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  1. Yesterday
  2. KING RICHARD II We were not born to sue, but to command; Which since we cannot do to make you friends, Be ready, as your lives shall answer it, At Coventry, upon Saint Lambert's day: There shall your swords and lances arbitrate The swelling difference of your settled hate: Since we can not atone you, we shall see Justice design the victor's chivalry. Lord marshal, command our officers at arms Be ready to direct these home alarms. Shakespeare - Richard II I/i
  3. Last week
  4. How can I, that girl standing there, My attention fix On Roman or on Russian Or on Spanish politics, Yet here's a travelled man that knows What he talks about, And there's a politician That has both read and thought, And maybe what they say is true Of war and war's alarms, But O that I were young again And held her in my arms. W.B. Yeats - 'Politics'
  5. At 91 pages this is a very short story. The book is a hardback and sewn together, it has expensive feeling paper and contains full colour artwork by Max Neumann, and QR codes that link to the percussive music of Szilveszter Miklós scored for each chapter. László Krasznahorkai is becoming one of my favourite authors not least because he's not afraid to release material like this. That said, I don't think that the art relates to the story in any way and I'm absolutely certain that the music doesn't (and I like drumming). I found it distracting to have to put my book down to listen to the music but I'm sure that someone else would arrange that better. The prose, however, is amazing and the story engaging. The story is set somewhere in Europe (I'd guess the Eastern Bloc) and is about someone who is on the run. The reader does not know from what or from whom just that the narrator is escaping what the narrator calls certain death and he (I'm going to assume the narrator is a man, but it's not clear) is concerned only with the here and now, who it is that hunts him and where they are. It does make some very philosophical points, too. Absolutely gripping. This is what's known as a chase narrative. Highly recommended.
  6. This is a genre book (which I generally avoid). I'm not sure what the genre is but I suppose gothic suspense mystery might adequately describe it. The story takes place in a castle in a forest during the 1940s, but it feels a lot more like the 1840s (at one point the lightening knocks out the electricity and the castle is kept alight by candles). An elderly general named Henrik has received news that an old friend (Konrad) is to visit him at the castle that evening, a friend that he has not seen in 41 years. The staff are given instructions to tidy the place up and prepare a meal. In the meantime we get some backstory about how these two friends met as young boys, became best friends in military school, and spent the next twenty years of their lives entwined as brothers. But then something happened causing them to part and this is what is to be discussed once his friend arrives. I enjoyed this a lot and found it very easy to read. The first half of the book is a third person narration but the second half is almost entirely dialogue (and almost exclusively from the general). Each chapter goes by very quickly as the mystery element builds. It doesn't take long to figure out what's going on though. The enjoyment is less about the mystery and more the writing combined with the atmosphere it generates (the empty castle alight with candles as a storm thunders in the background is always fun). I immediately thought this would make an excellent play and (having googled it) have discovered that it was indeed turned into one. Given that it's essentially two characters (with a few background servants) I think it would suit that medium perfectly. It won't necessarily live long in the memory (plot driven genre books rarely do with me) but if that's your cup of tea, you should like this a lot. 7/10
  7. CASSIUS The torrent roar'd, and we did buffet it With lusty sinews, throwing it aside And stemming it with hearts of controversy; But ere we could arrive the point proposed, Caesar cried 'Help me, Cassius, or I sink!' I, as Aeneas, our great ancestor, Did from the flames of Troy upon his shoulder The old Anchises bear, so from the waves of Tiber Did I the tired Caesar. And this man Is now become a god, and Cassius is A wretched creature and must bend his body, If Caesar carelessly but nod on him. He had a fever when he was in Spain, And when the fit was on him, I did mark How he did shake: 'tis true, this god did shake; His coward lips did from their colour fly, And that same eye whose bend doth awe the world Did lose his lustre: I did hear him groan: Ay, and that tongue of his that bade the Romans Mark him and write his speeches in their books, Alas, it cried 'Give me some drink, Titinius,' As a sick girl. Ye gods, it doth amaze me A man of such a feeble temper should So get the start of the majestic world And bear the palm alone. Shakespeare - Julius Cæsar I/ii
  8. How changed is here each spot man makes or fills! In the two Hinkseys nothing keeps the same; The village street its haunted mansion lacks, And from the sign is gone Sibylla's name, And from the roofs the twisted chimney-stacks— Are ye too changed, ye hills? See, 'tis no foot of unfamiliar men To-night from Oxford up your pathway strays! Here came I often, often, in old days— Thyrsis and I; we still had Thyrsis then. Runs it not here, the track by Childsworth Farm, Past the high wood, to where the elm-tree crowns The hill behind whose ridge the sunset flames? The signal-elm, that looks on Ilsley Downs, The Vale, the three lone weirs, the youthful Thames?— This winter-eve is warm, Humid the air! leafless, yet soft as spring, The tender purple spray on copse and briers! And that sweet city with her dreaming spires, She needs not June for beauty's heightening, Lovely all times she lies, lovely to-night!— Only, methinks, some loss of habit's power Befalls me wandering through this upland dim. Once pass'd I blindfold here, at any hour; Now seldom come I, since I came with him. That single elm-tree bright Against the west—I miss it! is it goner? We prized it dearly; while it stood, we said, Our friend, the Gipsy-Scholar, was not dead; While the tree lived, he in these fields lived on. Matthew Arnold - from 'Thyrsis: A Monody, to Commemorate the Author's Friend, Arthur Hugh Clough'
  9. O evil day! if I were sullen While Earth herself is adorning, This sweet May-morning, And the Children are pulling, On every side, In a thousand vallies far and wide, Fresh flowers; while the sun shines warm, And the babe leaps up on his mother's arm:— I hear, I hear, with joy I hear! —But there's a Tree, of many one, A single Field which I have looked upon, Both of them speak of something that is gone: The Pansy at my feet Doth the same tale repeat: Whither is fled the visionary gleam? Where is it now, the glory and the dream? William Wordsworth - from "Ode on Intimations of Immortality..."
  10. Set in Austria in 1914 just before the first world war this is the story of Anton Hofmiller and the one mistake that he makes which leads, ultimately, to tragedy. And it was a very easy mistake to make so I'm not entirely sure that he could have been expected to take responsibility for it, in the 21st century things are very different indeed. This is billed as Zweig's greatest work and I can see why. It's a towering work of fiction detailing human emotion and a study of guilt and pity and what that can do to a person. Hofmiller is trapped by his guilt and his pity and even though he makes several attempts to break free he doesn't manage it until he seeks the help of his commanding officer, having become a cavalry officer. During his journey to freedom the ruler of Austria and Hungary is assassinated, which leads to World War I and he is deployed to fight in it. Before he leaves to take part in the war he is informed of the consequences of his leaving, predicted by the family doctor (of the person he is pitying and feels guilty about). Hofmiller survives the war, much to his surprise, and emerges as a war hero, much to his chagrin. His guilt and pity, however, have been brought into perspective at the end of the war and the reader is left with the impression that Hofmiller will, at last, live in peace with himself. Highly recommended.
  11. Tell me not (Sweet) I am unkind, That from the nunnery Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind To war and arms I fly. True, a new mistress now I chase, The first foe in the field; And with a stronger faith embrace A sword, a horse, a shield. Yet this inconstancy is such As you too shall adore; I could not love thee (Dear) so much, Lov’d I not Honour more. Richard Lovelace - 'To Lucasta, Going to the Wars'
  12. Chasing Homer, László Krasznahorkai ETA Chasing Homer, László Krasznahorkai has QR codes that, when scanned, lead to music written especially for the book. It also features art drawn especially for it. It's only 96 pages long so it won't take me long to read and listen to it. But first, my current read...........
  13. Riccardo and Emilia Molteni have been married for two years. They were very much in love to begin with but now, with a new home to pay for, and a job he doesn't enjoy (working for a film producer named Battista), in order to pay for it, he finds that she is becoming quite distant from him. At first he doesn't think much of it but gradually comes to believe that she no longer loves him. Initially, she denies this but then, after a heated argument, confesses that it's true but more than that -- she not only doesn't love him but in fact despises him. Understandably, Riccardo demands an explanation for her contempt but she doesn't have one or refuses to give it. Then Battista suggests a trip to his villa in Capri to prepare for a movie of the Odyssey and things come to a head. As with 'Boredom' the writing is wonderful and Moravia speaks to me in a way that few other writers do; there's just something about his style that I find immensely easy to read and so fluid that each page melts away. Even when the subject matter is ultimately quite mundane (the breakdown of a marriage) it is utterly compelling, and dare I say it, even nourishing. The whole narrative is fresh and flowing like a cool breeze by the sea, never jarring or stunted, always lyrical and clear (and least to me). *spoilers* The story is straight-forward but for one aspect that confused me; namely, the reason why Emilia has suddenly stopped loving her husband and claims to despise him. Moravia leaves confusing clues regarding her affair with Battista such as when Riccardo encourages Emilia and Battista to share a car and she shows obvious discomfort at this, almost as if she is trying to tell her husband that Battista is sexually harassing her. Then later, in a similar fashion, Battista suggests that she come in his car while Riccardo goes with the German director, and once again she is hesitant, clearly demonstrating that she does not want to be left alone with Battista. All of this suggests she is an unwilling (even potentially coerced) participant but at the end of the book, she decides to leave with him (admitting that she may even become his mistress claiming she is "not made of iron"). I'm not entirely sure if it was Moravia's intention, but I was as bewildered as Riccardo. It didn't fascinate me quite as much as 'Boredom' but it came very close. I've already ordered 'The Conformist.' 9/10
  14. Earlier
  15. LEONTES Apollo, pardon My great profaneness 'gainst thine oracle! I'll reconcile me to Polixenes, New woo my queen, recall the good Camillo, Whom I proclaim a man of truth, of mercy; For, being transported by my jealousies To bloody thoughts and to revenge, I chose Camillo for the minister to poison My friend Polixenes: which had been done, But that the good mind of Camillo tardied My swift command, though I with death and with Reward did threaten and encourage him, Not doing 't and being done: he, most humane And fill'd with honour, to my kingly guest Unclasp'd my practise, quit his fortunes here, Which you knew great, and to the hazard Of all encertainties himself commended, No richer than his honour: how he glisters Thorough my rust! and how his pity Does my deeds make the blacker! Shakespeare - The Winter's Tale III/ii
  16. The cauld licht glimmers on the sand And glisters on the faem: And the sailor-lad has fund the land Afore his boat is hame. The lift looks doun wi' glitterin e'en: The wave swurls owre the rock: And the cauld sea comes rowin in; And the cauld sea gangs back. William Soutar - 'Poem'
  17. Come To Sunny Prestatyn Laughed the girl on the poster, Kneeling up on the sand In tautened white satin. Behind her, a hunk of coast, a Hotel with palms Seemed to expand from her thighs and Spread breast-lifting arms. She was slapped up one day in March. A couple of weeks, and her face Was snaggle-toothed and boss-eyed; Huge tits and a fissured crotch Were scored well in, and the space Between her legs held scrawls That set her fairly astride A tuberous cock and balls Autographed Titch Thomas, while Someone had used a knife Or something to stab right through The moustached lips of her smile. She was too good for this life. Very soon, a great transverse tear Left only a hand and some blue. Now Fight Cancer is there. Philip Larkin - "Sunny Prestatyn"
  18. Life Time: The New Science of the Body Clock, and How It Can Revolutionize Your Sleep and Health by Russell Foster
  19. A woman drew her long black hair out tight And fiddled whisper music on those strings And bats with baby faces in the violet light Whistled, and beat their wings And crawled head downward down a blackened wall And upside down in air were towers Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells. In this decayed hole among the mountains In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel There is the empty chapel, only the wind’s home. It has no windows, and the door swings, Dry bones can harm no one. Only a cock stood on the rooftree Co co rico co co rico In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust Bringing rain T.S. Eliot - from 'The Waste Land V: What the Thunder Said'
  20. A boy discovers that Christianity doesn't have all the answers and that there is a duality in the world of light and dark. He meets a young man named Demian who appears to encapsulate these transgressive thoughts and becomes enchanted by him and everyone else who has opened their eyes to the truth. The writing is fine and goes along nicely (especially the last few chapters) but I couldn't help but feel that I was being lectured at by Hesse about his hippy spirituality. And this is the third time he's done this to me. In Steppenwolf (also about the two sides of humanity) it was forgivable because that book was so engaging, with a narrative which meant the magical stuff felt earned. Then he did it again in Siddhartha but that was entirely about spiritual enlightenment so fair enough. Knowing that he does this a lot has, however, slightly tarnished my memory of Steppenwolf and made Hesse seem like a rather one-note bore (I hope that isn't the case). As much I enjoy being told about the magical ideas of the ancient world, there does seem to be a mild fetish going on here with him. And hiding it behind ethereal notions of vague telepathy and obscure Hindu myths doesn't do much for me either. At one point, Hesse even talked about the herd (like some teenager in his basement calling other people on the internet 'sheeple'), and I frankly wasn't very impressed by that whole... we see things differently. In all honesty, Hesse and his wooly spiritualism are the least interesting things about him for me. By the end, Demian's mother simply came across as a cult leader with an unhealthy interest in younger men. I guess you have buy into that spiritual stuff to find such things profound or intriguing. With Steppenwolf, it worked, but not here. The book is short, though and, like most of Hesse's work, well written. I would still recommend it. 6/10
  21. GHOST I am thy father's spirit, Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night, And for the day confin'd to fast in fires, Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature Are burnt and purg'd away. But that I am forbid To tell the secrets of my prison house, pronounced /həʊs/, i.e. with the vowel-sound of those I could a tale unfold whose lightest word Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, Thy knotted and combined locks to part, And each particular hair to stand on end Like quills upon the fretful porcupine. But this eternal blazon must not be To ears of flesh and blood. Shakespeare - Hamlet I/v
  22. My grandfather's hoose at Brechan wis staned And him in the city guid kens hoo lang And his sons playing waltzes at the local dances. My grandfather's hoose at Brechan wis staned And the wa's clorted 'Eyties go home!' And his sons awa tae jyne the forces. My grandfather's hoose at Brechan wis staned And the wa's clorted 'Eyties go home!' But he never did. He gaed til Pitlochry. He gaed til Pitlochry, interned at eighty, And him in the city guid kens hoo lang And his sons playing waltzes at the local dances. My grandfather's hoose at Brecham wis staned And the wa's clorted 'Eyties go home!' His windows were broken. And muckle mair. Raymond Vettese - 'My grandfather's hoose at Brecham wis staned'
  23. A man is stuck in traffic and suddenly goes blind (a milky white blindness as opposed to darkness). A good Samaritan takes him home only to later steal his car. The next day he sees the doctor who is baffled. The day after that, the doctor discovers that he is now blind. And on it goes, with more an more people discovering that they are blind until the government starts rounding them up and placing them in an asylum. To begin with there are forty to fifty but gradually the numbers drastically increase. The doctor's wife also claims to be blind to stay with her husband despite this not being true. The army are positioned outside with strict instructions to shoot anyone who tries to leave. Soon the place is overpopulated with excrement everywhere and dead bodies. Then a group in a separate wing decides to keep all the food for themselves and demand money and jewels for food. Soon, they switch and demand that females from each ward be sent as payment. Eventually, the army abandon post as the blindness epidemic continues and the small group leaves and roams the apocalyptic streets in search of food and shelter. The allegory here is fairly obvious, concerning the true nature of humanity and how civilisation has a tendency to ignore what's in front of their eyes. But I found that fairly simplistic and predictable with little originality. Most of us know exactly what humanity is. Most of us keep that truth close to the front of our minds on a daily basis. There is nothing especially groundbreaking here and in truth the high praise this book receives is slightly bewildering to me. I get the impression that it's a lot of people who want to read Stephen King but also want to seem more intellectual (Saramago won a Nobel prize after all). That being said, I enjoyed the book and was swept along at a decent pace; the story is very engaging and though the writing style is often chaotic (very few full stops), it's actually quite an easy to read. My only criticisms would be the oppressively long chapters which, more than once, had me craving that they would end (never a good sign). And I also disliked the doctor and the girl with glasses having sex; it seemed absurd and pointless, and strangely presumptuous of a male writer. Overall, very good though. 7/10
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