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Welcome to this week’s blogpost. Here’s our roundup of your comments and photos from last week.
Let’s start with a dose of reality from rgilyead who has been reading How the World Thinks by Julian Baggini:
This is an investigation into global philosophy and, as Baggini admits, western philosophy has been by far the most parochial of all, seldom taking in ideas from other traditions such as Indian or Chinese philosophy. He raises some very interesting questions about whether philosophy influences societies or whether they reflect the way societies develop. One of the most fascinating questions is around how the American pragmatists may have helped the USA develop its “can do” attitude with its disdain for intellectuals and experts, and the populism that so strongly affects politics now. Baggini suggests that this may be based on a misreading of what the pragmatists actually said and I suppose there is always a danger that philosophies can be adopted in distorted ways to justify political ends (Nietzsche and Nazism for example).
Set mostly in an unidentified part of post-colonial Africa, the novel is an interlinked set of stories set in and around a vast forest containing all sorts of supernatural beings, that extracts a hideous price from most people who enter it … It is extraordinary – one of those books like Gormenghast, that leaves you with the unsettling feeling you’re in the presence of a mind quite dissimilar from your own. Like the forest, it’s dense, uncompromising and demands your full attention, or you’ll find yourself hopelessly lost. I couldn’t say, hand on heart, that I’ve enjoyed it (it’s downright disturbing, much of the time) but it is unquestionably like nothing I’ve ever read before – and how often can you say that?
I’m always searching for books like this one, which is a rare surreal accomplishment. But a few words of warning are necessary – Carter writes in numerous genres, but Sex Nightmare seems to be one of her favourites. It’s fine, but you have to be prepared to read many rape scenes in her work. I enjoyed the prose more in Heroes and Villains, but Desire Machines has a narrative momentum which isn’t present in the former text, like an adventure novel through nebulous time.
A fiftysomething couple are evicted from their home and their business and embark on a 630 mile walk in SW England, camping in the wild rather than confront (directly) their homelessness. It could have ended up overly political, a diatribe against homelessness, modern life and economics etc But instead it is a tightly focused reflection on how they coped. On the day-to-day struggle for shelter, warmth, food and money. On battling with illness and age. And on changes in perception – of themselves, and others’ perceptions of them. I very much recommend it!
It’s quite dated but an amazing story to read and they bring out very well the flawed but ultimately heroic nature of Captain Bligh. For books written in the 1930s they’re quite explicit and gruesome in places! And there are a few pages on the nature of alcoholism, which played a major part in the fate of many of the Pitcairn Islanders, that really resonated with me (I’m a recovering alcoholic).
Although the novel was roughly only half complete due to the author’s death, it is still quite a long read at just short of 900 pages (Penguin Classics). Very much a comedy satire on the absurdities of war and ordinary people being consumed by conflicts they little understand, it is the first world war version of Catch-22, apparently Joseph Heller was a Svejk fan. I often found myself chuckling away out loud, but would recommend you borrow it from your local library, if like me you still have one, as the humour and style might wear some readers down
I’ve read about 20 since last November. Maigret is a fantastic character and Simenon’s writing is very literary and atmospheric. Absolutely transporting. Has easily replaced Sherlock Holmes in my affection.
I read quite a few of the Discworld books when I was really young, and I remember enjoying them but not really connecting with them. I wonder if I just had to be older to appreciate the subtleties of his writing, because I’m finding it an absolute joy this time around. Yes, I got some of the jokes when I was 11 but I think a lot more went over my head. Can’t wait to read more, and would love some suggestions of which ones to pick up next.
Julia Bell writes in the TLS about an “unromantic trip to a tax haven.”
“I do not enjoy writing moral tales. I do it because it pays well.” Literary advice from Louisa May Alcott.
Dampen your expectations! One Hundred Years Of Solitude is coming to Netflix.