Friday, July 08, 2011

The last few odds and ends

These are some books on the floor beside my mattress (I'm in the middle of moving house; this is in the old gaff, which I continue to occupy as a janitor for the absent Lordship Myself.)

Århundradets Ordmusik - this is a collection of 20th Century Swedish poetry, all part of getting myself in the mood (not that it's hard) for next weeks' trip to the north. A second volume was planned - this is the first one, featuring poets who came to some sort of prominence before 1960: the big guns are Österling, Boye, Södergran, Björling, Martinson, Lagerkvist, Forssell... The real delight for me is the lesser-known names, same way as it's the spruce-shadows that will draw me into the forest next week. A handful of poems by each, with enthusiastic commentary by the editor (whose name, I'm afraid, isn't to hand) and illustrations by 20thc Scandinavian artists: what could be lovelier? I am the humblest of poetry readers in Swedish, I'll take anything on offer. A comparable publication in the UK would provoke my scorn, I fear. Still, things are different over there. Poetry sits close to popular culture. And this is a beautiful volume. And as an outsider I don't see the conflicts and the choices that, here, would stare me in the face.

Rob Roy (Scott). I liked this better than ever.
[I didn't like my note about it - this must be about the oldest bit of writing in the Brief History, and it nastily shows its age in certain late-70s-university-era litcrit pertnesses: "Failure" indeed! "Challenges him" - oh, really? "Explore" - oh, spare me! (..I hate that idea of writers "exploring" like some combination of redneck colonialist and pre-school infant.) Well, if I am honest, not so much the idea as the word - after all, this is mainly a fashion thing, both the would-be smartness and the belated cringe.]
This is a novel I've now read three or four times. It's fascinating to me how my imagination of the setting changes. I think this is the first time I've read it since passing through the Highlands north of Glasgow, and some of the visual memories from those car journeys (I was being taxi'd to Loch Linne to pick up the boat to Glensanda quarry on the Morvern side) have now penetrated my reading. Compared to my previous reading, Fairservice and Jarvie have returned to joyous prominence.

Byron's complete poems and dramas. Big cheap paperback - this is the book to ensure that, however long before I'm reunited with the rest of my library, I'm definitely not going to run out of reading. In point of fact, I'm still in Hours of Idleness (1807). This is not so absorbing as The Corsair, the style is not so developed, but Byron's honest bad faith is already something to conjure with.

Lisa Samuels, Tomorrowland. And this is the go-to book when I want something with a bit more, well, challenge and modernity to it. When I first heard that LS had written a long poem (sequence of poems, really), I imagined something like a narrative and I worried that the flashing, kinetic impenetrabilities of her two previous collections might get a little diluted. I needn't have worried. I haven't got my head round it yet, but I know it's formidable.

John Gilmore, Head of a Man. New release from Reality Street, a novel, not quite actionless nor quite characterless, but nearly, written in minimalist paragraphs. A very beautiful - desolately beautiful - book. I finished it some time ago, but I want to go back over it more combingly. With the thought in my mind: "Something definitely happened there, but what?" The reader is a detective, too.

Dictionaries (Swedish and Spanish), plus book "Spanish in Three Months". That estimate was based on a world without the Internet - I'm getting near the end but it's been more like five years.


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