Discussion in 'Books' started by Boab, Tuesday July 5, 2011.
John Higgs ... The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds
‘Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life’ by William Finnegan. This was kindly gifted to me by @Digimonkey and when it arrived my first thought was ‘do I really want to read 500 pages about surfing?’. I have absolutely no interest in surfing. I don’t think I have ever given it more than a passing thought. And being a typical Londoner I’m frankly terrified of the ocean. But this is one of the most engaging books I have read this year. Finnegan is a staffer at the New Yorker and so I was expecting good writing. But the prose is sublime. Anyone who has an interest in surfing will love this book. Anyone who couldn’t give two hoots about surfing will love this book. I now have nightmares about double hold downs. And I know I’m strictly a short board man. Those big wave surfers are maniacs! Many thanks to Ian for recognising the fact that I would adore ‘Barbarian Days’. Although I will never get those 2 hours back that I spent watching surfing videos on YouTube last Saturday morning.
Please indulge me. Just one paragraph to highlight the beauty of Finnegans writing.
“Being out in big surf is dreamlike. Terror and ecstasy ebb and flow around the edges of things, each threatening to overwhelm the dreamer. An unearthly beauty saturates an enormous arena of moving water, latent violence, too-real explosions, and sky. Scenes feel mythic even as they unfold. I always feel a ferocious ambivalence: I want to be nowhere else; I want to be anywhere else. I want to drift and gaze, drinking it in, except maximum vigilance, a hyperalertness to what the ocean is doing, cannot be relaxed. Big surf is a force field that dwarfs you, and you survive your time there only by reading those forces carefully and well. But the ecstasy of riding big waves requires placing yourself right beside the terror of being buried by them: the filament separating the two states becomes diaphanous. Dumb luck weighs heavily, painfully. And when things go badly, as they invariably do - when you’re caught inside by a very large wave, or fail to make one - all your skill and strength and judgment mean nothing. Nobody maintains their dignity while getting rumbled by a big wave. The only thing you can hope to control at that point is the panic.”
My experience exactly with the book Barry. An excellent review - I'm very glad you enjoyed it. Yours - I.
Thank you Iain. Thankfully, I still have 50 or so pages to go. An absolute joy to read.
Re-reading 'From the Love Letters of Abelard and Heloise,' - one of histories great love stories - and like many great love stories it doesn't end well for either of them - particularly him. Abelard was one of the most outstanding minds of the 12c. - a brilliant philosopher, theologian and logician - he was of the Scholastic school - as opposed to the Monastic. He made a good fist of reconciling Aristotle with Christianity - no mean feat, it requires considerable intellectual gymnastics - it's fairly easy to match Platonic thought with the then religious orthodoxy - as the Monastics did - Plato's idea of Universals and faith in a single god sit easily next to each other. It was though a 'blind' faith - the Scholastic philosopher sought to use reason and dialectic in theological dispute. A pretty controversial idea at the time. What Abelard started - to my mind - Thomas Aquinas perfected a century later - his teleological proof of god - well he never actually mentions god, only an unmoved mover, generally understood to be god - is still breathtaking to read. So - Heloise - she was remarkably well educated for a woman of her time - was Abelard's pupil and they began an affair - she eventually became pregnant and had a son - who bizarrely she named Astrolabe. Much scandal ensued - she was sent thence to a nunnery and Abelard received a fairly gruesome punishment courtesy of Heloise's uncle and guardian Fulbert. I shan't spoil the surprise. In tandem Abelard had picked a fight with the leader of the Cistercian order - Bernard of Clairvaux - highly influential at the time and one of the most loathsome people in medieval history - actually in all history - in my opinion - who arranged with the pope to have him excommunicated. Nobody really knows how the letters between the star crossed lovers came to be preserved - there are 3 from him to her and 4 from her to him. They are wonderful to read - even in translation from Latin. Two highly intelligent people who understand fully they shouldn't be doing what they are doing but can't help themselves. You do get the impression that Abelard was at the back of the modesty queue - he is a bit up himself and probably richly deserved a slap. He probably didn't deserve what they did to his.... I recommend the book to you - yours - I.
Fantastic review Iain. As informative as an episode of Radio 4's 'In Our Time'.
Hardly B. - but I thank you for the compliment. I'm just happy that nobody spotted the glaring tautology in the review. Yours - I.
I'm 50 pages in to 'American War' by Omar El Akkad. A near future US ravaged by a second civil war. Gripping and disturbing in equal measure.
Just finished SPQR by Mary Beard. Thoroughly enjoyed it, very easy to get into for both a casual reader and history afficionado alike. I dare say I'll be digging out my Roman books next year.
For now though I'm going to be reading one of my favourite books, Appointment In Samarra by John O'Hara. Always give this a read around Christmas.
Iain. I have read your review a few times now. Please point out the glaring tautology.
B. - 'he was of the Scholastic school,' - necessarily anyone described as scholastic, with or without the capital - derives from or belongs to a school. If you couldn't spot it - maybe I'm being too hard on myself but it's extremely clumsy English at best. These things bother me. ha ha. As Tammy Wynette almost said - 'Sometimes it's hard to be a pedant....'
What is the cause of the second American civil war in the book you mentioned? - yours - I.
Just a touch hard on yourself there I think Iain. Love the Tammy Wynette line!
‘American War’ is a fascinating novel. Certainly thought provoking. Catastrophic climate change has led to the Federal government banning fossil fuels. But the old southern states......... We know from the start of the novel that the North has won the milatary convict without much difficulty. But of course, there’s rebel resistance. The imagined new world order is interesting. American garment and electronic sweatshops producing cheap goods for the Chinese market, aid ships arriving from India etc. A good read. Particularly if you like a dash of dystopia in your novels.
40 pages into - 'The Dawn Watch - Joseph Conrad in a Global World,' by Maya Jasanoff.
A kind gift from the very generous @Barry Giddens - thank you again B.
A biography of Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski - b. 1857 - d. 1924 - better known as Joseph Conrad. Polish by birth - although technically there was no such thing at the time, it having been carved up between Prussia and Russia - and British by adoption. Generally regarded as a master stylist in English fiction - it's all the more remarkable that he didn't learn the language until his 20's. I always understood that Conrad's books were to some degree autobiographical - and this is the lead taken by Jasanoff - she traveled to the places mentioned in his works, including the Congo - fair play to her, it's even more insanely dangerous now than in Conrad's day. He was a sailor for 20 years before settling in England - and criss-crossed the globe - if you plot his journeys on a map - Jasanoff points out - you can see him as a forbear of our current globalised world, both in the sense that the points he sailed between are now the routes of the sub-sea cables that connect us all together and also still the vast majority of manufactured goods are transported by ship. This is an argument I'm comfortable with - if we take his most famous work - 'Heart of Darkness' - based on his own experiences of captaining a steam boat in the then Belgian controlled Congo - I have read this book many times, I always get something new out of it each time - it occurred to me that it was incredibly prescient and still very much relevant. Swop Colonial exploitation for corporate exploitation and you are left with pretty much the same thing - especially if you are on the receiving end of it. Swop ivory and rubber trading for diamond and rare earth element mining in the same part of the world - they dove tail as ideas even though separated by over a century. As I say - Conrad is still relevant. Granted some of his language would land you on a diversity course in 5 minutes flat - but set and setting - he was no Imperialist - in some some ways the very opposite of Kipling. Jasanoff's writing style is excellent - erudite but accessible - from the introduction - 'history is like therapy for the present: it makes it talk about its parents.' Ha ha - very good. I'm going to enjoy this book a lot. Along the way - I have learned to my delight that Conrad loathed Herman Melville, who he was often compared to - given the nautical themes - he commented about 'Moby Dick,' - 'a rather strained rhapsody with whaling for a subject, and not a sincere line in three volumes of it.' Ha ha. I couldn't agree more - it was one of the few books I refused to finish - dreary, overblown, pompous rubbish for me. Great opening line granted and then it's all downhill. So - I've just left the infant Conrad - whose father has just been arrested by the Russian secret police on sedition charges. I look forward to reading on.
Thank you again B. Yours - I.
An exemplary introduction to both Conrad and the biography Iain. I loved your description of Moby Dick. An old English teacher of mine once called me a ‘philistine’ for not appreciating the magnificence of Melville’s achievement. I wish I had been eloquent enough to have responded with ‘dreary, overblown, pompous rubbish’. I probably said something like ‘boring crap’ at the time. I hope you continue to enjoy the book Iain. It’s definately on my ‘to read’ list now.
As the Crusades rage, a secret war begins…
Totally agree. My guess is you are in good company with all the other philistines out there. Don't know anyone who actually finished the book, even though it was required reading for many college and high school english lit classes in the US. Being a functional illiterate I spent a good deal of time with my Funk and Wagnall just looking up words I had never seen before (and since) and a quarter of the way through the book said screw it and have no regrets whatsoever.
I’m glad to be one among many philistines then William. Is Moby Dick still commonly required reading in the US? I think it has pretty much disappeared from UK syllabuses. Although I couldn’t say for sure.
At the time when I decided to 'abandon ship' with the book a friend was doing a dissertation on it for his English Lit. degree - so I could just phone him up and get him to talk me through the rest of it. Who dies, who lives. Was the whale god or the devil? Funnily enough after he had written 10,000 odd words on it - he loathed it too and hasn't been near it since. The only thing I learned of interest was the name of the coffee chain Starbucks derives from the book - Starbuck is the chief mate on the Pequod. Top trivia. Equally - the musician and record producer Moby - born Richard Melville Hall - is a distant relative hence his choice of stage name. Cheers - I.
So between us we know one person who has finished the book. And even he hated it. We need someone to come to it’s defence.