Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Books read (and films seen) this year of grace 2012


The High Window*, Raymond Chandler
The Long Goodbye*, Raymond Chandler

Muhammad, Karen Armstrong
Stalingrad Anthony Beevor 
Defying Hitler, Sebastian Hafner
Berlin at War: Life and Death in Hitler’s Capital 1939-45, Roger Moorehouse
This Business of Living: Diaries 1925-50* Cesare Pavese
Relapse into Bondage Alexandru Cretianu
Friends and Heroes*, Olivia Manning
Waugh in Abyssinia Evelyn Waugh

History of the Roumanians* R.W.Seton-Watson 
A History of Romania Kurt Treptow

Bold means I loved it. An asterisk means I have read it before. 

What a masculine, middle-aged, philistine and shamefully short list. I am even reading military history, which is the last refuge of the middle-aged male. In fact I tried Beevor's Stalingrad on a recommendation from an aesthete friend but it bored and repelled me. 

I read Chandler for the prose style not for the plot, though he is  a good storyteller. I thought when 14 that The Long Goodbye was too long and too much trying to be a proper novel. Now I absolutely loved it except the ending with the silly twist which I merely skimmed without attempting to understand it.

Karen Armstrong is not worth reading as she does not mention that the evidence for her subject's life is extremely late indeed (two centuries after the event) but the new book by Tom Holland on the origins of the Koran sounds good. Holland apparently went to my college years after me and took a Double First in Classics and History and has many books to his credit. I try not to be jealous.

Hafner's book, to my great surprise, an account of his uneventful life in Berlin in 1933, found among his papers and published ten years ago, is absolutely wonderful. It is beautifully written and deeply horrifying because of the sheer normality of his life as he describes it in Berlin in 1933 and the ease and rapidity with which Germans accepted Nazism and Nazi indoctrination. I hope it becomes a classic and is read in a hundred years' time as it deserves to be. People follow like sheep. I saw a somewhat faint parallel with another totalitarian ideology with a whiff of sulphur, political correctness, which has made cowards of us all in recent years. 


The Moorehouse book is not particularly well written or strikingly insightful, but it efficiently covers the ground. The story of Stella Kübler, the beautiful blonde Jewess who was used by the Nazis as bait to uncover Jews hiding in Berlin, chilled my blood. One solitary Jew was permitted to survive in the Jewish cemetery burying Jews according to Jewish practice. He was still alive when the Russians came. This is what a friend of mine Madeleine Farrar-Hockley calls Hitler porn but my excuse is that I know very little about German domestic history during the Nazi period, the subject is important and I am interested in biographies of cities, writing as I am one a book on Bucharest. 

Olivia Manning's third volume in the Balkan trilogy, set in Greece, which I reread while spending the weekend in Athens and Hydra, inclines me to think that the reason I like the first two so much is because of my love of and interest in Romania not Manning's writing. She does not create characters. Her characters are clearly drawn from life in many cases and therefore do not come alive. It is the invented ones like Yaki who live, although Dennis Deletant tells me most of her characters were amalgams and Yaki is partly based on a free-loader in their set.

Please click here for my review of Waugh in Abyssinia which I strongly recommend to everyone who likes Waugh.

I am ashamed that only now after owning the book eight or nine years have i read Seton-Watson all the way through. A very good book which is still the leading work in English after Keith Hitchens. And written in clear prose as if for the intelligent layman not for other historians, as books were written in the 1930s. T.S. Eliot wrote in the 30s about the dissociation of sensibility that took place after the Renaissance when men were up to date on everything from poetry to astronomy but since the 1930s this dissociation of sensibility has gone a very great deal further. Reading Seton-Watson inspired these thoughts.

Keith Treptow gave me his History of Romania in 1999 and I never read it until now, thinking it looked light-weight, but on reading it I found it taught me a lot. it is disfigured by some big mistakes and bad proof-reading and sometimes by terrible prose but it is lively and stimulated thought. Dennis Deletant has explained to me that it was not really written by Treptow but a group of Romanian historians and was written in a great hurry for Adrian Nastase to be able to distribute copies as presents when the visited the USA as Foreign Minister in the 1990s.

This Business of Living: Diaries 1925-50 by Cesare Pavese, seemed to me at 23 a remarkably deep book but now I find it uninteresting and read it simply to understand his depressive psychology rather than to understand the world. He did coin some wonderful aphorisms but I did not find any of them in these diaries. Here are some:

A man is never completely alone in this world. At the worst, he has the company of a boy, a youth, and by and by a grown man - the one he used to be.

Artists are the monks of the bourgeois state.

He knows not his own strength that hath not met adversity.

Life is pain and the enjoyment of love is an anesthetic.
No woman marries for money; they are all clever enough, before marrying a millionaire, to fall in love with him first.

One stops being a child when one realizes that telling one's trouble does not make it any better.

'No woman marries for money; they are all clever enough, before marrying a millionaire, to fall in love with him first.' Thackeray said this before him, I am almost sure.

Films seen

The Blue Dahlia (1947)*
The Brasher Doubloon (1947)
Albert Nobbs (2011)
In a Better World (2011)

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