Alice in Wonderland at the British Library: a ‘sacred text’ and reinterpretations

Alice in Wonderland at the British Library: a ‘sacred text’ and reinterpretations

There was another fascinating exhibition on at the British Library when I went there last week to see West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song. The Alice in Wonderland exhibition, on until April 2016, marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s story.  I recently finished reading The Annotated Alice, a deeply engrossing labour of love edited by Martin Gardner, so I was irresistibly drawn to a captivating exhibition that explores the enduring attraction of Carroll’s book. Continue reading “Alice in Wonderland at the British Library: a ‘sacred text’ and reinterpretations”

West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song at the British Library

West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song at the British Library

Passing through London on our way back from the David Jones show in Chichester, I decided to take a look at the current exhibition at the British Library: West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song. It’s an ambitious survey of literature, art and music from the great African empires of the Middle Ages to expressions of rapid cultural and political change across West Africa in recent decades. Continue reading “West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song at the British Library”

The Mighty Dead: Adam Nicolson on Homer

<em>The Mighty Dead</em>: Adam Nicolson on Homer

I should make it clear at the outset that I have read neither the Iliad nor the Odyssey, so I came to Adam Nicolson’s latest book, The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters, perhaps like many in the same boat: keen to understand why these mighty poems still exert such a powerful hold over the modern imagination. Continue reading The Mighty Dead: Adam Nicolson on Homer”

Re-reading Dickens: Hard Times in Coketown

Re-reading Dickens: Hard Times in Coketown

Dickens had a genuine and long-standing concern for the condition of the industrial working class, but when he came to write Hard Times, a novel that makes that subject its main concern, his imaginative powers failed him. His general view of society and the relations between social classes enfeebled the book’s plot and characterisation. That’s not to say that it doesn’t contain scenes of deliciously merciless satire, but it does strike me as being the weakest of the novels that I have encountered so far in this project to re-read, or read for the first time, all of Dickens’s works. Continue reading “Re-reading Dickens: Hard Times in Coketown”

Tim Dee’s Four Fields: ‘Without fields – no us. Without us – no fields.’

Tim Dee’s <em> Four Fields</em>: ‘Without fields – no us. Without us – no fields.’

Tim Dee is a BBC radio producer and a very fine writer. His first book The Running Sky was a superb meditation not just on bird-watching, but on life.  Last month I read his latest book Four Fields, in which Dee’s subject is, broadly, the way in which humans across the planet have shaped the landscape through cultivation. Succinctly summing up the idea that lends unity to his book, Dee writes:

Without fields – no us. Without us – no fields.

Continue reading “Tim Dee’s Four Fields: ‘Without fields – no us. Without us – no fields.’”

Berlin: books that created the city that haunts our imagination

Berlin: books that created the city that haunts our imagination

All cities are geological. You can’t take three steps without encountering ghosts.
– Ivan Chtcheglov

When people of my generation travel to Berlin they arrive with their heads stuffed already with images of the city soaked up from decades of newspaper and newsreel coverage and from books – both non-fiction and a plethora of spy fiction and novels that have created the city that haunts our imagination.

This summer we spent a few days in Berlin, and before we left I read a few books either about or set in the city, revisiting some old favourites and catching up on some more recently published works. Here then is a quick survey of some of the books that allowed me to walk the streets of Berlin before I even went there. Continue reading “Berlin: books that created the city that haunts our imagination”

Satantango: humanity flounders in the mud

<em>Satantango</em>: humanity flounders in the mud

There’s a DVD I’ve had for years but never watched, except for the first ten minutes or so. I’ve always been overwhelmed at the prospect of the long haul that lies ahead. Made by the director Béla Tarr, it’s a seven hour long adaptation of the first novel by fellow Hungarian László Krasznahorkai, called Sátántangó.

The book was published in Hungary in 1985, and Bela Tarr’s film came out nine years later.  But it was only in 2012 that an English translation of the novel appeared. Lent it by my friend Dave, I finished it in just less than the time it would have taken me to watch the film version. But what to make of it? Continue reading Satantango: humanity flounders in the mud”