Friday, June 17, 2011

Beach reading

I remember sitting on a beach with friends in Normandy.  One was reading a primer on the philosophy of religion, one was reading Karl Barth, another was reading a weighty tome on the future of Christian Democracy in Europe. I was reading Dostoyevsky - the Devils - which I subsequently threw across the room in a momentary frustration at the endless, spiraling emoting! Only Margaret appeared to be 'holiday sane' -she was reading Zadie Smith's 'White Teeth'!

I was thinking on this as I pack for summer vacation in Montenegro. Somehow taking my new acquired 'kindle' feels like cheating. I do not have to sit down carefully thinking what to bring - except, of course, I am taking 'real' books as well.

I am continuing to work my way through the works of Neil M Gunn - the next novel is 'The Key of the Chest'. I am haunted by his work with their blend of realistic evocation of Highland life, woven with the complexities of particular character, shot through with the possibilities of spiritual illumination.

The second novel is the 'Jewel in the Crown' - the first of Paul Scott's Raj Quartet - his masterly exploration of the last days of empire in India. It is a wonderfully complex set of novels. I read it first when living in Nizhny Novgorod, reading all four books in quick succession. They evoke two cultures in a complex dance of love and hate and have a series of characters strikingly memorable including one of the most compelling delineations of evil in literature.

Matthew Crawford's philosophically and practically informed exploration of the nature of work comes next - well-reviewed and I heard him on Start the Week, pricking interest; and, in a related space, Wendell Berry's 'The Gift of Good Land'.

This was the first of Berry's that I read and embarked on one of the richest reading experiences available with a contemporary author. Essayist, novelist, short story writer, poet and farmer, he is my candidate for the sanest person alive - and one whose work has been a continuous source of illumination. Two moments reverberate in my mind, both from novels: an image of what it means to be a parent, a continuous caring trepidation and an image of our family connection: a room through which we pass is present, shared time, and death carries us to other rooms of a shared house.

Didier Maleuvre's 'The Horizon: A History of Our Infinite Longing' is a cultural history of a particular set of ways of being and looking and what they have meant. It is one of those books that promises much and which I am instinctively drawn but who knows whether it will deliver! The holiday wild card...

But then there is the sea, sun, sand...

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