what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

William McIlvanney joins the Olympians

Today sees my highest monthly viewing figure ever – and there’s still another full week to go before the end of the month. I’ve been rather focused on Romania and Scotland in the last month – so I’m grateful to those readers who don’t necessarily share these interests for their patience.
You can see the 7 top posts for this month (from hits) at the right-hand side – 1 about Europe; 4 about Scotland, 1 on travel – those 6 are all recent. But top billing is still this strange “backbone” one – more than 3 years old – whose title refers to an EC document about aid assistance which I was critiquing then. I have tried to suggest to readers that there are better things to read – but people just keep on punching that button. I don’t understand why!
Paul Mason, one of the BBC economics correspondent (all of whom do excellent blogs), ran a lovely Christmas challenge in 2010 – the 50 books which your library has to have. The challenge was apparently first made in 1930 by an American journalist who received a letter from a friend who wrote: 
"I want no more than fifty books. And none of them modern; that is, no novels that are coming off the presses these last ten years. Are there fifty intelligent books in the world? If you have time send along a list of fifty books, I promise to buy them and have them beautifully bound. I am consulting you as I would my lawyer. I have not time to develop a literary consciousness at my age. So if you were cutting your own library down to fifty books, which books would you keep?"
Mason made the challenge more difficult by preventing us from consulting our shelves or the internet – so I just managed to get my suggestions in before the discussion thread closed (It’s number 81). I then took time to reflect more and consult some booklists and then posted on this blog.
A library should be for consulting – the glories of novels, short stories, poetry, essays should be available there but also art and human knowledge. With only 50 books allowed, novels (of any sort) will have to be excluded - which means no “Buddenbrooks” (Thomas Mann) or “Candide” (Voltaire) let alone any of the powerful South Americans (Jorge Amado's "Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon", Allende’s “Eva Luna”, Marquez’s , “Love in the Time of Cholera” , Llosa ‘s “The War of the End of the World”) or Yehoshuova’s “The Liberated Bride” from Israel.
However, some books come in multi-volume collections eg Lewis Crassic Gibbon’s “Sunset Song”; Lawrence Durrell’s “The Alexandrian Quartet”; Olivia Manning’s “Balkan Trilogy”; and Naguib Mahfouz’s “Children of the Alley” and therefore give good bangs for bucks. Perhaps they might be allowed to stay.
And remember what Nassim Taleb calls Umberto Eco's "antilibrary" concept - that read books are less valuable than unread ones - a library should be a research tool. Collections of essays, poetry and short stories also give much more reading per book (unless it’s War and Peace) - so the collected poetry of Brecht, TS Eliot, Norman McCaig and WS Graham would be the first four books; as well as the Collected Short Stories of Nabokov, William Trevor, Carol Shields, Heinrich Boell and Alice Munro; and the essays of Montaigne.
If allowed, I would also have a few collections of painters eg the Russian Itinerants. Chuck in an Etymology and a couple of overviews of intellectual endeavours of recent times such as Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything” and Peter Watson’s “A Terrible Beauty” - and I would then have space for 35 individual titles.

About 30 non-fiction titles then followed – interesting that less than 10 were by British writers. Now I would probably question only the inclusion of Taleb..... 

Thanks to cheating (selecting collections), I was actually left with 6 empty spots – which I never got round to filling. 
Obviously, in the light of yesterday’s post about William McIlvanny, least a couple of his titles would go in to fill those empty spots.

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