"And sport no more seen / On the darkening green" -- What are you reading SPRING 2020?

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(I started on Monday by reading the chapter on CASTLE RACKRENT - a book that we have discussed here before - then one on Synge's THE ARAN ISLANDS: another book I should try to read.)

the pinefox, Thursday, 16 April 2020 10:35 (two months ago) link

George Moore - 'A drama in muslin'

late 19th century writer who never really got the kudos he deserved. the libraries of the time wouldnt stock his books and Yeats wrote an essay after Moore died which ripped him to shreds. the book has similar themes to Jane Austen (young women preparing themselves for the marriage market) but its more biting and satirical.

― Michael B,Wednesday, November 18, 2009 1:54 PM (ten years ago)

He gets compared to Turgenev a lot also

Saxophone Of Futility (Michael B), Thursday, 16 April 2020 10:41 (two months ago) link

Indeed that's Kiberd's chapter!

Maybe I should resolve to read Moore.

the pinefox, Thursday, 16 April 2020 10:46 (two months ago) link

TS: George Moore vs Lorrie Moore

the pinefox, Thursday, 16 April 2020 10:46 (two months ago) link

i have been reading james barr's a line in the sand, a popular history of the incompetent and immoral british and french mandates in the middle east.

i am finding it tedious. this bit, on one of the leaders of the druze revolt, seemed to exemplify some of what's bothering me about it:

"Sultan (Atrash) cut a menacing figure, even twenty years later. When the British explorer and soldier Wilfred Thesiger met the man he called his 'boyhood hero' in 1941, he was delighted to see that even in middle age Sultan surpassed his expectations. 'His face, framed in a white headcloth, was austere and authoritative; his body, wrapped in a black cloth of finest weave, was lean and upright,' Thesiger recalled. A photograph from the 1920s shows Sultan, then a wary outlaw, staring alertly at the camera. He sports a debonair mustache and, befitting his then status as a fugitive, several days' stubble."

a bit of ekphrasis; a bit of triangulation from a recognisable english name. nothing about how atrash might have described himself, or his aims as a nationalist, nor of how anyone, bar thesinger, outside the colonialist apparatus regarded him. and this is true of all of the arab figures in the book: we only get them through the lens of the british and french, not in their own versions, nor in how the arabic voices of the time or later have seen them. (there are something like two dozen british or french papers listed in the index, and not one arabic-language one.)

yes, the book's purview is narrowly defined, but proceeding in this fashion means that everyone in it who never met churchill just disappears into a kind of orientalist murk, occasionally emerging behind a rifle or an explosive.

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Thursday, 16 April 2020 12:56 (two months ago) link


I read this first in the late 1970s, then again in 2018. It is a pleasant, refreshing little book and an important one in its miniature field of interest. Pampooties!

A is for (Aimless), Thursday, 16 April 2020 17:55 (two months ago) link

Virginia Woolf - Three Guineas
Elizabeth Gilbert - City of Girls

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 16 April 2020 17:56 (two months ago) link

btw, I finished Parting the Waters last night. It is quite harrowing to read and still barely touched the breadth of the sacrifice, courage, and brutality involved in the movement during the 10 years it covered. As could be expected, J. Edgar Hoover comes off as one of the worst humans on the planet. Robert Moses and Septima Clark, otoh, are names which should be much better known and appreciated for their amazing steadfast contributions.

A is for (Aimless), Thursday, 16 April 2020 21:29 (two months ago) link

reading sic-fi this year. less critical theory and history, more entertainment. this was my view at the start of the year and if anything reality has reinforced that this was a good idea for my brain. finished dune and then in short order read sirens of titan - my first Vonnegut - and a scanner darkly - my first dick (ha). enjoyed them all tremendously. Vonnegut definitely the writer of the 3 on this small sample of evidence.

COVID and the Gang (jim in vancouver), Thursday, 16 April 2020 23:37 (two months ago) link

Read Le Guin next and leave them all well to the back

silby, Friday, 17 April 2020 00:13 (two months ago) link

I don't have my usual access to books so just been reading from my gf's collection but I don't think she has any le Guin sadly, once books are easier to come by I will acquire some of her books

COVID and the Gang (jim in vancouver), Friday, 17 April 2020 00:15 (two months ago) link

i prefer dick to vonnegut but that was more to do with a teenage identification with his themes, methods; certainly vonnegut writes better sentences. read herbert's whipping star if she has that one, though, what a bizarre book that one is.

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Friday, 17 April 2020 07:05 (two months ago) link

Aimless: *The* Robert Moses?

the pinefox, Friday, 17 April 2020 10:40 (two months ago) link

The grey security cam footage sentences always went well w Dick's themes etc: go tromping with him and he'll take you places, often pretty briskly. Not w/o modulation, and he went through several phases on 30 years of professional writing and sometimes desperate living.

dow, Friday, 17 April 2020 16:43 (two months ago) link

*in* 30 years of professional writing, not like mine. He's like a good pro pathologist on a cop show, but takes it much further.

dow, Friday, 17 April 2020 16:48 (two months ago) link

Aimless: *The* Robert Moses?

*This* Robert Moses.

A is for (Aimless), Friday, 17 April 2020 17:39 (two months ago) link

Elena Ferrante - Troubling Love
Colette - The Last of Cheri

xyzzzz__, Friday, 17 April 2020 20:09 (two months ago) link

I took a 'break' and read Gideon Haigh's book on Shane Warne. Haigh has a deep knowledge of his subject and writes well. I know these are bland statements but they're all I've got.

So, my question is, something like: what do you read that is the closest to not-reading, ie that still gives nourishment but isn't immediately draining or demanding?

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Friday, 17 April 2020 22:13 (two months ago) link

I'm now reading Penelope Fitzgerald's Innocence, set in 1950s Italy. As usual, it is strongly imagined and creates its world using a minimum of verbiage, where every sentence is like a stone set by a master stonemason in a dry stone wall that will last a century.

A is for (Aimless), Friday, 17 April 2020 23:20 (two months ago) link

Elena Ferrante - Troubling Love
Colette - The Last of Cheri

― xyzzzz__, Friday, April 17, 2020

The Ferrante is moving, another attempt to parse a sexually liberated woman whose instincts clash with her upbringing.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 17 April 2020 23:21 (two months ago) link

For sure, and in a very compressed way. Very impressed how she was able to expand these themes out in the Quartet, and losing only a little of its power when doing so.

xyzzzz__, Friday, 17 April 2020 23:32 (two months ago) link

There was a fascinating lost/excised chapter from Innocence published in the LRB a couple months ago.

Chuck_Tatum, Friday, 17 April 2020 23:48 (two months ago) link

I just finished Excellent Women, my first Pym, exceptional lockdown comfort read, v. tempted to read all the rest now

Chuck_Tatum, Friday, 17 April 2020 23:49 (two months ago) link

Gideon Haigh's book on Shane Warne

lol i'm a yank and know nothing of cricket but happened to be in australia during warne's 2006-7 ashes finale and yikes

not sure if it was warne or a mate who compared retiring from cricket to leaving your mistress to go back to your wife

mookieproof, Saturday, 18 April 2020 02:37 (two months ago) link

I was hoping you'd see my post, Tim, as possibly the only ILB person who knew that stuff.

Hold up now : ) I remember enjoying reading Popkiss around the time it came out, but the information in it sorta evaporated from my memory, and it's still for me (as Tim says) what it was when it was... something I experienced from a far distance, mostly in my imagination. The reality of it seems unreal to me.

avellano medio inglés (f. hazel), Saturday, 18 April 2020 04:54 (two months ago) link

I was also a fan but never bothered with the book or the film. I don't really need to know what's in those sausages.

koogs, Saturday, 18 April 2020 05:01 (two months ago) link

(btw, Clare's tweeting them out, one a day, with a little sentence about each at the moment)

koogs, Saturday, 18 April 2020 05:03 (two months ago) link

I didn't know about another Bob Moses.

Chinaski: non-draining reading for me? Maybe Terry Eagleton.

Oddly I heard that EXCELLENT WOMEN was overrated and not as good as had been hoped. Maybe that was wrong. Maybe I should read her one day.

F. Hazel, I don't think I know you, hence my omission of you re: C86 matters.

I very much take Koogs' point that if you like something, you might NOT want to know how it was made. This can make a lot of sense.

Koogs' last post, at first I thought he meant she was tweeting out the book a sentence at a time! Now I understand it I wish I were on Twitter.

the pinefox, Saturday, 18 April 2020 10:10 (two months ago) link

I thought she was tweeting sausages.

Tim, Saturday, 18 April 2020 10:17 (two months ago) link

twitter is available (to read) via the web... (which is how you can see all the embedded tweets on ilx)


it's a bit noisy with all the retweets and all but...

and it's ok, they'd be vegetarian sausages.

koogs, Saturday, 18 April 2020 10:37 (two months ago) link

(and with me there's also a massive feeling that all that was The Past and, well, my passport is expired. i will dig out the odd thing from time to time but the compilations are minefields)

koogs, Saturday, 18 April 2020 10:39 (two months ago) link

It's notable, to me, how Tim and Koogs, at least, relate to this kind of material.

I can understand Koogs detaching from it - though Koogs was also the one who helped me discover tons of MBV, G500, etc, about 13 years ago. (Maybe to Koogs that's very different from Sarah.)

With Tim, it's a different kind of reaction, that is very foreign to me. My experience very rarely involves liking something and then turning to strongly disliking and avoiding it as 'the past'. If you go back to things I liked over 30 years ago - Go West, Deacon Blue - I like them as much as ever.

Perhaps Tim has some kind of element of 'disavowal of the past' that is part of the fuel of his great erudition and unusually inquiring mind.

the pinefox, Saturday, 18 April 2020 11:27 (two months ago) link

Excellent Women was the book in the latest episode of Backlisted. I will get around to it eventually.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Saturday, 18 April 2020 11:29 (two months ago) link

The Gaol Ferry Bridge comp was one of my favourite albums for a long time. anyway.

An Indifference of Birds - Richard Smyth. 'A history of humans seen from the perspective of birds'. Very poetically written. It's hard not to feel that this is the processing of information read elsewhere into 'literariness' without any real gain or additional insight. He generously provides a bibliography of books that informed each section and it feels like going to those would stimulate the imagination in ways not confined by notions of literariness or rich prose.

Then you come across a few sentences that do seem to make it worthwhile:

Where today beetle-black grackles crowd the power-lines of the Dallas-Forth Worth metroplex, Austinornis lentus – a first pheasant or junglefowl – pecked and scraped a living in the steamy maritime climate of Texas. And back when 'Europe' was a marshy archipelago, knee-deep in the turbid waters of the Sea of Tethys, what's now the limestone lakeland of south-east Germany was the fenland home of Archeopteryx, the Ürvogel, the 'first bird' – Archeo-pteryx, the ancient feather.

the approach to prose there is *extremely* reminiscent of RLS's quite rich, of-their-time, views of good writing and use of sounds in prose, but that said sometimes Smyth does seem to generate new insight from the stated aim of looking at people via birds:

We didn't invent lentils or vetch, we didn't come up with the idea of chickpeas, no neolithic Archimedes ever leapt from his tub with excitement at having discovered linseed; the birds were already well-versed in these things. What we altered, with our heavy brains and capacity to plan, were their concentrations in the landscape, their profusion, their availability, This is how we (farmers, now, landscapers, terraformers) shaped the lives of birds.

'heavy brains and capacity to plan' does decent work emphasising lumbering humans v airy birds (a theme). and i'm fascinated by what that 'now' is doing in the bracketed list. it's really arresting, but i don't know what it means - i did wonder whether it should have been (farmers, now landscapers, terraformers), but i quite like 'now' as an element of change. it's arresting, even if i'm not sure it's not just a mistake or bad writing.

still, it feels a bit overwritten, especially when i compare to something like RF Langley's Journals - written with restraint, but with continual insight to nature and history and human life and one's internal life, in that context.

however, birds *are* very strange, and i think that will keep me going - despite reluctance and a bit of grouchiness i think i'm quite enjoying the book.

Fizzles, Saturday, 18 April 2020 11:54 (two months ago) link

Excellent Women is v low-key and non-plotty, so if you’re expecting something else, maybe it might seem overrated? But it’s v funny and savage without going full Muriel Spark, plus you could read it in a long afternoon.

Chuck_Tatum, Saturday, 18 April 2020 12:59 (two months ago) link

Fizzles: I agree that 'now' looks like a mistake and doesn't make sense as it stands.

the pinefox, Saturday, 18 April 2020 13:18 (two months ago) link

I think the idea is that we (humans) once shaped the earth as farmers whereas now we do it as landscapers. Makes sense to me although maybe a dash would have worked better than a comma before “now”.

o. nate, Saturday, 18 April 2020 19:50 (two months ago) link

With Tim, it's a different kind of reaction, that is very foreign to me. My experience very rarely involves liking something and then turning to strongly disliking and avoiding it as 'the past'. If you go back to things I liked over 30 years ago - Go West, Deacon Blue - I like them as much as ever.

For whatever it's worth, there aren't many records I loved in the late 80s that I have turned against* - it's more that I began to find other kinds of music more interesting around the time that Sarah came into being. But I kept hearing the records because I knew some people who liked (and made!) them and in the main I found them pretty unpalatable. There may have been some element of finding it less appealing because it reminded me of a couple-of-years-previous me thatI wasn't keen to remember. Or it may have been that the records really were not for me- the Sarah sound was generally a bit different from the index scene it had grown from. But most of my favourites from the 86-89 seasons remain favourites.

*All the instances of this i can think of were singing voices I just went off - Pastel, Gedge and the goaty one out of the Sea Urchins come to mind.

Hey I've been having real trouble reading books during lockdown, but I'm working on typesetting a couple, so that's something. I read this sly little pamphlet, which looks and reads like an early-70s architectural guide but is also a ghost story of sorts: |Modern Buildings In Wessex" buy Stewart Brayne:


(Actually written by a fellow called Ray Newman. It's good, brief fun.)

Tim, Sunday, 19 April 2020 12:46 (two months ago) link

Tim is book design your profession or are you doing it recreationally?

silby, Sunday, 19 April 2020 23:54 (two months ago) link

Oh it's a classic. A lock for top three Dutch books ever in the canon etc. It was a never before seen or heard indictment against (inequality in/because of) the colonial system.

Having finished it now, I can see why it's regarded as a classic. What starts as a satire of bourgeois complacency and small-mindedness, slowly expands into a tale of the price of taking a stand within and against a morally deficient system where everyone is complicit. The heart of the book is apparently a lightly fictionalized of the author's own experience, and it reads that way, despite the clever framing. The books isn't interested in shades of grey or understanding the psychology of guilt or the perspective of its villains - it's a burning polemic, with a savage anger that still has the capacity to shock. It's interesting to think how it would have struck mid 19th century readers.

o. nate, Monday, 20 April 2020 02:15 (two months ago) link

SIlby - I don't know about recreation, but I don't do it for a living. This is me: http://halfpintpress.uk

Tim, Monday, 20 April 2020 08:07 (two months ago) link

I have to agree with Tim that Pastel, Gedge and Sea Urchins singer are bad singers.

the pinefox, Monday, 20 April 2020 13:11 (two months ago) link


The word WESSEX seems possibly a clue to oddness?

the pinefox, Monday, 20 April 2020 13:12 (two months ago) link

Oh Tim that’s rad!!

silby, Monday, 20 April 2020 14:54 (two months ago) link

Kiberd on Shaw, O'Casey, O'Flaherty, now Louis MacNeice.

the pinefox, Monday, 20 April 2020 16:59 (two months ago) link

Having finished Innocence I would rate its a very fine, accomplished novel, but within Fitzgerald's oeuvre I'd rate it fairly low. The main problem, as I see it, is that, while her observation of 'Italian-ness' which provides much of the materiel for her characters, feels fairly keen and probably exact enough, these characters do not elicit her deepest understanding and sympathy.

The understated comedy that pervades the book does not descend to the level of the notorious English penchant for making fun of foreigners; she extends them as much understanding and humanity as she knew how to, which is far more than most English authors would have achieved. But I mentally compare this book to her German characters in The Blue Flower and Russians in The Beginning of Spring and she does not penetrate to their inner springs of life quite as deeply. They withhold more and are less well explicated.

I think this one was the final novel of hers I had left to read. Makes me sad to reach an end of them. She never failed me once.

P.S. I picked up my Collected Poems of Louis MacNiece last night and read there for the final hour before bed. I may dabble in him some more before moving on elsewhere. His early stuff had some fine, strong sinews.

A is for (Aimless), Thursday, 23 April 2020 00:19 (two months ago) link

I'm reading Sean Carroll's The Big Picture which seems to be a decent 'state of play' regarding the current understanding of, uh, science stuff. I suspect it may collapse under the weight of its ambition but we'll see. I like his podcast right enough.

Also read Farenheit 451 for the first time (which, a couple of short stories aside, is my first Bradbury). I mean he wrote the bastard in 9 days (albeit built around a framework of other short stories he'd already written) and it stands and falls on that fact: it's in a hurry, is clunky and overwritten (the adjectives, Raymond!) but it belts along, is full of conviction and he never writes at anything less than the top of his lungs.

Just started Magda Szabó's The Door.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Thursday, 23 April 2020 15:28 (two months ago) link

I don't remember Bradbury's novels, unless you count some others built from sequential stories, like The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles: most recently, I encountered the anthologized account of a stray Martian child, the last of his kind in an area that includes a battered colony of Earthlings: he's seeking company, but he's had no training in how to control his shape-shifting abilities, and the colonists project images of their lost loved ones onto him, into him---it gets horrifying pretty quickly, and then it's over, in a way that's even worse. His short stories are worth seeking out, if you liked him at all.

dow, Thursday, 23 April 2020 15:55 (two months ago) link

there are two huge (900pp each) volumes of his short stories (which aren't even everything)

my favourites of those i've read so far (just over half way through volume 1, but have read 3 of the collections elsewhere)

There Will Come Soft Rains (pdf - https://www.btboces.org/Downloads/7_There%20Will%20Come%20Soft%20Rains%20by%20Ray%20Bradbury.pdf)

The Emissary (pdf - http://www.newforestcentre.info/uploads/7/5/7/2/7572906/the_emissary.pdf)

The Scythe (html - https://talesofmytery.blogspot.com/2013/11/ray-bradbury-scythe.html)

koogs, Thursday, 23 April 2020 17:13 (two months ago) link

the miracle of castel di sangro - Joe mcginniss

not bad so far. although as valid as all the observations are there is something a little grating about an American commenting about how corrupt and cack-handed everything in Italy is

COVID and the Gang (jim in vancouver), Thursday, 23 April 2020 17:32 (two months ago) link

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