Monday, 29 August 2005

All Will Be Well

John McGahern, Ireland's finest fiction writer, is publishing his memoirs on Thursday, Memoir (Faber, 2005). I am very excited. It is a really important publishing event, and for anyone interested in the best Irish fiction around.

I have also come home for this, to Co Leitrim, where McGahern himself is from. Quiet countryside, watching the sun try to shine all day. It's exactly where I want to be reading it.

Read this interview in yesterday's Observer.

Friday, 26 August 2005

Poets and Patrons

Apologies for the silence. I've been preparing a review of John A. Scott's wonderful new book Understanding Dante, and have it nearly ready. It's for The Sixteenth Century Journal.

I then read Cynthia Brown's book Poets, Patrons, and Printers: Crisis of Authority in Late Medieval France(Cornell U Press, 1995). She talks about the way that printers become very important and influential at the opening of the sixteenth century and, by examining things like frontispieces and colophons, she charts the rise of the author and his sense of identity, especially via an increasing sense of literary rights (or copyright). Fascinating, and persuasively written. I also had a read of Robert Edwards's Ratio and Invention: A Study of Medieval Lyric and Narrative(Vanderbilt U Press, 1989). If anyone has read it and has a comment on it please post; I couldn't make head nor tail of it, and I suspect that may be because the book has neither head nor tail.
If I have not been able to make sense of an argument in a book, whose fault is it? Mine, for being thick (a strong possibility), or the author's, for not being able to get his point across? I remember a long time ago handing a piece of work in to my history of art lecturer and going through it with him; at one point he said that something wasn't clear and I, in a moment of humility, apologised. He said, Yes, you should apologise, because it is your fault and your problem if the point is not getting across. You are responsible. Agens rather than auctor maybe.

I've seen the V.A. Kolve Festschrift s/h and was thinking of buying it. But I'm a bit wary of buying collections of essays: after all, you'll only ever need to refer to one or two ever. What's the point? I usually prefer to plough money into texts. I just ordered Shackleton Bailey's new edition of the Thebaid, for the LOEB. Has anybody used it yet? I'm presuming it is a new edition, and translation. I'm missing good bookshops here in Dublin.

Friday, 19 August 2005

Charlie Charlie

Went to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory last night. With Tim Burton involved one expected it to be a bit crazy, but I have to say that it is very weird. The film could quite legitimately have a subtitle: A Study in the Grotesque. I can understand Johnny Depp's problem, trying to make a classic character all his own, but there were some very, well...unsettling moments in his Willy Wonka. And then all of those references to eating and over-eating have resonances now, with fat children dying of bloody heart attacks, that they did not have when Dahl wrote the book nor when the original film was made.

Mo Mowlam died last night. Very sad. Two terrible recent losses for the Labour party.

Wednesday, 17 August 2005

Pauvre Victoria

Poor Victoria. Apparently she has not read a book in her life. She's been too busy, she says. I know the feeling Victoria, but well, you make time. It's a great opportunity to pull out all the old prejudices though. Hester Lacey's piece in the Guardian is great, apropos. She writes about how she loves reading, her mother brought her to the library when she was still in the womb and she read the entire works of Dickens before she was born. Victoria apparently prefers fashion magazines. Maybe that's why she looks the way she does, and her husband, too.
Lacey says that reading is the only habit seen as universally good. Well, I'm not sure that's true. There are plenty of places where they burn books, still. And your average school, or rather "school" in the Bible belt (ye old US of A, needless to say) will have its heavily censored libraries guiding its students. Reading is moral and political: in the Middle Ages it would have been described as ethical. And that means it is potentially dangerous.

A similar revelation was made recently by Noel Gallagher, another culture-making vulture, who said that he was nevously beginning his first book, Angels and Demons. Gawd. Where shall I start? I suppose at least he has expressed an intention to read a book, as opposed to Victoria, who doesn't seem pushed if she never reads a book for the rest of her life. Maybe we should applaud Dan Brown for getting people reading who wouldn't normally "do" the whole book thing.

Like the old joke of the distinguished academic being introduced by a long list of his publications who says: I may have written them but I assure you I have never read them, Victoria herself has written a book.... sob....

But modern publishing is as mercurial and superficial as the fashion industry, something nicely sidestepped by Lacey and her swipe at those who know the difference between Gucci and Prada - implying of course that there is none (I mean really darling...). Reading might be seen as 'good', but good books do not necessarily get published, nor will the reader know they exist. Those who populate both worlds are, in my humble opinion, as superficial as each other.

I'm off now to buy a Gucci man bag in which to put my Ulysses.

No really, I am....

Sunday, 14 August 2005

Busy busy

Well aren't you all busy little readers: see the comments on the last post, what a nice surprise to see some exotic visitors posting, as well as my old friends!

I'm afraid I've been rather busy this week. I have been writing furiously, trying to make up for the lost time in Italy. I met my supervisor and had a chat about it and gave him the chapter-section to read. We'll talk about it when I get back from Ireland. I'm leaving on Wednesday. Before then, I must pack and leave my room. I've been in a nice two-room set this past year (a priviledge for the MCR president), and it if full of stuff. I had a huge cull today and threw out two black refuse sacks of clothes, papers, and rubbish. Great feeling.

I have such an amount of work to do it is not funny...

Over the past few days I've also been going into Blackwell's to read Ralph Hanna's new book London Literature, 1300-1380 (Cambridge, 2005). I haven't had the cash to blow on it, but I think that I will when I get back, it's well worth it. It's a brilliantly accomplished book, actually so good it makes the hairs stand on the back of your neck. I've read the first three chapters and when I went in yesterday someone had bought the only copy on the shelf! Oh well. I might post a review when I read the rest of it. Absolutely essential reading - no medievalist can afford not to read it. I mean that!

Despite the disappointment of not being able to finish my free read in Blackwell's, I did pick up a lovely mint copy of The Oxford Guide to Style, which I'd been meaning to look for to check a couple of things. (Yes, expect things to get elevated from now on...). Barnardo's on the Cowley Road is not where you'd go first for books, but actually there were more than a few interesting things. And (in Oxfam) I picked up a nice (-ish) recording of Renata Tebaldi in La Wally, an opera I'd only known bits of before. Better than its low profile would suggest. I heard her sing a recital a few years ago in Bologna, one of her last public appearances. Her voice had weakened a lot in the higher register, but for the easy stuff it was very nice. And she left in a kind of breeze of adulation only to come scrambling back on stage becasue she had lost her diamond bracelet. Not very dignified. But kind of funny.

Saturday, 6 August 2005

Editors and Butchers

Great piece in today's Guardian by Blake Morrison on the role of editors and how it is becoming less and less important in publishing houses. He argues that while it is becoming easier to get work out there, through a variety of formats (including blogs!), if editors are becoming obsolete, it is bad for language and bad for books. It is true. And he says that the decline in the position of editors is related to the rise of university courses on creative writing, that if you walk in to a class you hear exactly what we can read between Pound and Eliot, or Maxwell Perkins (at Scribner) and Wolfe.

Thursday, 4 August 2005

That'll be 72 raisins for me thanks...

Is George Galloway completely mad? I think so. The Arab world hardly needs some MP (who?) running around the Middle East whipping up anti-Western sentiment and encouraging martyrs to write their names in the stars. Poor man. And if it is virgins that are promised in the Qu'ran - and not, as Christoph Luxenberg suggests in Die Syro-Aramäische Lesart des Koran: raisins - then just remember that it could be 72 Ann Widdecombes you meet up there. I'll have the raisins thanks. Why must everything be twisted to suit those who wish to gain and hold power? Hanif Kureishi has an interesting piece in the Guardian today.

I've just been listening to Bell X-1, mainly from having seen them on Vexed and Glorious' blog, and I think they're really good. The diary from the States, on their homepage is great. Music in Mouth is the first album. [The title is a nod to a poem called "The Planter's Daughter" by Austin Clarke, one we all learned in school. Beautiful.] And I called in to my local library today and picked up a few of novels (they have a 50p shelf) - Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, Beryl Bainbridge's The Winter Garden, Michael Ondajee's The English Patient, and Iris Murdoch's The Message to the Planet. I'm embarrassed to be reading these only now.

And then today one of my friends just unwillingly revealed that he had written a novel! It's with his agent now. How depressing and exciting is that, in equal measure. What am I doing with my time? He wrote the thing in four months. Four months my friends.

My issue of Speculum arrived today. I feel so grown up when these things arrive for me!

Tuesday, 2 August 2005

Blogging White Noise

Apparently....a blog is created every second, according to Technorati. (I just searched for myself on it and got a hit!). I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed. That's a lot of blogging. Maybe I need that white noise programme for my computer. White noise.

Check out this blog called: Black Looks.

Monday, 1 August 2005


It is not often I get butterflies in my stomach when I go into Blackwells. Today I had two very different reasons to have them. First, I was buying Michael Dibdin's new novel in the Aurelio Zen series, Back to Bologna (Faber, 2005). I shall post soon with a review. V exciting. And I only saw it by pure chance on the Amazon website a couple of days ago. I had intended on treating myself at the end of the week if I was very good [with the work and all], but I couldn't wait and ran out this afternoon.

The second reason for butterflies is that I think I have picked up a rather rare volume in the second-hand section for the princely sum of £3. And I mean rare. It is a first edition (in super condition) of a collection of poems in dialect by Andrea Zanzotto called Mistieròi, with etchings by Augusto Murer. (Feltre: Edizioni d'arte castaldi, 1979). But here's the catch. It's signed. BY THEM BOTH! Wow. It is a real collector's item, as in a Sotheby's collector's item. Bliss & Joy.


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