Whatever, I have too much and too little to say about it, and feel unequal to the task.
So I shall go on with the memes and pro-formas I've been collecting. Apparently 'meme' in it's original sense is something its originator is somewhat backing away from, as it's really quite bad science to attribute to an abstract idea the properties of a physical reality like a gene. Or so I've heard, but it may be rubbish. What do I know? I make pictures and vacillate between deep wonder and small despondency, and the world goes on in ways I generally feel I can't really cope with, understand, stomach or compete with. Ah me. Little me. Grow up.
Something I picked up earlier.
Bee writes wonderful reviews, that are clever and clear and well rounded all at the same time, and make you want to immediately go and order the book or see the film or play. A little while back, she had a tidy-up of her bedside locker, and went through each book she found there with a little succinct review and a decision as to whether it should be allowed to remain or get reshelved.
As an exercise this seemed to me to have potential. I don't read as many books as I did, and many I start I don't finish. This would have been anathema at one time, when I prided myself on not giving up on a book, even if I was struggling with it. I'd like to pretend it's because I'm more discerning, but I think really I'm too dissolute (I don't know if that's quite an appropriate word there, but I like it...) in my concentration, and just give up and wander off toward something else. This activity is of course largely the culprit, though not entirely, there are other things which distract me too, and though the received wisdom is that books are inherently superior reading matter to all else, especially anything to be found on-line, I'm not so sure. Much I've read here of late gives the lie to that, and in my life at least, poetry seems to have undergone an enormous resurgence.
However, this means I have a lot of books of uncertain status lying around, either in the middle of being read, started and abandoned, in the to-be-read category, or, occasionally, recently finished and about to move on to a different plane. They are not usually on my bedside table, as in fact I rarely read in bed, and at some point in the establishment of the marital regime, it was agreed that cluttered bedside tables were an Undesirable Thing. Instead they are scattered around, on the dining table, beside the sofa, in bags or on the shelves beside the bureau mostly occupied by teaching stuff. Some of them are borrowed, which is why they don't disappear into the black hole of upstairs, but hang around. One or two I just like having permanently to hand.
I gathered them together a week or so ago and photographed them for the record. I'll go through from top to bottom and try, probably unsuccessfully, to be concise.
Auden is a wall I have been chipping away at intermittently for years. 'A rather well-made wall', as I remember an old Devonian saying saying of a solid and imposing but rather austere piece of road construction, and one with few extraneous adornments to distract the eye. The well-known and accessible lyrics like 'Funeral Blues' and 'Lay your sleeping head, my love'(sorry, I'm not going to do any more links, it takes too long and I'm too fussy about getting nice ones without annoying pop-ups and ads in them...), or charming lines taken out of context, like
'...when I try to imagine a faultless love
Or the life to come, what I hear is the murmur
Of underground streams, what I see is a limestone landscape.'
rather fail to show just how much work Auden is, but it is worth it, because just sometimes a chink appears in the wall and I see something wondrous I've never seen before.
I was carrying this back and forth to the hospital. Reshelve, but accessibly in the bedroom.
Everyman's Pocket Library - Rilke
I only came to Rilke in the last year, given the impetus to do so by way of blogging. I keep this one around to dip into. I like it, of course, but I'm uncertain about the translation, by Leishman. He uses words like 'vouchsafe' which may or may not be appropriate, but which grate a bit. The Duino Elegies are partly translated by Stephen Spender, and I fell they've got more juice somehow. Somebody last time I mentioned Rilke recommended another translator, so perhaps I'll look back and follow that up. I wouldn't mind a parallel German/English edition; my German's not strong but I might be able to read it like that.
Perhaps reshelve to bedroom.
Bill Bryson - Shakespeare
My lovely sister sometimes uses her waiting time at the airport when she comes here to buy paperbacks which she reads then leaves with me. It's rather nice, as I get things I might not normally. Here the cheery polymath turns his hand to Shakepseare's life, which he spends most of his time telling you we know next to nothing about, but what he does tell you is interesting an amusing, not least the surrounding facts about life in London and England generally at the time, and especially about all the words and expressions Shakespeare apparently introduced, or failed to. One of his notable innovations was the use of the un- prefix to words where it hadn't been applied before, such as 'unmask','unlock', 'untie' and 'unveil'. Also amusing the words he tried that didn't make it: undeaf, untent (to get someone out of their tent? Achilles perhaps?), unhappy (as a verb!), exsufflicate and insultment. The last sounds to me like a Bushism.
Bryson also does a good job of taking apart all the ridiculous 'Shakespeare wasn't Shakespeare' arguments and theories.
Finished, into storage, or lend it to J who expressed an interest.
The Gnostics - Andrew Phillip Smith
I've had an interest in Gnosticism and dualistic heresies for a while, certainly since reading Stephen O'Shea's 'The Perfect heresy' about the Cathars, a subject which seems to go in and out of literary fashion. I've never really been able to make head nor tail of the Gnostic gospels, and reluctantly came to the conclusion that perhaps the Council of Nicea had its reasons, but this overview does shed some light on them, if not a whole pleroma-full of it.
There is a certain appeal in the idea that the world is a flawed and vile creation of a lesser god, but that all life contains a seed of light which seeks to return to its source in the true god. Although that's only one element of the whole Gnostic shebang. Some of the imagery of their ideas is intriguing, and opens up imaginative possibilities, and the whole matter of the transference, cross-fertilisation, spontaneous emergence and sub-currents of ideas is always fascinating. It's readable and conveys the author's enthusiasm and personal interest in his subject, while keeping on the right side of scholarly integrity and not sliding into New Agey wishfulness. And it gives plenty of opportunity for raging at the intolerance, brutality and tyranny of the dominant religions.
I was very surprised to learn how many modern Gnostic churches there are about, and have been for a hundred years or so, even before the discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts, presumably in the wake of the re-invention of the Western mystery tradition, Golden Dawn and all that. Though quite what they actually do in practice I'm not sure, and in a way the whole notion of a Gnostic church is something of an oxymoron...
Also perhaps worth a look if you're a big Philip Pulman fan, which I'm not especially, but it was an interesting angle.
Finished, shelve upstairs.
Tess of the d'Urbevilles
Another one my sister left. I said I thought perhaps I ought to read it again, but so far I haven't found myself gravitating toward doing so. It was my third A level novel text, the others being 'Middlemarch' and 'Bleak House' and the one I liked least. I preferred, and I think still do, my novels very character driven, and/or with an epic scope so lots of different characters all doing different things at the same time. I actually think Hardy's characters are fairly thin, they're too busy being either the wretched victims of fate or its stupid or nasty agents. I quite like 'Far from the Madding Crowd' because the main characters survive and have to go on sadder and wiser but healed, though there's still that awful bit with the kindly dog that helps the distressed and pregnant girl to the workhouse then is 'stoned away' by the warden. I hate that kind of thing in Hardy. I know it's how it is and I know how much it hurt him ('but he could do little for them...') and that's why I hate it. The there's the whole rape/seduction-innocence/experience conflict, his textual changes and general confusion about it, I don't think he had quite emerged from the Victorian denial about it himself.
Also, I'm a bit put off by the photo of the girl who played Tess in the BBC adaptation on the cover, as I didn't really care much for that, and thought the main parts were badly miscast. Though the Polanski film also misfired in many ways - it simply wasn't English enough, Normandy cattle etc, don't get me started on authentic livestock and scenery - I though Nastasja Kinski and Peter Firth were actually better in their roles. Although she was rather oozing exotic sultriness, you had much more of a sense that her beauty and sensuality was fatal and dangerous and more than she could manage, and he was a wonderful prissy prig.
I think I prefer Hardy as a poet. But perhaps I ought to read it again for the scenery.
Leave it on the shelf.
Jeanette Winterson - The Stone Gods
My sister left this one too. I'm still not quite sure what I think of it. It was very compelling, and for the first part I was transfixed and enchanted, I couldn't imagine how she had thought it all up, the whole dystopic world was totally engrossing. I felt slightly dissatisfied when I finished though, not sure why; the narrative devices and stories within stories seemed a bit arch and made me feel a bit toyed-with. But it was still quite remarkable and very good.
It's wrapped up in plastic here to be sent tarif livres et brochures to my brother, whence it has gone.
small stones, a year of moments - Fiona Robyn
A blogger's book! Very nice, lovely to dip into, recommended.
Keep it around, or maybe bedroom bookshelf.
Fact of a Doorframe - Adrienne Rich
I got this really for the ghazals, or that's what prompted me. Her ghazals strip the form right back to simply dissociated couplets, no radif, no rhyme. Interesting. Overall, though, it's another brick wall, only I'm less inclined to take the time to chip than Auden. I'm not certain why. Perhaps it's her Americanness that puts up a barrier, perhaps her sometimes separatist feminism, her engagement with the world, society, politics. I admire it, but it leaves me cold.
Perhaps I just came to her as a poet too late. I don't know.
I'll keep it around; I might pick it up at the right moment and find a way in...
Unleash the poem within -Wendy Nyemaster
This was something I came across at Crafty Green Poet's place, when decided I ought to study poetic forms more. As such it is useful, but I wish she wasn't so bloody patronising. It's written to encourage women to write formal poetry as therapy, and she seems to think the way to do this is exclusively in cutesy terms of clothes-shopping, chocolate and babies. I have to work very hard to ignore this to extract the useful information from it. It's all the more irritating because she is clearly a much more intelligent and competent poet than this would indicate; her advice not only on how the forms are constructed but also on the kind of content and subject matter suited to them is very sound, so why she assume she has to talk down to the rest of us...
Keep it around for reference regardless.
Peter Hoeg - The Woman and the Ape, and Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow
Someone lent these to me, or was throwing them out, perhaps. I've not read 'Miss Smilla' yet, but I do mean to, perhaps now the winter is coming on. I'm a strong believer in climatically appropriate reading. I started 'The Woman and the Ape' but wasn't moved to continue. It has a horrid trashy picture on the cover. Both rather shallow reasons for reading and not reading - the weather and the cover picture.
Keep Miss Smilla around, store or pass on/give back the other.
Alec Guinness - My name escapes me.
J lent this to me, and seemed very determined I should read it. But I hardly ever read (auto-)biography. Real lives, even the most unusual, are almost inevitably boring for large stretches, and actorly lives interest me very little. Though I did once rather enjoy Joyce Grenfell's memoir, and that of Lutyens daughter (Mary?), whose mother was in with the Theosophist crowd that brought Krishnamurti to Europe in the belief he was the messiah or similar, only in the event he turned down the job.
Storage, or pass it on.
Jan Struther - Mrs Miniver
One of my all-time favourites. I know it depicts a ludicrously priviliged world, and the wartime spirit thing and the propaganda aspect of it should be regarded with suspicion, but her way of looking at things, her originality and zest, the word that she felt summed up the way life should be approached, are infectious and wonderful, and bear reading and rereading. Don't confuse it with the film, with Greer Garson, which is popular, and which Jan Struther was involved in the making of, but which bears littel relation to the original stories.
They should really do a blog of it, like Pepys and Gilbert White et al, for it has something about it that the best blog writing does, a delight in the ordinary and a vision that makes it extraordinary.
Jan Struther died quite young, and requested that her corneas be donated, so someone else could see the world through her eyes. Wish I'd had them (needless to say without the painful business of going blind and being operated on).
Got it out to read in hospital, but didn't in the end. I'll keep it out to dip into.
Flaubert - Bouvard and Pecuchet, and the Dictionary of Received Ideas.
I keep this around for several reasons: it was sent to me by a dear friend I've never met, at a time it gives me much pleasure to recall, and it contains a handwritten postcard and a bookmark cut from a pretty card with the end folded down. It is a beautiful old edition in French from 1910, and it looks, feels and smells like only such a book can.
I read, I'm afraid, very little in French these days, but if I feel like doing so this is a good one do pick up and dip into, particularly the Dictionary of Received Ideas, which is an ironic reference of stock opinions, responses and pieces of quite possibly spurious information which would equip one to move safely in Parisian society of the period when it was written. In fact, many of them are still quite applicable, for example, 'Celebrities: Concern yourself with every smallest detail of their private lives, in order to be able to denigrate them.' And 'always mistrust draughts(courants d'air)', still a French obsession.
The novel, 'Bouvard and Pecuchet', which I did start to read, is about two men whose relationship and exchanges consist of such received ideas. In fact, compared to some of the modern French novels I applied myself to a few years ago, it reads really quite clearly and easily.
As I said, I keep it to hand.
That'll do for now, that's a horribly long post. I didn't end up throwing many out.
I invite others to pick up this theme, as I'm sure you have all kinds of interesting tomes littering your homes, happily digested or paving the road to hell with good intentions...