Asylum Piece

Asylum Piece - Anna Kavan When he was reading this, s.penkevich gave us a quotation:"And it seems both strange and sad to me that all those childish years were spent in preparation for this – that, forgotten by everybody, with a beaten face, I should serve machinery in a place far away from the sun."That did it, I knew I had to read the book.The back cover mentions Anna Kavan's mental illness, her breakdowns, time spent in a Swiss clinic, heroin addiction and also compares her to Kafka. Frankly, though true, I think this is all a bit misleading as to what you will get in her writing.Her prose is spare, there is no sloppiness or excess. Everything is precise, well-observed and intense. Her images are carefully described and haunting, the characters' emotions -- whether basic or subtle -- have a weight to them.Instead of being Kafkaesque (with all the frustration and claustrophobia that entails) I find her writing poignant and achingly beautiful. If anyone, she makes me think of Chekhov.

Selected Stories

Selected Stories - E.M. Forster Wonderful!The last book I read from E.M. Forster was Howards End (highly recommended) so that's the sort of thing I was prepared for here.As you would expect from Forster, the action arises naturally and inevitably from well-drawn characters, there is subtlety, intensity and emotional truth but there was also a big surprise in the range of the stories -- from pagan fantasies to allegories and science fiction!Many of the stories, scenes and characters have stayed with me and I often think about them.

The Interrogative Mood

The Interrogative Mood - Padgett Powell

This book is made up entirely of questions. This could have been interesting.


It wasn't.


"When did you last have a piece of Melba toast?


"Author, you are wasting my time.


"Could Mendeleyev place you correctly in a square on a chart of periodic identities, or would you resonate all over the board?"


Now if you don't think about it for even a micro-second, this has the air of being deep. And if you recognize Mendeleyev you might feel a flutter of self-congratulation. (Hey, I got that reference!) But if you actually think about this question... well, you soon discover that there is nothing there.


It´s a shiny, empty box.


The book alternates between these two types of questions (mundane and pseudo-deep) until you loose the will to live. Or you stop reading. I recommend the latter. And somehow the fact that these empty little baubles are in the form of questions really irks me. It´s an insult to the readers´ intelligence. Why would I waste my time and energy on what is essentially fluff? A question mark does not create instant philosophical depth and the sheer number of questions included here does not create substance.


In a way it´s a perfect product of the consumer age: inauthentic, content-free -- basically the equivalent of mental junk food.


And it doesn´t even taste good.


[I don´t usually do scathing reviews, but I hate to think of anyone else wasting their time and money on this hollow rubbish.]

Dominion of the Dead

The Dominion of the Dead - Robert Pogue Harrison "The dead are our guardians. We give them a future so that they may give us a past."How intertwined our lives are with the dead! They built our cities; they invented and designed so many of the objects and technologies we use every day; they developed our languages and cultures; they created books, poems, music, art that are the basis of our culture; they made political decisions that shaped our countries; the list is endless.But Harrison goes deeper than the obvious, referring to works of literature (contemporary as well as ancient: Homer, Virgil, Dante, Rilke, Joyce, Giorgio Caproni, Eleanor Wilner, etc.), philosophy, anthropology and linguistics to explore the subtle and fascinating aspects of our give-and-take relationship with the dead. Brilliant, thought-provoking and beautiful.

The Iliad (Fagles translation)

The Iliad (Fagles translation) - While reading, I frequently thought of this quotation from the Odyssey: "Ah how shameless -- the way these mortals blame the gods. / From us alone, they say, come all their miseries, yes, / but they themselves, with their own reckless ways, / compound their pains beyond their proper share."The Iliad is agonizing to read -- all that relentless death and misery. Just go home! Forget about Helen! Go live a peaceful, happy life -- raise goats, who cares about glory?Remember all those begats in the bible? Here we have the opposite: a litany of death. One after another after another -- Greeks and Trojans butchering each other. You'd quickly get numb to it if Homer hadn't put in these little biographical details that just broke your heart. Each one of them became a real person to you just at the moment where they died a horrible death on the battlefield.There was a bit of respite here and there with the lovely nature and everyday-rural-life metaphors. But then, that often made it even harder to go back to the fighting.As for the "heroes"... well, I know it was a different time, a different culture, etc., etc., but I'm really hard-pressed to see the valor in hacking people to death in their sleep. Or driving a spear through them as they're running away. Or skewering them while they're on their knees in front of you begging for mercy. Or standing over the body of someone you just killed and taunting them.I love how in began and ended in medias res. Very nice. Counters the expectations.Incredible how different this was from the Odyssey which was a completely pleasurable read. I can't believe I preferred this to the Odyssey the first time I read them both eons ago. Rather alarmed at my younger self, really.Anyhow, very glad to have reread The Iliad. Fagles is a truly wonderful translator. Underlined a lot of magnificent and/or horrifying passages. Relieved it's over.

Eat, Pray, Love

Eat Pray Love: One Woman's Search For Everything - Elizabeth Gilbert No comment.

The Fast Diet: The Secret of Intermittent Fasting - Lose Weight, Stay Healthy, Live Longer

The Fast Diet: The Simple Secret of Intermittent Fasting: Lose Weight, Stay Healthy, Live Longer - Michael Mosley, Mimi Spencer First off, I've never been on a diet in my life.I've been a vegetarian for 25 years and eat a healthy varied diet with lots of whole grains, vegetables, dried legumes, etc. but since moving to Paris have been eating way too much in the pastry department. Like everyone else reviewing this, I saw the BBC Horizon program "Eat, Fast and Live Longer" (search YouTube - it keeps getting posted there) and was really impressed. This book gives details of the science and recommendations on how to manage the fasting. I've been doing it for a month and feel much lighter and have a better relationship to hunger and portion size. This is a great way to reset and remind your body that less is more. (Dovetails nicely with mindfulness.)My only complaint is that the recipes are all high protein even though in the science section, that's mentioned as being harmful. The reason they give is that for only two days a week, it won't be a problem and that protein helps dull your appetite. Well, whole grains and heaps of steamed veg do that as well and it's a lot healthier.The only thing I didn't like about the book was the section by Ms Spencer -- truly appallingly writing. Read for the info, not the literary merit!

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? - Jeanette Winterson "Yet I would rather be this me -- the me that I have become -- than the me I might have become without... all the things that have happened to me along the way... I think I am lucky."That quotation carries a lot of weight when you learn some of the things she's been through. I don't usually read autobiographies but I've always had a fondness for Jeanette Winterson. As one person says to her, it's necessary to "settle the backstory" and this is what she does in this book.A reminder that everyone is constantly making choices (whether actively or by default) that shape their lives. We can choose to think, learn and figure out what makes us happy, we can work hard to create a rich rewarding life... or not.

Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion, and the Appetite for Wonder

Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder - Richard Dawkins The actual science bits in here are great. Learned heaps about the workings of light and colour, sound and hearing... was even reminded that the idea of "superstitious behavior" in animals is attributed to Skinner (and not, sadly, my own idea). Much geeky excitement experienced all round by yours truly. Dawkins does a fine job of explaining complex ideas clearly and well.That's what was good about Unweaving the Rainbow.Sadly, what feels like way more than half of the book was spent painstakingly trying to argue people out of believing in astrology, ghosts, remote viewing, etc. using logic and scientific fact. Its starts about one third the way in. My problem with this is threefold:1) Dawkins is assuming that logic and scientific fact would have persuasive power for anyone believing in what he calls "superstition" or "ad hoc magic". (And really, why would it? I think believers would be the first to point out that this sort of thing is beyond the purview of science.)2) Dawkins assumes that these "deluded" people are reading his book. I can't say for sure, but personally, I would be surprised if a diehard believer in ESP or astrology would be interested in reading Dawkins' explanation of Fraunhofer lines, the electromagnetic spectrum and other fairly hardcore sciencey topics that fill the first third of this book. Seems like a different sort of audience. So he ends up "preaching to the choir" -- and there is something rather uncomfortably self-righteous about this. Not to mention dull.3) Dawkins (I don't mean to be unkind, but I can't think of any other to state the fact) embarrasses himself when he wanders out of the world of science and into literature and the humanities. Critiques of the scientific accuracy of Wordsworth poems or a fantasy story by Mark Twain are cringe-making.What Dawkins doesn't understand about human psychology is a lot. I think his whole crusade against religion has been a waste of a good scientific mind and has done a lot of damage to the discussion. His aggressive, dismissive and disrespectful approach has only put people on the defensive and set an unfortunate example.I was hoping for a lot more "wonder of science". Instead, I felt like I was getting lectured at length for something I didn't even do. What do I care about astrology??Anyhow, I was hoping for more wonders-of-science and less railing. Disappointing. Better books on science and wonder that I'd recommend:[bc:The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science|6885204|The Age of Wonder How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science|Richard Holmes||4419518] [bc:In Defence of Wonder and Other Philosophical Reflections|14451025|In Defence of Wonder and Other Philosophical Reflections|Raymond Tallis||20093424]

The Necessity of Art

The Necessity of Art - Ernst Fischer, John Berger, Anna Bostock "Why is it distracting, relaxing, entertaining to sink oneself into someone else's life and problems, to identify oneself with a painting or a piece of music or with the characters in a novel, play or film? Why do we respond to such 'unreality' as though it were reality intensified?""[We] long to absorb the surrounding world and make it [our] own; to extend [our] inquisitive, world-hungry 'I'...""Why is our own existence not enough?"I could go on and on - my copy is heavily underlined. (Always a good sign.) This book asks all the interesting questions about art: where does the impulse come from? What makes for dishonest art? What effect does putting a price on it have? How have mechanization and consumerism affected it? What is the relationship between form and content? Again, I could keep going.You may agree with one of his ideas and disagree with the next, but regardless, he will make you rethink the subject and your opinions on it.One more note: I'm not a big fan of introductions -- so often they're no more than shoddy retellings of the plot or some irrelevant blather -- but John Berger's introduction to this book is beautiful and fitting and possibly one of the best I've ever read.

The Writer's Voice

The Writer's Voice - A. Alvarez "Reading well means opening your ears to the presence behind the words and knowing which notes are true and which are false. It is as much an art as writing well and almost as hard to acquire."This is NOT a how-to book, but three essays exploring and thinking the subject through. What does an authentic voice feel like, sound like? How can you hear it -- or not -- in others. Everyone should have to read this in high school.P.S. Forgot to mention that my one complaint about this book is Alvarez's obvious issue with the Romantics. Not only does he misrepresent them, he even lumps them together with Victorian and Gothic authors. For a more accurate picture of the Romantics, see [a:Richard Holmes|31054|Richard Holmes|]."...the altogether subtler sense of being emotionally awakened...""...the fragile defenses society has built to keep out chaos...""What is sometimes passed off as 'fine writing' -- also known as 'poetic prose' -- is usually little more than a set of secondhand stylistic devises that cost the writer nothing and flatter the readers into believing that, through it, they have graduated into a better class of literature.""Art is about more than compensation or self-therapy... to make you... more fully and pleasurably alive."[a:Richard Holmes|31054|Richard Holmes|]

Marcher, Une Philosophie

Marcher, Une Philosophie - Frédéric Gros As the title says, this is a collection of philosophical essays about walking. Some are devoted to different types of walking (in the city, pilgrimages, hiking through the countryside...) and some are mini-biographies of various writers and philosophers who were more or less obsessed with walking.Very absorbing read (just a couple of the essays were weak), lots of interesting history, stories and ideas. Only occasionally lapses into the French intellectual's habit of forced naivety and excessive superlatives in ecstasy over the ordinary.Highly recommended!These quotations are a sort of commonplace book list of things that made me think of other things which I don't want to forget. They are in no way representative of the overall content or tone of the book.from the chapter "Dehors" :"...dehors se tient entre deux intérieurs : un relais, une transition."from the chapter on Rimbaud "La rage de fuir" :"Au creux du ventre la douleur d'être _ici_, l'impossibilité à demeurer en place...""Ce n'est sans doute pas mieux ailleurs, mais c'est au moins loin d'ici.""La marche comme expression de la colère, de la décision vide.""J'irai sous la terre et toi tu marcheras dans le soleil.""Pas question de revenir quand on marche."Silences :"...le caquetage du monde.""Le bavardage assourdit : on n'entend plus rien, il saoule, on perd la tête. Il y en a toujours de tous les côtés, ça déborde, ça va partout, dans tous les sens."Éternités :" simple joie d'exister..."La conquête du sauvage :" pas se laisser prendre par le jeu social..."Pèlerinage :"xenateia (la condition d'étrangeté au monde)"Répétition* : "...répétition et d'alternance...écho...rend audible le silence."

The Odyssey (Fagles translation)

The Odyssey (Fagles translation) -

Read this ages ago and didn't like it. Was I too young? Bad translation? Not sure, but I loved it this time. Beautiful images and descriptions, by turns horrifying, sad, wondrous and suspenseful. He goes from large scale epic adventure to the small pleasures of a warm, cosy bed.


Fagles' translation is magnificent -- he's a poet in his own right:


"give the boy the name I tell you now. Just as I have come from afar, creating pain for many--men and women across the good green earth--so let his name be Odysseus...the Son of Pain, a name he'll earn in full."


"...numbing sorrow had stunned the man to silence..."


"as the sun sank and the roads of the world grew dark."


"a man whose white bones lie strewn in the rain somewhere,rotting away on land or rolling down the ocean's salty swells."


"and the young men brimmed the mixing-bowls with wine."


"as the sun set and darkness swept across the earth."


"and always dear to our hearts, the feast, the lyre and dance and changes of fresh clothes, our warm baths and beds."


" they danced across the earth that feeds us all..."

In Defence of Wonder and Other Philosophical Reflections

In Defence of Wonder and Other Philosophical Reflections - Raymond Tallis Sad to finish this one.This is not a book of empty intellectual fireworks (like that produced by some modern philosophers that shall not be named), but of carefully thought through essays on a wide variety of subjects. Serious, truly interesting and occasionally hilarious.

The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance

The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance - H.G. Wells I might be the only human who didn't know (other than what the title gives away) anything about this book. I've also avoided all the movies as I assumed they would be rather silly.What a surprise the book was! (I have to stop saying this about H.G. Wells.) It was much better than I thought it would be. Nicely written -- very real and quite poignant at times. Like the others I've read by the author, there's a discomforting, lurking darkness that sometimes feels like the sticky lead-weight of guilt and, at others, like the abyss of existential despair. But the delicate fingers of an ancient Horror are, for the most part, quietly exploring around the edges of the story. There are also some funny bits as well as unexpectedly inventive characters and situations. But none of it over the top. Despite the outrageousness of the premise, the whole thing is very much understated. The idea of what invisibility would actually entail for a human being is explored in a matter of fact way and I thought the character of the Invisible man was exceedingly interesting. The flow of the narrative moves along at a clip, alternating smoothly between the prosaic, sections of intense suspense and excitement, and a few exquisite moments where time slows for a character as they experience the full import and emotion of the situation they're in.All in all, an excellent read.

Pincher Martin

Pincher Martin: The Two Deaths of Christopher Martin - William Golding Unbelievably well-done. Excruciating. Quite often unbearably so.

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