A few weeks ago I was reading Primo Levi in a bath full of gerbils. I’d read somewhere that sitting in the bath with new gerbils (without water) was a good way to bond with them as they get used to your skin. Apparently you are supposed to do it unclothed but I kept my pants on (a la my foray into ‘nude’ modelling). No real bonding took place unless you count the scratch marks on my thighs when the little guys tried to ski down them and getting unclothed with them hasn’t made them like me anymore (‘twas ever thus). I decided to take a book in because I didn’t know how long I was going to be (11 minutes, in the end) and I don’t really ever do one thing at a time. I always have to be doing something else (reading, writing, ironing, cleaning, polishing, taking endless hideously dull surveys to exchange for Amazon vouchers). Only one of these things can be done in a bath of gerbils.
I do not advise googling ‘bathing with gerbils’, as I did, to see where I’d read this bit of complete bollocks.
The book was (rather aptly) The Drowned and the Saved, and I would like to know if anyone has read more heavy a book in more surreal situations. It was more a collection of essays than a book per se. Levi repeatedly asks the question how can human beings do this to each other; it’s a question we’ve been asking down the centuries, and nobody seems to have the answer.
So what else have I been up to. I’ve been putting off writing this entry to be honest because I haven’t had anything interesting to say. But it’s not really about me, but what I read – so with that in mind, here is my lowdown over the last few weeks.
I am currently on The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe which is a fascinating glimpse of Elizabethan life and politics. I am reading it with one half-cocked eyebrow because it’s quite a wild theory but there does seem to be a lot of evidence to back it up. Readers of Jack The Ripper: Case Closed by Patricia Cornwell will know though how well an author can adapt evidence to suit their scenario (and if you think Cornwell has figured out who Jack the Ripper was she hasn’t! She has decided who she wanted to be the murderer and built a case around her theory rather than build a theory around the scant evidence). I’m not linking to it because I think it is nonsense.
Before this I was on The Book of Negroes which is a must-read for anyone who wants to research slavery. I have read quite a few first and secondhand accounts about slavery (Roots, Oladuah Equiano, Incidents In The Life of a Slave Girl) but I never fail to be shocked and horrified by what we put these people through. Which is no bad thing.
And before that it was The Railway Man by Eric Lomax, the story of a Japanese Prisoner of War who went on to meet his tormenter 50 years after the end of the war. It was difficult to read at times but Eric’s determination to live and very matter-of-fact narration makes it an important one.
As per my last post, I was most excited to get my hands on Dolly by Susan Hill, her new ghost story. Very eerie, which I devoured in one late-night sitting. I’m not going to say anything more about it because I approached it knowing only the title and author and I think that’s how you should approach it too.
I also enjoyed Eminent Elizabethans in which the author gives a full bio of Margaret Thatcher, Prince Charles, Rupert Murdoch and Mick Jagger, very much in the style of Lytton Strachey and just as entertaining.
Forgive me Reader – I have Sinned.
Here is my confession: I had three books last month which I couldn’t finish. The first was the story of McFly. I’m sure they are very nice boys and it is entertaining, but it started all about drugs and sex, neither of which interest me in the slightest. Ditto Rupert Everett’s autobiography (no offence Rupert, I do think you’re fab). The third was Ghosts of Empire which I thought would improve my mind. In fact the politics began to bore me and I discovered that I hadn’t wanted to Learn as much as I thought I had. This is one of my many failings and possibly the second-greatest (I’m not going to admit to the first on here in case anyone I know reads it).
Ooh just to let you know about A Circle of Sisters which I wrote about in my last post. The sisters were quite interesting, but the men in their lives were more (authors, politicians, artists) which I shouldn’t say really. It wasn’t as powerful or captivating a book as some of the more era-specific, character-general books Flanders has written and which you will know about if you’ve read any other entries in this blog (or indeed if you have read them already, of course).
Blimey just writing this post makes me realise I ought to post more often as I do read a lot and even I’m glazing over at this point…
I have a large amount of books in my ‘to read’ pile including a huge tome called Dreadnaught about the origins of World War One. I’ve had it since November and I don’t know how much longer the library will allow me to renew it. I suppose I could find a synopsis somewhere. If anyone can recommend anything shorter, let me know; and I’d quite like one which is entertaining and not too dark.
I suppose that’s a bit too much to ask for, it being about the war, and all … but do get in touch if you find one.