NWR What are we reading thread?

Tom Cannavan

Administrator
Currently reading Rip It Up And Start Again, Simon Reynolds’ history of post-punk. Lucid, perceptive and fascinating stuff, but every time he compares things then to his “now” (he was writing in 2005), I’m struck by how in turn, it’s as unrecognisable as 1978-84 is.

Always meant to read this and never did, so have picked up for £6.99 delivered from Blackwells.
 
A week of very pleasurable rereading for me. First off, two novels from the Alms for Oblivion sequence, The Rich Pay Late and Fielding Gray. I haven't read Simon Raven for a long - he really is a bracing tonic for these times. Thanks to Thom Blach for the reminder.

One thing I noticed strongly this time is how much Alms for Oblivion appears to have served as a deep model - tonally and stylistically - for Alan Clark's political diaries of the 1980s. This was verified by a quick look at two of the latter's memorable set-pieces: a farcical account of a trade visit to Bulgaria and the insider record of the gripping events of almost exactly 30 years ago which resulted in the fall of Mrs. Thatcher.

After all that, Anthony Blond's scrappy but highly entertaining memoir, Jew Made In England. He was the publisher of Simon Raven for many years and also knew Alan Clark well. Of Simon Raven he says:

"[He] worked with Trollopian industry, as punctual and puffy as a steam engine. The day was compartmented into periods of writing, revision, typing, reading and reviewing, alleviated by many Camel cigarettes, a Campari before luncheon, and copious beer and burgundy, followed by Armagnac and Armagnac and Armagnac, in the evening."

About Alan Clark ("fizzy, healthy, expensive, tart and cold" like a Redoxon) he tells a story of a country house weekend in Kent in 1953. In the cellar beneath a "high-class grocer in Lamberhurst" they discover a large dusty stock of Bollinger 1928 and negotiate to buy the lot for 10 shillings a bottle. "We spent the next two days... doing nothing, eating nothing, only talking and drinking champagne...I have never felt so well."
 
Have you read Blond's similarly scrappy but highly entertaining novel 'Family Business', Dan? clearly intensely autobiographical. He sued Raven over a staggeringly scabrous passage in his memoir''Is There Anybody There' Said The Traveller'' but Raven didn't hold it against him, being a clubbable and well brought up sort of chap. In an addendum to the obituary in the Telegraph Blond wrote, rather unkindly, '... he was lodged in Sutton's Hospital, whose collegiate routine he relished, especially the bathroom en suite, for much of his life depended on lavatorial exigences'.
One thing I noticed strongly this time is how much Alms for Oblivion appears to have served as a deep model - tonally and stylistically - for Alan Clark's political diaries of the 1980s. This was verified by a quick look at two of the latter's memorable set-pieces: a farcical account of a trade visit to Bulgaria and the insider record of the gripping events of almost exactly 30 years ago which resulted in the fall of Mrs. Thatcher.
It's amazing how much political life seems actually to have been written ex ante by Simon Raven. Our Prime Minister is a completely unadulterated Raven creation in every possible respect. How thrilled he would have been by the sheer squalor of our post 2016 convulsions.
 
Completely agree Thom. I guess there are taproots in Trollope obviously, but also Shakespeare and further back to Tacitus and Sallust. He’s synthesised all that into the political mirror for our last and next 50 years.

Talking of which, next on my reading pile: Friends and Enemies, the “not a book of vengeance” memoir of “multi-married sexual adventuress and TV provocateur” Barbara Amiel.
 
Jeremy Treglown's excellent eponymous 1994 biography of Roald Dahl (having read out loud Boy to my 8 year old son last week).

The Spy & The Traitor by Ben Macintyre - almost incredible account of Oleg Gordievsky, all true though.

David Kynaston's history Austerity Britain 1945-51, part of the Tales of a new Jerusalem series.

Can You See Me, novel about an autistic girl, can't remember author.

The Inheritors, William Golding. Disturbing. Never read anything like it.
 
Talking of not finishing books, has anyone finished one by Philip Roth? I've read a few - The Human Stain, American Pastoral and something else - and I couldn't finish them. I know someone who once described reading a Roth novel as 'like having someone sitting on your face and refusing to get off'. I think it sums him up fairly well.

He can be heavy but that's a bit of a shame, I find Roth always pays off wonderfully in his closing chapters, every novel has an underlying thesis resolved with a flourish, his final paragraphs are magical. 'Deception' is a very light and formally experimental little great
 
Always meant to read this and never did, so have picked up for £6.99 delivered from Blackwells.
This is in my pile too, though probably four or five books away from reaching it. I'm also using Blackwells now, rather than Amazon for reasons I probably should keep to myself. But the free postage does occasionally offset the smaller (not always) savings and some books seem to take a good ten days to arrive. With nine or ten on the pile that doesn't matter.

I've read most things Eric Newby wrote but for some inexplicable reason I'd never read "A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush". A friend posted it to us and I finished it last night. Maybe it wouldn't interest someone who does not have my passion for mountains. It reminds me of a hilarious climbing spoof, The Ascent of Rum Doodle, but in real life. A story of extreme danger totally downplayed by "chaps" who were a lot tougher than they make out (Newby was in the SBS and a POW who escaped). It has prompted my wife to re-read a few of his other books off the shelf, and I shall do likewise at some point.
 
A Short Walk is certainly of interest to those of us into Near-East and Central Asian matters. The Rolex dropped in the soup was hilarious. As was their meeting Wilfred Thesiger. One of the great travel books of all time IMO.
 
A Short Walk is certainly of interest to those of us into Near-East and Central Asian matters. The Rolex dropped in the soup was hilarious. As was their meeting Wilfred Thesiger. One of the great travel books of all time IMO.
The Thesiger meeting was interesting, and I was reading through the lines a little. Thesiger's thoughts on the sexual orientation of men who sleep on inflatable air beds was especially interesting in that it formed the last words of the book, a book in which Newby had undergone more than most of us could manage. I'm not wholly sure he warmed to Thesiger?

I'm guessing Robert Byron's The Road to Oxiana is in your desert island suitcase, Saina?
 
Absolutely, though it is more art and architecture focused whereas I'm more into history and linguistics. There are so many interesting travel books from the area - give Tim Mackintosh-Smith a try if you haven't yet!
I have indeed, Saina. Definitely agree with recommending him. I am no expert like you but the two books I do recall reading a long time ago and recommended by someone more knowledgeable than me are Esposito ("Islam") and of course David Talbot Rice's "Islamic Art". I don't really get any deeper than that, but I have always harboured a strong desire to see that part of the world. We see an uncle of a friend because he lives near us and he always likes to recount stories of his travels in Iran. It's sad how parts of the world become (effectively) closed to those who would enjoy their delights.

My own fascination with Islamic architecture arises through its influence on Churches in Europe (I'm no Christian but have an architectural interest in ecclesiastical buildings)
 

Tom Cannavan

Administrator
Recently finished The Shepherd's Hut, an Australian novel that's yet another 'Catcher in the Rye for the 21st Century' (seems every book with a juvenile lead character claims that). Anyway, it was pretty good: first person narrative in a thick Australian youth-speak slang, about an abused boy on the run and fending for himself in the outback. Definitely worth a read.
 
I don't really get any deeper than that, but I have always harboured a strong desire to see that part of the world. We see an uncle of a friend because he lives near us and he always likes to recount stories of his travels in Iran. It's sad how parts of the world become (effectively) closed to those who would enjoy their delights.

My own fascination with Islamic architecture arises through its influence on Churches in Europe (I'm no Christian but have an architectural interest in ecclesiastical buildings)

Had not Covid and scary politics happened, I would have spent the whole of March 2020 travelling in Iran. Once there's no US threat to Iran and we get a Covid vaccine, Iran will be my next destination for sure. Since you're more into art and architecture than me, have you read Jason Elliot's Mirrors of the Unseen? There are occasional whiffs of orientalism (like when he "discovers" things about Esfahan's architecture that literally every Muslim scholar on the topic has known for centuries :D ) but it (and his book on Afghanistan) is still hugely enjoyable - probably even more for you with your art connection!
 
Had not Covid and scary politics happened, I would have spent the whole of March 2020 travelling in Iran. Once there's no US threat to Iran and we get a Covid vaccine, Iran will be my next destination for sure. Since you're more into art and architecture than me, have you read Jason Elliot's Mirrors of the Unseen? There are occasional whiffs of orientalism (like when he "discovers" things about Esfahan's architecture that literally every Muslim scholar on the topic has known for centuries :D ) but it (and his book on Afghanistan) is still hugely enjoyable - probably even more for you with your art connection!
Yes, read Elliot.

Not totally on topic (though Mughals are relevant) but I’ve been a fan of William Dalrymple since his first book. We both recently read The Anarchy, which is a great piece of work, but we do have one book of his we somehow missed and keep meaning to order, the one about Afghanistan.
 
Not totally on topic (though Mughals are relevant) but I’ve been a fan of William Dalrymple since his first book. We both recently read The Anarchy, which is a great piece of work, but we do have one book of his we somehow missed and keep meaning to order, the one about Afghanistan.

I've only read one Dalrymple, From the Holy Mountain, and that was really good so I should go back and read more.
 
Hervé Guibert's To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life is an excellent autofiction about the final years of his life with AIDS in the 1980s.

Guiber was a friend of Michel Foucault, who appears in thinly disguised form in the novel. So for companion reading I just finished Didier Eribon's biography of the great philosopher, with mild interest initially and then increasing awe. It does for postwar French intellectual life no less thanwhat Gibbon does for the Roman Empire. The account of how, in 1969, Jacques Lacan came to cancel a series of seminars at the University of Paris at Vincennes with the famous remark "What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a master. You will get one", rather reminded me of Miss Prism's dictum: "The chapter on the fall of the rupee you may omit. It is somewhat too sensational."

Other books enjoyed this spring include Josh Cohen How to Live. What to Do., Tom Drury The End of Vandalism and Ross Thomas's classic political satire The Fools In Town Are On Our Side.
 
A forumite kindly managed to get me a copy of Max Allen’s latest book, “Intoxicating- Ten Drinks that Shaped Australia” for which I am more than grateful as it’s not available in Europe.
I have just found half an hour to begin reading it. It looks great fun as it covers the whole gamut of inebriation.
I’ve previously recommended his book “The Future Makers” on the forum, IMHO the best book written on Australian artisan and family wine producers.
 
For some reason I have completely missed this thread...agree Dalrymple's Anarchy is excellent, though I haven't warmed to all his books.
David and Saina in particular might enjoy Peter Frankopan 'The Silk Roads', a skillful reset of history away from the traditional eurocentric to more central Asia...my favourite factoid amongst many is that Kashgar in Western China/Xinjiang had an archbishop before Canterbury. I assume Hopkirk's The Great Game is already on your shelves.
 
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