For a year that reading-wise started so solidly, it ended in a whimper, however I’m going to blame a few library books (which I don’t include) for my low throughput. Having said that, two weeks into 2015, I’ve polished off a couple already. I’m really enjoying my reading when I can put my damn phone back in it’s cradle at night. Finding myself in a bit of an Anglophile phase, I’ve been hoovering up 1880’s copies of The Magazine of Art, bound copies of Punch and most of the “Pilgrimages to Old Homes” series by Fletcher Moss, and flicking through them. I find the references to a different time and to lost places charming and it’s sent me to all sorts of daggy places, like watching incredibly unfashionable English TV series like “From Lark Rise to Candleford” or “The Great Fire“. Do not watch these!
I made the mistake of reading the second book in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake trilogy about 8 years after the first, meaning I could not remember a thing about the former, however the second was a great read – imaginative and sometimes unexpected. “The Year of the Flood” follows the parallel lives of various female survivors after an apocalyptic event, framed as a thriller where I ended up egging them on against difficult odds. I find I can barely read sci-fi any more, and Atwood is my preferred hybrid form of it – not too gadgety and close enough to our current predicament to be believable. She’s pretty much one of the only female writers I seem to like now, since I stopped reading Annie Proulx. Oh – Hilary Mantel, I forgot her. 3.5 stars.
I subscribed to the London Review of Books a few years back – lured by an impossibly cheap price and a fortnightly (!) copy, shipped all the way to Oz. In many ways its opened my eyes to more serious literary and historical criticism and made me aware of my many failings as a student. I was lured into buying a reprint of John Thelwall‘s “The Peripatetic” in the LRB by claims of it being a masterpiece of it’s time (1790’s England) and an example of the social and political reform that agitators like Thelwall fought their whole lives for. The introduction by Judith Thompson was worth the $9 (hardback) price of the book alone. Thelwall was pretty much run out of society by the folks he was rallying against and encountered a lifetime of opposition. The language of this romantic period was quite a laugh – many encounters on the road with tramps or hobos, and long florid expositions about the weather. I was never going to be able to finish the damn book, but I’m glad I gave it a fair hearing. 2 stars.
By chance I came across a cheap copy of The Saturday Book (#34), published in 1975 (I believe the last one they made following the death of Leonard Russell the founder) and knowing nothing about it, liking its many pictures and a saucy article about the history of La Vie Parisienne, and sensing another series I might wish to collect cheaply, I nabbed it. What a delight – full of quirky historical and literary curiosities, all designed to be picked up and put down at whim over a year of English weekends until the next annual rolled around. I’d love to collect (and read) a few more. Much fun and easy reading. 4 stars.
Switching to Sardinia, a place I will probably never visit, I got sucked in Salvatore Satta’s “The Day of Judgement” after reading it had been compared to Lampedusa’s “The Leopard” which is considered an Italian classic, and which I enjoyed about 10 years ago. This one is set a bit later in the early 1900s, in a remote village of Nuoro, where the semi-autobiographical recollections paint a vivid picture of the corruption, and personalities of rich and poor. Even though I seemed to take forever to read this book, the second half really galloped along and despite the many magical and tragic stories within, it was wonderfully satisfying in the end. 4 stars.
Kim managed to find me a Fall biography that I hadn’t yet read, and I pretty much dropped all else to consume this surprisingly thick, plainly written diary “The Big Midweek” by ex-Fall bass player Steve Hanley. The guy is a saint – he lasted 20 years in a band environment that can only be described as toxic and comes out of it with only minor scarring. Despite pulling punches on Mark, you’re left in no doubt about his misanthropic bullying ways, and it only made me wish I had seen them on their 1982 tour – I was just a bit young really. The 2010 gig was pretty average and he was well and truly drugged up, being physically shepherded about the stage by a nervous looking Elena. 4 stars.
Finally – I finished a monster, the 400 page (plus 80 page notes/index) kooky-covered “Reinventing Bach” by Paul Elie. The Readings bargain table strikes again. It had me buying a full copy of JS.Bach’s piano works, and I nearly got sucked into buying the cello suites after some loving commentary about Pablo Casals. I already had Gould’s Goldbergs to refer to. I enjoyed learning about Albert Schweitzer and Leopold Stokowski and the roles they played in bringing Bach into people’s consciousness. 3 stars.