, here in a wonderful translation by the esteemed novelist Rosamund Lehmann, was one of only a handful of novels Cocteau published; and in fact he only published one more novel during his lifetime. To be honest, it’s a novella rather than a novel, and it tells the story of the titular children, siblings Elisabeth and Paul. They have no father; their mother is ill and bedridden, with the eldest of the two, Elisabeth, taking care of her. Paul attends school, where he is obsessed with the powerful figure of another schoolboy, Dargelos; and completing the set-up is Gerard, another of Paul’s school friends, who is obsessed with the siblings.

There was snow that evening. The snow had gone on falling steadily since yesterday, thereby radically altering the original design. The Cité had withdrawn in Time; the snow seemed no longer to be impartially distributed over the whole warm living earth, but to be dropping, piling only upon this one isolated spot.

The book opens with snow descending on Paris, and the schoolboys have a snowball fight; an iconic moment, as I’ll mention later. Paul is wounded by a snowball thrown by Dargelos, and carried home; and from then on Elisabeth cares for him as well. The siblings have an unnaturally strong bond, still sharing a bedroom and retreating into their own world, symbolised by the Room, which is their refuge, a haven they’re created as a form of survival. Often they quarrel, but underneath the bond is unbreakable. Gerard is gradually allowed access to their world, although more as an audience than anything else. As the siblings grow older, things change around them – their mother dies, Gerard’s uncle steps in to support them financially, and there is even a marriage. Nothing, however, seems to change the structure of the siblings’ life. But the introduction into their circle of Agathe, who so closely resembles Dargelos, will change the Room forever with catastrophic consequences.

Elisabeth crossed the dining-room and went into the drawing-room. Here too the snow had been about its magic work. The room hung in mid-air, miraculously suspended, changed, unfamiliar to the child who stood there, stock still, staring, behind one of the armchairs. The lamplit brightness of the opposite pavement had printed on the ceiling several windows made of squares of shadow and half-shadow curtained with arabesques of light; upon this groundwork the silhouetted forms of passers-by circled diminished as in a moving fresco.

For a book of its length (my Folio Society edition runs to 117 pages), “Enfants” is a powerful and memorable piece of writing, and I understand why it affected me so strongly when I first read it. Cocteau’s writing is stunning and lyrical, and despite the darkness of the subject matter, it has great beauty. Cocteau was a visual artist, and his writings have a filmic quality, with vivid set pieces ready to be transferred to a movie setting. It’s not surprising, therefore, that “Enfants” was indeed filmed in 1950 by Jean-Pierre Meville, starring Nicole Stephane and Edouard Dermithe, and you can either find it on DVD or track down a copy online. However, a pivotal scene from the book, that of the snowball fight with Dargelos, features in one of Cocteau’s earliest films, “The Blood of a Poet”, and that whole moving picture is itself a surreal treat, featuring many tropes which would end up in Cocteau’s later cinematic works.

Paul marvelled at the fact of their encounter; but his sudden clairvoyance was confined to one sole area, that of love. Otherwise a greater marvel might have felled him utterly: namely, Fate the lacemaker implacably at work, holding upon her knees the cushion of our lives, and stuffing it with pins.

What I loved most about “Enfants”, I think, was the way the narrative simply sucked me into its world and took me along with it. I empathised completely with the siblings and their wish to build their own world, with their own heroes and villains, and ignore the sordidness of the outside world. I was very much of that mindset myself when I first read the book, creating a world for myself filled with books and art and clothes and design from the past which appealed to me, pulling it all together into a kind of personal mythology. “Enfants” spoke to me very strongly at the time as the siblings were doing much the same thing; and I still relate to it nowadays, as I try to fill my everyday existence with literature and paintings and creativity and things which make me happy in the face of the relentness nastiness of real life. Whether it’s an obsession with fountain pens or nature or books or mid-century modern design, these things help to keep me happy, and I saw this in the lives of the siblings; because the bleakness of their background and the forces around them hit me more this time round.

Hollow, leaden, buoyant, Elisabeth advanced along the corridor, her white wrap, billowing round her ankles, seeming to float her onward like a cloud: one of those foamy cloud-cushions devised by primitive painters to bear some Being of the angelic order. Only a faint humming persisted in her head; and in her breast nothing any more but an axe thudding out its mortal strokes.

Impoverished, cooking and cleaning and caring for a sick mother, with no father figure for support, the siblings live in a precarious world, which is why I guess they constructed the Room around them, for support and survival. Their life is full of the potential for tragedy, and indeed events do lead inexorably to a dramatic climax; but it’s hard to see that they would ever have been able to live a normal existence. Life throws them a few chances and they take them; but the unnaturally strong bond between the two will eventually bring their downfall.

They lived their dream, their Room, fancying they loathed what they adored.

I’ve wanted to re-read “Enfants” for many years, and I’m so glad the #1929Club gave me the courage to do so, because it was a wonderful and hypnotic experience. Cocteau apparently wrote the book in the midst of a phase of opium addiction, and there are indeed some beautifully written, hallucinatory sequences. Yet it’s also a book about how we cope with life and the world around us, about the strength of sibling relations and about the structures we build around us for self-preservation. “Les Enfants Terribles” is a dark and stunning and beautiful book which has haunted me from the time I first read it – and it still does!

*****

I wanted to say also a little about the edition I read, which was a beautiful copy from the Folio Society. My original read, all those years ago, was a lovely vintage Penguin Modern Class, which as you can see from the photo below I still have!

But I didn’t want to risk any damage, as older Penguins can be fragile, so I chose to revisit the book with the Folio copy I picked up some years back – and that was a lovely experience too. The Folio is a gorgeous hardback with a stunning cover design, and has an extra treat inside. The Penguin contains many illustrations by Cocteau for the book (I haven’t counted them…) but the Folio instead gathers all the illustrations together at the end, and this is the complete set of drawings for the book, originally published by Cocteau together in 1934.

These are just wonderful – a real treat – and so if you are planning to read “Enfants” I do recommend tracking down a copy of the Folio – it can be found online at remarkably reasonable prices….

*****

Without wanting to make this post interminable, you can find some interesting uploads of Cocteau’s films online to give you a taste of his work – here are some clips from “Blood of a Poet”:

and here is “Les Enfants Terribles”:

And finally, in the 1980s, when I was first discovering French art and literature, the wonderful David Sylvian released a song which is still one of my favourites and which references many of the artworks I love!

“Humanity is occupied by a darkness…” #JeanCocteau # LetterToTheAmericans @NewDirections

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As I’ve mentioned before on the Ramblings, French author and polymath Jean Cocteau is a long-term favourite of mine. As I said in an earlier post, “I first encountered his works back in the mid-1980s, when friends dragged me off to a screening in London of two of his films, “Orphee” and “La Belle et La Bete”. If I recall correctly, it was at the Electric Cinema in Portobello Road, on a dreary afternoon, and I emerged afterwards stunned, into a dark rainy night, filled with a sense of wonder at the filmic visions I’d just seen. I’ve loved Cocteau and his work ever since, and as well as his films, I have quite a number of his written works…” That was when I read his “Journals” for the 1956 Club and re-encountering him through a book I hadn’t read before was a real treat. So when I stumbled across mention of his “Letter to the Americans” online recently, it was a no brainer that I would have to send off for a copy!

“Letter…” is an essay, translated here by Alex Wermer-Colan, which was written In 1949 after Cocteau had made a short transatlantic visit, spending 20 days in New York. On the plane home, over the ocean, he turns his mind to his experiences in the New World and muses on the differences between it, and the Old World from whence he comes, giving a revealing look at how a European felt about America in the immediately postwar period. Cocteau is a European through and through, and although he has been seduced by many elements of America, in many ways he’s not convinced…

You won’t be saved by guns or by fortune. You will be saved by the minority of those who think.

Although short, the essay allows Cocteau to explore the differing views the two worlds have of art, literature, dreams and psychology; and their divergent lifestyles, with both cultures placing importance on different things. During his visit, which was to promote his new film “The Eagle with Two Heads”, Cocteau was feted and as he points out, everything was laid on for him. He appreciates this, but is well aware of how different is the American view of the arts. His film was cut; it was not necessarily that appreciated; and this does set the reader wondering on how a French art-house film would have appeared to a verging on 1950s American audience.

One of Cocteau’s distinctive drawings

Interestingly, his take on the differences between the nations focuses on order vs disorder; the rigidity and control of a city standing tall and straight full of skyscrapers, as compared with disorderly France which can produce a Picasso, is pronounced. Both cultures could do with a little more exchange, allowing elements from each to blend and bring the best of both together. He urges Americans to steer away from the influence of radio and telephone, to embrace the future and develop as a nation. As he puts it:

Your role is to save the old world that is so tough, so tender, that loves you and that you love. Your role is to save the dignity of humanity.

“Letter…” is a fascinating and thought-provoking read which left me with an image of the great artist aloft in a plane, staring out at the stars while his fellow passengers sleep and gathering his thoughts about his visit. Modern America was still developing at the time and could have gone in many different directions; the rather rigidly controlled 1950s, with their consumer society, Cold War, Atomic bomb, fixed gender roles and desire for affluence, were perhaps not what Cocteau was generously hoping would happen. Looking back, though, it’s a wonderful snapshot of the man and his world and his thoughts, and I’m so glad it’s finally been published and I have had the chance to read it; maybe this could be the autumn of my re-engaging more deeply with Jean Cocteau and his work! 😀

“Civilization has just reached the ultimate stage of savagery…” #LeftBank #Paris

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“Left Bank” by Agnes Poirier has been sitting on Mount TBR for a couple of years now; if I recall correctly, I picked it up in my local Waterstones when I had a book token, liking the sound of it. The subtitle is “Art, Passion and the Rebirth of Paris 1940–1950”, and of course with a cover featuring Sartre, Beauvoir and Camus it was always going to appeal… However, although this book is a fascinating and engrossing read, I actually feel that the cover undersells it! 😀

Poirier is a French-born journalist and author, and has written in both English and French; here, the book is presumably written originally in the former. “Left…” is a book which explores life in France’s capital city during a decade of great change and disruption, with the focus mainly on Paris’s intelligentsia. It was a period which saw Nazi occupation, collaboration, liberation and reconstruction, and at the heart of all this were artists, poets, writers and philosophers – the people who seemed to shape French life in a way that the intelligentsia don’t in other countries.

As the book opens, Paris is a city full of intellectual life. Sartre’s first novel, “Nausea”, has been published in 1938, existentialism as a philosophy is gaining popularity, and he and Beauvoir set the tone for what the rest of Paris thinks. However, WW2 breaks out, and what follows will tear the city (and indeed the country) asunder. Poirer goes on to lead the reader through the War and occupation years, which were dark ones for Parisians, exploring the complex range of characters who lived in the city during that period, and how they negotiated the difficulties of occupation. Once Paris was liberated, the end of the war brought change to the whole of France; and the political and intellectual conflicts between left and right were intense and often violent. Poirier’s narrative runs until 1950, when the divide between East and West in the world was becoming hardened, and the decade which followed would see much of the world slipping into conservatism.

Poirier casts her net wide and the list of those involved in her story is huge; in fact, although she does provide a ‘Cast of Characters’ at the beginning, this is a smallish selection of those who feature, and it was occasionally hard to keep track of who was who. Obviously, the dominant characters are Sartre, Beauvoir and Camus, although interestingly Arthur Koestler is a key player. He’s also, unfortunately, not a pleasant man…. Boris Vian, a perhaps lesser known figure nowadays, plays a prominent part in the narrative, as does Beckett, and of course the many artists of Paris (notably Picasso) are a regular presence.

Paris during the Occupation (Bundesarchiv, N 1576 Bild-007 / Herrmann, Ernst / CC-BY-SA, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons)

“Left…” delves deeply into life during occupation and reveals how complicated it was to cope with being under Nazi control. There were, of course, resistance movements; and yet some Parisians chose to accomodate or work with the German occupiers to either ensure the survival of Paris’s massive collections of art treasures, or to help other vulnerable Parisians survive, or just to make things easier for themselves. There is no doubt the privations were great, and Poirier is not judgemental re collaboration; in particular, the art of Paris would never have survived had it not been for the combined efforts of Louvre director Jaujard and German Count Metternich, sent to Paris by the Nazis to safeguard the art. Sometimes matters higher than loyalty to country came into play.

The Occupation had been a laboratory of moral ambiguity as in no other period in France’s contemporary history. The coexistence, for four long years, of heroism, passivity, cowardice and duplicity is, three-quarters of a century later, something France is still trying to come to terms with.

Once the war was over, the politics of France became particularly complex, with conflict between the communists, who had played such a major part in the resistance, and the forces of the Gaullists, both vying for power. In a way unlike any other country I can think of, Paris’s intellectuals were deeply involved in politics, trying to find a middle ground between the polar opposities of left and right wing. Their ‘Third Way’ was, alas, doomed to failure, but it would have been wonderful if they had managed to find some political balance. In fact, the book ranges outside Paris and explores the connections with the US, and the attraction Paris had for people from the other side of the pond. In particular, authors of colour such as Richard Wright and James Baldwin found that attitudes in Paris were completely different and that they didn’t encounter in Paris the racial harrassment they did in the states. Conversely, Sartre, Beauvoir and Camus all visited America and found it very different from Europe and so there was a kind of culture shock both ways. Poirer discusses the role of public intellectuals in France as something unique, and certainly I can think of no equivalent in Britain or the US, where intellectual discussion is rather frowned upon…

If most of the hopes laid at the feet of Paris intellectuals, writers and artists just after the Second World War were partly dashed by the force of bloc politics, and their own ideological and moral ambivalence, it remains that seldom before had a generation tried so hard to reinvent themselves and re-enchant the world.

Towards the end of the narrative, a younger generation start to appear, often young women unhappy to play second fiddle to the men. Francoise Sagan, Juliette Greco and Brigitte Bardot take their inspiration from Beauvoir’s lifestyle and work, taking life on their own terms – which is refreshing, because amongst the earlier generation, as usual, the women often play second fiddle to the men; putting up with their awful behaviour, working and supporting them without thanks or acknowledgement, and often being abandoned on a whim. As I mentioned above, Koestler comes out of the book as really unpleasant; his behaviour towards the women in his life seems to have been quite reprehensible.

As I said at the start of my review, I do feel that the cover undersells the book considerably, focusing as it does on the post-War period. As well as exploring the personal lives of its protagonists, “Left Bank” is a wide-ranging and long form work which takes a deep look at the effects of WW2 on France, the issue of collaboration, the politics, the post-war political conflicts all over Europe and even the development of the Cold War. Poirier brings a unique perspective to the history of the time, portraying a Europe stuck in the middle of the two great opposing forces which would everntually come together in a Common Market to secure their own political identity. “Left Bank” is an exhaustive, if occasionally exhausting, account of politics, love and sex, and how they all came together in Paris during a pivotal decade. A wonderful and engrossing read!

*****

Just managing to squeeze this review in before the end of the month and so I shall definitely count it for Non Fiction November! 😀

#1956Club – a great French artist considers his life and work…

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Journals of Jean Cocteau – edited and introduced by Wallace Fowlie

Today’s time travelling trip to 1956 sees me considering another great French artist – the most wonderful Jean Cocteau. I first encountered his works back in the mid-1980s, when friends dragged me off to a screening in London of two of his films, “Orphee” and “La Belle et La Bete”. If I recall correctly, it was at the Electric Cinema in Portobello Road, on a dreary afternoon, and I emerged afterwards stunned, into a dark rainy night, filled with a sense of wonder at the filmic visions I’d just seen. I’ve loved Cocteau and his work ever since, and as well as his films, I have quite a number of his written works…

Some of my Cocteau collection (there are many more films about….)

However, one thing I didn’t have was his “Journals”, and when I discovered this particular book had been published in 1956 I couldn’t resist searching for a copy. It’s the only book I’ve purchased for our club, and it really is a surprisingly nice edition which was very reasonably priced.

Put together following Cocteau’s election to the French Academy the previous year, this is not a traditional publication of an artist’s journals or diaries (for example, as those of Virginia Woolf have appeared) in chronological dated order. Instead, the entries are drawn from Cocteau’s other published works and gathered together by theme (presumably as a result of Wallace Fowlie’s editing process) resulting in a collection of Cocteau’s meditations and memories. This is no criticism, however, as the contents are fascinating and I believe are the result of author and editor collaborating on what should be included.

Cocteau writes about, and illustrates, his appearance…

Split up into four sections, the book takes a look at Cocteau’s childhood and early influences; he discusses his character; shares thoughts on artists and writers he’s known (such as Proust, Apollinaire and Picasso); meditates on theatre, films and aesthetics; provides some moral essays; and contemplates France and New York. Dipping into these various sections reminded me what a wonderful writer he was, as well as artist and film-maker; he used the work ‘poesie’ as an umbrella term for his oeuvre and it’s a good one.

One of Cocteau’s distinctive drawings

As well as being fascinating reading, “Journals” is also a beautiful book; my first edition hardback has lovely thick pages and features some his wonderful drawings (I adore them…) Instead of going into more detail, I though I would share a few favourite quotes from Cocteau; reconnecting with him was a marvellous experience, and the fact that I have now discovered that there was later publication of some of his diaries threatens to increase the size of the Cocteau pile above even more… ;D

On Proust:

The room of Marcel Proust, on the Boulevard Haussmann, was the first dark room where I witnessed almost every day – it would be more exact to say every night, because he lived at night – the evolution of a powerful work. He was still unknown, and I formed the habit of looking on him, from my very first visit, as a famous writer. In that stifling room, full of clouds of fumigation and dust which covered the furniture with a gray coating, we saw the activity of a beehive in which the thousands of bees of memory made their honey.

Cocteau by Francois Bret via Wikimedia Commons – Copyright ACAFRA / Estate François Bret / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

On films:

The cinema is still a form of graphic art. Through its mediation, I write in pictures, and secure for my own ideology a power in actual fact. I show what others tell. In Orphee, for example, I do not narrate the passing through mirrors; I show it, and in some manner, I prove it. The means I use are not important, if my characters perform publicly what I want them to perform.

When years ago I made my first film, Blood of a Poet, I knew nothing about the profession of a movie director. I had to invent a technique. The movie professionals thought I was ridiculous. And yet it is my only film still showing throughout the world and which for seventeen years has been shown intermittently in a small New York theatre.

Cocteau’s desk via Wikimedia Commons – SiefkinDR / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

On Rilke:

In 1912, for a small sum, I rented a wing of the Hotel Biron, on the rue de Varennes, where Rodin lived. In the centre of Paris, five glass doors opened onto a fairy-story park abandoned by nuns at the time of the separation of Church and State.

In the evening, at the corner window of the hotel, I used to see a lamp light up. This lamp was Rainer Maria Rilke’s. He was Auguste Rodin’s secretary. I was to know only that lamp of his, which should have become a beacon for me. Long afterwards, alas, I learned from Blaise Cendrars who Rilke was; and many years passed before Rilke became acquainted with my play Orphee, produced in Berlin by Reinhardt, and before he sent Madame K this touching telegram: “Tell Jean Cocteau I love him. He is the only one to whom is revealed the myth from which he returns tanned as from the seashore.” At the time of his death, Rilke had just begun work on the translation of Orphee. My good fortune in this and my loss in his death cannot be measured.

Fortuitous Finds

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…. or How I Fail to Control the Book Buying Habit!

I went into town today not intending to really look for or buy books – honestly! The TBR is in a terrible state, expanding faster than I can read items from it, and I’m developing space issues on my shelves despite a clear out, owing to my habit of picking up a bargain when I see it rather than hoping I will come across the same book again when I have time to read it. However, as I missed my charity shop visits last weekend owing to visiting Kent University, I thought I would pop into a couple of my favourites – which was a mistake!

powells

In one, I noticed the first volume in the four book set of “A Dance to the Music of Time”. I *was* a little tempted because I’m having trouble tracking down the individual volumes in Penguin copies at a reasonable price. It was only £2 but I was strong and rejected it. However, the very next visit was to the Samaritans Book Shop and there sitting on the little display table in the centre of the shop were all 4 volumes of the set, i.e. all of the 12 books collected – at £1.75 a volume!! At which point I capitulated and bought them, because at £7 the lot, this is considerably cheaper than trying to find the individual books online. Plus, I confess I’m struggling with the small type in the Penguins (my eyesight is suffering with increasing age!) and so I think these will be a little more manageable. And I do feel that I must get on with these, as the Anthony Powell Society are very kindly reprinting my reviews in their newsletter (which is rather exciting – more news about the society here). The downside of this purchase was carrying heavy books around town – but I should be used to this by now…

cocteaumitford
Anyway, putting aside a couple of  minor purchases above (a Cocteau for 50p and a Mitford I hadn’t heard of from the Oxfam Book Shop) I thought I was done for the day – until I wandered into one of our newer shops….

boxset1

I spotted an Angela Carter I don’t have (which would have been 50p) and just before paying had another look on the book shelves – only to realise that the book had actually been removed from this little lovely that was sitting there grinning at me:

boxset2
(OK, that’s a little fanciful, but I do feel rather like I’m constantly being tempted by books).

I’m afraid this wonderful box set was irresistible, as I only have  two of the books already and at £6 it was a bargain (especially as it’s in great nick!) It’s a box set produced for the Book People some years back (I already have an earlier one!) and after I staggered home laden with books (to be frowned at by other half), I was left with one major problem – where on earth am I going to put them all?!?!?!

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