Archive for the Books Category

Book Burning

Posted in Books, Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

In my own experience, most people do not destroy books, but will pass unwanted books on to someone else and that to destroy a book is unthinkable.

Which leads me to the questions:

Why is destroying a book apparently taboo?
Has anyone here ever destroyed a book and why?

I read a newspaper article a while ago by someone whose name I’ve forgotten who works for a publisher. One of the jobs she had was to dispose of unwanted books and she described the qualms she had when they were being destroyed. I can’t quite remember but I think she said they burned them; you’d think they could recycle the paper.

I assume that the “taboo” goes back to times when books were more precious than they are now and the contents could be lost forever by destroying a few copies. Now that books are mostly easily available and well archived in libraries, worrying about destroying them, apart I suppose from symbolic acts like burning them in public, seems like sentimentality. Having said that, it does seem wasteful to destroy a book when someone else might be able to get something out of it. I’ve only disposed of mine by giving them away. I wonder what charity shops do with their excess books?

Of course, millions of books are destroyed every day which are unsold copies. I believe they end up in all sorts of processes, including motorway surfacing, believe it or not.

I do think it’s wrong to destroy out-of-print or rare books, and especially to withdraw them from public libraries where they might be the only accessible copy for the public in a certain area.

I used to visit an excellent public library where they had lots of rare books, particularly out-of-print full scores, such as the original edition of Petrushka and Walton’s Viola Concerto. I went back there a few years ago and all the music library had been cleared away to make space for internet terminals for teenagers to play with.

1911 No. 4: Mervyn Peake

Posted in 1911, Books with tags , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Mervyn Peake was born in China in 1911, and educated at Tientsin Grammar School, Eltham College, Kent and the Royal Academy Schools. His first book of poems, Shapes and Sounds, was published in 1941. He also wrote Rhymes Without Reason (1944), Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor (1945), The Craft of the Lead Pencil (1946), Letters from a Lost Uncle (1948), Mr Pye (1953), The Wit to Woo, a play (1957) and The Rhyme of the Flying Bomb (1962). He also illustrated several classics, notably The Ancient Mariner, Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island and The Hunting of the Snark. The Titus novels – Titus Groan (1946), Gormenghast (1950) and Titus Alone (1959) – are considered to be one of the 20th century’s most remarkable feats of imaginative writing. For Gormenghast and his poem The Glassblowers Peake was awarded the W.H. Heinemann Foundation Prize by the Royal Society of Literature in 1950. He died in 1968.

The book ends with its titular hero not yet two years old, but there is plenty of time for him: we have finished a mere third of the tripartite epic. And it is as we near the end of Titus Groan that we realize the propriety of applying the term ‘epic’ in an exact sense. The book is closer to ancient pagan romance than to traditional British fiction. The doomed ritual lord, the emergent hero, the castle, the hall of retainers, the mountains, the lake, the twisted trees, the strange creatures, the violent knives, the dark and the foreboding belong (however qualified by tea, muffins, tobacco and sherry wine) to a prehistoric England. And the magnificence of the language denotes an epic concept.

(Anthony Burgess, Introduction to Titus Groan)

Lord Sepulchrave, the seventy-sixth Earl of Groan, arrives for breakfast:

Arriving, as was his consistent habit, at exactly nine o’clock every morning, he would enter the long hall and move with a most melancholy air between rows of long tables, where servants of every grade would be awaiting him, standing at their places, their heads bowed.

Mounting the dais he would move around to the far side of the table where hung a heavy brass bell. He would strike it. The servants sitting down at once, would begin their meal of bread, rice wine and cake.

Lord Groan’s menu was otherwise. As he sat, this morning, in his high-backed chair he saw before him – through a haze of melancholia that filmed his brain and sickened his heart, robbing it of power and his limbs of health – he saw before him a snow-white tablecloth. It was set for two. The silver shone and the napkins were folded into the shapes of peacocks and were perched decoratively on the two plates. There was a delicious scent of bread, sweet and wholesome. There were eggs painted in gay colours, toast piled up pagoda-wise, tier upon tier and each as frail as a dead leaf; and fish with their tails in their mouths lay coiled in sea-blue saucers. There was coffee in an urn shaped like a lion, the spout protruding from that animal’s silver jaws. There were all varieties of coloured fruits that looked strangely tropical in that dark hall. There were honies and jams, jellies, nuts and spices and the ancestral breakfast plate was spread out to the greatest advantage amid the golden cutlery of the Groans. In the centre of the table was a small tin bowl of dandelions and nettles.

Brown Bread: Miriam Karlin

Posted in Books, Culture, Obituaries with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

“The sequinned grande dame of British theatre, a Jewish legend and Equity terrorist.” Anthony Sher

“I can’t imagine being anything but left-wing. I was brought up in a home where justice was the most important quality. I’m part of a race that has survived 2,000 years of persecution. I think, if I’d had any ambition at all, I would like to have been the first female British Prime Minister. I would have been a rather lovely English Golda Meir, a benevolent dictator. I am, shall I say, a Utopian socialist. I have an idealistic dream of a wondrous socialist world where there will be a real brotherhood of man. I know it will never happen, but it doesn’t hurt to have such belief, and it keeps me going.” Miriam Karlin

Miriam Karlin, who has died of cancer aged 85, was a pillar of the British acting establishment who was also a fully paid-up member of the awkward squad. During sixty workaholic years, she acted in every area of the performing arts except ballet and the circus, and is fondly remembered as the truculent, whistle-blowing shop steward Paddy (complete with her catchphrase “Everybody out!”) in the classic TV sitcom The Rag Trade. Parallel to her life as a performer, she was a dedicated political activist, spurred on by her lifelong socialist beliefs and an unerring sense of justice, promoting broadly leftwing causes as a member of the council of the actors’ union Equity, and as a campaigner for the Anti-Nazi League, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Soviet Jewry.

She had been unwell for a number of years, suffering from peripheral neuropathy for a decade.

Here is the last page of her 2007 autobiography Some Sort of a Life, based on conversations with writer and director Jan Sargent:

I don’t think I’ll last much longer. I have to say that the contemplation of my own death only frightens me if I think it’s going to be painful and if I can’t control how I go. The idea of not being here only frightens me in terms of my vanity: I hope that I die looking good with my teeth in and that people won’t say awful things about me. I hope that the obituaries will be nice. Perhaps what I am writing now is my own; that’s what it feels like, some sort of a life story.

I don’t want another 20 years in pain; I can’t contemplate very much more of it. I want to say that’s enough, thank you, been there, done that, got all the T-shirts, let’s now finish it in a dignified fashion. I don’t want to die throwing up everywhere; I would just like to die nice and quietly. If only I hadn’t given that damn “Do It Yourself” book to somebody who never gave it back …

I love conversations and talking on the phone, but it’s probably because I have always lived alone. I’d miss gossip, not being here. I’d miss going to wonderful concerts listening to beautiful music. I don’t believe any longer in heaven; I don’t think I am going to hear beautiful harps in a mystical place. I think this is all there is. I’d miss music and my friends. I’ve got some wonderful friends that I’ve had for a very long time, and of course I’d miss my brother, my sister-in-law and my niece Vivien. I can’t really say “I’d miss” because I’d be dead, so I wouldn’t know how to; but if one could, those are the things I’d miss.

R.I.P. Miriam Karlin (Miriam Samuels) 1925-2011

The 2010 Brown Bread List

Posted in Books, Culture, Music, Obituaries with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Here is a list of some of the significant figures who departed in the last year.

Kate McGarrigle, singer and songwriter, born February 6, 1946; died January 18 2010

Jean Merilyn Simmons, actor, born 31 January 1929; died 22 January 2010

Lee Alexander McQueen, fashion designer, born 17 March 1969; died 11 ­February 2010

Michael Mackintosh Foot, politician, journalist and author, born 23 July 1913; died 3 March 2010

Malcolm Robert Andrew McLaren, impresario, born 22 January 1946; died 8 April 2010

Alan Sillitoe, author, born 4 March 1928; died 25 April 2010

Lynn Rachel Redgrave, actor, born 8 March 1943; died 2 May 2010

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne, singer and actor, born 30 June 1917; died 9 May 2010

Dennis Lee Hopper, actor, photographer and painter, born 17 May 1936; died 29 May 2010

Beryl Bainbridge, writer, born 21 November 1934; died 2 July 2010

Alexander Gordon Higgins, snooker player, born 18 March 1949; found dead 24 July 2010

Edwin George Morgan, poet, born 27 April 1920; died 19 August 2010

Tony Curtis (Bernard Schwartz), actor, born 3 June 1925; died 29 September 2010

Joan Sutherland, opera singer, born 7 November 1926; died 10 October 2010

Agostino “Dino” De Laurentiis, film producer, born 8 August 1919; died 11 November 2010

Ingrid Pitt (Ingoushka Petrov), actor, born 21 November 1937; died 23 November 2010

Leslie William Nielsen, actor, born 11 February 1926; died 28 November 2010

Boris Ivanovich Tishchenko, composer, pianist and teacher, born 23 March 1939; died 9 December 2010

Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart), musician and artist, born 15 January 1941; died 17 December 2010

Roberto Alfonso Farrell, singer and dancer, born 6 October 1949; died 30 December 2010

Quote of the Day

Posted in Books with tags , , , on June 2, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

“We know so little about each other. We lie mostly submerged, like ice floes, with our invisible social selves projecting only cool and white.”

(Ian McEwan, Amsterdam)

Brown Bread: Alan Sillitoe

Posted in Books, Culture, Obituaries with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

“Do you know Alan Sillitoe?” aksed Robert [Graves], and added half-seriously, “I invented him. He used to live in Soller in the Fifties, writing I don’t know what you’d call them, fantasies about imaginary countries set in no particular period. I told him, ‘Alan, nobody wants that sort of stuff. Write about the life you know in Nottingham and so on.’ So he wrote Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and made his name.”

(Kingsley Amis, Memoirs)

Arthur took off his coat and sat with his legs stretched out over the mat, smoking cigarette after cigarette. He watched Brenda’s face disintegrating, her features mixing beneath the fire of hot gin and a sea of water. Never again, he kept saying to himself, never again. No more bubble-baths for Brenda. Never again. I’d rather cut my throat.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

We’ve lost an inspirational novelist with the death of Alan Sillitoe, one of the Angry Young Men who captured the gritty reality of life for working people in post-war 1950s Britain.

In Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, the former bicycle factory worker portrayed the struggle of millions without patronising men and women dealt a poor hand. These “kitchen sink” dramas – turned into successful films starring Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay – have stood the test of time and are considered classics.

Sillitoe succeeded despite a squalid childhood. His death, aged 82, is sad if not unexpected, but he will live on through his fine books. Poet Ian McMillan said: “He put somehow forgotten places at centre stage. He made the ordinary life into a kind of poetry.”

Sillitoe, who died at Charing Cross Hospital in West London after falling ill earlier this month, was born into poverty in Nottingham in 1928. His dad was an illiterate labourer who was often jobless. The writer said their home “smelled of leaking gas, stale fat and layers of mouldering wallpaper.”

He left school at 14 and worked in a bicycle factory before serving as a wireless operator in the RAF. After returning from Malaya he contracted tuberculosis and spent 16 months in hospital. It was following this illness that he first put pen to paper.

Sillitoe wrote more than 50 books, including children’s stories, poetry and plays. He was married to American poet Ruth Fainlight, in 1959, and they had a son and daughter. He lived with his family in London but spent time in France, Spain and Tangier.

R.I.P. Alan Sillitoe 1928-2010

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Joyce, Takemitsu, Finnegans Wake

Posted in Books, Music with tags , , , , , , , on April 8, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Toru Takemitsu wrote a number of pieces inspired by Finnegans Wake, including “riverrun” for piano and orcestra, and the string quartet “a way a lone” which are the words which begin the final sentence “A way a lone a last a loved a long the” which reconnects to the opening “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.”

I first came across Takemitsu’s music because of my interest in Joyce and Finnegans Wake at university, but despite many claims about the musical language employed by Takemitsu, I don’t find it particularly evocative of the half-dream world of Joyce’s virtually incomprehensible book.

Much closer, I think, is music such as Messiaen’s Catalogue d’oiseaux, where bird calls are used in a similar way to the multiplicity of rivers’ names in the “Anna Livia Plurabella” section (as one example); on the surface, the effect is literally dazzling, but also able to invoke much deeper layers of meaning.

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