09 September 2013

An imaginary library I'd like to visit



"The library opened out of the smoking-room. It had an air of being the most used room in the house, and indeed it was here that Jonathan could generally be found amid a company of books that bore witness to generations of rather freakish taste and to the money by which such taste could be gratified. Jonathan had added lavishly to the collection. His books ranged oddly from translations of Turkish and Persian verse to the works of the most inscrutable of the moderns and text-books on criminology and police detection. He had a magpie taste in reading, but it was steadied by a constancy of devotion to the Elizabethans."
From Death and the Dancing Footman by Ngaio Marsh

04 September 2013

Reading report for August 2013, anda theatre review of sorts

I read a total of 23 books in August, plus a handful of short stories (not listed). The majority were rereads, on the one hand Ngaio Marsh‘s Roderick Alleyn series, and on the other a bunch of Lucky Luke comics I have owned since I was in my teens. As for the rest, they included a classic novel, romantic suspense, romance, a Shakespeare play and a very interesting piece of non-fiction. The high points of the month‘s reading were the last two: Macbeth and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

The latter is the result of impressive and determined research into an important medical and biological discovery about the provenance of which very little seems to have been known before the author started digging up information. It tells the story of HeLa, the oldest and still the most important line of immortal human cells used in medical research, the people connected with it and the discoveries those cells were instrumental in helping to make. It mixes up biography, autobiography, biology, medicine and mystery and is just an all-over great read.

As for the former - as I mentioned before I am rereading the Ngaio Marsh ouevre of murder mysteries, several of which either take place in theatres or among actors, and if you have read the Friday book lists you will have noticed that Macbeth pops up in many of them (if not all – I didn‘t bother to check), either being mentioned or quoted or both. Well, one night around the middle of the month I was reading a final chapter of one of these mysteries before going to bed and came across yet another Macbeth quotation. I finished the chapter, went over to one of my bookcases and pulled out my edition of the complete works of Shakespeare and read the play before going to sleep.

It‘s funny, but one would think that seeing a play on stage would be better than reading it, but I did not find that to be the case with Macbeth. Of course, the staging I recently saw was somewhat off-putting, modernised up to a point and with a huge, cold and brightly lit minimalist set which was undoubtedly meant to starkly set off the events of the play, draw out the power of Shakespeare‘s words (or rather his words as filtered by the translator (the translation, by the way, was excellent)) and show how the characters were all just little, unimportant puppets in the hands of fate, but it only made me goggle at the set and the props and the movements of the actors on the stage and miss half of what was said.

It, in fact, left me mostly unaffected by the actual drama. On an intellectual level I could see that the staging was technically very good and the play brilliantly acted, especially in one scene where audiovisual technology was used to chilling effect – in fact the only scene that made me feel any real frisson – but on a purely personal level I was not impressed. I did not even figure out what it was that made me feel this way until I read the play that night and found myself wanting to gnaw my nails and shout out warnings to the victims. I finally went to sleep deeply enveloped in the special satisfying stupor only a really good book can leave one in.

The Books:
  • E.M. Forster: A Passage to India. Novel.
  • Goscinny & Morris: Western Circus, La Caravane, Le Fil qui Chante and La Guérison des Daltons. Comic books.
  • Ngaio Marsh: The Nursing Home Murder, Death in Ecstacy, Vintage Murder, Artists in Crime, Death in a White Tie, Overture to Death, Death at the Bar, Surfeit of Lampreys, Death and the Dancing Footman, Colour Scheme, Died in the Wool, Final Curtain, Swing, Brother, Swing. Murder mysteries.
  • Nora Roberts: The Villa. Romantic Suspense.
  • William Shakespeare: Macbeth. Play, drama.
  • Rebecca Skloot: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Non-fiction. Biography, memoir, history, biology.
  • Patricia Wells: At Home in Provence. Cookbook.
  • L.A. Witt: Nine Tenths of the Law. Romance, gay.