The battle of the backlands

I have been woefully neglectful of this blog and of other aspects of life this week, having spent the majority of my time in an overheated council chamber in Wood Green, listening to a planning inquiry. This was a lot more interesting than I imagine it sounds – in fact it was great fun. For…

Paris Peasant

I’ve been reading Louis Aragon’s Paris Peasant in small doses for the last couple of days. I’ve delayed posting about it because I haven’t had anything to say yet – except for the obvious ‘it’s very odd’. Walter Benjamin describes having a dizzy sort of feeling when he read it, to which I can now…

An unfortunate oversight

I realised a while after I posted on illustrated books that I forgot one rather obvious thing: graphic novels. Grown up comic books, in other words. I haven’t read many, so as yet I have rather ambivalent feelings. I like Robert Crumb and Joe Sacco and I really enjoyed the graphic novel version I have…

Berlin(s)

I’m an enormous fan of Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin novels, which I read in one go – I think they worked very well together. But then while I was reading Joseph Roth’s ‘What I Saw’, a collection of his descriptions of interwar Berlin, I read a sneering comment in the introduction about Isherwood’s being a fantasy Berlin,…

Illustrated books

When you are a kid there are a couple of huge reading milestones. The first is being able to read at all; then, after a while, there is the magnificent graduation on to ‘chapter books’ which look like grown-up books although thinner and with a huge font size; then there’s the final stage, the move…

Free(ish) speech

Three stories in the news this week seem to be sort of about the same thing: the questions over having the BNP on Question Time, over allowing some Dutch nutjob MP into the country, and the stupid comments made by a hack from the Mail about the ‘unnatural’ death of Steven Gately. My mum got into…

How to avoid lending books

In answer to the quibbler’s request for advice on how to avoid lending a book to an unreliable borrower, here is a list of possible excuses that can be employed in that situation. This is a fraught bit of book etiquette in itself. Possible replies: 1) The white lie:  “I can’t, it’s not mine. I…

The Rules of Borrowing Books

‘The World of Yesterday’ has a very fond description of Rilke, who comes over as a softly-spoken, beauty-loving man: “all that was vulgar was unbearable to him, and although he lived in restricted circumstances, his clothes always gave evidence of care, cleanliness, and good taste. At the same time they showed thought and poetic imagination:…

The semi-autobiography of a semi-prophet

New reading list: Signpost books, those with place names in the title. I’ve finished Zweig’s ‘The World of Yesterday’ – he’s made several more guest appearances. It is a fascinating portrait of an era, or rather several eras, as Zweig points out: fin de siecle, war, interwar, war again. You could make a strong case for this…

Encounters with literary heroes

So I’m back from heckling at trauma lectures and drinking white russians with Russians in Norwich. While I was on the bus back from Norfolk I was thinking about a Twentieth Century Britain reading list, although it’s hard as I can’t decide which book to choose for which author. To The Lighthouse or Mrs Dalloway?…