Everytime I have an existential blogging crisis – on average once a week on a Friday – I decide I cannot read fast enough nor get my thoughts in order to post every week. I am thus in awe of bloggers who achieve this. Sigh! Onwards and upwards, as the poet didn’t say.
I only read three books in April so it doesn’t take long to wrap up April! Nevertheless I enjoyed my three books greatly which I keep telling myself is most of the point. And here I still am. So thank you, thank you, to my followers and those who persevere with my ramblings.
I am becoming a bit of a non-fiction addict; also a ‘lives of the artists’ addict. As well as the two books by Celia Paul I reviewed in my last couple of posts, over the last year I have read a biography of Frida Kahlo and re-read my favourite epistolary work which is Vincent Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo. To my tally I have added a life of Beethoven and the life and letters of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky written by his brother, Modeste. Also an extraordinary autobiographical account of the life of (now exiled) Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and his poet father, Ai Qing.
I have worked my way through much of Paul McCartney’s two volume account of how he (and John Lennon) penned the lyrics to some very iconic songs. I enjoyed finding out the inspiration behind these songs, but McCartney being such a private person gives very little away. But there is the occasional telling comment such as how he wishes he could take his wife Nancy out for a bowl of pasta without someone photographing them.
They always say that most artists lead quiet lives and that you cannot discern the source of artistic talent from looking at biographical details. On one level this must be true, but from my reading it does not seem to me that artists have boring lives. At the end of 2020 I read Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath Heather Clark’s momentous work which comes in slightly under 900 pages and reads like a thriller, also an autobiography of the great Catalan cellist Pablo Casals. Not to mention my recent and now most favourite read on the planet Story of a Life by Konstantin Paustovsky
In contrast some of the fiction I have read over the last year has been quite disappointing, with my biggest frowns and sounds of gnashing teeth reserved for Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun and Elif Shafak’s Island of Missing Trees! For two such masters of their art I felt they should both know better. However I realise that many disagree with me (the very thought)! These two books have had honours and awards heaped upon them so I must be wrong.
Exit stage left pursued by bear.
So where next?
I have decided as far as possible to keep on with my lives of the artists theme. Rune Sister has given me a heads up about a book by Julia Copus about the poet Charlotte Mew (1869-1928) “a quietly heroic life lived in London’s Bloomsbury” says the blurb. This chimes well with the Celia Paul books that I have just read as my current obsession with the idea of living in this part of London forever redolent of literary and artistic life.
Also I will be trying to do some reading around the situation in Ukraine.
I Stand for Peace Reading and Blogging Event which runs from 1st May to 1st September 2022 is an event hosted by Brona’s Books in which we try to unpick some of the horrific strands that have built up to the current situation. I have decided to take part in this event and will be talking about what I read – although gaining any in depth knowledge of the situation is a thin hope without some broader connection but I have to try.
Andrei Kurkov is a major Ukrainian author who landed firmly on my radar after I watched a remarkable interview between him and Philippe Sands (best-selling author of East West Street) online. What a courageous man and so dignified. He sat there during the first days of the Putin’s latest bout of Ukraine madness, at his desk in his apartment in the Middle of Kyiv talking to the camera, while the world went crazy outside his window. Putin, he told us, was afraid of nuclear attack and was hiding in the Ural mountains. I have just read Kurkov’s Ukraine Diaries which I will endeavour to talk about next week. I will also read his fiction – Death and the Penguin – and Kurkov’s most recent book Gray Bees. I understand this latter story concerns two men who courageously remain in their village – the only ones who do after everyone else has left – as war rumbles around them.
Has anyone read any of these?
Timothy Snyder is a writer and academic whose expertise lies in Eastern Europe. His book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin is on topic, although it will be a far from cheerful book as it looks at mass slaughter of civilians by both dictators – but it seems to be a necessary starting point for trying to understand the current misery besetting Ukraine. For example, Snyder posits that for Stalin, Ukraine was the fulcrum upon which Stalin’s ‘soviet construction’ would succeed or fail. In order to achieve this his dictat was that ‘Food must be wrested from the peasants by collectivisation and terror’. This led to famine which caused the deaths of 3 million civilians.