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Shuffling the stacks – and revamping the reading projects!

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Post-Christmas, with all the new bookish arrivals, I got into that slightly overwhelmed frame of mind, with all the books all over the place and clamouring for attention. As I shared on social media, I decided to have a bit of a reshuffle – this always tends to clarify the mind as well as reminding me what books I actually own! But there was an added impetus to this, as a Twitter conversation with Retroculturati had reminded me that I had two boxes of Penguin collections somewhere in the house… A bit of digging about revealed them and this is what I found:

Penguin Great Loves box set

Penguin English Journeys box set

The observant amongst you will be aware of my Penguin Reading Projects: I’m gradually making my way through the Penguin Moderns box as well as the Penguin Modern Poets and the Penguin Great Ideas. These are not projects that will be completed any time soon… However, the temptation to add the English Journeys and Great Loves to my Penguins was immense and after a lot of shuffling I ended up with this:

Please excuse my rubbish photography skills – the unit is not lopsided, I’ve just made it look so….

I was pleased to discover that all the various Penguins for the projects fit nicely on this little bookcase and this will help me keep my mind clearer about them. To look more closely at each shelf:

The top shelf has my Penguin Modern box set, alongside the Little Black Classics. I’ve read a lot of the latter, but I by no means own them all. So that’s going to be a long-term project!

Next up the middle shelf. This houses the Penguin Modern Poets and the Penguin Great Ideas. Once again, I am far from owning all of these! Another project is actually going to be getting hold of all of the missing books!

Finally, on the bottom shelf, we have the Penguin English Journeys and the Penguin Great Loves. Both fit nicely on the shelf, with a bit of space, which is very convenient…. Because the conversation I had with Retroculturati started when they shared an image of some Penguin Great Journeys books, and I wasn’t sure if I’d come across that set. A quick online search revealed that they might be another series I would be interesting in reading. And as I had a Christmas gift card lurking – well, this happened:

Ahem. I’ve only got four of the titles so far (with one more on the way) but I think this will be an equally lovely set of books to make my way through. This one and the English Journeys are particularly appealing during these times when we’re not allowed to travel!!

So now the bottom shelf of the case looks like this:

And pleasingly, there’s plenty of space to fit in more Great Journeys. Having done all this, I suppose at some point I’ll have to update my Penguin Projects pages to reflect the new sets. Gulp – I hope I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew! 😀

Some pithy prose from Orwell @shinynewbooks @PenguinUKBooks

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There are some authors who never seem to lose their relevance, and George Orwell is most certainly high on that list. Last year, I read one of his essays, “England, Your England”, which had been brought out as a pamphlet by Penguin. That essay was part of a larger work, “The Lion and the Unicorn”, and Penguin have just released a beautiful new edition of the book in their Modern Classics range.

Now, isn’t that choice of cover image so wonderfully ironic…

I’ve reviewed the Orwell on Shiny New Books, and it’s a work that seems to me to still be painfully relevant to our modern situation. Pop over and have a look at my thoughts – I don’t think we can ever have enough Orwell…

Culture vs Barbarism

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On the marble cliffs by Ernst Junger

And so on to the second of my European rereads; and this is one that is perhaps a little more controversial…. German author Ernst Junger fought in both First and Second World Wars; he was a member of an elite, yet held himself apart from the Nazi regime. His work survived without being burnt, he was not particularly punished after the war and Cliffs is described by some as being critical of Nazism in particular and tyranny in general. So this seems like it might be a more complex work to consider, despite its novella length….

cliffs

The book is set amongst the Marble Cliffs next to the Marina. Here live the narrator and Brother Otho (his actual brother, but also colleague in work), in chambers carved out of and into the cliff face. The two men, together with their slightly witchy servant, Lampusa, as well as the narrator’s son Esio (product of a liaison with Lampusa’s daughter) live a fairly peaceful life; the men study the local plant life, following in the steps of the great Linnaeus, gathering and cataloging specimens. Esio lives a charmed existence, befriending the local snake population while Lampusa cares for their needs. A couple of times a year they are involved in wine-making festivities but for the rest of the time they maintain their scholarly detachment.

All of this, however, is to come under threat, as the forces of the Forest Ranger and his opponents are clashing below the cliffs. There are several different factions living locally, and the normally controlled and measured behaviour of the populace is disintegrating. It transpires that the narrator and Otho are veterans of a previous conflict who have chosen to turn their backs on this kind of life and lead a peaceful existence of scholarship and meditation. However the emerging conflict may lead to the necessity of taking action or taking sides – for how long can the brothers ignore events outside their haven of study?

Then we emptied our glasses to old and distant friends and to the lands of this world. When the winds of death are abroad there is no denying that fear lays hold on us. Then we wonder over our food and drink how much longer a place will be laid for us at table. For the earth is fair.

OTMC is a fascinating read! The landscape and setting of the Great Marina is wonderfully and vividly conjured up, and Junger seamlessly blends elements of what sound like real geography and races with his fantasy location to create a very believable world. His attention to detail is particularly striking when it comes to his descriptions of nature; the plants and trees come to life and it’s clear that Junger is writing as a man with knowledge of his subject.

As for the allegorical elements, well they’re certainly present. The book was published in 1939, at the end of a decade when Junger had rejected numerous overtures from the Nazi party, and it’s difficult not to see them reflected in the portrayal of the violent and thuggish Rangers (although I’ve seen the Chief Ranger equated with Stalin). However, the book has more to it than just an unsubtle take on National Socialism; there are many other factions involved and I would say that there is more of a debate on the position of intellectuals in society and how much they should involve themselves in such conflicts.

junger

There’s also a slightly worrying detachment in Junger’s narration, as if he’s almost implying that a certain caste should be beyond such things; and despite the fact that Otho and the narrator have fought wars in the past, they choose to escape from the Grand Marina by ship at the end of book, calling in a favour from a past contact. So, is Junger saying that the only choice is for men of intellect to flee tyranny and look for safe haven? What happens if there is no safe haven any more? And is it better to stand and fight tyranny, put yourself above it or simply try to ignore it out of existence?

In the end, OTMW asks more questions than it answers and to see it as swipe at Hitler is too simplistic. Instead I think it should be read as Junger’s statement of the superiority of the intellect, as a cry out for the civilised human and his/her plight when faced with the baser elements of the race. Whether you think that’s a valid stance to take or whether you think sitting In a glass house while the apocalypse rages round you is morally right or even sensible is another matter. Nevertheless, it certainly makes for a fascinating read!

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