Tag Archives: Essays

Howards End is on the Landing – Susan Hill

LandingLightsEarly one autumn afternoon in pursuit of an elusive book on her shelves, Susan Hill encountered dozens of others that she had never read, or forgotten she owned, or wanted to read for a second time. The discovery inspired her to embark on a year-long voyage through her books, forsaking new purchases in order to get to know her own collection again.

A book which is left on a shelf for a decade is a dead thing, but it is also a chrysalis, packed with the potential to burst into new life. Wandering through her house that day, Hill’s eyes were opened to how much of that life was stored in her home, neglected for years. Howard’s End is on the Landing charts the journey of one of the nation’s most accomplished authors as she revisits the conversations, libraries and bookshelves of the past that have informed a lifetime of reading and writing.

After the disappointment of Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, I needed something which would encourage me more in my bookish ways (as well as reinforce my reasons to unashamedly buy more) and this one does just that.  It views the personal landscape of a famous author’s reading life, in which she doesn’t buy any books for a year – something I tried once and it made me feel miserable – and focuses on the ones she has.

As well as her detailed bibliophilic thoughts, there is also talk of fonts, titles and years of accumulating books and the associated memories of where they were brought and the circumstance of the time, it’s an autobiographical insight into Hill and her influences.  There are chapters about authors, genres and attitudes all with plenty of anecdotes which allows the reader to get to know her somewhat.

A litany of authors and aspects of the fine art of reading are discussed and it’s good to be reminded that spending time with one’s own carefully built collection can be as rewarding as reading from it.  It seems easy sometimes to take for granted what we have and see everyday and we probably forget just how rich our lives for having them so close at hand.

There are diversity of genres (albeit, mostly fiction) and authors discussed, it’s all agreeable and amiable in its way, especially in the chapter ‘It Ain’t Broke’ which argues against the charmless e-reader.  Howards End is Not on the Landing gives an excuse to hoard more books but also it’s a lament to the ones sadly abandoned or worse not read; as well as an encouragement to explore the obscurantism of books, to delve into the lesser known and pass on the gems to other lucky and voracious readers.

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Posted by on 21/08/2016 in Autobiography, Book Memories, Essays


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Book Haul the Nth

Finally I can get around to catching up with all the books I have bought in the last couple of months.  I am particularly proud of this lot as there is plenty of quality and variety which will keep me happy in the upcoming months.

WP_20160720_001Currently I am halfway through the mammoth Arguably by Christopher Hitchens and it was by no means an easy choice of pick with all the other books having an equally persuasive argument for my time and attention.  In the en it made sense to read that first so I could catch up on the many outstanding reviews that need doing, whilst not adding many more to the list in the meantime.

WP_20160719_002Hanging around bookshops is not only an exhilarating experience but also reminds me on how narrow I find my field of reading is.  When looking at one’s book collection critically, it is easy to spot many yawning gaps, which is great as they demand plugging with yet another trip and a keen eye for bargains. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 03/08/2016 in Essays, Fiction, History, Lists/Ephemera, Travel


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Days of Reading – Marcel Proust

Books!In these inspiring essays about why we read, Proust explores all the pleasures and trials that we take from books, as well as explaining the beauty of Ruskin and his work, and the joys of losing yourself in literature as a child.

Part of the challenge with Proust is finding plenty of time in which to become intimately involved with his approach to writing.  This is my first reading experience of P. and his style is impressively immersive and made me feel nostalgic for places  and a time I have never experienced.

Plenty of essays ramble on but P. prefers clear concise language whilst being able to digress at will, yet each meandering discovery the reader makes always – eventually – comes back to the original point but makes one feel richer for the detour.

It’s a joy to read, although it is understandable that Proust splits readers due to his technique.  This reader had to change his mindset and learn to soak up the ambience of the prose, rather than feeling I was getting somewhere with plot or idea like I usually would.  In that regard the first few pages were a grind but realising that the author was going to take his time puts the reader either resigns the reader to a long haul or to the appreciation of a slow meditation of life.

The book opens with an essay on John Ruskin’s contribution to the understanding and appreciation of art and architecture, especially inspired by Christianity.  How art in general echoes its greatness (when it is) through the centuries and reaches to us emotionally, each example studied is a communing with antiquity.  It’s a study of us as well as a celebration of what we can achieve through our own creativity.

The essays on childhood memories and in particular of reading books when the mind is still open to the most innocent wonder and imagination is gloriously evocative writing.  Proust appreciates how rereading books brings forth a tangible memory of his formative years, he mirrors the echoing of art down the ages with thoughts, of ideas from our past that define modern life; not to mention timeless characters, books and the universal joy for all seasons and people. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 30/07/2016 in Architecture, Art, Autobiography, Essays, History, Life


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Letters to a Young Contrarian – Christopher Hitchens

HitchSlapIn the book that he was born to write, provocateur and best-selling author Christopher Hitchens inspires future generations of radicals, gadflies, mavericks, rebels, angry young (wo)men, and dissidents. Who better to speak to that person who finds him or herself in a contrarian position than Hitchens, who has made a career of disagreeing in profound and entertaining ways.This book explores the entire range of “contrary positions”-from noble dissident to gratuitous pain in the butt. In an age of overly polite debate bending over backward to reach a happy consensus within an increasingly centrist political dialogue, Hitchens pointedly pitches himself in contrast. He bemoans the loss of the skills of dialectical thinking evident in contemporary society. He understands the importance of disagreement-to personal integrity, to informed discussion, to true progress-heck, to democracy itself. Epigrammatic, spunky, witty, in your face, timeless and timely, this book is everything you would expect from a mentoring contrarian.

Forthright, erudite and outspoken, agree with his views or not Hitch is required reading for all, a brilliant orator, thinker and writer, full of wit and intelligence, logical and uncompromising.  A welcome nod to Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, this is the first book in the ‘Letters to a Young…’ series which gives short guides om ways to live life or pursue careers.

I have spent whole days watching videos of the author on YouTube and not considered the time wasted one bit, now in book form, not only do I find that he once again incisively gets to the heart of whichever matter he chooses to turn his attention to but he also invokes such a wide range of reading material that my book list has been sufficiently topped up for a few more years.

“Be … suspicious … of all those who employ the term ‘we’ or ‘us’ without your permission. This is [a] form of surreptitious conscription … Always ask who this ‘we’ is; as often as not it’s an attempt to smuggle tribalism through the customs.”

A wide range of subjects are tackled with Hitchens’ immense talent and intellect, from faith, the under reported horrors of the Balkans war, The Dreyfuss Affair, Henry Kissinger, the less than palatable side of Mother Teresa, the manipulation of language, socialism, humour and plenty more.  Each chapter is refreshingly honest, nothing is held back, it’s refreshing and clear and applies literature, history, logic and considered persuasive arguments. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 27/02/2016 in Essays, Politics


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Creative Theory, Radical Example – Justice Koolhaas

CreativeTheorySmashwordsThis book offers dizzying and breakneck theories on subjects including digital identity, transhumanism, and blue-chip art celebrities. The introductions outline Koolhaas’s regrounding methodology, poetics, call for Theory Celebrities, and politics of infolution, along with comprehensive interpretations that allow students to choose material without feeling pressured to grasp everything at once.

The book is comprised of two introductions by the translator, six essays, and excerpts from an unfinished novel. The first introduction outlines Koolhaas’s technological foci, her regrounding methodology and poetics, the need for Theory Celebrities, a politics of infolution, her architecture for university reform, and the intransigent refusenikism that arguably contributed to her obscurity. The second introduction is a chapter-by-chapter commentary that guides the student through Koolhaas’s essays and literature:

‘Cybernetics: Nietzsche and Heidegger’
‘Studying Media: Baudrillard and Science Fiction’
‘Literature: Deleuze & Guattari, Kafka, and Joyce’
‘What’s So Wrong About Rant?’
‘Žižek and the Sex Between Emin and Hirst’
‘Methodological Considerations’
‘Nouveau Roman Excerpts: Caliphornia’
The Textual Connexivities chapter lists the works cited.

C. M. Cohen’s comprehensive interpretations mean that the uninitiated Koolhaas student can pick and mix material from this book to suit their purposes without feeling pressured to grasp everything at once.

Every so often, I trawl the internet looking to learn new things at no cost to my malnourished wallet.  Each year I wait in anticipation for what I term ‘student season’, where books are published for free on topics mostly unfamiliar to me and sound really impenetrable.  Why? you may ask, well as a reader I like to be challenged, to spend time reading around a subject and feeling like I have actually understood something new and in-depth by the end of it.
I wouldn’t have picked up this book were it not for the non existent fee, as it isn’t usually something I’d feel comfortable with jumping into at such an advanced level but it does raise an interesting point about the university system and modern day technology.  With search engines taking out all of the effort and time out of finding texts, is it all becoming to easy for students?

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Posted by on 16/04/2015 in Art, Essays, Languages, Philosophy


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What is Religion? and Other Writings – Leo Tolstoy


An insight into Tolstoy as there was no dust jacket to amuse you with.

Sat in work’s canteen, I found myself enjoying a bit of Tolstoy, nothing beats having a paid fifteen minute break to sit and read a book.  This book wouldn’t have been my obvious choice for a début work read but it was something I had started and quite simply didn’t wish to distract myself with another book.

I remember picking up my somewhat battered 1902 version from a wonderful second-hand shop four or so years ago and it is worth every penny of the £4.95, I paid for it.  Why somebody would let this go I have no idea.  Tolstoy writes with a simplicity and a logic that whilst sometimes seeming a little repetitive, makes his points with an effective and compelling clarity.

The primary essay centres on Tolstoy asking what is religion and its essence?   He begins by analysing the key message of all religions, what they have in common, the teachings, in particular Christianity (and the teachings of Jesus) and how far the established church has diverted from certain tenets of its own faith.

In this and the other writings, class is a big factor for the author, asking why small groups of powerful people be it in the Church or not are working for their own ends and not for the good of everybody.  Tolstoy also asks us to consider the logic of some of the dogma that surrounds the modern-day state of the church, these are issues that are around today and seem to still be largely ignored. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 29/09/2014 in Essays, Philosophy


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