Degrees of separation

Do you find that, mysteriously, the books you have recently been reading are somehow linked, one to another? I’ve noted this before, but was reminded of it by Helen of She Reads Novels when she drew attention to the Six Degrees of Separation Meme hosted by https://booksaremyfavoriteandbest.wordpress.com

How does this meme work when applied to books?

Books can be linked in obvious ways – for example, books by the same authors, from the same era or genre, or books with similar themes or settings. Or, you may choose to link them in more personal or esoteric ways: books you read on the same holiday, books given to you by a particular friend, books that remind you of a particular time in your life, or books you read for an online challenge.

The great thing about this meme is that each participant can make their own rules. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the ones next to them in the chain.

Well, without officially signing up to this exercise I thought it would be interesting to see how that might apply to books I’ve read and reviewed in the past few months, and then see where that got me. So here goes.

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Knee-jerks and books

Fleet Street in London looking east towards St Paul’s Cathedral. Photograph by James Valentine, c.1890 (Wikimedia Commons)

“Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.” — Ray Bradbury

In Europe in recent years we seem to have suffered a number of terrorist attacks without precedent, along with reports of covert interference in the internal politics of several nations by foreign powers. It’s easy, I’d imagine, to believe that things are worse than they have ever been but history shows that international espionage, anarchist acts (“the propaganda of the deed”), political assassinations and terrorist atrocities are nothing new.

In fact it’s not just history text books that reflect on attempts to upset the established order, benign or malign as it may be. So does fiction, and it’s interesting to look at novels that come out of a particular period, such as fin-de-siècle London and the years before the Great War, to see how past generations of writers reacted to acts of aggression in times of perceived peace.

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How to spot a reader

The surefire way to identify an eager beaver young reader is to listen to them.

How do they pronounce the words they’ve seen in print but never heard?

Do they — as I remember being sniggered at for doing — say “causal” instead of casual? Does that understandably precocious child pronounce “foregin” in place of that odd-looking word foreign? And — as I heard an adult enunciate when expanding his horizons into less mundane topics — does “esoteric”sometimes emerge (by analogy with “expectorate” perhaps — with the stress on the second syllable?

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In a spin

The City of Books, Aix-en-Provence (September 2017)

In yet another attempt to tackle my to-be-read pile I’ve decided to take a leaf out of the book put together by The Classics Club blog.

They have a concept called the ‘Classics Spin’, as detailed at https://theclassicsclubblog.wordpress.com/:

What is the spin?

It’s easy. At your blog, before next Friday, November 17th, create a post to list your choice of any twenty books that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list.

This is your Spin List. You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of the year (details to follow). Try to challenge yourself. For example, you could list five Classics Club books you are dreading/hesitant to read, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, re-reads, ancients — whatever you choose.)

On Friday, November 17th, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by December 31, 2017. We’ll check in here in January to see who made it the whole way and finished their spin book!

This looks like a (just about) manageable challenge — this from one who never quite completes a challenge (looks like achieving Mount TBR for 2017 is going to be very tight). At least I know I’ve got twenty titles on my shelves that bit the bill! Here they are, in a sort of alphabetical order.

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Rex Futurus

King Arthur by Julia Margaret Cameron

I have a confession: I’m not a fan of Arthurian fiction.

There, I’ve said it. Why so? It comes from a half century of involvement in Arthurian matters, from archaeological research to editing a society journal, during which I came into forced contact with innumerable theories about ‘rex quondam’ in fiction, in non-fiction and creative non-fiction. Some were plausible, most were speculative, and whole libraries of them were, frankly, preposterous. So in a way I’m the last person to be enthusiastic about this particular literary genre.

And yet, there are aspects I delight in. In amongst the many servings of clichéd tropes (many even falling far short of Steinbeck’s 1976 Malory-inspired The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights) there are gems that catch the eye. Three overlapping areas I’ve noticed concern the King himself, Merlin and the Grail, so I shall divide this discussion into these three sections. Also, along the spectrum shading from history to legend is another axis taking us from an imagined past to a future via a notional ‘present’. To keep things a little focused I shall confine myself to the 20th century; needless to say this is neither a comprehensive survey nor an impersonal one.

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Innocence and inanity

A literal translation of Môr a Mynydd o Lyfrau might be “sea and mountain (made) from books”

Bruno Vincent: Five Go Bookselling
Enid Blyton for Grown-Ups
Hodder and Stoughton 2017

Maybe you missed it but Saturday 7th October 2017 was Bookshop Day in the UK and Ireland. I was involved in the third Crickhowell Literary Festival so I could hardly be unaware of it. I picked up this bit of free promotional material to see if I’d changed my mind about this expanding series of “Enid Blyton for Grown-Ups”. I found I had not.

Following on from Penguin Books’ re-vision of the classic children’s mid-20th-century Ladybird picture books allied with cynical new texts (on Mindfulness, The Mid-Life Crisis and the like) Hodder and Stoughton sought to cash in on this nostalgia trend with their updating of the Famous Five books. Do they work?

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