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Archive for September 16th, 2019


This is a delightful book in the genre of what I have read and how it has affected me; I feature it since I too use paper clips to keep my place ….

“Some people say that life is the thing, but I much prefer reading.” — Logan Pearsall Smith

To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive. –Robert Louis Stevenson

Friends,

Another meme about favorite books was started more than week ago now and again I joined in. You may recall the first meme asked for “10 books that have influenced me most in my life:” I wrote considerable sized blogs and then transferred the titles here. One problem with these memes is quite a number of people seem not to pay attention to what is asked for but just give “favorite” books. Seven books I have loved is quite a different questions from 10 books that have strongly influenced my life. Another quirk in this second one is the originator said one must not comment on the book, no explanation no review, just the cover. Why would someone place such a limitation on telling about 7 books I have loved? To encourage more people to do it? one person said the idea was to promote reading; surely then some idea of the content of the book(s) and why the person loved it are relevant. In any case the question is simpler: I tried to prove the 10 books influenced my life. The objection was made both times that such lists are hypocritical, people posing, pretending to like a fashionable or super-respected book. I’ve seen lists where that’s obviously true. But this is not true for everyone; there are people who can be sincere. You were to list one a day; I kept to that.

So here (once again), now Day 1, my favorite book, a book I have loved since I was 12-13, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility: These are not the covers I read it in, that was a plain brown book with light gold lettering, part of a set of English classic novels my father had in the family bookshelves. The cover of the paperback edition I have read most often and is from the literal book I have most loved, and is very worn, and an explanation (and image) may be found in my blogs on books which most strongly influenced my life. I put here covers which derive from two beloved movies featuring some of my favorite actresses:

For Day 2, another book I have deeply loved, Elsa Morante’s La Storia, the story of Iduzza, then as years go by her disabled (epileptic, autistic) son, and then his dog against the backdrop of history from the 1930s to aftermath of WW2. I read it slowly in Italian (had no English translation) so when I would weep I had the problem of wetting two books, my Italian dictionary and my beloved novel becaue I had to stop to weep every so often. Despite the vast canvas, I think if it as in the tradition of Richardson’s Clarissa (choice no 2 for 10 books that influenced me). In 20th & 21st century Italian, Natalia Ginzburg and Elena Ferrante are followers of Elsa Morante at her best ….


The English covers rightly emphasizes the heroine, and here the first girl child she gives birth to ….

For Day 3 of books I have deeply loved, I remember Trollope’s The Small House at Allington. I cited Trollope’s Dr Thorne as my 4th choice of 10 books that most strongly influenced me because it was Dr Thorne that set me on this road I’m still on, but ask me which one have I loved best and I have a problem because I’m torn between Small House and Can You Forgive Her? Recently having reread CYFH? I have ringing in my ears still the punitive attitudes the narrator takes towards Alice who I wanted to love best. Trollope’s stinging sneer at Lily Dale occurs outside the novel and in response to those at the time over-sentimentalizing her. I loved her and her choice as I loved Mr Harding and his. Madame Max another favorite heroine is only a small part of Phineas Finn, and anyway I find The Small House so satisfying for many reasons and characters and themes beyond Lily’s. The picture below has the cover of the copy I first read. I probably also choose it because it repeats the paradigms and themes of Austen’s S&S. I believe Small House is one of those novels by Trollope hardly ever or never out of print since it was first published. I also have loved Millais’s illustrations for it, viz. Mr Harding meets Adolphus Crosbie

For Day 4 of books I’ve loved I chose Eleanor Clark’s Rome and A Villa. I loved this one so I am eager to tell others of this treasure. I first came across it as a chapter in the New Yorker (remember the long long essays in the middle once upon a time?) and then bought the book. It is everything a travel book should be: philosophical, beautiful in description, rooted in history, the imagination, answering the needs of the soul; immersing you in Rome and Italian culture, life, poetry. The villa in question is Hadrian’s Villa. I read (the closest writing to a review I can find) and reread it. It has recently (not that long ago) been re-issued with a new cover, which I admit I like better than the one I have at home:

Day 5 of cite a book I have loved and provide an image of one of the cover illustrations it has been graced by. There has not been much citation of poetry; for me the poetry of Charlotte Smith is my fifth inevitable choice. I just love her poetry, never tire of it, but first read them in library reading rooms because there was no single book: I found microfilms and microfiches of her Elegiac Stanzas; then in 1993 one of my heroes, the scholar Stuart Curran, produced a volume of The [More or Less Complete] Poems of Charlotte Smith. The cover is not exciting (just darkish pink with brownish-red lettering), so I’m torn between two more recent covers of the selected poem anthologies which are beginning to come out. She is known as the mother of romantic poets, the way Wordsworth is the father; since those dark ages days, most of her novels have appeared in print, and I am proud to say one of these is my edition of her Ethelinde, or The Recluse of the Lake: I typed all 500+ pages to make a good text, wrote the introduction, notes, annotations; it was published by Valancourt, and I took it to one of the two thus far Charlotte Smith conferences where I met Curran!


A slender but good selection for those who want to start (she has poetry based on science and the natural world)

For Day 6 a book I was surprised into loving Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark. I had begun to watch the 1970s Poldark series in the early 1990s because I was studying film adaptations that were very popular, and as I watched the serial drama episodes (to my surprise as I’d read the usual negative reviews — “swashbuckling” and other stigmatizing terms), I realized I liked it very much; that it was well done, characters interesting, but I felt that the books behind were probably much deeper and I would appreciate the films more if I read the books. I bought the cheapest copy I could find, not being sure I would like the book, and found I couldn’t put it down, I kept reading it where-ever I went: I particularly loved the Verity chapter where she returns to her room after she is thwarted of her lover, the chapters where Ross and Demelza first make love, and then the Pilchards clinched it. I went on to read the first four books, watch the film adaptation of the first year, then the next three, and watch the next year, and then (lack of films intervening) just read the whole 12. I’ve since read RP and Demelza many times, the first quartet quite a number; less so the first trilogy; I ilke the last 5 books, but it’s The Twisted Sword another masterwork that comes up to the first 7. And now written there papers for conferences, and many many blogs and tell myself I am writing a book and maybe will write one. I’d have to find a vanity press (if such things still exist) were I try to publish it, so it may stay on my desk. I would need help to put it on my website.Despite reading my first copies in the splendid 1970s covers with their images of Cornish landscapes, I chose the early covers of both Ross Poldark and Demelza as a pair as they suggest we are moving into another realm, historical fiction.

Now I’ve come to Day 7 I am torn — like I’ve seen others be. I seem to have several to cite. I have loved far more than 7 books and loved them in different ways. So I’ll focus on one more because I read and reread it in the early 1990s, was almost obsessed when I taught it, making calendars, writing up lectures, and I’ll mention two more briefly. So for Day 7 my choice is A.S. Byatt’s Possession; in teaching Booker Prize books I later discovered it was the awarding of this book as first prize that brought the Booker into Big Time Advertising prominence and it sold fantastically well. So no need for me to describe or review except to say it has all the characteristics I’ve long most loved in literary women’s romances, I love the skeins of allusions, the imitation poetry, the scenery …. the story & some of the characters. The first cover is the one I first was allured by; I found an image blessedly without ads all over it. The second is a recent cover, much more tasteful, more respectable (so to speak): I am glad to see Byatt’s photo on the cover. I nowadays think her best fiction, Still Life, and much enjoy her biographies, literary critical essays, some of her realistic short stories (especially memorable “The July Ghost”)

As for the other two, I do so love the books of Iris Origo, and also Caroline Moorehead’s biography of her. I read avidly Origo’s book on Byron, Teresa Guiccioli, and their last Italian and Greek years (The Last Attachment), on Leopardi, but the one that truly counted and I’ve read more than once is her powerful diary on WW2 in Italy, as she took care of herself and her community: The cover is closest to the one I have: the image covers the front page fully, is beautifully reproduced in this first edition:

This last many may not have heard of, but those who have know how exquisitely passionate, understanding, and beautiful is the story Robilant drew from the letters of Andrea Memmor and Giustiniana Wynne and the world of 18th century Venice they lived in. A Venetian Affair:

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As with my first set, I found myself irresistibly led to tell of a book and author whose work Jim loved, & which connects to one of mine: I accompanied Eleanor Clark’s Rome and A Villa by a travel book I know Jim loved, and read around the same time I did Clark’s book: Norman Douglas’s Old Calabria. The wonderful thing about Old Calabria beyond Douglas’s style, outlook, that he was a rare gay man to let you know he was gay, is his book is filled with photographs he took. I have the book still in a plain hardback we found in a vast used bookstore: here is the cover of a more recent edition. Who knows not Douglas’s South Wind (Jim loved that one too) too: a wonderful novel that anticipates the fiction of Virginia Woolf: it’s all conversations.

A happy time when he and I read these books around the same time: a few years we went to stay in Rome for 5 weeks with both daughters in 1994 (also traveling to Naples, Pompeii, and for 3 days stayed on the beach in Ischia. An FB and 18th century friend said this “sounded dreamy,” so I replied: it was a fraught trip where we were learning how to travel for the first time, but we did go because I was teaching myself Italian, translating Vittoria Colonna, and Jim reading about Italy (he also has a public school background in Latin) and had long loved Italian opera …. Looking back sadly now I wish I had behaved better, but then all of us were struggling to adjust. Paradoxically the book that enabled me to endure the lows of that trip was Trollope’s Last Chronicle of Barset, which I found in a book market in a square, battered copy in English. It was August, and much was closed, and air-conditioning non-existent.

Ellen

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