A busy week, in which I don't feel I've done much reading - but in fact, when I look back more carefully, I have, and I've acquired a lot of books too - a familiar problem to me and to many other book lovers, I know. Recent visitors to my house have remarked that in the space war, the books have definitely got the upper hand, are capturing a number of strategic points - dining table, sink - and are massing for the surge which may overpower me once and for all.
The war metaphors come to mind, because I have been reading Doonesbury, on which I posted recently - fine satire about US involvement in Iraq, and also Welcome to the Nerd Farm, his latest, wonderful collection. On a completely different front, I've been browsing through Richard Mabey's Beechcombings, a meditation on trees and life, concentrating on the native beech, which he describes in another book as the only English tree we think of in feminine terms, with its smooth bark and sinuous, gentle curves.
Oxfam this week yielded George Orwell's Keep The Aspidistra Flying, and I have also been reading The Death of the Critic by Ronan McDonald - of direct interest to all of us, as he examines the role of the popular, including bloggers, on the appreciation of literature and books. He is inclined to lament the loss of high profile academic criticism, while others laud the democratisation of the bookshop recommendation and the blog. For me, I am in the middle, and I want to read both. It would be a shame if the Leavises and the Steiners were to pass away, but I would not give up the wealth of "amateur" comment from friends and bloggers to buy their return. Also read some fine short stories by the American Z Z Packer, in her collection Drinking Coffee Elsewhere. I recommend them for a hard, sometimes painful look at contemporary poor black America.
Two other books to mention, and to return to later. First, The Boys Own Annual 1908-09. Now you may be thinking that this is an extraordinary choice, but I have my reasons. When I was a child, I had a BOP (as it was known) annual from the early 1900s, and I loved it. It was given me by an elderly great uncle, and of course, it was fantastically dated - and very white, male, and middle and upwards class - but still a lot of fun. Somewhere along the line, in some parental clear out or house move, it got lost or given away - but this week I replaced it from abebooks, and am looking forward to serious nostalgic wallowing over coming weeks: there's a lot of wallowing to do, because its quarto, densely printed, and nearly 900 pages long - you got your money's worth in those days (1d, or one old penny a week - (240 pennies to the pound, for my younger readers!!).
Finally, the week saw me complete Patrick White's Voss, as suggested by Cornflower's book group. They didn't really take to it wildly, and I'll admit it wasn't a barrel of laughs. But he is a great writer, and I felt my battle with his anti hero, Johann Ulrich Voss and Laura, with whom he has an intense and spiritual marriage in testing circumstances, was well worth it. The spirit of Nietzsche hovers over Voss himself, and the passive violence of the Australian outback, and the total inadequacy of man before it - particularly a proud and solitary man - was powerfully portrayed.