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“I remain behind the door” #rolandbarthes

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Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes
Translated by Richard Howard

Even after all these decades of reading, I still find that there are some books I finish and I just don’t know what to say about them – in a good way, but I still find myself a bit speechless! “Roland Barthes” by Roland Barthes is just such a book; I found it a stunning and absorbing read, yet what can I actually tell you about it? What is it saying to me or anyone else – what is Barthes revealing or concealing? I’ll trying to string something together, but what kind of sense it might make is anyone’s guess! 😀

Well, it’s Roland Barthes again, for a start; a man who’s been haunting the Ramblings this year, either in the form of books of his that I’ve read or documentaries I’ve been watching. I’ve only read a few of his works – he was a prolific man (and “properly clever”, as Richard Clay says!) – so I’m not sure what impelled me to pick up this particular book of his at this time, especially as I have both “Image, Music, Text” and “Cameria Lucida” lurking. But I did, anyway.

“Roland Barthes…” is ostensibly autobiography, but this being Barthes, it’s never going to be a straightforward look at his life. The book opens with a selection of photographs from the thinker’s past – what he describes as a ‘treat to himself’ – and bearing in mind his writings on the effects of images, these are particularly moving and telling. The captions reveal much about Barthes’ early life and family. However, these are followed by no linear narrative; instead, in a format closer to the structure of the “Mourning Diary”, Barthes uses headed paragraphs of varying lengths to explore his life obliquely through his work. It’s an intriguing conceit, and perhaps not surprising from someone who’s used to deconstructing the everyday!

…I myself am my own symbol, I am the story which happens to me: freewheeling in language, I have nothing to compare myself to…

As you can see from the amount of post-its sticking out of this relatively slim book, it’s a deeply thought-provoking piece of work. By looking at his life through the lens of his work, Barthes reveals himself gradually and indirectly – his likes and dislikes (I share his love of the Marx Brothers!), his beliefs and feelings, things which he recalls from his childhood and which still inform his life up to that point. His childhood in Bayonne is a touchstone, shown in the photographs at the start and often recurring in the text sections of the book. Barthes’ voice takes on a dual role, sometimes narrating his life in the first person and sometimes in the third; blurring the line between objectivity and subjectivity perhaps?

Propensity for division: fragments, miniatures, partitions, glittering details (according to Baudelaire, the effect of hashish), a bird’s-eye view of fields, windows, haiku, line drawing, script, photography, in plays the “scene” à l’italienne, in short, depending on your point of view, all the articulation of the semanticist or all the raw material of the fetishist. This propensity is labeled progressive: art of the rising classes proceeds by just such framing (Brecht, Diderot, Eisenstein).

I would be lying if I said this book was an easy read; it explores any number of complex topics and had me reaching for a dictionary at many points. But it’s a fascinating and evocative book to spend time with as not only does it raise all manner of intriguing ideas with phrases jumping at you which need more exploration (hence all the coloured markers!); it also does reveal much about the man himself. He was brilliant, yet apparently full of doubt about his life and his achievement; and I ended up wondering whether he realised that his thinking would become so important to how we decode the modern world.

“Roland Barthes” by Roland Barthes turned out to be unlike any other autobiography I’ve read – but then, Barthes is like no other writer I’ve read! He says at the start of this book that it “must all be considered as if spoken by a character in a novel” and that’s perhaps a good way to approach it. The real Barthes is often elusive and evasive here – but his ideas shine through and in the end maybe that’s what really matters.

(Although this post is going up in December, I’m going to claim the book for Nonfiction November! I read it in November, wrote the bulk of the above in November, and even if Barthes is obscuring some of the facts, it’s definitely not fiction! :D)

November and its challenges – where did it all go…..?

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November was a *very* busy month with reading events, and I had lots of plans – as I revealed in this post… I’m not sure it has gone entirely as I intended, although I *have* ticked the box for each one. But some were read before November, and I did have a bit of a slump in the middle of the month when work was ridiculously busy and then I had a hideous head cold (HOW! How could I catch a cold when I have basically been wearing a mask since March??????) I found it very hard to settle while the American Election drama was taking place, too – so much seemed to hinge on it and thank goodness for the result. Anyway, this is the small pile of books read during November:

Although it’s a smaller pile than I usually feature at the end of the month, there are some really interesting titles and authors in there. The Gallic Revolutionary Women books are something I’m covering for Shiny New Books. There are items from some of my bookish subscriptions, Penguin Moderns, crime, Atwood and Barthes! I did enjoy all the books I read, and there will be a review of the Barthes coming up this week; I will count that as a Non-Fiction November read as it’s definitely non-fiction and was definitely read in November! 😀

Looking forward to December, with all the stress and strain and confusion in the world at the moment, it’s going to be a difficult one I feel. So I plan to try to keep the reading simple and go with things I really want to read, and which will give me some escapism from rotten reality. One of the main issues I’ve been having is feeling overwhelmed with the amount of book piles lying around unread, so I had a bit of a tidy up and coralled a lot of the pending titles onto a little bookshelf which now looks like this:

This has made me feel a lot calmer and now I feel I can just pick what I fancy off the shelves and enjoy following my reading mojo. To look more specifically at the options, here are the possibles in the various rows…

The top shelf has some beautiful books sent by BL Publishing – Sci Fi Classics, Crime Classics and Women Writers. Any of these would be perfect comfort reads for a long month. Then there are subscription books from Fum d’Estampa, Renard Press and Sulunary Editions – I want to read them all at once…. There are review copies of Chekhov and Penguin classic sci fi, all of which look and sound lovely. And at the end, my collection of Susan Cooper’s “The Dark is Rising” sequence. I’ve wanted to re-read these for ages, and of course December is the time to do it. Should I? Could I?

Here’s the middle shelf! There are some incredibly beautiful NYRB editions here, and all of them are screaming for attention. Then there are some lovely books that wonderful people have sent me (thank you Olga Zilberbourg and QC Fiction). I still have a little stack of unread Fitzcarraldos, which I could read now, or hang onto in case Lizzy and I decide to do another Fitzcarraldo Fortnight! And I have a huge pile of Mike Walmer’s lovely editions to catch up on – such wonderful titles!!

The bottom shelf is more of a mish-mash, with a number of books which have been lying around for a while with no real connection between them. Again, all are interesting and would be good reads – it’s just a case of deciding! 😀

However, decisions are a little more complex thanks to the arrival of some new titles this week:

Some are review copies, and some are purchases (thank you Blackwells and Hive!) However, the arrival of five new Penguin Great Ideas editions has thrown a bit of a spanner in the works as far as my reading plans are concerned!

I had intended to read all 120(!!!!) in order, although after the first set of 20 I only have a piecemeal collection. These five were the ones I most wanted from the new set, and I got them at very reasonable prices. And now I’m thinking – as I don’t own the whole lot, would it be cheating to read them in whatever order took my fancy?? Do I actually *need* to read them in the order 1 to 120, bearing in mind that that wouldn’t be chronological beause each set of 20 starts with an ancient classic and ends with a more modern work? So I could maybe just read whichever one I wanted when the mood takes me….?

So what to you think? *Is* that cheating? Should I just read the Great Ideas in whatever order suits my reading mojo? And which of these books appeals most? Really, I don’t know what to pick up next!! ;D

November challenges – where to start….

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October was a really good bookish month for me, despite my feeling a little sluggish about reading at the beginning of the month. I suddenly got over that feeling during the 1956 Club and really hit my stride – these are the books I finished during the month, and they were all amazing reads in one way or another. I’m still playing catch up with reviews, and some of these will feature either on Shiny New Books or as part of November challenges – and that’s what I want to think about here!

October’s reading! Quite a good pile – I hadn’t finished the Morley when I took the image, but I will have by tomorrow! 😀

November is a month absolutely bursting with challenges – I can think of five off the top of my head and there are four I would definitely like to try to take part in. Unfortunately, I think Australian Literature Month will not make it into my schedule this year, which is a shame. But you can’t do them all. However, first up is Margaret Atwood Reading Month, hosted by Buried in Print and Consumed by Ink.

Now, I love Atwood and I never need an excuse to read her – she’s definitely one of my favourite authors and I’m always delighted to pick up one of her books. I had a rummage round my shelves, and found that there were a couple of works calling to me; oddly enough, not her fictions, but her poetry collection (which I’ve dipped into before) and also a recent arrival in the form of an essay collection.

Well, it looks like I have three choices there, doesn’t it? Ahem. Spot the deliberate mistake…. I gaily sent off for “On Writers and Writing”, and when it arrived realised I already owned it under the title of “Negotiating with the Dead”. D’oh…. Thing is, I’m not entirely sure if I’ve read it or not (it would definitely be pre-blog if I have, when I wasn’t keeping good records)! Even if I have, I would probably be happy to revisit this one – I’ll see how things go!

Next up is Novella November; this is a challenge which has a bit of a chequered history, but this year is being hosted by Bookish Beck and 746 Books! I love a good novella, although there are only a couple of potential titles knocking about which are these two:

Both are slim volumes I’ve had hanging around for a while and which would be ideal to pick up during this month. And interestingly, one of these feeds into the next appealing book challenge for November: German Literature Month 10, hosted by Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy’s Literary Life.

This is a reading event I enjoy very much, and a dig about in the TBR revealed these titles which appeal at the moment:

Yes, there’s the Roth novella again, together with two intriguing works I’ve again had hanging around on the TBR for quite a while (and if my memory serves me correctly, “Dreamers” actually came my way via Lizzy!) Any of these would be wonderful reading. However, there’s one last challenge for the month which has fairly mind-numbing implications because of the choice of works I would have – and that is:

Nonfiction November is an event which is tailor-made for me, because I’m increasingly coming to read more non-fiction; I’ve always loved that kind of writing, and the term embraces such a wide range of books that the choices are endless. At least, they are when it comes to my TBR…. For a start, both Atwoods and two of the German choices count as non-fiction. Then, a casual rummage through Mount TBR revealed to me just how many non-fictions works of all kinds I have unread. I mean, there’s this pile to start with:

Some gorgeous Fitzcarraldos, which take in all kinds of non-fiction writing; a very strange book on Paris; Chateaubriand’s memoirs; and “Night Walking” from Verso (don’t even get me started on the piles of Verso books lurking unread). Happy to pick up any of these right now.

This is what you might loosely call my nature reading pile – mostly fairly chunky, all very appealing and I could easily spend a month or so just on these.

Then there’s the loosely grouped Scottish books, mainly focusing on Edinburgh (yes, I know there’s a Colette in there, but Massie is a Scottish author). I *really* want to pick up the Silent Traveller right now. There are a lot more Scottish books lurking round the house, but that’s a project on which I’m a little scared to embark in case it completely consumes me.

Thing is, this is only scratching the surface. The TBR is *awash* with non-fiction books – I hadn’t quite realised how many till I had a good rummage – and so I’m vaguely overwhelmed and not quite sure where to begin. Knowing me, I shall just fling myself at the piles with wild abandon and grab the first book which comes to hand – wish me luck! There is also a potential distraction looming in the form of a *very* interesting looking documentary coming up on BBC4 soon – look out for more about this on the Ramblings!  And do let me know if you’re taking on any of these November challenges yourself! ;D

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