Friday, 26 April 2013

A book is the most effective weapon against intolerance and ignorance - Lyndon Baines Johnson

This week has been ridiculously busy. Meetings galore. Lots of paperwork. Lots of words.

I'd like to think the result of this work was positive. That the words weren't printed or uttered for no purpose. Unfortunately, you can never be sure. You can never know the true effect of words and ideas on an individual. What is really resounding within their heart and mind.

While we were fretting through our corridors and workload, horrid things were happening elsewhere in the world. Horrid things conceived and pursued from the hearts and minds of individuals. No fiction. Just true, brutal reality.

I have a thought for the day at my desk. To spur me on. Confucius spoke to me this week: "Faced with what is right, to leave it undone shows a lack of courage".

Such presumes we all know what is right. Something we can no longer take for granted. As has been seen. Increasingly.

I'm halfway through Böll's The Clown. And am enjoying it immensely. Introspective. Conflictual. Angry.

A clown. The very person who is supposed to make us laugh. At ourselves. And others. At situations. This clown leaving us feeling quite flat. If not overtly melancholy.  

His world has lost its charm. Its humour. The reality he beholds is only brutal. And sometimes this is the reality of us all. Sometimes the charm of life has gone. Sometimes there is no laughter left. But only sometimes. And such times must pass...

Sunday, 14 April 2013

A good book has no ending - R. D. Cumming

Whey hey! There is sun. And warmth. Spring is springing just about everywhere. At least for today.

Basking in the rays, I finished the latest book in my Classics Club challenge. This Side of Paradise. F. Scott Fitzgerald. A somewhat languourous way to spend a Sunday morning, I must say.

What is it about FSF? He is just so delightful. His extravagant characterisation. His indulgence. Opulence. Like silk sheets on a queen-sized bed...

Firstly, there's always money. Coming and going. Being pursued and overtaken. And damaging.

And his people. They are all so sure of themselves. So superior. And yet still so flawed. Making the most outrageous decisions. With debatable consequences. Flippantly disposing of people and things. Now this is no judgement. We are all flawed beings. In my not-so-humble opinion. And yet there are still wonders to be found in our imperfection.

Amery is not actually repulsive. Despite his overt attachment to intellect rather than to humanity. His observations can be profound. Touching. If misdirected. In his relentless search for peace, there is the ever-present sense of the immortality, the infallibility of youth. And yet there remains a vulnerability. Shaken by challenges, failures. Mortality.

And how heavily he falls into love. Into infatuation and the idea of love perhaps. But refreshing all the same to see his total immersion and obsession with his chosen beloved. For the time it lasts. Truly romantic.

Throughout this work, FSF constantly changes and juxtaposes styles of writing. Flowing and mingling with the ideas and emotions. The confusions and distractions. It's bizarre but it works. I loved it.

So continues my Classics Club challenge. Pleasantly, thus far. I've decided to read some Europeans over the next few weeks: Böll, Kundera, Turgenev. To take me from Spring into the Summer... 

Saturday, 13 April 2013

The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who'll get me a book I ain't read - Abraham Lincoln

I have never been a morning person. Ever. I can stay up till all hours of the night. On form. Functioning better sometimes, methinks. But the morning for me is brutal. Shocking. I know that it can be beautiful and fresh. I know it. Just can't appreciate it.

So being obliged to get up at the crack of dawn causes me no end of stress. It thus rarely happens. Except when I'm travelling. The company you have in such moments is crucial. Choosing the right books is thus vital.

Last week, I left my house at 5am to travel to Rabat. That's not good. It's not even human. And yet I was made to forget my torment - more or less - reading Thomas Hardy's A Mere Interlude. Which was anything but.

An interesting and somewhat refreshing conclusion for someone who had only ever to that point associated TH with the darkest doom and gloom. The Return of the Native was my initiation as a teenager. I never understood how my best friend loved that book. It was tortuous to me. I later pursued my need to know TH better and took up Jude the Obscure. Not a happy read.

So I was more than pleasantly surprised to enjoy A Mere Interlude. More than enjoy. I was of course reading it on my darling Kindle. Which was always going to cheer me up. But here was a TH I had never known. Light. Charming. Insightful. And ironic.

These artfully constructed tales made me chuckle to myself. Even at 6am. From pure and embarrassed recognition. TH showed a telling and perceptive insight into the female make-up. Generally speaking, of course. Don't all rush and tell me that you're not like that. I know many wonderful females who aren't.

But take our first protagonist: Baptista Trewthen decides to sacrifice herself in a loveless marriage to a man a good deal older, and wealthier, in order to save herself from a job she hates. Unthinkable, you might say. Until you're in a job you hate. And can see no way out. The Mere Interlude of the title is a brief and eventful encounter with the man she really loves on the eve of her wedding.

In An Imaginative Woman, Ella Marchmill is married and bored. She falls deeply and unrepentantly in love with a man she's never met. Has never seen. But whose mind and work she admires. She is, says TH, "an impressionable, palpitating creature". She is, methinks, the epitome of the romantic, dreamy woman.

Whereby men are so visual in their pursuit of partners, Ella represents all women who convince themselves to fall in love. From a look. A gesture. A melancholy moment. And who can construct a whole love story from the tiniest seed. Which may only have fallen inadvertently. And actually has no root.

I don't say either approach is better. But it made me smile inside that a man understood the depths of some of our motivation.

TH's short stories were a revelation to me. Absorbing, mesmerising. Thrilling. I see there are many more to delight in. And I will. I think that's how I will enjoy and appreciate him. But, of course, only after my Classics Club challenge. At sometime in the (seemingly very) distant future...

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The reading of all good books is like conversation with the finest men of the past centuries - Descartes

So I've missed a couple of posts this past week or two. But I have a good excuse. Kind of. I was in Rabat, Morocco. Working. With a little pleasure on the side. And an unstable WIFI. 
It was my first experience of Morocco. And an experience it definitely was. Rabat is lush and green. But I'm told it's not the prettiest of cities in the country. All the same, the food was good.  The souk was suitably colourful and lively.  And the people were charming.  I was suitably charmed.
However, after a very long, grey winter, I was disappointed that it rained for most of our visit. Torrentially at times. I had brought my swimming costume along. My expectations were high. The pool was outdoors...
On top of which, I suffered a bout of Delhi belly (or should that be Rabat runs?). My lovely and very attentive hosts took me on a tour of the hospital emergency room. Just to be sure. The experience was, well, an experience.
And to ensure the adventure had its fill, Air France lost our luggage on the way home. Fun, huh. Not so jealous of my travels now, I guess...
Still, I caught up on some reading. On my Kindle. So I was (generally) a happy chappy. Especially so since I'd successfully completed my March challenge. Yeyhey! I finished my Joyce. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. How cool is that?
Now I won't say that I enjoyed the read. But I didn't dislike it. Joyce skillfully conveys the mind of a boy growing to a man. The busy, active mind of the child. Observant and eager. Jumping wildly from observation to thought to feeling. Then the adolescent mind learning to grow and live and assume. 
It was an interesting read. Somewhat frenetic. Never relaxed. But informative too. Not being Catholic n all.
I was glad to get through the book. I don't know that I'd recommend it. It didn't stay with me. I don't think the style sat well with me. But I'm happy to have read it. And am eager to know more of Joyce.
Ulysses looms on the horizon. On my "to read" list. But removed (in haste and trepidation) from my original Classics Club challenge list. That'll be for another time. Let's take a breather first...