Wednesday 27 July 2022


Dear Reader,

I started this blog eight years ago, which makes it mature, even ancient, for a blog. I started because I was curious to know, after thirty years of teaching literature, what I had to say about the books I read now, according to whim, week by week, chosen along my own bookshelves, in bookshops, in my own time. What do I have to say, why do I have to say, now there is no one to say it to? 

As an adolescent, when my diary was young, I listed all the books I read, with a brief comment, like Good, Very Good, Incomprehensible, or Rubbish. A blog —  a resigned, persistent word, like slog, and bog — is a public place with stats and labels and search descriptions, putative readers and pliant, zealous bots from all over, going about their obedient, astral business, day and night. A blog is a format. The diary book, on the other hand, is only what it is, a book, with blank and then written pages. No passwords. No secret language. No algorithm. No one reads it except me. When I was fourteen I wrote with an awareness that someone might read it—my mother, my sister—and created a diligent schoolgirl worried about maths tests. Now I write with only an awareness, if any, of my own re-reading.

I'm aware of who some of my blog readers are, aware of which countries are most active, bots or humans, (USA and Ireland, forays into middle Europe) and that changes things again. Some readers have said that the shifts from one book to another are hard if you don't know the books or the writers. I have a past, I'm liable to change. My bookshelves are many-voiced. I walk up and down waiting for something to strike me. If you had a TV, said a carpenter many years ago, looking at my bookshelves, my records, my esoteric loudspeakers, you wouldn't need any of that. 

I am a creature of habit. I have kept a diary since I was fourteen. Once I have started something (making kefir, making bread, growing vegetables, doing yoga, writing a blog), I find it hard to stop. I read what catches my eye on the bookshelves — this week it was Robert Musil stories—what I come upon in Waterstones—They, by Kay Dick, for example, was prominent last time I looked. I met Kay Dick in Brighton once. I was reading William Gerhardie at the time, bad literature I loved to read after the years I spent with Mallarmé. William Gerhardie is a great writer, said Kay Dick, indignant. Bad is good, I said. 

A review in the New Yorker of a new biography of Jean Rhys makes me want to read her again. Inn the New York Review of Books I read about Henry James returning to America after many years in England, and the waste and vacuity he found there. A sentence from Henry James puts manners and mystery on you. 

There's a swirl of writers in my head at all times, whatever I am doing, going upstairs, picking sugar peas, walking the land, looking out of the window, and that has been the case since my adolescence when I was up to the town library two or three times a week. Reading is like closing your eyes, opening your eyes. You find the book and find your state of mind, a northwest breeze blowing through, whitening the meadow in a dry late summer. 

It's hard to pause a blog, to stay a fermentation. A diary pauses when you finish one and start another, this is a moment all its own, a moment with no momentum, a pause between a set of full pages and a set of empty ones. There's a certain discomfiture in putting pen to paper on the first of a set of empty ones. You can't just dash off your day, you need a few easements, a Mozart piano concerto, the same movement over and over. Proust did that with music, paid a string quartet to play over and over the same air, looking for whatever the music held for him. 

Hermès, once messenger of the gods, now guarantor of lifestyle, has taken out an arcane ad on the back cover of the New Yorker. A prone woman in a swimsuit, bits of sand clinging to her arm, shades most of her face with a tan leather disc in one hand, the other hand under her hair, her lips and chin in the sun, her face averted towards a wooden bowl. These are the Objects for Interior life— and if you understand that, you may well be suffering brain-melt.

It is late afternoon. The Hermès business plan for Interior life meets up, in Inniscarra, with Objects for Exterior life, for example blackcurrants, caterpillars, beetles and lacewings, tiny white moths rising out of the long grass, with kittens running through, then a heavy shower over the meadow in a dry summer. Phew.  

Today, five of us picked and cleaned some twenty pounds of blackcurrants. It was a July day, uncertain and cool. We talked the twenty poundsworth, sorted them into rumtopf best and the rest for jam, wine, blackcurrant cheese or frangipani, observed their quirks and their caterpillars, ate a royal lunch out front, with salad, sushi, beet, the first cucumber, then went for a swim in the reservoir. 

I usually write while listening to music. The music picks up the white July meadow, the shower of rain. The shape of a piano concerto or a string quartet. 

Reading I do in silence. Up at the pond, on the sofa in the new room, before I go to sleep. If I go to sleep, with all this rattling and stretching in my head. 

yrs, etc.


Sunday 17 July 2022

Entangled Reading, Part Two.

Up at the pond in our heatwave, here on the edge of europe, where heatwaves are like harvests, never quite the business, with the intention of reading some pages I wrote about my history of reading, how it came out and what it led to, and reading instead an article in the New Yorker about Making America Hungary Again, at a CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) meeting in Orlando, Florida, followed by another in Hungary. 

I swim now and then, fishing out clumps of parrotweed which have a curious warmth that all healthy predators give off. Then back to Victor Orbán and his useful friends, Finkelbach and O'Sullivan, to name but two, and still more useful enemies, like George Soros. 

It is a sad story of manipulation and contempt, the mythifying of nationhood in the face of oppression, real or endemic. A disturbing picture of what is going on when you think everything (Trumpish) has gone quiet.

My history of reading, rife with privacy and intimacy, with library books and french literature, is suddenly unreadable. 

I rescue a grasshopper from the pond — yesterday a bee. 

Sunday 10 July 2022

Reading in the right place

Reading SHYNESS & DIGNITY by DAG SOLSTAD by a river, on our own, by a bridge, on a perfect July afternoon, watching the small fish swarm and the slightly larger ones face the current, could be in France, could be anywhere by a river in the sunshine with a norwegian book you didn't get into till now, though you gave night room to this teacher of norwegian literature who quit his job and then told his own story, in the framework of Ibsen, his speciality.

On page 56, leaning against the rock, in the flicker of light from the river and the sun speckling the underside of the bridge, I read the narrator's account of his best friend's conversation, his plainspeak which ends up revealing his shyness and his dignity:

Johan Corneliussen expressed his great love of simple sentences, which said no more than they said and where the first segment was identical with the last, and of the revelation he sometimes experienced when time and place panned out in such a way that it was possible to pronounce, with the greatest inevitability and beauty, a sentence such as an open door is an open door.

Saturday 2 July 2022

Knowing what you need to read

Do you need to quit your own life for a while and occupy someone else's, Mrs Dalloway, Clarissa, Mrs Brown, Laura? Or do you need to cut through to the frozen sea within, selon Kafka? 

If you ask these questions, you need to read Henri Michaux. 

He takes his words, now yours, to the edge of what you want to say. You read a page or two and put it down, Henri's face staring up at you, égaré, on the front cover of Tent Posts. 

Words have always taken you to the brink. At the brink it's best to weaken and to idle, to know nothing. Michaux pulls back from certitudes even as he seems to set them up. You're contagious to yourself, remember. 

Michaux intensifies. And you, the reader, intensify alongside. 

At the brink there is landscape. Mozart and a meadow late in the day.