Saturday, 17 February 2018

Books read since last summer

Reading War and Peace intermittently and lackadaisically took up almost two years, not because it is dull but because it is hard to read when the internet exists. Since then I have read a few books and hope to get off the internet as much as possible. Giving it up for Lent (video, audio and this blog excepted) is an experiment.

Bold means I loved it and highly recommend it. * means I have read it before.

Last year:

War and Peace - 
the best novel I ever read, toppling The Charterhouse of Parma.

Lady in the Lake*
, Raymond Chandler, transcendent prose.

Angelica's Smile, Andrea Camilleri. I read it for the Sicilian atmosphere but it felt rather pointless as it wasn't exciting nor a Golden Age whodunnit. But then whodunnits are usually pointless too, except written by a master like Edmund Crispin or Michael Innes.

Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power, Andrew Nagorski. It disappointed me. I am much less interested in what Americans thought of the Nazis than in what the British did and perhaps the Americans were less sophisticated than their British or European contemporaries. A huge omission from the eyewitnesses is Lothrop Stoddard.

Fires of Faith, Eamon Duffy - dry, not well written. Mary I's brief reign is fascinating and poignant. Eamon Duffy makes the obvious point that there was great support in England for Catholicism in her time. Apparently this was not well known to non-Catholics until he wrote.

Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis

Gryll Grange*, Thomas Love Peacock, unfinished. He becomes too donnish here. A charming reminder of a more civilised age. I wonder if I am a Thomas Love Peacock character.

A Very Short Introduction to God, John Bowker. 

Wish You Were Here, Travis Elborough. How does such utter rubbish get published?

Holy Legionary Youth: Fascist Activism in Interwar Romania, Roland Clark, a dull book, partly because arranged around themes rather than by chronology.

War and Democracy, Paul Gottfried (collected journalism)

The Quiet American*, Graham Greene. I enjoyed it but I heard the wheels grinding. It gave Saigon, by now a modern and dull city full of five star hotels and luxury shops, a glamour.

This year:

Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff. I wrote about this cause célèbre here.

Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity - Luke Timothy Johnson. He distinguishes four things any religion may offer: divine benefits; moral transformation; transcending the world and stabilising the world.

All Out War, Tim Shipman - thorough to a fault, it gives the impression that the EU referendum result was almost inevitable once Messrs. Gove and Johnson backed Leave, which was not at all apparent at the time. It has more detail about the referendum campaign than anyone in 2018 would care about, but it's very good to read a book with a happy (and to me, at the time, surprise) ending.

The Battle Lost And Won, Olivia Manning - very good indeed - Tolstoyan. Much better than the Bucharest books, despite the absence of Bucharest. Olivia Manning loved War and Peace and it clearly has influenced her a lot in the Levant Trilogy of which this is the middle novel.

The Sum Of Things, Olivia Manning - also very  good, but too much plot (she is tying up ends) and at times melodramatic. A grave weakness with the six book sequence is that it is impossible to care in the slightest for any of the characters whose ends are being tied up in surprising and sometimes painful ways. The remarkable achievement is that despite this the books are good and enjoyable. The third novel, set in Athens, which I have read twice, is for me the weakest but it was the author's favourite.

Olivia Manning: A Woman at War, Deirdre David - a disappointing biography that tells us nothing much about its subject's year in Bucharest that we don't learn from the Balkan Trilogy.  Dierdre David assumes that Olivia is Harriet Pringle and her Communist husband Reggie Smith is Guy - so did the reader. Miss David goes off on irrelevant diversions to praise the Beveridge Report and condemn Enoch Powell. Olivia Manning's dismay at mass immigration in the 1960s earns a strong ticking off.

Stepan Bandera: The Life and Afterlife of a Ukrainian Nationalist, Grzegorz Rossolinski-Liebe - dry, combative, intended to destroy its subject's reputation, which as far as I am concerned it does amply. How few academics can write.

Starting Wednesday of this week, sans internet:

The Fate of Romanian Culture, Mircea Eliade, 1952 - a little pamphlet I at last read about Romania's importance to the world. How much has been ruined since then by Communism. Now Romania is enduring the emptying of the countryside, mass emigration, globalism, liberalism and the EU. Despite these things Romania remains a profound and spiritual place that has much to teach the world.

A Very Short Introduction to the Meaning of Life, Terry Eagleton, a short tour de force.

A History in Fragments*, Richard Vinen, very good essays on, among other things, the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe as management buy outs. He says that the whole of Western European history since 1945 has been a meditation on the Nazis.

The Dictators*, Richard Overy, who gave me a scholarship but left my college before I went up.

The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, John Mearsheimer. Good but a lot has happened since it was published in 2001 just before Al Qaeda attacked.

Hitler: Beyond Evil and Tyranny, R.H.S. Stolfi. A highly recommended and original look at Hitler.

The Glass Palace, Amitav Ghov - a work in progress, as it has been since my first visit to Burma, but it is a very good yarn, with feminist and anti-colonial pieties instead of the imperialistic ones of G.H. Henty or H. Rider Haggard. More than just a yarn, but less than a big novel.

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