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Chibiabos83
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Joined: 19 Nov 2008
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Location: Cambridge, UK

PostPosted: Mon Apr 03, 2017 11:50 am    Post subject: Annals of April  Reply with quote

And a very happy April to you all.

A couple to start the month: firstly, The Ups and Downs of Life by Edward Sellon. I've read Sellon before, and with rather more pleasure than I did here. He was a Victorian pornographer, and this book is his 'erotic autobiography', though its level of truth is disputed. It's about 120 pages long and ends mid-sentence. A month or so after writing the manuscript, Sellon shot himself in a London hotel and died. The book was published in 1867, the following year. There are a few erotic escapades and quite a bit of autobiographical detail. I suppose it probably is true, it's boring enough to be someone's life story. In his fiction, he arranges things more neatly and pleasingly; here, there's less discipline. I can't really recommend it. I chose it as a book to read on the train and didn't realise until opening it that it contained several of Sellon's own graphic illustrations. I had to be careful to hold the book at an angle that would preclude snooping from neighbours.

Then a slim volume, Conversations with Stockhausen by Mya Tannenbaum. Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) is one of the major figures in twentieth-century classical music, and I love the little music I know of his, but don't know much about him as a person. I hoped this book would help to remedy that. The conversations in question were conducted from 1979 to 1981 in German, then translated by the interviewer Tannenbaum for her Italian readership, and translated into English from the Italian by David Butchart. With this in mind, it's impressive how seldom Stockhausen's meaning is obscured.

On the first page Stockhausen declares, 'I feel myself to be – and I am – a bit like Janus.' That sets the tone for the book. Bold pronunciations, mysticism and astrology, grandeur, egotism. Is he being pompous, I occasionally wondered, or just matter-of-fact? And if the former, hasn't he earned the right to be precious about his work? because this comes across as a portrait of a man absolutely obsessive about the smallest details, passionate about music, angry at living in a world that does not take seriously the work that he approaches with the utmost seriousness. If he seems ruthlessly self-promoting, it's probably because it's a ruthless world for a composer of difficult music, and if you don't take a lot of trouble to promote and preserve your music, no one hears or remembers it. Tannenbaum gives as good as she gets, not afraid to ask awkward, even rude questions. Their sparring is a pleasure to read. This is from their final interview:

MT: When you don't manage to make yourself understood, is it your
fault or that of your ill-prepared or even obtuse interviewer?

KS: I usually trust to intuition. Part of what I say depends on the
person who's interviewing me, on the rapport which is established
while talking; on the openness, the sensitivity, and intelligence of the
interviewer; on his or her capacity to co-ordinate the things said, to
follow the thread of my thought, integrating incomplete and partial
information. Unfortunately, I can't say that you've done it, up to now.


The problem is that only Stockhausen, or perhaps his close family or acolytes, can understand what his music is getting at. He talks very lucidly, but I'm no closer to understanding his personal theories. I'm attracted to the idea of listening to music as a three-dimensional experience, though the level of his obsessiveness is alien to me. He talks of his early masterpiece Gesang der Jünglinge needing (in its original conception) a ceiling-mounted speaker so that the voice comes from above, though this has never been realised. It's a surprisingly approachable book of interviews with a man whose mind I find fascinating but impenetrable.


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Joe McWilliams



Joined: 10 Feb 2012
Posts: 689


Location: Canada

PostPosted: Sun Apr 09, 2017 6:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Bloody hell, here it is the ninth day of the month and not a single response in this thread. What's the world coming to.

Reading continues but at a slower pace than usual in this corner. I finished Jo Nesbo's 'The Redeemer,' which I can recommend for anyone interested in the crime genre. It was a cut above most of what I've read - at least in the Scandi-crime field and fresh because the action takes place in new country (for me).

Now my wife has pressed onto me a crime novel by a Swedish duo - Roslund and Hellstrom, called Three Seconds. Apparently the former is a journalist and the latter an ex-criminal. Not far enough in to say much, except it appears quite dark. Progress is slow because I am typing up my own story these days, based on a youthful overland trip to India 40 years ago. Wish me luck.

In other news, over tapas and tinto last night, a couple of travelling friends mentioned Bruce Chatwin, very strongly recommending his travel books. I gather he has quite the reputation. We had Paul Theroux in common - the notably misanthropic American travel writer. I was pleased to alert them to the existence of Patrick Leigh Fermor, the godfather of walking adventures. Our friends are off later this month to walk from Porto to Santiago de Compostela, along the Caminho Português.


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Mikeharvey



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 3369


Location: Lancashire

PostPosted: Mon Apr 10, 2017 11:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I read and enjoyed FOUR NOVELLAS OF FEAR by Cornell Woolrich.  'Eyes That Watch You', 'The Night I Died', 'You'll Never See Me Again' and 'Murder Always Gathers Monentum'.  All written between 1936 and 1940.  Woolrich is most famous for his short-story 'Rear Window' which became a Hitchcock film. These four novellas are ingenious and exciting, each one getting the chief character into a difficult situation, making the reader read on eagerly wondering what device the author will produce to solve the problem.  Maybe these tales are not psychologically subtle in the way modern thrillers are, but that doesn't matter, they were written to entertain, and certainly do that.


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Chibiabos83
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Joined: 19 Nov 2008
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Location: Cambridge, UK

PostPosted: Mon Apr 10, 2017 12:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I can account for my absence by saying that I've been reading a very long Italian novel, which I will post about later. Back on the short books for the present (Sherlock Holmes and Mrs Gaskell), book report to follow.

Good luck with your memoir, Joe! Sounds intriguing.


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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 2982


Location: Owaka, New Zealand

PostPosted: Mon Apr 10, 2017 9:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

And I too am reading a rather dense account of girls in Afghanistan, and won't finish that till much later.  Hopefully before our meeting on April 26th!  It's not specially long, but I don't read very quickly or as much as I should.

In the meantime I might vary it with another one in the Pencarrow series.  Or something light.


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Chibiabos83
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Joined: 19 Nov 2008
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Location: Cambridge, UK

PostPosted: Tue Apr 11, 2017 10:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'd never read Mrs Gaskell before, but I decided it was time to try Cranford. It's a charming book, not plot-heavy but consisting mainly of sketches of town life narrated by Miss Mary Smith, who doesn't live in Cranford but visits often. It opens strongly with a wonderfully comic scene where the stalwart Miss Jenkyns argues with new arrival Captain Brown over the respective merits of Dr Johnson (her favourite) and Dickens (his). He says how amused he is by The Pickwick Papers and she retorts, 'I consider it vulgar, and below the dignity of literature, to publish in numbers.' (A sly joke, as Cranford itself was published in numbers over the course of a year and a half.)

The concerns of Cranford's inhabitants are of keeping up appearances. They live in an age of surfaces.

My next visit to Cranford was in the summer.  There had been neither
births, deaths, nor marriages since I was there last.  Everybody lived in
the same house, and wore pretty nearly the same well-preserved,
old-fashioned clothes.  The greatest event was, that Miss Jenkyns had
purchased a new carpet for the drawing-room.  Oh, the busy work Miss
Matty and I had in chasing the sunbeams, as they fell in an afternoon
right down on this carpet through the blindless window!  We spread
newspapers over the places and sat down to our book or our work; and, lo!
in a quarter of an hour the sun had moved, and was blazing away on a
fresh spot; and down again we went on our knees to alter the position of
the newspapers.


It's full of humour and pathos. I loved Miss Smith's encomium of the rubber band:

How people can bring themselves to use india-rubber rings, which are
a sort of deification of string, as lightly as they do, I cannot imagine.  
To me an india-rubber ring is a precious treasure.  I have one which is
not new—one that I picked up off the floor nearly six years ago.  I have
really tried to use it, but my heart failed me, and I could not commit
the extravagance.


There is a chapter where Miss Smith and Miss Matty Jenkyns sort through bundles of old letters, looking at the different styles of writing, that evokes a sort of melancholy happiness. The bankruptcy of Miss Matty Jenkyns on the failure of the Town and County Bank is poignant, the rallying round of her townswomen to support her scarcely less so.

The book isn't uniformly engrossing, and the fact that characters are generally referred to by their title and surname, and presented without introduction, doesn't make getting acquainted with them easy. I would put the book down, pick it up again, and find I couldn't tell Mrs Forrester from Miss Pole from Mrs Fitz-Adam from Miss Jamieson. Miss Matty Jenkyns I felt I knew best, but that may only have been because I was vaguely aware that Judi Dench played her in the BBC adaptation, and so I pictured Judi Dench throughout. I'll immerse myself in the TV series at some point.


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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 2982


Location: Owaka, New Zealand

PostPosted: Wed Apr 12, 2017 12:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

You have made me want to read Elizabeth Gaskell, Gareth.  I have read some of hers in the past, but a long time ago now.  And we very much enjoyed some of the adaptations of her works on television.  I was re-reading the threads where we voted for our favourite authors, and Gaskell came up against George Orwell, with people generally favouring Orwell.  Not me, and even less so now, after Animal Farm being one of our book club choices last year.

I checked up on my book list and it wasn't last year or even the year before last but in 2014!  I ranked it 17 out of 20, which was quite good, though not in the top for the year. It must have been a good year, because I read 6 books which I ranked as 20, including Pickwick Papers and Life After Life, Simon Armitage's Walking Home: Travels with a Troubadour on the Pennine Walk and 1812: Napoleon's March on Moscow.


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Mikeharvey



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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Location: Lancashire

PostPosted: Wed Apr 12, 2017 11:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've always enjoyed Gaskell and I've read several, including her Life of Charlotte Bronte.  The last of hers I read was 'Wives and Daughters' which she never finished.  There are lots of good short stories.  You can download her entire works for almost nothing.

Just started Trollope's COUSIN HENRY.  Who will Isabel marry and where is her uncle's missing will?  It's short which is why I chose it.




Last edited by Mikeharvey on Wed Apr 12, 2017 11:35 am; edited 1 time in total
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Sandraseahorse



Joined: 21 Nov 2008
Posts: 1162



PostPosted: Wed Apr 12, 2017 11:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I enjoyed "Good Behaviour" by Molly Keane, which I thought was a hybrid of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh (only anti-Catholic instead of Waugh's Catholicism).

It concerns an Anglo-Irish family just before and after the First World War and is told through the eyes of the naïve daughter Aroon.  As the blurb on the cover says:" Behind its rich veneer, the estate of Temple Alice is a crumbling fortress, from which the aristocratic St Charles family keeps the realities of life at bay."

The family are struggling financially but regard final demands from local tradesmen and announcements that there will be no more credit as a form of blackmail.  There is a determination to keep up appearances and to maintain a sense of decorum in all circumstances.

The novel  reminded me of Waugh in that there will be episodes of frivolity and then something dreadful will happen.

Some readers have queried whether Aroon could really be as naïve as she is depicted in the novel.  She falls in love with her brother's friend Richard and appears oblivious to the obvious hints that Richard is really in love with her brother Hubert and is only using her as a beard.

Her father is a compulsive womaniser (his activities not curtailed by losing a leg in the war).  When her father has a stroke and is confined to bed, the servant Rose tends to all of his "needs".  As Aaron goes in one day, Rose has a hand under the blanket but says she was just warming his feet.  Aaron notices it was the side of his artificial leg but thinks no more of it.

I suppose a lot of people really were that naïve in those days when sexual matters weren't so widely discussed.  Also, it fits in with the picture of the Anglo-Irish (who were a Raj type class in Ireland before partition) being totally unaware of the reality of life around them.   Aroon's mother is cold natured and only interested in her painting, gardening,  and collecting antique furniture.  The father is a warmer, more likeable character, but obsessed with hunting (both foxes and women).

Here is a sample of the writing:

She (Aroon's mother) was sincerely shocked and appalled on the day when the housemaid came to tell her that our final nanny was lying on the bed in a drunken stupor with my brother Hubert beside her in another drunken stupor, while I was lighting a fire in the day nursery with the help of a tin of paraffin.  The nannie was sacked but given a good reference with no mention of her drinking ; that would have been too unkind and unnecessary as she promised to reform.   Her next charge  (only a Dublin baby) almost died of drink and its mother wrote a common, hysterical letter which Mummie naturally put in the fire and forgot about.  Exhausted, bored and disgusted by nannies, she engaged a governess who would begin my education and at the same time keep an eye on the nurserymaid who was to be in charge of Hubert's more menial four-year-old necessities"


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Chibiabos83
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Joined: 19 Nov 2008
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 12, 2017 1:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mikeharvey wrote:
I've always enjoyed Gaskell and I've read several, including her Life of Charlotte Bronte.  The last of hers I read was 'Wives and Daughters' which she never finished.  There are lots of good short stories.  You can download her entire works for almost nothing.

I think it was your review of Cousin Phillis some time ago that prompted me to try her.



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