Jul 302015
 

July wasn’t a particularly good reading month for me. I’ve had a virus for a couple of weeks now, which has kind of wiped out my sinuses, so what with the face ache and general body-blah feeling, I’ve been mostly fiddling around with my new website and not reading much at all. I’m now into the ‘coughing like a sixty-a-day-smoker’ phase, which is big fun!

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Anyhow. I read Samantha Ellis’ How to be a Heroine and absolutely loved it. She wrote about many of the books I read as a youngster, and had many of the same reactions to them as I did. For instance, I could never understand why Laurie and Jo didn’t run away to Paris together, or something equally as exciting. All that Christian goodness in Little Women made me feel queasy, and still does, which is why I still have trouble with Gaskell and other Victorian novelists who lay the piety on too thick. But, yeah, novels did shape my way of thinking and being in the world, and I lived in those fictional worlds in my head more than I did in the real world, and still do, I guess. It felt very comforting to encounter a book that so closely mirrored my own thoughts about certain novels and I had a great time reading it.

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Ellis wrote about Franny Glass and so, of course, I had to hunt down my copy of Franny and Zooey and give it another read. I love reading Salinger. His writing is just so beautifully crafted, every word in place, no fat, no fluff, just arrow-words that zing you straight in the heart. I loved Franny the first time I read about her, and although I thought I understood her distress, in actual fact I would have to be a bit older before I really understood her existential crisis. Lane’s arrogance made me burn, and Bessie’s annoying persistence made me laugh, but mostly I puzzled over what made Zooey tick. I should re-read the rest of the Glass stories because the members of that family are some of the best characters in fiction.

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Next, I read Nightflower: The Life and Art of Vali Myers. There are not a whole lot of words in the book, but I spent a while looking at the artwork and having a ‘I wish I’d been part of the Bohemian thing in Paris’ moment. Why is it that some people can just strike out and do their own thing in life? Where would be be if it weren’t for people like Rimbaud, Van Gogh, and Vali Myers? She didn’t seem to care AT ALL what people thought of her, although she did enjoy attracting attention. I’d like to read a proper biography of her. Her long-time partner wrote a memoir that’s supposed to be good. I’ll have to see if I can track it down. Anyway, Myers’ art is amazingly wonderful. I’m posting a little thing about the book on my new blog, so I won’t go on about it here.

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Andrew Stott’s treatment of John Polidori’s dealings with Byron & Co., The Vampyre Family, is engaging and thorough. I didn’t learn anything new, but Stott isn’t in awe of Byron, which is always a good thing. Poor John Polidori was always going to be out of his league around Byron and the Shelleys, and he got off to a bad start by asking for Byron’s opinion of his writing, which was one of LB’s pet peeves. So, the book covers the usual stuff, including the 1816 summer at Villa Diodati, where Frankenstein had its genesis. Polidori’s story is sad: he was clever and beautiful and had so much potential, but he also had a flawed personality and a chip on his shoulder, which made life hard for him and it all ended very badly.

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Daisy Hay’s double portrait of Mary Anne and Benjamin Disraeli is proving to be very interesting, and I’m finding it a bit of a page turner. It always helps when a biographer genuinely likes her subject, and Hay seems to be rather fond of this unlikely couple. He married her for her money, and then learnt to love her, and she simply adored him. Mary Anne has been dismissed by others as being vacuous and crass, but Hay delved into Mary Anne’s papers in the Bodelian library and this original research has paid off: she gives us a fresh portrait of two intriguing people. I read Hay’s previous book about the second generation Romantic poets and their ‘tangled’ lives, and was left feeling a bit underwhelmed because it had all been done before and in a slightly less censorious tone, it seemed to me, but I think she hits the nail on the head with her second book.

Well, that’s about all I’ve been reading this past month. I hope to have my new site up soon and will be posting there about what I discover in my TBR book mountain. I intend to keep posting here to honour the fact that (it’s) still life, with books. I started this site in 2009 when I surfaced from yet another bout of clinical depression, and I’ve tried to keep it going since then, through all the ups and downs of living with official Crazy Brain. Sometimes I feel a bit sad that I haven’t been able to integrate more into the book blogging community, but I do appreciate the steadfast readers who comment here on my waffling posts. I know it’s often hard to keep up with my mercurial temperament – you should try it from this perspective! :)

So. Onwards!

Jul 272015
 
Fire

A couple of weeks ago I had the bright idea of starting a new blog in which I would ‘journal my adventures of discovery’ amidst the TBR book mountain that has taken over our house. It seemed like a good idea to me at the time, so I registered another domain and decorated another WordPress install, and then I kind of ran out of puff. I guess I started second-guessing myself about the point of it all.

Recently, I read Samantha Ellis’ How to be a Heroine and absolutely loved most of it and agreed with just about everything she wrote. It felt to me as though I were having a margin-conversation with someone who has a similar attitude to books and reading as I do. When I finished her book I felt sad and a bit lonely, because in real life I don’t talk about books with ANYONE, and I remembered the yearning I felt in 2005 when I started my first book blog. Back then, I felt there had to be other people out there who had literary characters as imaginary friends; who read and re-read and re-re-read their favourite novels; who lived in those mind-worlds more than they did in the real world. There had to be people who felt they understood what motivated Heathcliff and Isabel Archer, who cried over Lily Bart and Emma Bovary, who went high-adventuring with Jim Hawkins and Ishmael, and who fell hard in love with Vronsky. Back then, I desperately wanted to find other people who shared my variety of book weirdness.

The idea for starting a new blog came about while I was sorting through my TBR mountain and ruthlessly culling books that seemed like a good idea at the time I acquired them but which hold no interest for me now. Amongst the survivors I’ve discovered books I never knew I had. For a long time I thought I was stockpiling books ‘for a rainy day’. You know how you think that time is going to keep rolling on and you’ll get around to reading all those books ‘one day’? For me, it feels as though, suddenly, ‘one day’ is here and now.

Jun 212015
 

How Beastly the Bourgeois Is

How beastly the bourgeois is
especially the male of the species–

Presentable, eminently presentable–
shall I make you a present of him?

Isn’t he handsome? Isn’t he healthy? Isn’t he a fine specimen?
Doesn’t he look the fresh clean Englishman, outside?
Isn’t it God’s own image? tramping his thirty miles a day
after partridges, or a little rubber ball?
wouldn’t you like to be like that, well off, and quite the
thing

Oh, but wait!
Let him meet a new emotion, let him be faced with another
man’s need,
let him come home to a bit of moral difficulty, let life
face him with a new demand on his understanding
and then watch him go soggy, like a wet meringue.
Watch him turn into a mess, either a fool or a bully.
Just watch the display of him, confronted with a new
demand on his intelligence,
a new life-demand.

How beastly the bourgeois is
especially the male of the species–

Nicely groomed, like a mushroom
standing there so sleek and erect and eyeable–
and like a fungus, living on the remains of a bygone life
sucking his life out of the dead leaves of greater life
than his own.

And even so, he’s stale, he’s been there too long.
Touch him, and you’ll find he’s all gone inside
just like an old mushroom, all wormy inside, and hollow
under a smooth skin and an upright appearance.

Full of seething, wormy, hollow feelings
rather nasty–
How beastly the bourgeois is!

Standing in their thousands, these appearances, in damp
England
what a pity they can’t all be kicked over
like sickening toadstools, and left to melt back, swiftly
into the soil of England.

D. H. Lawrence, 1885 – 1930.

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Jun 012015
 

I didn’t actually mean to abandon my blog for so long: one week turned into a month, turned into another, turned into not missing it and not wanting to bother any more. And yet.

I’m a bit tired of writing about what I read. Having given the matter considerable thought, I’ve realised that blogging completely changed not only what I read, but how I read. That thing where you read with one eye on the quotable passage and the main points you want to highlight in a post, and the sense that reading was no longer the intensely private and solitary pursuit it had always been for me but had become reading ‘performed’ and then reported on? [I liked this book because…. I didn’t like this book because… Oh dear, I’ve only read 416 books this week! Yes, I have read that book and this is what I think about it, blah blah blah… Etc.]

I suppose this is me saying that I’m pretty much over blogging exclusively about books and reading, or holding on to any pretence of being a book blogger any more. What this space will become now is anyone’s guess, but in the meantime, here is one of my favourite poems:

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Ophelia

On the calm black water where the stars are sleeping
White Ophelia floats like a great lily;
Floats very slowly, lying in her long veils…
– In the far-off woods you can hear them sound the mort.

For more than a thousand years sad Ophelia
Has passed, a white phantom, down the long black river.
For more than a thousand years her sweet madness
Has murmured its ballad to the evening breeze.

The wind kisses her breasts and unfolds in a wreath
Her great veils rising and falling with the waters;
The shivering willows weep on her shoulder,
The rushes lean over her wide, dreaming brow.

The ruffled water-lilies are sighing around her;
At times she rouses, in a slumbering alder,
Some nest from which escapes a small rustle of wings;
– A mysterious anthem falls from the golden stars.

II

O pale Ophelia! beautiful as snow!
Yes child, you died, carried off by a river!
– It was the winds descending from the great mountains of Norway
That spoke to you in low voices of better freedom.

It was a breath of wind, that, twisting your great hair,
Brought strange rumors to your dreaming mind;
It was your heart listening to the song of Nature
In the groans of the tree and the sighs of the nights;

It was the voice of mad seas, the great roar,
That shattered your child’s heart, too human and too soft;
It was a handsome pale knight, a poor madman
Who one April morning sate mute at your knees!

Heaven! Love! Freedom! What a dream, oh poor crazed Girl!
You melted to him as snow does to a fire;
Your great visions strangled your words
– And fearful Infinity terrified your blue eye!

III

– And the poet says that by starlight
You come seeking, in the night, the flowers that you picked
And that he has seen on the water, lying in her long veils
White Ophelia floating, like a great lily.

Arthur Rimbaud (1870)