Archive for the 'rambling about reading' Category

2022: My year of reading

December 30, 2022

A house move early this year has had a major impact on my reading: books boxed up, being unable to find books that I wanted to read, far less time to read due to having so many other pressing things to deal with: are those excuses or reasons? I’m not sure. But the books are now, much later, out of boxes and on shelves, although in different places, so tracking down and finding a book still isn’t easy, until my ageing brain has internalised my new system…

There has been a certain amount or re-reading; there has been the usual ‘compulsory’ reading for our book group, some of which were real eye-openers. In 2022 I bought or was given (and kept) all of 19 books, which represents a slight decrease on 2021; I read 50 books, which marks a serious decrease on last year’s total, for the reason above-mentioned.

I have a number of resolutions for 2023: to continue buying fewer books – and this is partly because a good number of the new books I come across I only want to read once, and I know I shan’t return to them – to return to my interrupted project to re-read all of Shakespeare’s plays in chronological sequence, to revisit a lot of the poetry I cherish, to revisit some old favourites including Josef Skvorecky, Garrison Keillor and Amin Maalouf, and to continue weeding my library and disposing of books I no longer want. And, driven by the final TV series which is currently being screened, I want to re-read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy: I’ve watched the TV adaptations and loved them, and I’ve listened several times to the excellent full audiobook recording of the trilogy while I’ve been on my travels, but it’s a good few years since I actually consumed the printed volumes…

I’ve read far fewer travel books this year, and I’m wondering if I’ve finally exhausted that bug. There does seem to be a limit to the number of new travelogues through Siberia, or the various deserts of the world, that a person needs.

This year’s awards:

Best novel: Sequioa Nagamatsu How High We Go In The Dark. A novelist I’d never head of and took a punt on; a challenging fantasy which I really enjoyed and hope to go back to shortly. It’s good to read new authors.

Best non-fiction: Alberto Angela Une Journée Dans La Rome Antique. I’ve liked everything I’ve read by him.I’ve been fascinated by ancient Rome since my school days, and this historian brings it to life with a wealth of detail, without ever being patronising or talking down to his readers.

Best travel: Edward Abbey Desert Solitaire. I love deserts, and travel in deserts, and this journal of time in one of the US natioanl parks by an early ecologist (as you’d have to call him nowadays) is a gem: he shows you the desert and makes you love it as much as he does.

Best re-read: Jan Potocki Manuscript Found in Saragossa: an astonishing novel, a tour de force from the early 19th century; it was good finally to find time to re-read this one. And I have the film, waiting to be watched, too.

Best book group discovery: Ben MacIntyre Agent Sonya. I thought, “Do I really want to bother reading this? Why would I read this?” and I did, and it was another object lesson in not dismissing books too easily. A fascinating and thought-provoking account of pro-Soviet espionage in the twenties, thirties and forties, and out book group discussion was enhanced by a guest appearance from one of the heroine’s relatives.

I’m hoping to resume normal service in 2023, ie lots more reading and re-reading, further pruning of my library, and continuing to buy rather fewer books than previously.

Too many books! (again)

November 11, 2022

I’ve written about my problem before; since then, before moving house a few months back, I sold or donated to charity several hundred volumes I knew I’d not need again, that I’d never want to re-read, or that had been sitting in boxes in the loft for years.

This time, there’s another issue to mention: I keep reading book reviews and thinking, “there’s a book I must read!’ The problem here is lack of time, as well as lack of physical space for all those potential new acquisitions. Will I actually ever get round to reading that must-read book, or will the moment pass and my attention move on, leaving another book to gather dust on the waiting-to-be-read shelf? That shelf, incidentally, is probably two metres long. I have got better over the last couple of years at resisting temptation, and reached the stage where purchases have dwindled to less than two a month on average, but the built-up mental pressure of the backlog of books I really want to read is increasing. This is then compounded by the books physically on the shelves which call to me for a re-reading; I have been tackling a reasonable number of those recently, on the grounds that once I’ve re-read them, they’re probably surplus to requirements and so can safely be disposed of. Re-reading inevitably brings new discoveries, and revives old interests…

But then there’s the thing I have about loving to be surrounded by books, having a library of old favourites and good friends, as it were, that I can’t bear to part with. This leaves me feeling guilty about the problem I leave my eventual heirs: what the hell to do with all those cubic metres of paper?

As has always happened, any interesting reading opens potential new paths to follow, that I’d really like to pursue: again, realistically there’s so little time I feel I must be brutal; mentally I make a list and occasionally joke about saving those books for my next existence…

And then, there are the books I very occasionally think about writing myself. In my student days I imagined writing science fiction, and doubtless somewhere are the pieces of paper with ideas scratched and scribbled on them in drunken and stoned moments so very long ago. There is a dissertation, and also a thesis, from a couple of my research degrees, and there are two or three study guides for A Level students penned during my retirement years, the royalties from which I count as my whisky money, but there’s nothing of great moment there. Words, words, words, as someone once said. And they are swamping me. But I love them.

On paywalls and censorship

August 12, 2022

I explore and read pretty widely on the internet; various RSS feeds to which I subscribe point me towards a plethora of magazine articles which may be of interest to me for all sorts of reasons. And every now and then I settle down to binge read them. But it’s getting more and more frustrating, as more and more publications put up paywalls.

I understand they are commercial businesses that need to survive. In the past they often allowed you to read a couple of articles a month free of charge and then blocked you, but increasingly I begin to read articles and then find them cut off with a demand that I subscribe, or at least set up an account; some quite bluntly lie to me and say I have already read all my free articles for the month when I haven’t read any…

So what do these publishers expect to achieve through such an approach? There are publications I now know not to bother with at all. There are some it’s worth trying occasionally, to see if they have recognised it’s a new month and will offer me an article. And there are publications like the Independent newspaper which are just plain bonkers; I set up an account and randomly it will let me sign in or not, read an article or not.

If I like a particular publication sufficiently to want to read it all, I’ll subscribe; I’ve had the paper edition of Le Monde Diplomatique through the post for over twenty years. And I subscribe to The Guardian app, for free puzzles and news without adverts. But if I’m only interested in the occasional article, then I won’t be subscribing. And this approach feels rather self-defeating, both for me and for the publications: they imply I’m a cheapskate because I won’t subscribe, or open an account and be bombarded with adverts and junk mail, and I feel almost, though not quite, as if there’s a sort of reverse censorship going on: we don’t want you to read our article.

Whatever happened to micropayments, which a few years ago were supposedly going to be the way forward? If I could read a single article in exchange for a small sum of money, I’d be handing over reasonable sums of cash in many directions, hardly thinking about it; instead, I pay nothing to anyone and get to read very little, and the magazines don’t even get to try and entice me to vote with my credit card for a full-on subscription because I can’t sample their wares.

Once upon a time, the internet promised openness and information; now I feel it’s closing doors rather than opening them, and we are moving back to the old days, where I read less widely overall, and used libraries far more, and when if I liked the look of a single issue of a magazine on the news-stand, it could be mine for a modest sum.

Surely there has to be a better way than the current one?

Reader, I gave up…

May 11, 2022

I’ve just given up on a book for the first time in quite a while, and have found myself wondering what it is that makes me do such a thing. I have a rule for myself that if a book isn’t satisfying me after sixty or so pages, then I stop. Partly it’s about feeling that, at my age, I don’t have what I call ‘eyeball time’ to waste, but there’s more to it than that, I’m sure.

I’m quite careful in my choices, and increasingly I will decide I’m not going to bother starting, especially if it’s a book someone has recommended, or lent me, or is for a book group: ie I haven’t chosen it myself because it fits into my current reading schedule.

I don’t like giving up on a book: partly I’ve already invested a certain amount of time, and so feel I should finish what I started, and partly through an (admittedly naive) belief that if something has reached print, then someone has deemed it worth reading. I often read something, and at the end realise I didn’t like or enjoy it; I don’t mind that as my training in and studies of literature have enabled me to read critically and evaluate.

Moving on to the book in question this time, All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews. This was someone’s choice for our book group. I was a tad dubious before beginning, but duty called. And before I got to page 100, I’d asked myself a couple of times, “Can I really be bothered?” The theme of the story is potentially interesting enough, two sisters, one of whom is seriously depressed and suicidal and the other’s attempts to help/save the sister she loves.

But it just didn’t work for me. I realised after a while it was monotonous: there was no change or variation in the tone of the narrative at all. It just went on, page after page, in the same fashion. Nor was there any variation in pace: the whole thing plodded along. No buildup of tension, then climax, then slowing down for a while, or shifting the narrative in another direction. And then I realised that it was pretty much entirely narrated in the present tense, which to me is a very lazy way of writing, extremely common nowadays, and one which primary school children were encouraged to move on from, or at least vary somewhat, in their early attempts at story.

Now someone might argue that there were deliberate authorial choices behind decisions to write in this manner. To me, however, it smacks of laziness of the kind that a decent editor should have addressed. Some readers might feel fine with such writing, some may never have remarked on it at all. I felt it was shoddy goods, quite honestly.

The sisters came from a Mennonite community in Canada. This background in itself might have added interest to the story and some insight into the characters, but it felt like just a wee bit of exotica thrown in without much of a thought. What finally ended my reading was realising that I didn’t actually give the proverbial monkey’s about any of the characters or what happened to any of them. Again, this may seem a little harsh given the serious subject-matter of the plot, but neither the characters nor their problems were presented in a convincing manner, to this reader at least. We are told one sister is depressed and suicidal, but I never encountered any real insight into these conditions.

I’m cross, really: misled by a book which I had hoped might be worthwhile, and wondering once again about the nature of modern mass-market fiction, especially that written in English: is there anything worth reading out there? British and American novels – says he, generalising wildly – disappeared up its own fundament long ago; interesting and thought-provoking writing is coming from other parts of the world. I’ve had enough of cheap eyeball candy.

Rant over.

Hiatus

March 25, 2022

As I haven’t posted for several weeks now, a brief explanation: we have moved house, all the books are still in boxes, mild chaos surrounds us. Normal service will begin to be resumed sometime next week when the arrival of carpets will allow my desk to be rebuilt, and some of those boxed to be emptied…

It has been weird to be deprived of my library. Of course, I made some preparation and left a small pile of books easily accessible, so I’d have something to read. The time and energy for reading disappeared. And then, when the opportunity finally re-emerged, those weren’t really the books I wanted to be reading at that moment. So I have been using the library, which is most unusual for me. And I’ve read a lot less. But there are a few books that I shall be reviewing over the coming week or two: the first volume of Norman Davies’ massive History of Poland, a Philip Pullman mystery, another thought-provoking book by Richard Holloway. And the hiatus has stopped me writing too much about the horrendous situation in Ukraine, and the unbelievable ignorance of so many commentators in the West about it. Read Timothy Snyder and try to understand, avoid simplistic analysis…

As they used to say, “Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.”

On choices and prejudices

February 8, 2022

My reaction to The English Patient has had me thinking. Regular and long-term readers of this blog will know that I have occasionally admitted to gaps in my reading, and to certain preferences – prejudices, even – in what I choose to read.

We all make choices about what we read or don’t read; as I get older, mine are increasingly based on limited time. But that won’t do as an excuse. There are fellow bloggers I follow with interest who only write about women’s fiction, or science fiction, for example; I’ve no way of knowing whether these are deliberate choices or their exclusive reading matter. I write about every book I read; very occasionally, if I’ve re-read a book quite quickly but have nothing to add, I won’t write about it a second time.

So where have all my prejudices and predilections come from?

Science fiction from my childhood, and from my student days, but I read very little of it now, and most of that is re-reading of old favourites. I used to have the run of the Science Fiction Foundation library as a postgrad and wrote reviews for Foundation magazine. My prejudice now, when I reflect, is due to my impression that fantasy has long overwhelmed the market, and I’m not interested in fantasy. Science fiction made me reflect on the world I live in; fantasy is merely escape and doesn’t cut it for me on those grounds.

Travel writing is a relatively recent pleasure, though it’s now fading, ironically, when I can’t do very much of my own. Specifically, I link it to the recommendation by a very helpful bookseller in a shop in Dinan who persuaded me to buy a couple of books by the Swiss traveller Ella Maillart about 20 years ago. I’ve never looked back. My prejudices here are about the kind of travel and the traveller: I like travel that borders on exploration, that involves effort and hardship, where the writer observes and reports rather than centring the narrative around themselves – so a lot of more recent stuff doesn’t get a look-in from me. I’m also picky about where: deserts and isolated places are what I most enjoy reading about; South America, the Far East and a lot of Oceania don’t interest me at all. What’s going on here?

English and American literature I studied for my degree; I necessarily met the ‘classics’, a lot of which I liked, many I didn’t. Dickens and Hardy, for example, bored me stiff and I cannot be bothered with them, a statement many will find rather shocking, no doubt. Most stuff written in the eighteenth century, apart from the very earliest novels, I have completely forgotten. And there was a fair amount of very dull American literature. I’m surprised that the student-era reactions have stuck, and I’ve never gone back to such writing. My main feeling was of twentieth century writing in English largely disappearing into self-obsession and triviality, almost as if there was nothing real left to write about; my regular readers will perhaps recall my saying that I found much more meaningful and relevant writing in other languages, all of which apart from French I have to read in translation.

My deep interest in, and exploration of, Eastern European literature is perhaps a positive prejudice and deliberate choice, given my family background: I seek to understand something of my origins, the history of my father’s country, and the troubled and strange choices made by, and forced upon, nations in that part of the world over the last century or so.

Looking back at what I’ve written, there are clearly some pretty lame excuses! There’s a brief, and not very long-lasting sense of regret about some of the lacunae in my reading, but in the end there’s so much out there to read that I will never get to the end of; I sometimes joke that I’m compiling reading lists for my next existence… And when students used to express amazement at how well-read I appeared to be, I disabused them, referring to my age compared with theirs, and telling them about some of the gaps, and prejudices I’ve confessed to earlier.

There was a time – centuries ago – when it was possible for someone to know or be familiar with everything in their field. I’m both humbled and astounded by people like Athanasius Kircher, who some have described as the last man to have known everything in his time, or Isidore of Seville, patron saint of the internet, who wrote the first encyclopaedia, containing all that was known in his time, the seventh century. My translation of his Etymologies has about 400 pages. So, choices are now inevitable. I’ve made mine, or mine have made me. So be it. What about you?

Credit where it’s due

January 17, 2022

I had a good moan some weeks back about Wordery’s appalling customer service. After their p*ss off and die response to my complaint, I thought there was no harm in approaching the publishers, Everyman’s Library, to explain the issue. I received a courteous response, which acknowledged that of course faulty copies emerged from the printers occasionally, and offered to send a replacement copy. This arrived this morning, so I record my thanks to Everyman’s Library for their first-rate service. I still scratch my head and wonder what it would actually have cost Wordery to respond in such manner, but heigh-ho, their loss.

On learning to read

December 31, 2021

The eldest of our grandchildren is now at school, and learning to read. Given that reading is such an important part of my life, and always has been, I find it strange that I can recall very little about how I actually learned to read. I remember nothing at all from before I went to school as a rising five; ours was a poor household and there was no money for books. However, when in Class 1 Miss Marvell began the process of teaching us, I do recall that it seemed quite straightforward to me, so I must have been ready or prepared in some way for it.

The letters of the alphabet were on charts high up on the classroom walls, and I remember our having to chant the sounds aloud, in unison. Shortly after this came a series of flashcards with ‘sentences’ on them, which again we were required to chant; I remember thinking they were daft at the time. The one that has stuck in my mind for sixty-odd years said, “Mother, mother, see Kitty!” and I can remember thinking, “Who on earth would speak like that?”

Eventually there were readers – the Janet and John series, I think, that we shared one between two, and took in turns to read a sentence aloud. Again I recall thinking that I wanted to read a lot more than one sentence because this new skill was so exciting and I could do it, and also feeling impatient with those who couldn’t master the words, or stumbled over them. At the same time as acquiring this new skill, we were also learning how to write, beginning with individual miniature blackboards (as chalkboards were then called) and graduating to pencil and paper as soon as our fine motor skills were good enough. Here I remember being cross about having to use the pencil and paper, because I quite liked the business with the chalk…

Yet I was never conscious that I was learning to read and write; I hoovered it all up, along with the excitement and the possibilities it opened up. I have no recollection of taking readers home from school and practising with my parents; I don’t think such things happened in those days – school was school, home was home, and quite honestly, my parents were too busy running a home and family.

When I think about it now, I realise that the ability to master and operate with text was crucial to schooling in those days, for everything came from printed textbooks, with a very few black and white line illustrations. In other words, if you couldn’t read, you were seriously stuck. I remember that in the second class, those of us who could read competently were paired up with those who needed practice, to help them and hear them read. Again, uncharitably, I found this tedious, as at the age of going on six I couldn’t see how anyone couldn’t understand those letters and words…

Still no books at home. I must have been coming up to seven when my mother realised that she could sign me up to the children’s section of Stamford Public Library, and I can truly say that from that moment I never looked back. I read anything and everything, not quite indiscriminately, but pretty promiscuously. I can remember particularly the Young Traveller series, which probably sparked off that bug – two children in a nice, white middle-class family who got taken off to lots of interesting countries and saw the sights, tried the food and learned about habits and customs: I wanted to be able to do that. I exhausted the possibilities of the children’s library by the age of twelve, at which point my mother went and soft-talked them into allowing me access to the ‘grownups’ library several years early…

There were also the small classroom libraries at school: when you had successfully completed a task, it was often easiest for the teacher to send you off to get a book to read until everyone else had finished, and the class could move on to the next thing together. Again, I hoovered up everything, and can remember being particularly interested in Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia, which I devoured large chunks of.

Finally, I also began to acquire some books of my own: my parents realised how much reading meant to me. I was thrilled when they bought me Winnie the Pooh, and overjoyed when Christmas and birthdays brought book tokens, with which I bought my first copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and also The Wind in the Willows. That last one I still have, a treasured item in my now vast library. And I know that there’s a certain snobbishness or superiority in saying this, but I cannot understand people who can, but do not read, and I have never understood how it’s possible to have a home without books…

What comes out of all this is my realisation of the incredibly liberating effect of education. I’m always very moved when I read about the lengths that some children in the Third World go to, in order to be able to get to school, and I appreciate my father’s determination that I should get a good education – he had four winters of school, 1922-26 and that was it…

2021: My year of reading

December 27, 2021

2021 has been a very conservative reading year. I’ve apparently only bought 20 books (I received another 3 for Christmas), but I have read over 90, so there’s been a lot of re-reading going on, and this has mainly been comfort reading to help me through the strange times we are living in. And the big clear-out also continues, as I get rid of books I know I’m not going to read or refer to again.

I spent quite a while revisiting Richard Brautigan’s novels, which have been in my library since my hippy days. They are light-hearted froth in a lot of ways, and yet some of them are very well-written, and I didn’t decide to get rid of all of them, but kept one or two just in case, as you do. The same is true of Hermann Hesse’s novels: I’ve now re-read all of these apart from The Glass Bead Game, which somehow I can’t face at the moment, even though some think it’s the best of all his works. I have a very vague recollection of it being a bit of a disappointment way back in the 1970s, too. But as I grow older I realise that Hesse’s fiction, and his ideas about the self and personality were pretty influential in my younger years in terms of how I saw myself and the world I lived in, and the connections between Hesse’s characters’ lives and the psychology of Carl Jung has been quite to the forefront when I’ve been re-reading the novels. Necessarily this led to a re-reading of some of Jung as well. In the end, I think the pandemic has caused me to undertake some fairly deep reflection on my entire life, and I know this has been the case for a good number of people.

There have been some new books this year, and a good number of them I read because they were choices of other members of my current book group. I’m a little surprised that I’ve stuck with the group – I like the people a lot – but at other times when I’ve been in a book group, I’ve dropped out fairly quickly because I didn’t like other people choosing my reading matter for me…

I’ve also realised that I read very little travel writing this year, which struck me as rather odd since my own opportunities for travel have been necessarily rather constrained for the past couple of years. I re-read a short and very lovely book Something of his Art, by Horatio Clare who travelled in the footsteps of my hero J S Bach, making the journey on foot from Arnstadt in Thuringia to Lübeck to hear the master organist Dietrich Buxtehude in the early eighteenth century. Clare records his impressions of the walk and reflects on the music and musician.

Discovery: I’ve wrestled with the Tao Te Ching a few times but not really got anywhere. My liking for Ursula Le Guin led me to get her version (ie version rather than translation, with plenty of her annotation and commentary) and I feel I’m now getting somewhere with it and something from it.

Blog report: more visits than ever this year, but this is largely due, as last year, to the number of what I imagine are students of the literature of the Great War reading up about various poems and poets as part of their studies. I’m grateful for their visits, and for everyone else who reads rather more widely in my meanderings through the world of literature, and I enjoy your comments and interactions.

Best SF: Laurent Binet’s Civilisations, although strictly speaking it’s an alternative history rather than science fiction. But a superb ‘what if?’

Best new novel: this has to be the (for me) long-awaited The Books of Jacob, by Olga Tokarczuk, which was a challenging but rewarding read and shows why she is a Nobel-class writer. Looking forward to more from her.

Best non-fiction: I found Adrift, by Amin Maalouf a fascinating account of the current state of the world, and how we got here. He’s a Lebanese writer, mainly a novelist but he has written about history and society before. He anchors so many of our current political problems in the Middle East and the effects that interfering outsiders have had over the past century as they struggled for control over the region and its resources. That’s oversimplifying a great deal, but is a very thought-provoking approach and one which matches the way I have thought about the world and seen it changing over my lifetime. The West’s appalling and cavalier treatment of Palestine is at the heart of so many problems and conflicts…

Best re-read(s): Amin Maalouf again, and Leo The African, his amazing re-creation of the true story of the Muslim boy from Spain at the time of the Reconquista, and his life, travels and adventures. Simply wonderful. Also Jean Giono’s Regain, about the resurrection of a remote village in France, the power of nature and those who live in harmony with it. Another book from my student days.

Next year’s plans: I want to continue with my reading of all of Shakespeare’s plays, and I’ve also made a resolution to read/re-read more history. I shall continue to sort and tidy up my library, and attempt to buy no new books at all… I am allowing myself one exception, which will be the final volume of Philip Pullman’s Book of Dust trilogy, if it’s published. And lest you think I’m being extremist here, I will point out that I have several feet of as yet unread books on my shelves…

Amin Maalouf: Balthasar’s Odyssey

December 26, 2021

     I’ve just re-read another of my favourites by Amin Maalouf, and find myself wondering what it is I find so captivating in his writing. The socio-cultural and historical essays such as Adrift I find very interesting not just because his analyses largely concur with mine, but because they are far-sighted and take me out of my limited Western perspective and comfort-zone. With the novels, it’s different, and I’m beginning to wonder if this is to do with the nature of storytelling being different in other cultures; I’m not widely-enough read to judge at the moment.

I cam to Maalouf via Samarcand, then Leo the African, then this book. The settings are exotic, in the sense of a historical past, either in what we would have called mediaeval times, or else the Renaissance, and located in the Middle East, and the European parts of the Muslim world at those times. There are also usually characters from all three religions of the book, living together reasonably peacefully and tolerantly (within the parameters of their age), so perhaps Maalouf is looking back to a golden age in more ways than one, compared with our times. There is obviously an overlap – wishful thinking? – with his non-fiction.

This story is set in 1665-66, with overtones of the year of the Beast (666) and end times; there is a mysterious book which comes into and leaves the possession of the narrator repeatedly, which allegedly tells how to learn the mysterious hundredth name of God (according to the Qur’an there are ninety-nine) which will bring about transformation. Our narrator ranges the known world in obsessive pursuit of the book, which brings calamity in its wake; even in his possession and open in front of him, somehow it is impossible to read more than a few pages…

Maalouf’s characters in many of his novels are seekers, wanderers about the world; they are thinkers and they meet other kindred spirits on their travels and discuss religious and philosophical notions. Not only questing after truth, they are also on personal journeys of self-discovery and seeking happiness. Balthasar is 40 – significant, perhaps – seeking a book, love, a purpose for his future. I think this is one of the aspects of this novel, and Maalouf’s writing in general that appeals to me: there are real ideas and insights woven into the fiction.

There’s also something in the style of the story-telling: it’s first person, done through dated journal entries, so at one level there’s the potential for it to be fairly dull in terms of no suspense or changing viewpoints. But it’s not, it works in the sense that it’s the mind of his character that Maalouf wants us to know, and there is suspense via the gaps between the journal entries, and the unexpected changes of location of our narrator. It’s definitely not a Western novel as most of us might understand the term. In a way, it’s how some of the earliest English fiction was crafted; perhaps Maalouf is deliberately imitating something like Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year?

Finally, there’s a kind of meta-fiction here too, a book about a book or books, such as we find in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, in various of Jorge Luis Borges’ short stories, in Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind or in Gilbert Sinoué’s Livre de Saphir. There are books containing hidden or arcane knowledge for those who care to look or seek it, although perhaps not with the obsessiveness of the hero of this novel.

There’s a lot here. It’s not the average, evanescent stuff of much contemporary fiction – this is the third time I’ve read and enjoyed the novel, and it’s gone back on my shelves for the future.

%d bloggers like this: