The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Philosophical Books (and the Death Sentence)

Okay, so there are books and there are philosophical books and when you hear the adjective philosophical in this context, you slam the book shut and run a mile or more, without so much as looking back – and by god, I don’t blame you. Twice I had to study philosophy at university and twice it bored me to tears.

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Two Versions of The Old Man and the Sea

Leer esto en castellano

Two Versions of the Old Man and the Sea

My teenage daughter borrowed my copy of The Old Man and the Sea and read it one afternoon. I had been about the same age when I first read it, thirty years ago. “You’ll either love it or it will bore you to tears,” I warned. “It’s that kind of book.”

“I’ve finished it,” she said later at dinner, looking a bit sheepish.

“You didn’t like it.” It wasn’t hard to divine. She knows that it’s one of my favourite books. “You didn’t click.”

“No,” she said. “It’s just about an old man who went fishing. It’s boring.”

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Pride & Prejudice in a Dozen Tweets

One of the bloggers I read writes a Twitter round-up for a proper website. I usually ignore it – I mean it’s a Twitter round-up, for god’s sake! – but the other day I decided to take a look. This had three immediate effects on me:

  1. I had a fit of hysterical laughter – are these tweets for real?!
  2. I congratulated myself for never having signed up for a Twitter account – I always knew no-one possibly can have anything worthwhile to say in 160 characters, especially on a daily basis.
  3. I got inspired.

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400 Years Ago (Cervantes & Shakespeare)

Today it’s been 400 years ago that Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra died. And tomorrow it’ll be 400 years ago that William Shakespeare died.

I’m not in generally for remembering when anybody died or even was born, no matter how famous but it was a bit difficult to avoid noticing these dates…

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Sailing Into History

There are authors who captivate you. With their choice of words, their temperament, their ideas, their life story, their way of looking at the world, their… spirit. It’s been a long time since I last had been so captivated as I’ve been this winter; and it’s a good thing that my husband doesn’t read this blog for I’m positively in love. (With a man who’s been dead for some thirty years. Ouch!)

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Of the Mani, Manhattan and Alexander the Great

What kind of a book would a chain-smoking former Special Operations Executive officer write? A man who at 18 had thought he had nothing better to do but to walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople with a volume of English verse and Horace’s Odes in his pocket? A man who felt equally at home in shepherds’ huts and in aristocratic palaces?…What kind of book?!

And English readers, who know exactly whom I’m talking about, here answer in unison: a travel book, of course.

A travel book, yes. Er… sort of.

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The Noise of Time

I have recently read The Noise of Time, the new book about the Russian composer Dmitry Shostakovich by Julian Barnes, which my husband acquired on the very day it was published. He devoured it in a day or so and passed it on as he thought it would be of interest to me on account that I like Shostakovich’s music – well, some of it, at any rate – and because I grew up under communism.

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Following Ulysses with Ernle Bradford

Recently I wrote about how a young Royal Navy sailor in 1941 sauntered into a Greek bar in Alexandria and came out with his head full of the Odyssey. Well, those of you who haven’t read that piece, go and read it now, but I’m willing to remind the rest who have merely forgotten who this sailor was: Ernle Bradford.

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Fever Pitch

If you come from certain countries, football is in your blood. For some it’s just light entertainment on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Others will be in the stand even at the height of winter, in rain, snow or a howling gale. Some discuss the latest match politely over dinner; far too many punch each other in the street and set metro cars alight. Some gamble on match results and others only watch the world cup. I know which group I belong to; but which one are you?

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When with Eagle Eyes He Star’d at the Pacific

Just before noon on 25 September 1513, Vasco Núñez de Balboa ordered his men to halt, then went forward alone, to complete the last stretch of the journey to the summit of the mountain they were climbing. Soon he stood, alone with his god, his ambitions and his sins on this peak rising out of the jungle in Darién; the first European to set eyes on a new ocean. A new ocean which he named Mar del Sur (South Sea) because he reached it by travelling southwards. The ocean that Magellan seven years later was to rename Pacific – coming as he was round the Horn via the straits named after him, well Magellan might have thought the Pacific peaceful.

Núñez de Balboa was no hero, no geographer, no selfless servant of his king. He marched across the Isthmus of Panama in a desperate bid to be first to reach the unknown ocean only because he knew that no less feat could save him from the scaffold. Continue reading “When with Eagle Eyes He Star’d at the Pacific”

Ransom

Today I read a beautiful book – Ransom by David Malouf. I was on a quest to find an Australian book to read as last week I signed up for a simple reading challenge that requires reading six books from six continents in the course of this year. Not a difficult feat in itself but the fact that the year is almost finished added the necessary spice. That and the realisation that I was too much focused on European literature! So I googled Australian literature for inspiration and I stumbled upon this one – and boy, did it deliver.

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Why Not To Blog About Books (Pride and Prejudice)

I read an article in El País about Jane Austen. The author used some 500 words to say what could have been tweeted: viz. that Jane Austen was a good writer and Pride and Prejudice is a good book. Much writing about books and literature is like that: too many words to describe something that would be better read. And it’s difficult to say something new about a book; usually whatever you want to say has been said before – and better. So where does that leave anyone who wants to blog about books? Don’t bother.

Pride and Prejudice was my favourite book in my twenties. It manages to be witty about something utterly mundane. Jane Austen is all about character observation and style. The plot is not important.

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