There’s a new reading app which summarises books like War and Peace and Thomas Piketty’s, Capital in the Twenty First Century into a few paragraphs so that you can go to a dinner party and talk about them. Yes, it’s true.
I won’t be doing that – either downloading the app or going to dinner parties. Not that I would be completely against the idea but dinner parties seem thin on the ground at Rune Corner at the moment. Could this be something to do with the pandemic? Could it be related to the fact that everyone is exhausted, aka depressed, anxious, shattered, agoraphobic, foggy brained etc.
It’s been quite a week here at Rune Corner. I apologise for being late with my post but it is a miracle that I’m here at all having narrowly missed death by tree (scary photo taken by yours truly) during Storm Eunice and then the roof of the house lifted off. Like a scene from The Wizard of Oz here, we were, only sans Dorothy and Toto.
I envy those who are prepared with lists and lists of their ’22 reading. I’m not at all organised and am just reading based on whim at the moment. I have just finished rereading Alice Hattrick’s book ill Feelings (already reviewed here) about her life with myalgic encephalitis or chronic fatigue syndrome. The more I read this book, the angrier I get on behalf of all of those (the majority are women) that suffer from these conditions whose symptoms are not taken seriously, who are called ‘hysterical’ or ‘malingerers’. It is only since the onset of Long Covid that any kind of serious research is being done into this debilitating disease.
I am having a musical genius moment. No, not me personally. I wish. But thanks to Maria Popova’s wonderful blog The Marginalian, I am reading The Life & Letters of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, written by one of the great composer’s younger brothers, Modeste Tchaikovsky (The Library of Alexandria). My trusty kindle informs me I have 12 hours and 50 minutes left in the book. It stretches to some 800 pages. So far I love it.
I can’t believe it is already more than a year since I read Pablo Casals Joys and Sorrows and reviewed Jan Caeyers Beethoven: A Life on this blog. Such a feast of musical greatness is upon me that it seems only appropriate to include a reference to
Paul McCartney’s massive two volume book of Lyrics. His prose isn’t quite as great as his songwriting maybe but these are fascinating stories attached to songs that I’ve known and loved forever.
McCartney writes: “I’ve written a lot of songs, but certain ones stand out, and if I had to choose what I thought was my best work over the years, I would probably include ‘I Saw Her Standing There’. No I would definitely include this one.”
“I don’t know where I dredged it from, but in the great trawling net of my youth it just got caught up like a dolphin.”
I think that is a wonderful expression. And it’s a great song. One of my all time favourites. I loved their earlier work the best. One of the points that McCartney makes is that when he reviews these older songs he is looking back at the work of an eighteen-to-twenty year old boy. We who grew up with these songs tend to think they came into the world fully formed but it is not of course the case.
Well she was just seventeen
The second line of that particular song, he writes, was going to be ‘She was no beauty Queen’. John Lennon wisely objected and it became ‘well, you know what I mean’. This was truly an age of innocence.
Below are some books with their blurbs that came into my inbox from Daunt’s Books website. I can’t claim to have read any of them yet but I thought they might be worth a look.
This is Britain: but not as we know it. THEY begin with a dead dog, shadowy footsteps, confiscated books. Soon the National Gallery is purged; eerie towers survey the coast; mobs stalk the countryside destroying artworks – and those who resist. THEY capture dissidents – writers, painters, musicians, even the unmarried and childless – in military sweeps, ‘curing’ these subversives of individual identity. Survivors gather together as cultural refugees, preserving their crafts, creating, loving and remembering. But THEY make it easier to forget … Kay Dick's lost dystopian masterpiece was originally published in 1977. A plea for individuality, queerness and artistic freedom; and a gripping piece of imaginative fiction, They feels more unnerving and urgent than ever.
Could there be a greater testimony to the power of poetry than this? The stasi tried to train their own poets.
In 1982, East Germany's fearsome secret police - convinced that authors were embedding subversive messages in their work - decided to train their own writers. The Stasi Poetry Circle reveals how a group of soldiers and border guards gathered for monthly meetings at a heavily guarded military compound in socialist East Berlin to learn how to write poetry. Philip Oltermann spent five years rifling through Stasi files, digging up lost volumes of poetry from mouldy basements and tracking down this red poets society's surviving members to uncover this little-known story of the famously ruthless intelligence agency's obsession with literature. A brilliantly readable literary detective story filled with spies who were moulded into poets; poets who spied on fellow writers.
It is the day of her younger brother’s wedding and our narrator is struggling to compose her toast. She was nine years old when she travelled with her parents to Thailand to meet her brother Danny, and while their childhood in California was a happy one, when she holds their story up to the light, it refracts in ways she doesn’t expect. How to put words to their kind of love? What follows is a heartfelt letter addressed to Danny and an exploration of their years growing up and the distance now between them. In Immediate Family, Ashley Nelson Levy explores the complexities of motherhood, infertility and race, and the many definitions of family. Deeply moving, at times very funny, this is a novel luminous and fierce with love and honesty.
This one sounds a terrifying and necessary read.
In the Victorian era, in the shadow of Darwin’s ideas about evolution, a new full-blooded attempt to impose control over our unruly biology began to grow in the clubs, salons and offices of the powerful. Eugenics was enshrined in a movement that bastardised science, and enjoyed huge popular and political support for sixty years. It went on to be a cornerstone of Nazi ideology, and forged a path that led directly to the gates of Auschwitz. Today, with new gene editing techniques, very real conversations are happening – including in the heart of British government – about tinkering with the DNA of our unborn children, to make them smarter, fitter, stronger. Adam Rutherford's Control is a fascinating and urgently needed examination that unpicks one of the defining and most destructive ideas of the twentieth century. To know this history is to inoculate ourselves against its being repeated.
And talking of Paul McCartney, I remember entering a pub quiz when one of the questions was a sheet of images of about 20 images of classic album covers and you had to guess the name of the album and the artist. I knew Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. And everyone got Queen’s Night at the Opera. That was about it for me. Here’s a book for album artwork geeks who would have done a lot better than me at that question.
Founded in 1968 by Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson, Hipgnosis transformed album cover art with their high-concept designs for Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Paul McCartney et al. This stunningly produced new book by Aubrey Powell tells the often incredible stories behind the art that defined 1970s rock.