Tag: books

Recommended reading

Friday, 5 February, 2016 0 Comments

The reader

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” — Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something — a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things — which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.” — Alan Bennett, The History Boys

“Some of these things are true and some of them lies. But they are all good stories.” — Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall


Dracula Therapy

Tuesday, 26 May, 2015 0 Comments

Dracula On this day in 1897, Dracula, a novel by the Irish author Bram Stoker, was published at a price of six shillings. It had a print run of 3,000 copies and the book was bound in plain yellow cloth with the one-word title in simple red lettering. In time, Dracula would become the supreme example of horror fiction. The critic Maurice Richardson described it as “a kind of incestuous, necrophilious, oral-anal-sadistic all-in wrestling match”. What’s not to like?

“Then she paused, and I could hear the churning sound of her tongue as it licked her teeth and lips, and could feel the hot breath on my neck. Then the skin of my throat began to tingle as one’s flesh does when the hand that is to tickle it approaches nearer — nearer. I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the supersensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited — waited with beating heart.” — Bram Stoker, Dracula

In his longing for eternity, Dracula developed an insatiable demand for blood and it’s not surprising that one of the hottest treatments in the anti-ageing business right now is the vampirish “Dracula Therapy.” Officially titled Stimulated Self Serum skin therapy, it involves having your face injected with your own blood and it was developed by the London-based French cosmetic specialist, Dr Daniel Sister. A variant of the treatment is popularly called the “vampire facial” and recipients include Kim Kardashian.

A modification of the therapy, called “Rejuvula”, promises the same tightening effect — but not for the face. Irishwoman Claudia McGloin claims that she is the only female medical professional offering the treatment “for Vagina Rejuvenation in Europe.”

“The blood is the life!” — Bram Stoker, Dracula


The ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness

Friday, 13 March, 2015 0 Comments

Snippet from Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett, who died yesterday:

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

bootsTake boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.

In his writings, the ennobled Sir Terry Pratchet drew upon a noble literary heritage and his work encompassed the abundant genius of Charles Dickens, the enduring wit of P.G. Wodehouse and the stellar imagination of Douglas Adams.


Houellebecq and the capitulation of cover art

Thursday, 5 March, 2015 0 Comments

“For the purpose of Appreciation and Categorization” is the motto of The Book Cover Archive, and there is much to appreciate and categorize on this World Book Day when it comes to book covers. Think of the art of Roger Kastel for Jaws by Peter Benchley. With Soumission, the latest novel from Michel Houellebecq, however, we’re seeing a different kind of cover art. The art of capitulation.

In his book, Houellebecq paints a picture of an old, ailing Christian nation, France, submitting to a more vigorous ideology: Islam. It is a bitterly funny critique of the tolerance of the intolerant and a terrifying vision of the multicultural endgame. The book is a best-seller in France, Germany and Italy, despite the best efforts of its publishers to neutralize its appearance. The two-tone cover of the original French version is devoid of art; the German version, Unterwerfung, features the head of a bird, and the Italian cover of Sottomissione dispenses with imagery completely. The US publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, is silent about the cover of Lorin Stein’s forthcoming translation but one fears that the supine trend will continue. Given the vital role of cover art in the history of book making, it is hard to accept that publishers would willingly embrace aniconism, the proscription against the creation of images, but Sottomissione is the proof.

Soumission Soumission Soumission

Watch out for the currency traps

Tuesday, 2 December, 2014 1 Comment

“We cannot go on with this euro. We must improve the European monetary policy and achieve equality of the dollar and euro interchange,” said former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at the Forza Italia party’s ‘No Tax Day’ rally in Milan on Saturday. “We must bring back our right to print money and establish monetary market exchange.”

Meanwhile, Tehran’s economy minister, Ali Tayyebnia, warned yesterday against “frenzied behavior” as Iranians dumped their rials. And in Venezuela, the dollar is now worth 1,700 percent more on the black market than the price the government charges those lucky enough to obtain it legally. Then, there’s the collapse of the ruble. This entire currency business is treacherous so it’s not surprising that when the Financial Times listed its Best books of 2014 at the weekend, the “trap” metaphor appeared prominently in the top titles reviewed.

Traps


Writer’s block

Wednesday, 14 May, 2014 0 Comments

“All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line. That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.” Erica Jong

“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ­music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.” Hilary Mantel


Thermonuclear review

Wednesday, 16 April, 2014 1 Comment

In the annals of acidic reviewing, nothing beats Truman Capote’s flip dismissal of Jack Kerouac’s work: “That’s not writing, that’s typing.” Still, the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs magazine does not do too badly when it comes to Thermonuclear Monarchy by Elaine Scarry, Professor of Aesthetics and General Theory of Value at Harvard. Snip:

“This curious book addresses what Scarry describes as the incompatibility of nuclear weapons and democracy. But her knowledge of nuclear matters is superficial, and she says very little about the weapons, other than to draw attention to their awfulness and to the fragile, illegitimate, and dangerous structures that govern their possession and potential use.”

By the way, here’s now Gore Vidal dissed Truman Capote: “He’s a full-fledged housewife from Kansas with all the prejudices.”


What if Britain had stayed out?

Friday, 24 January, 2014 0 Comments

That’s the question posed by R.J.W. Evans in “The Greatest Catastrophe the World Has Seen.” His engaging tour d’horizon of the latest World War I books includes belated recognition for Le origini della guerra del 1914 (“The Origins of the War of 1914”) by the Italian politician and journalist Luigi Albertini, which was published in 1942–1943. As Evans notes: “Silenced by the Fascist regime, Albertini immersed himself in all the sources, and added more of his own by arranging interviews with survivors. That lent an immediacy to his wonderfully nuanced presentation of the individuals who actually made (or ducked) the fateful decisions.”

The fateful decisions taken in London were “entrusted to the tentative grasp of the country squire Sir Edward Grey”, who “wobbled both before and after Berlin’s foolhardy démarche, and was determined at least as much by parliamentary frictions and civil disturbance at home.” This “disturbance” included “the ferocious clashes over Ireland’s home-rule legislation.” Grey, does not emerge well from the books reviewed by Evans, but like many of the other players in this drama he was unprepared for what was coming in July 1914. “Communing with nature on his country estate, for he passionately preferred live birds (he was an acknowledged expert in their observation) to the feathers on an archduke’s hat, he had already reached the conclusion that ‘if war breaks out, it will be the greatest catastrophe the world has ever seen.'” And it was.

The Survivors

No doubt they’ll soon get well; the shock and strain
Have caused their stammering, disconnected talk.
Of course they’re ‘longing to go out again,’ —
These boys with old, scared faces, learning to walk.
They’ll soon forget their haunted nights; their cowed
Subjection to the ghosts of friends who died, —
Their dreams that drip with murder; and they’ll be proud
Of glorious war that shatter’d all their pride…
Men who went out to battle, grim and glad;
Children, with eyes that hate you, broken and mad.

Siegfried Sassoon

1914 — 2014: Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, compared the leadership of China to the German monarchy of Wilhelm II ahead of the First World War. Beijing Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang responded by calling the Japanese World War II criminals commemorated at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo “Nazis in the East.”


Readying for Bond

Thursday, 24 October, 2013 0 Comments

Amazon is about to deliver and soon we’ll be delving into Solo, the new James Bond thriller by William Boyd. As we prepare for this thrilling treat, let’s ponder the cover of the second Ian Fleming 007 story, Live and Let Die, which was published in April 1954 in Britain by Jonathan Cape. It has to be said that it does not represent a triumph of art. Given that the action-packed adventure catapulted Bond from the jazz joints of Harlem to the emerald waters of the Everglades in pursuit of the ruthless Mr Big, the flatness of the cover is even more perplexing. Perhaps it was the Fleming/Bond philosophy that baffled the designers.

“No, when the stresses are too great for the tired metal, when the ground mechanic who checks the de-icing equipment is crossed in love and skimps his job, way back in London, Idlewild, Gander, Montreal; when those or many things happen, then the little warm room with propellers in front falls straight down out of the sky into the sea or on to the land, heavier than air, fallible, vain. And the forty little heavier-than-air people, fallible within the plane’s fallibility, vain within its larger vanity, fall down with it and make little holes in the land or little splashes in the sea. Which is anyway their destiny, so why worry? You are linked to the ground mechanic’s careless fingers in Nassau just as you are linked to the weak head of the little man in the family saloon who mistakes the red light for the green and meets you head-on, for the first and last time, as you are motoring quietly home from some private sin. There’s nothing to do about it. You start to die the moment you are born. The whole of life is cutting through the pack with death. So take it easy. Light a cigarette and be grateful you are still alive as you suck the smoke deep into your lungs. Your stars have already let you come quite a long way since you left your mother’s womb and whimpered at the cold air of the world. Perhaps they’ll even let you go to Jamaica tonight. Can’t you hear those cheerful voices in the control tower that have said quietly all day long, ‘Come in BOAC. Come in Panam. Come in KLM’? Can’t you hear them calling you down too: ‘Come in Transcarib. Come in Transcarib’? Don’t lose faith in your stars. This happy landing at Palisadoes Airport comes to you courtesy of your stars. Better thank them.” Ian Fleming, Live and Let Die

Live and Let Die


Dreaming horse

Sunday, 29 September, 2013 0 Comments

“…and in his sleep he dreamt of horses and the horses in his dream moved gravely among the tilted stones like horses come upon an antique site where some ordering of the world had failed and if anything had been written on the stones the weathers had taken it away again and the horses were […]

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Bicycle turning into brick

Sunday, 18 August, 2013 0 Comments

‘The Atomic Theory,’ I sallied, ‘is a thing that is not clear to me at all.’ ‘Michael Gilhaney,’ said the Sergeant, ‘is an example of a man that is nearly banjaxed from the principle of the Atomic Theory. Would it astonish you to hear that he is nearly half a bicycle?’ ‘It would surprise me […]

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