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Welcome to this week’s blog, and our roundup of your comments and photos from last week.
George Orwell doesn’t look like he’s going to go out of fashion any time soon. That’s partly because of the unfortunate tenor of our times. But also, as Applecake pointed out, because he could write so damn well:
Just read Down and Out in Paris and London which is as good as ever (ignoring his homophobia and antisemitism which shows through in a few places) and just reading Keep the Aspidistra Flying which is also good… The real joys are the actual sentences or ideas that I can remember as it shows how much of an impression they had on me so long ago. For example, Orwell talking about how complete poverty is almost like a relief – something you have been fighting for so long has finally happened. Also the chefs in top restaurants touching and feeling steaks with their dirty hands to see if they are done, that has stayed with me for years. Orwell makes those tramps and destitute people really come alive and although I know he was an Etonian slumming it, I also appreciate that he had the nerve and the commitment to do that.
Plenty of Orwell’s contemporaries haven’t stayed in the public consciousness in quite the same way – but that’s not always for lack of talent, as fleetfootkid reminded us:
I picked up Flora Thompson’s “Lark Rise” (which I had read many years ago – before the dreadful TV series) to check a detail, and was struck by the quality of its writing, its intelligence and compassion, its sympathetic but realistic and unromanticised view of its subjects. This time round, it reminded me of Lafcadio Hearn’s writings on Japan. Hearn and Thompson both use small details of ordinary lives and traditions, to paint a picture of an isolated society on the threshold of irrevocable change. The lesson from “Lark Rise” is that isolation is not a function of physical distance, but of connections and horizons…
I don’t know if anyone takes Hearn or Thompson seriously these days – their writing is essentially literary reportage, rather than fiction or biography – but they both seem to be communicating essential truths about how people really live in a more balanced and honest way than one finds in many novels, even those of socially engaged writers like Hardy and Dickens.
Talking of social engagement, FreethoughtRules provided a good tip:
Reading ‘How to be a Heroine’ by Samantha Ellis. Really enjoying it so far. Ellis writes about the books that have shaped her, as well as her life as an Iraqi Jewish woman growing up in London. Her insights into the gender roles and representations of women in her favourite books are interesting and humorous.
And talking of gender roles, here’s a useful reminder from bobkolker:
I am reading “The Glass Universe” by Dava Sobel which reviews the very important contributions to astronomy made by women astronomers in the late 19 th century and early 20th century. After I finish that, I am going to read “Hidden Figures” which features the female computation crew that was crucial to the success of the NASA space program.
The contributions of women to science are not sufficiently well known to the general public. For example The discovery of DNA by Watson and Crick was made possible only by the difficult technique of X-ray photography that revealed the structure of DNA (the double helix). This was made possible by Ros Franklin, a genius in the filed of X-ray photography. Ros Franklin never received the credit she should have. Without her input, Watson and Crick would not have figured out the structure of DNA.
And, on the subject of science Rick2016 recommended The Swerve by Stephen Greenblat, a “superb” book about the rediscovery Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura at the start of the Italian Renaissance:
I’ve been interested in Epicurean thought for a while and Greenblatt provides a beautifully written introduction to Lucretius’ poem and the currents swirling around it as Europe emerged from the Dark Ages. I’m afraid that some of the references to tides of ignorance and intolerance engulfing the continent filled me with foreboding.
And finally, a good question from Sara Richards:
I was wondering how many of us keep a reading journal? I always want to, but this site tends to mark most of the fiction I read. I would like to keep a better record, a commonplace book of sorts. If anyone does this I’d be really interested in knowing how. Of course a reading blog is a good idea as well but even there I have copied reviews from this site until I ran out of steam.
I feel that as I have found a rich seam at the moment I would like to record my reading habits.
Plenty of us do, by the sound of things. And many keep notes too. But this confession from Yosserian could be a step too far:
I’ve gone over to the dark side – sacrilegious behaviour – a while back – and annotate books I’m reading (still timorously mind you, in pencil). Some pages have enormous amounts of notes… some just an enigmatic exclamation mark. The problem I found was that I never really went back to my journal and read what I had written – maybe I still don’t ever read my thoughts, hidden in books; but when a pick up a book to reread, or just casually leaf through – wonderful to see what I was thinking when I last read the same pages.
I have one thing to say: Post-it notes.
Interesting links about books and reading
- Librarians tell us about the weirdest things they’ve found in books.
- The New York Times looks forward to Thoreau’s 200th birthday.
- Here’s the trailer for the forthcoming adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale.
If you would like to share a photo of the book you are reading, or film your own book review, please do. Click the blue button on this page to share your video or image. I’ll include some of your posts in next week’s blog.
If you’re on Instagram and a book lover, chances are you’re already sharing beautiful pictures of books you are reading, “shelfies” or all kinds of still lifes with books as protagonists. Now, you can share your reads with us on the mobile photography platform – simply tag your pictures there with #GuardianBooks, and we’ll include a selection here. Happy reading!
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