Showing posts tagged books
Where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people.
Heinrich Heine

All the film books I’m taking to university. Except after taking this picture, I found two more. 

There are quiet places also in the mind. But we build bandstands and factories on them. Deliberately - to put a stop to the quietness. We don’t like the quietness. All the thoughts, all the preoccupations in my head - round and round continually. And the jazz bands, the music-hall songs, the boys shouting the news. What’s it for? what’s it all for? To put an end to the quiet, to break it up and disperse it, to pretend at any cost it isn’t there. Ah, but it is; it is there, in spite of everything, at the back of everything. Lying awake at night, sometimes, not restlessly, but serenely, waiting for sleep - the quiet re-establishes itself, piece by piece; all the broken bits, all the fragments of it we’ve been so busily dispersing all day long. It re-establishes itself, an inward quiet, like this outward quiet of grass and trees. It fills one, it grows - a crystal quiet, a growing, expanding crystal. It grows, it becomes more perfect; it is beautiful and terrifying, yes, terrifying as well as beautiful. For one’s alone in the crystal and there’s no support from outside, there’s nothing external and important, nothing external and trivial to pull oneself up by or to stand on, superiorly, contemptuously, so that one can look down. There’s nothing to laugh at or feel enthusiastic about. But the quiet grows and grows. Beautifully and unbearably. And at last you are conscious of something approaching; it is almost a a faint sound of footsteps. Something inexpressibly lovely and wonderful advances through the crystal, nearer, nearer. And, oh, inexpressibly terrifying. For if it were to touch you, if it were to seize and engulf you, you’d die; all the regular habitual, daily part of you would die.
Gumbril, Antic Hay (Aldous Huxley)
Every one’s a walking farce and a walking tragedy at the same time. The man who slips on a banana-skin and fractures his skull describes against the sky, as he falls, the most richly comical arabesque.
Antic Hay, Aldous Huxley
Grief doesn’t kill, love doesn’t kill; but time kills everything, kills desire, kills sorrow, kills in the end the mind that feels them; wrinkles and softens the body while it still lives, rots it like a medlar, kills it too at last.
Antic Hay, Aldous Huxley.
The inconveniences and horrors of the pox are perfectly well known to every one; but still the disease flourishes and spreads. Several million people were killed in a recent war and half the world ruined; but we all busily go on in courses that make another event of the same sort inevitable.
Antic Hay, Aldous Huxley (1923)

Brief book reviews, mark 3

  • For Whom The Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway

The Spanish Civil War is interesting but this, about an American dynamiter working with guerrilla fighters to destroy a bridge, wasn’t. It’s not because of Hemingway’s distinctively and deceptively simple style (which is actually not so noticeable here), it’s because very little happens. A character sums it up perfectly:

Some cavalry rode here and they rode away. And you all make yourselves a heroism. It is to this we have come with so much inaction.

It might be the Spanish-to-English dialogue (“thou”, “thy”, etc. are used), or the flatness of the characters and love story, but I found this really hard to get into. Pilar has to be one of the most annoying characters ever created in fiction. About half-way through it begins to become more interesting, but there’s still some weird stream-of-consciousness stuff that comes out of nowhere and derails the plot. I found the glorification of bull-fighting difficult to get over, although that’s obviously a cultural difference and not Hemingway’s fault. Towards the end there are some great moments, and the last 150 pages or so are incredibly gripping, tense stuff. I’ve read The Old Man and the Sea and To Have and Have Not, and right now I’m finding Hemingway a bit overrated. I’ll have to read A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises before making my mind up.

  • Notes From a Small Island, Bill Bryson

Bryson is the perfect insider/outsider (American, but lived in UK for 20 years) to uncover all the weirdness in British culture and society. I don’t care if he’s exaggerated what happened to him, it’s funny and he comes across as a smart guy that you wouldn’t mind having a few drinks with. The travelogue does get fairly repetitive after a while, but I’d still like to go to most of the places he mentions. Perfect light reading.

  • The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer (translated by Nevill Coghill)

After reading the Pardoner’s Tale in the original Middle English and finding it pretty tough (you basically have to sound every word out to decipher its meaning), this very readable version was welcome, and I could zip right through it. The stories and rhyme schemes are varied, and the framing device keeps you involved. There are some hilarious and risqué moments (which Chaucer apologises for, maintaining that he is merely reporting the words of his characters), but I found the insights into Medieval life the most interesting.

  • Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

Not much to say that hasn’t been said before and better, just that this is a witty look at the rituals of early 19th Century society. Elizabeth, with her disdain for the world, was my favourite; Lady Catherine de Bourgh, being an uptight bitch, was my least, but that was obviously intentional. Up next, the zombie version.

  • The Castle of Otranto, Henry Walpole

Basically the first Gothic novel, this reminded me a lot of The Canterbury Tales. Not only is it set in a Medieval castle, full of magic and prophesies, but the story-telling was all over the place. There are surprise revelations on top of sudden character reversals on top of incongruous coincidences. I think he was just making it up as he went along, but that kind of adds to the charm. The dialogue was unattributed, but separated by dashes, which got really annoying, but that’s obviously an editorial issue. Still fun to read, and short as well.

You think me ambitious: ambition, alas, is composed of more rugged materials. If I were ambitious, I should not for so many years have been a prey to the hell of conscientious scruples.

Manfred, in The Castle of Otranto, Horatio Walpole. Also:

Heaven nor hell shall impede my designs. 

There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world the more I am dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of either merit or sense.
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen.