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Archive for the tag “books and literature”

Book sales

I went to the Exclusive Books summer sale yesterday, and came home with seven books for R231.00

  • Bartlett, Rosamund Benn, Anna. 2007. Literary Russia: a guide. New York: Overlook Duckworth.
  • Callow, Philip. 1998. Chekhov: the hidden ground. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee.
  • Conradi, Peter J. 2010. Iris Murdoch, a writer at war: Letters & diaries 1938-46. London: Short.
  • Conrad, Joseph. 2010. Heart of darkness. London: Collins Classics.
  • Crystal, David. 2007. By hook or by crook: a journey in search of English. London: HarperPress.
  • Maher, Paul. 2007. Jack Kerouac’s American journey. New York: Thunder’s Mouth.
  • Sandison, David Vickers, Graham. 2006. Neal Cassady: the fast life of a Beat hero. London: Omnibus.

About halfway through the sale they reduce the sale prices by 50%, and so books one could not usually afford suddenly become affordable. The interesting thing here is that most of the books are ones that one never sees on the shelves. They are not being sold to make space on the shelves by reducing unsold stock. I suppose if one knew about them, one could order them specially, but in that case one could only afford to buy one or two of them, not seven.

So I’m not complaining about the sales, far from it. I’m just wondering where they were offered for sale in the first place. I suspect that they were remaindered overseas, and specially imported for the sales.

Most of the ones I picked up are literary biographies, which I enjoy reading. Sometimes I think I’m weird. I often enjoy reading biographies and diaries of authors more than I enjoy reading their works. Perhaps that’s because real people’s lives are often more interesting than the stuff they write about in their fiction.

Banned books return to shelves in Egypt and Tunisia

Like many other people, I’ve been wondering which way the “velvet revolutions” in Egypt and Tunisia were going to turn. In some places, like Iran, the overthrow of the Shah brought a regime with greater repression. In Egypt the army is now (or one could say still) in control, but there are some straws in the wind that give hope:

Banned books return to shelves in Egypt and Tunisia | Books |

Anecdotal reports are also emerging of once suppressed titles appearing for impromptu sale on street corners and newspaper kiosks across Egypt. Salwa Gaspard of joint English/Arabic language publisher Saqi Books said accounts in the Arabic press told of books that had been hidden for years in private basements now once more seeing the light of day.

Cairo is also to hold a book fair in Tahrir Square – the focus for protests against former president Hosni Mubarak – at the end of March, according to Trevor Naylor of the American University of Cairo Press bookshop, which is based in the square. Naylor told the Bookseller that the event had been planned in the wake of the cancelled Cairo Book Fair, which was abandoned in January in the face of growing political unrest.

Let’s hope the wind keep blowing in that direction.

Some Zimbabwean exiles have been calling for Egyptian-style demonstrations there, but so far there is no evidence of such things.

The Tablet – Review: Engineers of the Soul

“One evening in 1932, Joseph Stalin summoned dozens of the more biddable Russian writers – that is, without the likes of Pasternak, Bulgakov, Mandelstam or Akhmatova – to a jolly at Maxim Gorky’s place, and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse: to join the Soviet Union’s military-industrial drive. “Our tanks are worthless,” he tells the nervous assembly, “if the souls who must steer them are made of clay. Man is reshaped by life itself, and those of you here must assist in reshaping his soul. And that is why I raise my glass to you, writers, engineers of the soul.” This was no polite big-up, of the sort that might be bandied about at Islington drinks parties by soft London authors in an attempt to shore up their self-importance: it was an order, and signalled an attempt to turn literature into something it had never been before.”

So begins an interesting review of The Tablet – Review: Engineers of the Soul:

Frank Westerman’s marvellous and original book traces the catastrophe – spiritual, ecological, social – that that attempt bolstered. A country addicted to political fictions enlisted writers to give literary substance to them, with the result that, disastrously, not only the people but the state itself began to believe those fictions. One of the enduring geographical dreams of the Soviet Union was to divert its Arctic rivers southwards to turn the deserts of central Asia into a flowering paradise. Westerman tracks down an old professor engaged in this vainglory: “We were smothered beneath an avalanche of praise. The dams and pumping stations we designed were invariably spoken of as ‘more monumental than the pyramids of Egypt’. Try keeping a level head then!” The result: “Some of us let it go to our heads. There were those who dreamed of digging canals using controlled nuclear explosions … ”

Hat-tip to Jim Forest. It reminded me of Recent reading: The socialist sixth of the world Khanya. That wwas written by Hewlett Johnson, the “Red Dean” of Canterbury, who sang the praises of Stalin’s industrialisation of the Soviet Union, which, according to Johnson, brought peace and plenty, full employment and freedom, at a time when the rest of the world was suffering from the Great Depression. Westerman’s book sounds like an interesting counterpoint to that.

On not knowing the plot

About thirty years ago, on a 400km drive home to Melmoth in Zululand from Pretoria, I listened to tapes of lectures by Bishop Michael Marshall, then Bishop of Woolwich in England, who had visited Pretoria a couple of years earlier and spoken at a conference there. He described taking his nephew and niece to see Jesus Christ, Superstar, and was surprised to discover that they did not know the plot.

By now his nephew and niece have grown up, and probably have children of their own, and they too have probably lost the plot, or probably grew up with even less chance of knowing it.

And now another Anglican bishop, Bishop Alan of Buckingham, describes the same phenomenon in his blog Bishop Alan’s Blog: Bible and Culture 101:

Back in the 1960’s school RE was boring and worthy but predictable, and largely based on the Bible. You might decide it was a load of old tosh, but at least you ended up able to understand Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Milton’s Paradise Lost. The past becomes a completely foreign country, however, when a society obsessed with the latest of everything loses touch with its own roots, and compromises its own corporate memory.

At the age of 11 I went to high school, having grown up in an agnostic/atheist home, but I think I at least would have known the plot of Jesus Christ, Superstar, since when I was about 5 or 6 my mother had given me a book of Bible stories (by Enid Blyton, of all people), Before I go to sleep. I had never been to church, and probably knew more about Islam than I did about Christianity (from another book, King of the wind). I knew something about Ramadan, I’d never heard of Lent.

So I landed up in this church school where the maths teacher was given the task of teaching “Scripture”. He handled that by getting the class to read aloud in turn from the Bible, starting with Genesis 1, while he got on with marking homework, or setting exam papers and things like that. It was a special school edition of the Bible that we had been issued with, which omitted things like the genealogies, and probably had been bowdlerised in other ways too. I found the stories interesting, and began reading ahead, and surprised my parents by asking for a Bible for my birthday, and had read it twice by the time I was 15, the second time with the “Apocrypha”.

Then this morning (hat-tip to the Not-so-young Fogey) I read this — Orwell’s Picnic ~: Saving the World With Classical Grammar:

The Restoration is not only a matter of politics, or even education qua education. It is an essential re-construction of ruined thought. Imagine Western Civilization not as a set of buildings, or precious cultural artifacts like the Mass (if we may be somewhat impersonal and irreligious for a moment), or the Divine Office, or legally indissoluble natural marriage, or even any philosophical school. Imagine it is a larger thing than that; it is a framework for our thought, our creative efforts. Imagine it is the structure that makes something like Chartres or Salisbury Cathedral possible. The container for the idea of Chartres, without which no Chartres could be conceived.

And I realised that I have very ambivalent feelings about this. I was brought up to regard “Western Civilization” with something like contempt. That was because in South Africa the self-appointed guardians of “Western Civilization” were trying to implement the evil and anti-Christian policy of apartheid and being exposed to their prolonged and insidious propaganda meant that I came to think of “Western Civilization” itself as something evil and anti-Christian.

I’ve also been reading quite a lot about the Restoration over the last couple of years (Pepys’s diaries, etc). As a child I was a natural monarchist, and so I thought the Restoration was a good thing. But its main benefits seem to have been bawdy theatre and the king’s numerous mistresses. The present-day Anglican squabbles about bishops who leave their wives and live with their homosexual lovers seem quite mild by comparison.

In the same vein, I’ve always thought that democracy was a good thing. One of the results of democracy in South Africa is that we have freedom of the press, and so corruption in government isn’t covered up as it used to be in the apartheid days. And so freedom of the press means that the newspapers are filled with political sleaze, and who is promiscuously jumping into bed with whom, sexually, politically and above all, financially. But as bad and boring as it is, I think the Restoration could have shown our politicians a thing or two.

But to get back to the Bible and culture, and especially the literature part of it, someone asked me to be a friend on Good Reads this morning, and I went to the page where one compares one’s taste in reading with someone else’s and I saw that I had given Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey four stars. It’s another book that I’ve recently re-read after a long interval. I first read it as an undergraduate as an English I set book, and I thought it was merely OK. The trouble is that it is a satire on Gothic novels, and I hadn’t read any Gothic novels, so I couldn’t really appreciate the satire.

I’ve now read a few Gothic novels, starting with Maturin’s Melmoth the wanderer, mainly because I once lived in Melmoth (see above) and was curious about the origin of the name. Yes, I knew the town was named after Sir Melmoth Osborne (the the car registration letters are NO, the O standing for Osborne) but I wondered why his parents had called him that. But my education was incomplete until I had read The castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, which is generally agreed to be the first Gothic novel, and the start of the genre that Jane Austen was satirising. The result is that I now have a new appreciation for Northanger Abbey, far more than I ever did as an undergraduate.

And as The castle of Ortranto and The mysteries of Udolpho are to Northanger Abbey so the Bible is to a great deal of Western literature, even modern literature, and even literature written by people who weren’t especially Christian. James Joyce’s Ulysses is full of biblical allusions, and consider this little poem from Samuel Beckett’s Watt (which, interestingly enough, has been censored from the current in-print editions, and therefore worth reproducing here for that reason alone)

But what is this, so high, so white
And what is this, so black, so low
Burning, burning, burning bright
Quenched long ago, cold long ago?
It is a duck, a duck, a duck;
An old East India runner duck,
On a mat, a mat, a mat,
A hairy mat, a hairy mat,
Oh ancient mat! O hairy mat,
Oh high white brightly burning duck,
Cush’s stones are crying yet
Forth from the wall to Habakkuk,
And from the wood the answering beam
Cries yet of the appointed time
Still tarrying and of old resolves
Of wind, and sand, and evening wolves.

Secularists, and some others, fear the influence of the Bible, and say it has no place in schools or in general culture, because it belongs to “religion”, and religion must be set apart and cordoned off and confined to the “private” sphere. “Religion” and “privacy” are distincly “modern” conceptions, and I have reservations about the value of modernity, similar to those I have about “Western civilization”. Actually they are linked, because Western civilization gave birth to modernity.

It was interesting, therefore, to see how this worked out in Orthodox civilization (which Samuel Huntington saw as quite distinct from Western civilization). While doing research in Russia for my doctoral thesis on Orthodox mission methods I asked people about the revival of Orthodoxy and the fall of Bolshevism, and many people told me a similar story. The Bolsheviks were secularists, and they wanted to abolish religion altogether, or at the very least confine it and quarantine it in the “private” sphere. But they were sufficiently Russian to allow people to read the great works of Russian literature, many of which, however, were imbued with an Orthodox “fronima”, a mindset, a set of presuppositions. So “Holy Russia” survived in literature, and as an ideal, and people read this literature and became curious about the thinking and the ethos behind it, and wanted to learn more. And in Brezhnev’s time, when Bolshevism was dull and boring and conservative and stick in the mud, the thirst for something more interesting and more exciting grew and so Bolshevism was overthrown. One of my interlocutors said that he thought that this showed that the best method of re-evangelising Russia was to promote “Orthodox Christian culture”. I’m not so sure about that. In the late-Bolshevik period it was the only accessible alternative to Bolshevism, but since the fall of the Communist Party from power Russia had been flooded with all kinds of literature and culture from all over the world, and so the choice is not so simple any more.

Now this, of course, is the secularist’s nightmare, and shows the danger of letting religion get a toehold in the culture after all their strenuous efforts to sideline it. And I find myself out of sympathy with them, but equally out of sympathy with those who want to identify the Christian faith with the culture so completely, and use arguments like those about Chartres Cathedral that I quoted above. I quite like Harvey Cox’s distinction between secularisation and secularism. I tend to favour secularisation, because, like it or not, there is a distinction between the church and the world, and I’m aware of those who see religion as so entangled with secular culture that they see other religions as an insult to their culture (some have called this “Christendom”). Secularism, however, is an ideology, and a rather narrow-minded and bigoted one at that, which sees anyreligion as an insult to its culture.

Calling Inklings bloggers

I’ve found quite a number of blogs written by fans of the Inklings, the mid-20th century informal literary group that included C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and several others.

In spite of this, a search of Blogger profiles reveals only 14 who list the Inklings as one of their interests, and most of them don’t have blogs, or their blogs are dead. A similar search at BlogCatalog revealed a similar result.

I’ve started an Inklings group at BlogCatalog, in the hope that it may be possible to bring at least some Inklings bloggers together, and make it easier to find blogs that deal with the Inklings.

As is the way of such things, the first two people who applied to join had no discernible interest in the Inklings — that seems to be typical of the Internet nowadays, where people you’ve never heard of announce that they are listing you as their “friend” and thereafter you never hear from them again. All that does is clutter up the net with useless links.

I hope to make this group a little more selective. To join, you don’t need to blog about the Inklings in every single post, but a search of your blog should teveal at least some posts about the Inklings.

If you don’t have a blog and don’t want to have one, there is also an Inklings discussion forum on the net that you can join. There you can also, in the fashion of the Inklings, upload your own writing for others to read and discuss.

Here’s a list of the members of the Inklings:

  • Barfield, Owen 1898-1997
  • Bennett, Jack Arthur Walter 1911-1981
  • Coghill, Nevill Henry Kendal Aylmer 1899-1980
  • Dundas-Grant, James Harold 1896-1985
  • Dyson, Henry Victor Dyson 1896-1975
  • Fox, Adam 1883-1977
  • Hardie, Colin Graham 1906-1998
  • Havard, Robert Emlyn 1901-1985
  • Lewis, Clive Staples 1898-1963
  • Lewis, Warren Hamilton 1895-1973
  • Mathew, Anthony 1905-1976
  • McCallum, Ronald Buchanan 1898-1973
  • Stevens, Courtenay Edwards 1905-1976
  • Tolkien, Christopher 1924-
  • Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel 1892-1973
  • Wain, John Barrington 1925-1994
  • Williams, Charles Walter Stansby 1886-1945
  • Wrenn, Charles Lesley 1895-1969

They met in Oxford, usually at C.S. Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen College, to read their writings to each other, and in some cases the comments and suggestions made at the meetings influenced the version that was eventually published.

So if you sometimes write blog posts about any of them, or about their writings, please consider joining the Inklings Group.

Here are a few blogs that post stuff about the Inklings, which I hope will join this group:

I’m sure there are more out there, so let’s try to link them.

Book Review Bloggers at Thomas Nelson

I quite often post reviews or comments on books I have read on this or my other blogs, and so found this quite interesting.

Book Review Bloggers at Thomas Nelson:

Any blogger can receive FREE copies of select Thomas Nelson products. In exchange, you must agree to read the book and post a 200-word review (guidelines) on your blog and on any retail website.

I usually post reviews and comments first on my Good Reads page, which then allows me to copy it to one of my blogs, with all links suitably adjusted.

The Thomas Nelson offer looks useful — I wonder if other publishers will do something similar.

Recent reading: Her fearful symmetry

I finished this book more than a week ago, but have spent so much time trying to get my computer working properly again that I haven’t had time to write about it until now.

Her Fearful Symmetry Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a difficult book to review; I suspect that many people, like me, will have been influenced by Audrey Niffenegger‘s first book, The time traveler’s wife, and by the expectations aroused by that. Comparisons are inevitable. I certainly was influenced by such expectations, and found Her fearful symmetry a little disappointing.

It’s a ghost story. It’s about twin daughters of twins. It’s set in Highgate Cemetery in North London. The cemetery is one of the characters in the book, as much so as any of the people. It’s hard to say more than that without giving away the plot.

I found it an OK read, but I was expecting and hoping for more.

View all my reviews >>

Novel-Writing month

National Novel-Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is upon us again.

Three years ago I challenged people in Inklings forums to take part and try to write a novel of the same genre as Charles Williams.

That’s because I like Charles Williams’s novels, and though he’s dead and so can’t write any more, I’ve hoped that others would write novels in the same genre, and Inklings fans would be among the people most likely to do that.

For a while I hoped that Phil Rickman would develop into the kind of writer like Charles Williams, but the trend of his writing is now more towards conventional whodunits with a little ecclesiastical intrigue thrown in — Ruth Rendell meets Susan Howatch. My take on his latest book is at Recent reading: To dream of the dead: Khanya

I was thinking of reissuing the challenge this year, and taking part in NaNoWriMo myself, even though inspiration has been mostly absent, and I’m still trying to revise the one I wrote three years ago in answer to my own challenge.

But I won’t be able to do that this year, as something else has come up. A couple of years ago I was struck by the way in which the charismatic renewal movement had been written out of South African church history, to the extent that much of what was published was a distortion of history. I began to collect material with the idea of documenting some of the vanished and vanishing history, before everyone who remembered it was dead. Someone pointed out that a church historian had actually written something 25 years ago, but was told by colleagues that he would ruin his academic reputation if he published it. I managed to locate him, and he kindly sent me his unpublished MS, which I read, and found as gripping as a page-turner novel. But it also killed my project, because he had written the book I wanted to write. I’d simply be trying to reinvent the wheel.

But then he suggested to me that I edit it and rewrite it, to bring it up to date and add my material, and that we try to find someone who will publish it under both our names. So that will keep me out of NaNoWriMo this year.

But I still wish that someone will be moved to write something in the Charles Williams genre (which includes C.S. Lewis’s That hideous strength).

If you have even the slightest urge in that direction, sign up with NaNoWriMo now and get writing!

It’s cool to be hip but not hip to be cool

A couple of days ago there was some discussion about the following article in some Usenet newsgroups. I was interested in it because of the use of the word “hipster”. It seemed to be used with a meaning very different from the meaning I understood.

I’m interested in words and how they are used, partly because it used to be my job as an editor for several years, though it would probably be truer to say that I got into the job because of my interest in language and usage rather than the other way round.

Anyway, the article was The Daily Cardinal – Song causes local hipster to self-destruct:

MADISON, WI—Tens of twenties of Madison’s hippest are gathered in mourning this afternoon following the news of the tragic death of local hipster Charles “Wayne” Duchene, 22, who died a horrific and most likely cliche death late Monday evening at a Foo Fee Foe concert.

Duchene’s body was found in a puddle of his own PBR at approximately 11:15 p.m. Monday night at the entrance of The Dank Bank, an obscure venue located just off the Capitol Square.

Now this is a student publication and it’s obviously satire, but they have to be satirising something. I had to ask about PBR, which I at first took to be one of those three-letter abbreviations for various medical conditions that hypochondiacs sprinkle their conversations with and expect the rest of us to understand. It transpired that it did not stand for something like Personal Bodily Refuse, but was an allusion to a local beer, though I gather many people who know the brew think there is little difference, but more of that later.

So what is a hipster?

As I understand it, a “hipster” was orginally a jazz fan, and especially a fan of “cool” jazz, a “hip” or “hep” cat.

In Beat Generation circles it was extended to mean someone who was hip to the lies of mainstream culture, and who disaffiliated from it and rejected its values, who did not get over excited over the things pimped by the advertising industry and so on, who was detached from all the frenzy about brands and fashion. That was the essence of “cool” in those days.

As Lawrence Lipton put it in his book “The holy barbarians” (Lipton 1959:150):

The New Poverty is the disaffiliate’s answer to the New Prosperity. It is important to make a living. It is even more important to make a life. Poverty. The very word is taboo in a society where success is equated with virtue and poverty is a sin. Yet it has an honourable ancestry. St. Francis of Assisi revered poverty as his bride, with holy fervor and pious rapture. The poverty of the disaffiliate is not to be confused with the poverty of indigence, intemperance, improvidence or failure. It is simply that the goods and services he has to offer are not valued at a high price in our society. As one beat generation writer said to the square who offered him an advertising job: ‘I’ll scrub your floors and carry out your slops to make a living, but I will not lie for you, pimp for you, stool for you or rat for you.’ It is not the poverty of the ill-tempered and embittered, those who wooed the bitch goddess Success with panting breath and came away rebuffed. It is an independent, voluntary poverty.

So the hipster, or the beat, had a cool and detached attitude to the frenzy of the striving for success in mainstream society.

“Beatniks” were groupies or wannabes. The word was coined by a journalist by analogy with “sputnik” — beatniks were those who were in orbit around the beat movement, but were not central to it.

By the late sixties “hipster” had got shortened to “hippie”, and while the hippies were successors to the beats as a countercultural movement, they were a little less cool. To be “cool” suggested being detached, laid back, not excited by the constant changes of fashion and the striving for success. It was the role of a passive and cynical observer.

Hippies were more active, and more positive in trying not merely to disaffiliate from mainstream culture, but to try to create an alternative to it, an alternative culture and an alternative society.

But the impression I got from the article that sparked off this post is that the writer was using “hipster” in an entirely different sense, to mean something almost opposite from what it meant in the 1950s and 1950s.

I wondered how widespread that usage is — can anyone explain the writer’s usage, and do they share that understanding of the word today, and how did it get to mean almost the opposite of what it meant 50 years ago? “Cool” seems to have changed its meaning a lot in the last 50 years, so I wonder if “hipster” has likewise changed, so that it no means nearly the opposite of what it did back then.

I watch “Top Gear” on TV, and there they discuss what constitutes a “cool” car, and it is clear that their idea of “cool” is very different from mine. My 1961 Peugeot station wagon, with rusty door panels and empty cold-drink cans rolling around on the floor, bought cheap from an open air used car lot where a rickety wooden shack was the “office”, bought on the “zero maintenance” plan, was my idea of a “cool” car, but I doubt very much if the “Top Gear” people are using “cool” in that sense.

Another thing that illustrates the change in the meaning of words like “cool” is Levis jeans. They were cool back then and they are regarded as cool now, for entirely different reasons, and for entirely different values of “cool”. When I bought my first pair of Levis there was only one shop in Johannesburg that sold them, imported them from the USA. It was not advertised and nor were Levis. You learnt about it by word of mouth. It was also a decidedly unfashionable shop in a decidedly unfashionable part of town, Jeppestown, which seems to have escaped the gentrification that has transformed other run-down suburbs. Levis were the opposite of fashionable, tough working clothes that one bought a couple of sizes too big because they would shrink to fit. No one with any fashion sense would be seen dead in Levis. How have the mighty fallen!

But the guy whose death was described in the article in question sounded anything but “hip” to me, the very opposite of “hip”, in fact. So I still wonder what the writer meant by “hipster”, and whether other people understand “hipster” in the same way, and can explain what they mean by it.

To get back to PBR briefly, the Urban Dictionary defines it as:

abbreviation for pabst blue ribbon beer, which is simultaneously the best and worst beer ever brewed. it is typically on special at bars for twelve cents a pint. also doubles as a laxative.

Pabst Blue Ribbon is a lot like the band Bright Eyes,
Hipsters love it, but everyone else thinks its liquid shit.

Hipsters again. It’s got to mean something in Wisconsin that is different from what it means in the rest of the world… or does it?

Perhaps I should retreat into the past, to when I was a wannabe hipster, and a wannabe beatnik (and if a beatnik is a wannabe beat, then a wannabe beatnik is a wannabe wannabe). My twenty-year-old self went to visit Brother Roger, an Anglican monk of the Community of the Resurrection, whom I regarded as the authority on all things hip and cool (he lent me books by Jack Kerouac, and the Lipton book I quoted above, and many others besides). So I wrote in my diary for 23 June 1961

… later went to see Brother Roger. There he sat, outside the priory in jeans and sweatshirt, on the library steps, luxuriating in the sun studying Lipton’s Holy Barbarians. Studying, yes, truly it is the text book, and he said that he had a book by Clellon Holmes, The horn, about a jazz man, and he says it in that zestful rapturous way of his, which makes me think he gets the utter limit of enjoyment out of everything he does. “It’s wonderful,” he says, “simply wonderful.” And when he says it you know he really means it. He told me about what he is going to say at Modderpoort, and he isn’t giving them Bloy this year, but Jean somebody. The Observer calls him the poet of evil, who has spent half his life in jail, and is something of a misanthropist and hates society, patron saint of the Beats. He gave me a play for the AYPA, by Charles Williams, called House of the octopus, and there was a boy there called Abel, a black boy studying for his matric, and says he is a cat and loves jazz, and Bach, and plays a clarinet which got broken. So I talked a bit to Abel and found he lives in Orlando where he goes to AYPA meetings and is staying at the priory during the vac to study. He is a nice cat, a hip spade cat.

The AYPA was the Anglican Young Peoples Association, a youth organisation with branches in various parishes. Modderpoort was the venue of the annual conference of the Anglican Students Federation, where Brother Roger was going to read his paper about the Jean somebody, who was actually Jean Genet (that was the first time I’d ever heard of him), and you can read his paper, Pilgrims of the Absolute, here.

Yes, I’ve written about this stuff before, sorry if anyone was bored, but I suppose those who have seen it all before wouldn’t have got this far anyway.

Recent reading: The Arthurian handbook

The Arthurian Handbook The Arthurian Handbook by Norris J. Lacy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The stories of King Arthur are among the most enduring legends in English literature, not to mention French, German and other literatures as well. As the authors note in the preface to the second edition, “in the period 1990-95, and in English alone, well over eighty Arthurian novels and even more short stories were published, and the flood shows no signs of abating.”

The authors do not claim to be able to record every title in this flood; to do so would be to make the book nothing more than a bibliography. They concentrate on the more important and significant works.

But the point of such a book is that one is quite likely to come across references or allusions to the Arthurian legend in books that one reads, and so some familiarity with the main features of the legend are useful, and this is what this book provides. It has chronologies of the main works published, including non-literary works, like painting, sculpture, film and more. If gives family trees of Arthur (all different) from the major works. And it gives a brief description of the various works that convey the Arthurian story. At the end there is a glossary, giving the names and roles of the main characters, and their various forms, and the way they are portrayed in various works.

I’ve read about the Arthurian legend in several books, and allusions to it in several others. One is C.S. Lewis’s That hideous strength. The Arthurian element is obvious in the case of Merlin, but for a long time “Mr Fisher-King” quite escaped me.

I tried reading Malory and Tennyson’s versions, but found it difficult to see the wood for the trees. This book helps one to follow the thread through the longer works, and also points out some of the inconsistencies. Sir Kay is a villain, or at best a bumbling jobsworth in some versions of the story, but in others, as Sir Cai, he is a hero.

So I’ve found it a good read, and I’ll be going back through it to make notes before I take in back to the library.

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