Philosophy and Literature with Iris Murdoch and Bryan Magee

I love doing the washing up, it gives me a chance to catch up with a whole host of interesting YouTube channels.  As you might expect these are a pretty eclectic mix; Agadmator’s chess match analyses, Bob Ross‘ happy little paintings, David Lynch’s weather report, a few channels dealing with apologetics, film reviews, Football Manager (as I have no time to go indepth with such a game), other assorted retro games, and science videos.

This time I wanted something a bit different so typed ‘literature’ into the search bar.  Having previously done this and ended up scrolling through a bunch of identikit YA booktubers I, understandably, left it a few years before trying again.

The below video turned up, and having heard of Iris Murdoch, but not having read any of her works I decided to give the interview a whirl. It’s an interesting chat that takes places in that nostalgically British way of having a dull studio filled with browns and beiges. I already have Murdoch’s Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature, on my list but any recommendations for her fiction would be most welcome.

Stalingrad – Vasily Grossman

In April 1942, Hitler and Mussolini plan the huge offensive on the Eastern Front that will culminate in the greatest battle in human history.

Hundreds of miles away, Pyotr Vavilov receives his call-up papers and spends a final night with his wife and children in the hut that is his home. As war approaches, the Shaposhnikov family gathers for a meal: despite her age, Alexandra will soon become a refugee; Tolya will enlist in the reserves; Vera, a nurse, will fall in love with a wounded pilot; and Viktor Shtrum will receive a letter from his doomed mother which will haunt him forever.

The war will consume the lives of a huge cast of characters – lives which express Grossman’s grand themes of the nation and the individual, nature’s beauty and war’s cruelty, love and separation.

Having recently gotten back into the habit of frequenting my local library, the first book I picked up was Vasily Grossman’s – Criminally – lesser known prelude to Life and Fate, both books together were intended to be the 20th century War and Peace and I have to say they lives up to that book’s impact and legacy.

This is a version of Grossman’s book isn’t quite the same as the Russian version entitled For a Just Cause, the translator Robert Chandler has readded in parts that were originally deleted in accordance with the Stalin government’s everchanging policies.  Whether this affects the pace of the book or not I loved every page of this story.

Weighing in at almost nine hundred pages this novel is a vast panorama of voices and stories and does a wonderful job of conveying the sense of dislocation, pain and horror of World War II but also sensitively paints pictures of the lives and loves of those people caught up in those monumental events. Continue reading “Stalingrad – Vasily Grossman”

What the…?

Being given some cash for my birthday (last December, this was) my eyes lit up at all the infinite options of what to spend it on.  It just so happened we had decided to take a Christmas Eve jaunt to Newstead Abbey, home of Lord Byron, so we were guaranteed a book section in the gift shop.

From previous visits I knew all the Wordsworth classics would be £2.50 so I blew some of the money on the below books, completely ignoring Byron in favour of a massive chunk of Charles Dickens, on a whim.

Fancy arrangement and photograph done by Crissy as my photos have a long history of looking awful.

As I was sorting which ones I wanted, it called to mind that episode of Doctor Who, where they meet Dickens and he ends up exclaiming, ‘What the Shakespeare!’, ending all the speculation on what people used to say before the well known phrase, ‘what the dickens?’.

I did get more books at a later date – and by other authors – but will leave that for the next post as I haven’t gotten around to badgering the wife to take an arty photo yet.

An Audio Christmas Present

In the spirit of the season, I am attempting to give, whilst being as cheap as I can possibly be as well, and who doesn’t love something free, literary, and quintessentially Christmassy?

If you’re not already, follow Liz, it won’t bother the bank balance but will tick the seasonal giving and receiving box nicely.

LEAPING LIFE

My gorgeous husband and I share many things in common but we have totally opposite views on books. While I sit surrounded by piles of books I am sure I will one day read, Stephen on the other hand has a handful of beloved titles that he has read many times and so knows with great depth and understanding.

One of his favourite annual traditions is to read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Sometimes it is just to himself. Sometimes it is a special treat for me to hear him read out loud while I sit knitting.

This year he has taken things to a new level. Stephen is an expert YouTuber and so has a range of high-quality recording and editing equipment. This has enabled him to produce a podcast version of A Christmas Carol which I am delighted to be able to share with you. This is…

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Volume Up

Whilst wandering around the local shops, I couldn’t resist perusing the book titles in the charity shop – just to look of course, not to buy.  Unsurprisingly I came out about five minutes later with four books, and over 2000 pages worth of words, for the princely sum of £1.90.  With that quality bit of business done, I am now able to enjoy more fine literature on the bus to and from work.

I haven’t really dabbled too much in author correspondence before so this will be a pleasant departure from my usual tastes.  I am also anticipating The Forsyte Saga to have the same impact as Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time series, which I absolutely adored.

All being well I shall be around all of your lovely blogs at the weekend, apologies for the long delay, I think i finally have my blog mojo back.

Old Habits…

After spending half a week face deep in a manuscript, a wander into Derbyshire was much called for yesterday.  Inevitably, it was hard to avoid the second hand bookshops, and after going in ‘just to look’, it would have been rude to leave without buying anything.  So I did.

In my defence – as if one were needed – a couple of fine book were unearthed.  Having read, and loved I, Claudius last year it was a pleasant surprise to bump into the sequel in almost mint condition, and as an added bonus with the same cover style as its companion book.

The Dostoyevsky was again close to mint condition and as it’s been a while since I had read anything by him (and the price was right) it made sense to not only indulge again but actually plan write a review for the blog when I’m done reading, as I seem to have missed reviewing all three books previously read by the author.

Now I just have to find the time to get into them as I am taking on a new quest, as well as the usual, but more of that in a week or two.

Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Set on the French Riviera in the 1920s, American Dick Diver and his wife Nicole are the epitome of chic, living a glamorous lifestyle and entertaining friends at their villa. Young film star Rosemary Hoyt arrives in France and becomes entranced by the couple. It is not long before she is attracted to the enigmatic Dick, but he and his wife hold dark secrets and as their marriage becomes more fractured, Fitzgerald laments the failure of idealism and the carefully constructed trappings of high society in the Roaring Twenties.

This somewhat autobiographical novel is an interesting read, not only for the story itself, but also for the extra examination of Fitzgerald’s dependency on alcohol and his wife’s Schizophrenia.  This, his final and favourite novel is certainly a mixed bag but well worth picking up.

The old cliché about Americans who visit other countries is reinforced here as many of the characters retain a strong American identity but seem purposefully oblivious (and superior) to the cultures that surround them.  The locals tolerating their shenanigans partly because of America’s role in the war and, inevitably, the riches brought to a shattered continent recovering from the horrors of the First World War.

There is a vacuous nature to the majority of the characters, at one point I began to wonder if I would be bothered by the fates of any of them.  In a world filled with frivolous parties and empty conversations, the carefully manufactured and cultivated superficial facades mean so much to the characters, who like actors are putting on a well rehearsed show.

“When there were enough Americans on the platform the first impression of their immaculacy and their money began to fade into a vague racial dusk that hindered and blinded both them and their observers.” Continue reading “Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald”

Books, Again

After the good news of last post, Crissy’s anniversary gift to me was to let me run rampant in a bookshop.  This excitement was slightly sullied as half of the shop was blocked off due to cleaning so I couldn’t get to the science section, amongst others. The history section was disappointingly lacking too.

Rallying, I did manage to pick up three books, and went to a coffee shop, pleasingly empty, to review my new purchases.  Supping a hot Mocha, and trying not to gag at the stupidly powerful smelling cheese meal the woman half the café away was eating, it was with great pleasure that I slowly peeled back the plastic bag to review the new reads.

Having read The Great Gatsby all the way back in sixth form, and being reminded of the pleasure I had from that book by the Leonardo DiCaprio movie.  I fancied reading more by F. Scott Fitzgerald so Now The Beautiful and Damned can take its place on the unread shelf next to Tender is the Night, which I also picked up a while back for the same reason. Continue reading “Books, Again”

Basil – Wilkie Collins

In Basil’s secret and unconsummated marriage to the linen-draper’s sexually precocious daughter, and the shocking betrayal, insanity, and death that follow, Collins reveals the bustling, commercial London of the nineteenth century wreaking its vengeance on a still powerful aristocratic world.

This was a random purchase, based on the name of the author, that and it wasn’t either The Woman in White or The Moonstone – neither of which I have yet read – which always come up whenever the author’s name is mentioned.  It also reminded me of (when the currency was converted) picking up those classics for 99p, last century.

Basil is a tale of class, snobbery, obsession, prejudice, passion, deceit and vengeance.  In its day it was a highly scandalous novel, today, sadly, there is nothing disgraceful about it in the slightest. There is, however,an odd choice made by the titular Basil, fairly early on and feels for that reason, a tad forced as a plot device.

I didn’t really care about any of the characters – I tried my best, honest –  but as there is little to endear most of them anyway, it is, for me, a moot point.  Only Basil’s sister and Mother-in-Law escaped my devastating lack of sympathy.  I did enjoy following the trajectories (mostly miserable) of all the characters though, despite some stereotyping and illogical leaps.

There was on exception to my general apathy or downright dislike to the characters and that was Mannion, his demeanour and mysterious countenance really add something tonally darker into the book and contributed much to my enjoyment of the story and its eventual direction. Continue reading “Basil – Wilkie Collins”

The Top 100 Stories that Shaped the World

There is something strange about watching the news, specifically when they greet viewers just joining from overseas when it is last thing at night in your mind, now I get to watch the same shows on BBC News that I used to drop off to, with my morning coffee.  Had I been up late watching, I would have certainly forgotten to check out The Hundred Stories That Shaped the World by the next morning.

I’m not sure if this flew under the radar back home or not but for those of you not familiar, here is the catch up.  In April the BBC polled authors, academics, journalists, critics, translators in 35 countries to nominate five works of fiction that they felt had changed or shaped history.  The top ten with the most votes were as follows:

1. The Odyssey (Homer, 8th Century BC)
2. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852)
3. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818)
4. Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell, 1949)
5. Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe, 1958)
6. One Thousand and One Nights (various authors, 8th-18th Centuries)
7. Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes, 1605-1615)
8. Hamlet (William Shakespeare, 1603)
9. One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel García Márquez, 1967)
10. The Iliad (Homer, 8th Century BC)

The other 80 books of the list, and the author’s reasons for picking the top ten can all be found here and is well worth a look. As I never usually bother to ask pointed questions, as I know you lot are intelligent enough to pick up on my unspoken cues and will always give me good comments, I may as well, for novelty’s sake, indulge in doing just that for once.

What fictional books do you believe have changed or shaped history, and/or the works that have changed or shaped your personal views upon life?  Did the Harry Potter series really deserve to be on the list?  Feel free to add and answer our own questions as well, such is my generosity.

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