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Book noodling

I’ve got three that I finished just recently, and I want to talk about them:

Orlando: a Biography – Virginia Woolf

Continuing my thriving Virginia Woolf infection.  My God, that woman was fantastic!  I want to go back in time and kick my earlier self in the shins for not appreciating her more — I tried reading her fiction in my undergrad studies and I just didn’t get it.  I loved her diaries and letters, but I had my ears shut to her fiction.  Jeez, what a dillberry. Anyway, Orlando, in case you didn’t know, is one big love gift to Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf’s dear friend and lover.  And what a hoot it is.  Orlando, the main character, is an English aristocrat born during Elizabeth I’s reign.  The book, as his biography, explores his personality, his sexual adventures and his career as a landholder, gentleman of court, ambassador, gypsy — I won’t go on, because I don’t want to spoil it.   Oh, and he changes sex halfway through and lives for about 300 years.  Clever-clog readers will recognise Orlando: he is Vita Sackville-West. She didn’t live for 300 years, of course, and she remained consistently XX-chromosomed her whole life, but all the same, he is she. The novel is Woolf’s celebration of her, which makes it perhaps the coolest gift ever.

But I don’t want to make it sound like one long fanfict: the book is enormously fun because it does a whole lot more than celebrate Vita. It pokes fun at standard literary tropes, especially biographies and takes pot-shots at some notable historical figures, as well as some of Vita and Virginia’s contemporaries. It also wrestles with some major themes about writing, which really got me thinking, especially the interaction between the mind of the writer and the zeitgeist in which they are trying to create. Orlando is just great. It’s funny, juicy and fun; it’s interesting and thought-provoking; it tells a good story and it fairly gallops along.  And since it’s by Virginia Woolf, the language is intoxicating, flowing, rich and forceful.

The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony – Robert Calasso

I don’t know where to start explaining this book. I’ll start simply and see where that takes us: it’s a book about, and full of, Greek myths. That makes it sound like some Bumper Classic Illustrated Greek Myth Omnibus, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t.  It retells many of the Greek myths — certainly not all of them, that would be an epic undertaking — and shows how they are all interconnected: the way that a myth’s impact (Calasso takes the abduction of Europa as a starting point) ripples outwards, as side players, families and witnesses are influenced by the events.  The book creates a whole-world perspective of the Greek myths, revealing the way they interweave and overlap.  It also touches upon the way the myths echo through Western culture, through our archetypes and major cultural themes. It’s beautiful and well-expressed, and is structured in such a way that it just flows and you are swept along with it.  There’s a lot in this book, so I found I had to stop and have regular breaks in order to rehydrate and tell M that my mind had been blown a-gain, but it is worth every moment.

One of my favourite lecturers at uni — who went on to be my Honours supervisor — introduced me to this book.  He referred to it a lot in his classes and it intrigued me, so I grabbed a copy the first time I saw it at a second-hand book sale. I wonder if I should email him and say thank you.

nice cup of tea and a sit down – Nicey & Wifey

The book of the blog of the biscuit, Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down. It’s a book about tea (specifically, optimal tea-drinking procedures) and biscuits. Fun, light and easy to read. I have a handful of books in a similar vein — not about biscuitry, I mean, but light, interesting, funny and keenly interested in their subject. I find them vaguely therapeutic, not to mention deeply enjoyable to read, especially when everything feels a bit serious, or if I’ve just finished reading something intensive.

nice cup of tea and a sit down is divided into four main bits: “A Nice Cup of Tea”, “Some Biscuits”, “A Little Bit of Cake”, and finally, presumably just to tie in with the title, “And A Sit Down”. Each one has short chapters on different elements of the overall topic, and the Biscuits chapter is by far the most thorough and entertaining.  It’s somewhere between a Guide to Biscuits and a series of reviews, surprisingly informative and very entertaining. The “A Nice Cup of Tea” chapter deals with some of the issues surrounding tea brewing procedures and preferences, while the “A Little Bit of Cake” chapter talks about, well, you can probably figure it out. It’s funny and clever, but you do feel that biscuits are where the authors’ passion truly lies. And rightly so. The book has an endearing, strongly English feel to it, too, which induces in me a peculiar craving to visit the place and sample as many biscuits as I can. The “Sit Down” chapter I can take or leave; it deals with some of the challenges in trying to enjoy a cup of tea anywhere besides home, and takes a kind of wry, middle-aged, rolling-eyes-at-the-modern-world, “all I want is a nice simple [noun]” tone that I get bored with quickly, but it doesn’t go on for too long and it’s not a bad end to the book.

A final note: where are all my bookmarks going? Is there some sort of bookmark party I’m missing out on? I used to have tons of the buggers.

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