While visiting the fair for Artbooks in Ghent, I was attracted by a stand with slim books where they sold transcripts of books learned by heart and remembered by readers. These works were the results of the Art project "time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine" by Mette Edvardsen, who, inspired by the characters of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, enthused participants to become living books.
Monday, June 6, 2022
Sunday, June 5, 2022
"How to tell a Story, An ancient Guide to the Art of Storytelling for Writers and Readers" is nothing less than Aristotle's classic masterwork "The Poetics", translated, rearranged and introduced by Philip Freeman.
Thursday, May 26, 2022
Monday, January 31, 2022
|picture by Natasha Juhnov|
There was such a man.
Three decades ago, there was, in far-away Slovenia, a self-made businessman with presidential ambitions, orating to his fellow-citizens with a monkey on his shoulder.
He was killed. Someone shot him down, just like the Kennedy's. They caught the suspect; a drunk. Intoxicated he confessed; sober he denied. But he went to prison all the same.
And the Monkey, asks the narrator, where was it when the fatal shot rung? Did it call in sick that day ?
So begins Rick Harsch's novel "Kramberger with Monkey", a wild and runaway exploration on political murders, rogue reporters, innocent scapegoats, invisible hitmen, murdering chimps, seedy politicians, ludicrous conspiracy theories, emerging democracies and coagulating autocracies.
In 44 dazzling funny chapters, and with a handful of devilishly selected scenes ( both true and fictional ), the author reminds us of the senselessness of the human comedy played out in an indifferent world.
As always with Harsch : dark entertainment shedding light.
Sunday, January 23, 2022
Lately I have been reading, enjoying and schooling myself with the 2400 year old "Anabasis" written by Xenophon.
The story relates the ordeal of the 14.000 Greek mercenaries who enter the Persian Empire in 401 BCE, commissioned by the Persian prince Cyrus (the Younger), in his attempt to dethrone his older brother King Artaxerxes.
But things do not go as planned and the mercenaries get themselves stranded a few kilometers from the city of Babylon (the actual Bagdad), deep into enemy territory and with all their senior commanders dead. The troops however are feared Hoplites and the army of Artaxerxes hesitates to launch a frontal attack, even at the moment when the Greeks are at their weakest. This gives these foreign phalanxes just the few days they need to reorganize and elect new leaders.
Enters Xenophon. It is a bit unclear why this 30 year old, well-educated scion of a wealthy Athenian family, is among these fighters, but in this moment of confusion and chaos, he stands up as one of the new leaders. Their new objective: get the army of mercenaries out of Persia as fast as they can. A march of 1500 km through unknown and dangerous territory, surrounded by numerous hostile armies and tribes, awaits them.
It is no wonder that such a story still captivates the mind.
I have read Xenophon narration in the illustrious Robert Strassler's Landmark edition. This is a series of important historical texts, translated and annotated by numerous specialists in the field. Lavishly illustrated with maps, with detailed drawings of battle formations and with pictures of the actual sites, these books make a huge difference on the reading experience. If there is a proof that digital reading will never fully replace reading a paper-book, this is it.
Xenophon’s Anabasis (which basically means an "inland march") turns out to be a detailed report of the long retreat to get out of enemy territory. Its main attraction is that it is written on the level of the individual grunt; no great overarching strategic vistas. It is continuous "problem solving" on human level. Do we attack or negotiate? Do we cross the river or not? Shall we advance or wait? And this with the continuous concern to keep the vanguard and rearguard safe and the distance between them never dangerously overstretched.
Besides turning out to be a very capable and humble commander, Xenophon is also a perfect narrator. Even though he is an Athenian, he has strong and open sympathies for the Spartan lifestyle: resilience, perseverance, grit. No wonder he is banned from Athens. And he couldn't care less. Xenophon was an early student and follower of Socrates, and he was disgusted with the Athenian city for the condemnation of the famous philosopher. His Anabasis therefore can somehow be read as Socratian philosophy applied to a long survival situation.
Tough as steel in battle, proud when deserved but humble when in error.
A strong recommendation
Saturday, December 18, 2021
I Kicked off the reading year 2021 with Ray Bradbury's Martian chronicles. I liked the novel and I wrote a review.I followed it up enthusiastically with "The illustrated Man", another Bradbury, but gave up after two chapters.
From that list, I choose the one most recently written: Hugo Claus' "The sorrow of Belgium". I read it front to back in one long reading rush; I was captivated by this wartime story . Claus' was Belgium's most likely candidate for a Nobel Price, but he passed away a decade ago. Brilliantly written, thoughtful, intelligent.
With that positive experience, I next opened Harry Mulisch's "The invention of Heaven". Although it is also very well written and reads easily, I abandoned the thick volume half way. I picked it up a few days ago, started reading again and expect to finish it before the end of the year. Intriguing.
Parallel with the fall of Kabul ( but not intentionally ) I read "Alexandria" by Edmund Richardson . It is a very interesting book about a country, people and a chunk of history that does not get too much attention normally. A reviewed it on my blog. I find reviewing nowadays difficult. My attention tends to wander.
I followed that reading with a book containing a collection of articles from musical author Alex Ross :"Listen to this". I am a huge fan of Alex Ross, but this novel is not as good as his "The rest is noise" and the "Wagner" - book, that are both, as far as I am concerned, genuine masterworks.
Then I immersed myself in Homer and the Odyssey for a couple of weeks.
A review on Daniel Mendelsohn' s " An Odyssey" in the Octavian report ( why to read the classics? ) directed me not only to Mendelsohn's book, but also to the most important text-books he consulted for his personal take on Homer's work. So I read:
- Odysseus : a life by Charles Rowan Bey Brillant!
- Homeric moments : clues to delight in reading the Odyssey and the Iliad by Eva T. H. Brann. Fantastic !
- The world of Odysseus by I. Finley. I had this classic already in my library. Interesting
- Disguise and recognition in the Odyssey by Sheila Murnaghan I did not read. It is too expensive to purchase (even on the second hand book market).
I topped up this Homeric readings with "Hearing Homer's song : the brief life and big idea of Milman Parry" by Robert Kanigel. The book gives a good idea about how the Iliad and the Odyssey were created and how Milman Parry got the inspiration for his theory.
As a reading coda, I finished this Homeric streak with Mendelsohn's "Three rings : a tale of exile, narrative, and fate", a kind of spin-off, musing or footnote to the writing of his very personal Odyssey book. It is interesting in itself because it dwells on the Homeric ring composition, Auerbach's Mimesis, François Fénelon and " W.G. Sebald.
Very entertaining and instructive was the book by Spanish Irene Vallejo "Papyrus, the invention of books in the ancient world". It seems it has not yet been translated in English. It is a pity for it is ( at least for Bookish people ) an enjoyable read.
Finally, my nightstand book was "Island dreams, mapping an obsession" by Francis Gavin, an easy enjoyable read of which only fragments linger in my memory after a good night sleep.
The winner I choose for this year non-fiction reads : Homeric moments : clues to delight in reading the Odyssey and the Iliad by Eva T. H. Brann.
To complete my reading report I should add that I left a few books half read : "If this is a man" by Primo Levi, "The Quest for the Tomb of Alexander the Great": by Andrew Michael Chugg, "The dawn of everything : a new history of humanity" by David Graeber, "The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas Machado de Assis ", very much hyped by social networks.
And then finally there was the usual dabbling and rereading : the odd page of Moby Dick, Lacarrières's hagiographic lives of the Desert Saints, "The Pound Era" by genius Hugh Kenner
So in general not a bad year in reading. Especially taking into account a very challenging year, both professionally and privately.
Wednesday, November 3, 2021
|Remnants of an Army by Elisabeth Butler.|
Alexandria, a historical biography of amateur archeologist James Lewis, is a book I enjoyed very much for it succeeds to be interesting on multiple levels.