Archive for the 'Books' Category

Reading Degree Zero

Roland Barthes made a lasting contribution to the way people see and interpret the world. If his vision had taken in the importance of approaching laundry trucks, we may have learned even more from him.

There are different approaches to reading Roland Barthes. One, seldom employed, is to treat him as though he were a modern Nostradamus.

he will be considering the object, or measuring it, or surveying it, using it at least as a spectacle; take the Giant’s Causeway, that mass of terrifying basalt composed by Nature at Antrim, in Ireland; this inhuman landscape is, one might say, stuffed with humanity; gentlemen in tricornes, lovely ladies contemplate the horrible landscape, chatting familiarly; farther on, men are fishing

With stunning prescience and scarce ambiguity, this refers to the presentation being made to Donald Trump so that he builds a golf course in North Antrim. The men fishing are Seymour Sweeney and Ian Paisley Junior.

By Their Covers Shall Ye Know Them

I happened across a book by Theodore Dalrymple called In Praise of Prejudice: The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas. It looked like a pile of shite, so I didn’t bother picking it up. I already got stung on that score by Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. Once bitten and all that.

Against All Odds

The story of a GAA star’s battle against his gambling addiction was today announced as a contender for a major book award.Oisin McConville’s ‘The Gambler’ is up against competition from 17 other sporting titles for the William Hill Irish Sports Book of the Year.

Here’s hoping the prize isn’t £5,000 worth of free bets.


It’ll be a long time before I get round to reading Anne Enright’s Booker-winning latest, or anything at all she has written, as I have a big long list of books already bought and not read, and no money to be buying more. In fact, it’s probably more reasonable to predict that I will never read it, although from what I hear I’m sure it’s pretty good.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t get interested in the fallout from her award. As Sinéad reports here, she has been the subject of a backlash after she won the Booker the other night. Today’s Independent has a piece continuing proceedings:

Enright also talked about how her own feelings towards the McCanns and their story swayed one way and then the other. But crucially, at the end of the piece, she said that she ended up liking the McCanns.

Why, begob, is it ‘crucial’ that she should end up ‘liking the McCanns’? If she had not done so, would she have deserved different treatment? Suppose she had written a piece instead talking simply about how much she liked the McCanns: how manly and gruff Gerry is, and how delicate and nice Kate is, and left it at that: would anything have been said at all? It is as though there were an unspoken requirement by nutters nationwide to like the McCanns or face the consequences.

Anyway, there is also suspicion of an Irish author winning, apparently:

The fact that Enright was a surprise winner in the Man Booker may also have been a factor. This is the second time in three years that an Irish writer has won the Booker, and that may have caused some resentment in the British press.

Dem awfil Brits. Those living in the real world might be more inclined to think that, if there has indeed been a backlash , it is on account of the fact that at least 2 out of the last 3 winners appear to have been rather grim and gloomy affairs (I haven’t read The Sea, but I’ll bet John Banville didn’t decide to change the habit of a lifetime and instead write a book full of knee-slapping one-liners, and I have been putting The Inheritance of Loss, of which I do have a copy, on the long and winding finger), and not an ideal accompaniment to the nearing plunge into long winter nights.

Another possible, but less charitable, explanation is that Britain is full of nutters who demand that people like Ian McEwan.

Update: Mary Kenny is off her rocker, again. Apparently an article in the London Review of Books (that well-known port of call for unhinged mobs with torches alight and pitchforks a-twirling) is worthy of comparison to one of the most notorious scandals of the 19th century.

It is not only prejudice: it is dangerous prejudice. It encourages a mob feeling — which exists and always will exist — that “there is no smoke without fire”, and “a nod is as good as a wink”, and all the rest of that ignorant farrago.

These were the grounds on which Alfred Dreyfus, in the notorious case which broke France in the 1890s, was wrongly convicted of treason. Dreyfus was accused of passing military secrets to Germany, basically on the grounds that people didn’t like the look of him. That is to say, he was Jewish, and he looked it, and if you added up two and two, wasn’t a Jew the more likely to betray France? Thus was the infamous miscarriage of justice mounted on prejudice, on hearsay, on malign gossip, and above all, encouraging the mob to find a scapegoat they could hate.

Egad! She’s an Ian McEwan partisan too:

Ms Enright has apologised and expressed her regrets but she should take a leaf from a fellow author’s book by now showing atonement.

Stone me. I had breakfast in Avoca this morning (the shop, not the village). De-lightful pancakes, but the acoustics in that place are appalling! You can’t even hear yourself talk bollocks!

Halting Translations

This is interesting.

A French kid got arrested for translating the latest Harry Potter into French.

This causes me to wonder a few things:

1. Suppose in a few months I went to France and bought a copy of the official translation, then started translating it back into English and posting it on the internet. Could I get done for it? After all, the words are no longer actually JK Rowling’s. I could take some stylistic and narrative liberties, and claim that I’m really translating a Maigret, but it just came out a bit Harry Potterish.

2. What if I translated it into an unofficial language? I could translate it into some sort of Northern Hiberno-English. Watch yerself, Hermione, thon wizard hoor’s gonna gi ye an awful root up the arse.

3. Is ‘Harry Potter’ in French really a passable translation of ‘Harry Potter’ in English? Both ‘Harry’ and ‘Potter’ have cultural connotations in the original language that do not carry across to the target. If I was the kid, I would claim that I hadn’t translated Harry Potter at all, and that the ‘Harry Potter’ that appeared in his story was an entirely different character.

Hits From The Gong

I missed a lot of the news while abroad. It seems that the author of this:

One of the key concepts of imperialism was that military superiority implied cultural superiority, and this enabled the British to condescend to and repress cultures far older than their own; and it still does. For the citizens of the new, imported Empire, for the colonized Asians and blacks of Britain, the police force represents that colonizing army, those regiments of occupation and control.

is now a KBE.

Incidentally, the WSJ article to which I link -a gruesome pile of shit, as it happens- contains the most ludicrous piece of globe-spanning alliteration I have come across in a long time:

‘(Rushdie’s elevation)…highlights two of the core values of Western civilization conspicuously absent in most of the Muslim world: freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry. It squarely rejects the notion that the fossilized norms of Mecca and Mashhad hold sway over Manchester and Middlesex, and beyond them, over Malmo and Minneapolis.’

Oh, blow it out your ass.

War Poets

Henry Kamen’s pompous The Disinherited: The Exiles Who Created Spanish Culture, which I criticised here in part for its failure to fulfil some of the promise of its subtitle, has a different subtitle in Spanish. Instead, it is ‘España y la huella del exilio’, that is, ‘Spain and the mark of exile’. Whether this would have affected my reading of the book I am not too sure, but I am beginning to think that the book is even worse than I considered when I first put it down.

By contrast, I read Ian Gibson’s superb Cuatro poetas en guerra (Four poets in war) during the holidays. It’s an account of the activities and fate of four of Spain’s most prominent poets- Antonio Machado, Federico García Lorca, Juan Ramón Jiménez and Miguel Hernández- in the Spanish Civil War. All supported the Republic against the fascist uprising led by Franco, and paid the price as a result.

Machado died in exile just across the border in France, having written tirelessly in support of the Republic from Madrid, Valencia and then Barcelona, his movements the result of evacuations. Lorca was assassinated in his native Granada on the orders of fascist terrorist Queipo de Llano. Juan Ramón Jiménez -who fled to the US- made brave but futile attempts to influence the Roosevelt government in its policy towards the Republic, and learned of how his hastily abandoned house in Madrid -containing all his papers- had been ransacked by victorious literary falangists.

Perhaps most remarkably of all, Miguel Hernández had a leading role writing incessantly in support of the Republic whilst simultaneously fighting in the trenches. He was spared Lorca’s fate of execution -and that, post-war, of at least 50,000 others who had fought on the side of the Republic- due, it would seem, to Franco not wanting to see ‘another García Lorca’, but he still died of tuberculosis in vile prison conditions.

Ignorance dispelled

I just discovered that the book by George Eliot is not titled Silas Mariner, but Silas Marner. I had hitherto been inclined to consider that Silas was a forebear of former Ipswich and England star Paul, or perhaps a distant relative of the albatross-shooting ancient.

I Bleseech Thee

I recently discovered that ‘bleg’ is a blog entry that asks for something.

This is not one of these. This is a blemand. Or a bleseech.

I was sniffing round Hodges Figgis the other day, amid the glossy books that could double up as murder weapons, when I came across this one. I was unaware of its existence, despite my admiration for Spain’s Road To Empire, by the same author.

So buy it for me.

It costs 44 Euro.

No, don’t buy it for me. I’ll get it myself.

No, do buy it for me.

No, don’t. I still haven’t got through my pile yet, and a couple of infiltrators have snuck onto it in the meantime, leapfrogging the likes of Brian Dillon, whose first 50 pages of his memoir of drab (not the same as a drab memoir), In The Dark Room, had me feeling like my teeth were yellowing and damp was setting into the living room, however much he referred to the likes of Bachelard and Borges to keep me interested. An alternative title of Rotting Penny Apples springs to mind. But that would be too cruel. The infiltrators include Eric Hobsbawm’s Revolutionaries (seriously good) and Terry Eagleton’s The Meaning of Life (not as satisfying as After Theory).

Another book I spotted was Why Blame Israel? The only reason I recall said book was not because I found it in any way enticing, but because it had been ‘blurbed’ by Julie Burchill. The blurb says (according to an Amazon reviewer – I can’t recall it verbatim):

“There exists a quite striking bias against Israel. Neill Lochery’s excellent, accesible book is a must read for anyone wanting a tonic to this persistent and illogical prejudice”.

This came to mind when reading the following passage by Cosmo Landesman (Julie Burchill’s former husband) in his profile of Naim Attallah in today’s Sunday Times:

Still, I always hoped I’d get the call, until he approached my then wife Julie Burchill and asked for an interview for his forthcoming book about prominent women. He thought Julie would be flattered to be part of such esteemed company as Germaine Greer, Tina Brown, Joan Bakewell, Margaret Drabble and Clare Short. She replied, “No, I won’t be in your book. One, because I don’t like Arabs in general. Two, because I don’t like Palestinians in particular. And three, because I particularly don’t like you. Now sling your hook.”

When I suggested to Julie that perhaps a simple “no, thanks” might be a more appropriate response, she called me “a weak, gutless, self-loathing Jew”.

Who better than Julie Burchill, then, to write blurbs making reference to ‘striking bias’ and ‘persistent and illogical prejudice’?

A Little Bit Country

The whole read-a-book-a-week-and-lighten-your-load idea has taken a dive, since I haven’t read anything this week. I started David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green last week, and got well into it, particularly since as a child I spent a short spell in the Worcestershire countryside (where the book is set thus far) , round about the same time that the book is set. This gives the book a certain personal and sentimental appeal that a book about, say, a band of Mexican revolutionaries might not have.

Nothing further to say about the book at this point. But it has prompted me to think about the English countryside and how it compares with the Irish countryside. From what I’ve seen, I’d opt for the former every time. It feels far more…established, perhaps for obvious historical reasons. The trunks of trees are thicker, the leaves are..leafier. The fields are bigger! And they have lots of blasted heaths and windswept moors and things for acting out period dramas.

Leaving aside the mountainy areas, which are wild and spectacular, but wet and windy, all you have in the Irish countryside are streams full of agricultural waste and sheughs full of prams and Argos catalogues.

I like almost everywhere I’ve been in the English countryside: the Cotswolds, and Worcestershire and Malvern, the Fens, Kent, and Cumbria. Yorkshire I’m not all that familiar with, but it certainly looks nice on Emmerdale. Occasionally I read someone in England say stuff like ‘I’d love to retire to a little house somewhere in Ireland’ and I think: is this person off his head? Do they mean the Ireland in John Ford films, or do they really want to live in a tiny-windowed bungalow two miles from the nearest shop with a pair of white eagles wearing trousers perched on the gateposts?

I wouldn’t live in what’s left of the Irish countryside if you paid me. I wouldn’t live in any countryside, but that’s beside the point.

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November 2020