It feels like I managed to read a lot this week, which is only justified as I has a week’s vacation and the city is still in a local lockdown.
I finished my foray into Aristophanes’ work via Stephen Halliwell’s translation found in the Oxford World Classics edition. The book contained Clouds, Frogs and Women at the Thesmophoria. Of the three Clouds was my favourite, followed by Women at the Thesmophoria. Surprisingly, Aristophanes’ best-known play Frogs was my least favourite. As I suspected after reading Clouds last week, I appreciate the plays, but I do not believe that I will become a fan or Aristophanes. I find his views too reactionary for my tastes, which does sound incredible odd when talking about works that are 2500 years old and when looking at his criticism of Euripides in Women at the Thesmophoria, but there was just something about Aristophanes’ plays that really disagreed with me. I can’t quite put my finger on it: I enjoyed the plays, I laughed quite a lot, but I somehow felt his witticisms also lacked circumspection. What is clear to me, tho, is that I will be coming back to Aristophanes in one way or another in the future. His plays provide much to think about.
I also want to briefly talk about the Oxford World Classics edition featuring the translation and commentary by Stephen Halliwell: this is a fantastic edition. Not only was the translation incredibly readable, it also seemed to try very hard to not gloss over nuances in meaning when choosing particular words. In parallel to reading this edition, I had a modern translation by Paul Roche at hand, which seemed to lack the level of accuracy of translation.
The Roche translation also lacked explanatory notes and introductions to the plays that would give context to Aristophanes’ life, work and the world around him. The Halliwell edition on the other excelled my expectations in this regard. A good 25% of the Halliwell edition is dedicated to providing addional information on Aristophanes, Greek drama, political and historical background, etc., all of which was well presented and utterly readable – i.e. not dull at all.
In other updates related to my “Ancient August” project (focusing on books set in or about Ancient Greece and/or Rome), I have made further progress with Mary Beard’s S.P.Q.R and started Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. I plan to finish both books by the end of the month, but I may DNF The Song of Achilles because it is just so, so boring. This is disappointing as the author’s book Circe was one of my reading highlights last year.
Another reading highlight this week was Ali Smith’s Summer, the last instalment in her Seasonal Quartet. The book arrived a week ago, but I wanted to save it until I had time to give it my undivided attention.
From the first 1/3 I could tell that Ali Smith continues to be a chronicler and a conscience for our times, but I think much of the book may have been written before the pandemic hit, so it is not as “of the moment” as the previous books. It is, however, but it is a great reminder of the issues that have been masked or overshadowed by the pandemic.
“Everybody said: so?
As in so what? As in shoulder shrug, or what do you expect me to do about it? or I so don’t really give a fuck, or actually I approve of it, it’s fine by me.
Okay, not everybody said it. I’m speaking colloquially, like in that phrase everybody’s doing it. What I mean is, it was a clear marker, just then, of that particular time; a kind of litmus, this dismissive note. It got fashionable around then to act like you didn’t care. It got fashionable, too, to insist the people who did care, or said they cared, were either hopeless losers or were just showing off.
It’s like a lifetime ago.
But it isn’t – it’s literally only a few months since a time when people who’d lived in this country all their lives or most of their lives started to get arrested and threatened with deportation or deported: so?
And when a government shut down its own parliament because it couldn’t get the result it wanted: so?
When so many people voted people into power who looked them straight in the eye and lied to them: so? When a continent burned and another melted: so? When people in power across the world started picking off groups of people by religion, ethnicity, sexuality, intellectual or political dissent: so?
But no. True. Not everybody said it.
Not by a country mile.
Millions of people didn’t say it.
Millions and millions, all across the country and all across the world, saw the lying, and the mistreatments of people and the planet, and were vocal about it, on marches, in protests, by writing, by voting, by talking, by activism, on the radio, on TV, via social media, tweet after tweet, page after page.”
What has struck me from the opening pages is that Summer makes a direct reference to Hannah Arendt, and in subsequent pages I believe there is more – a subtle discussion of the parallels between the rise of Hitler and Stalin and some of the actions of governments witnessed more recently.
How serendipitous to have read Arendt so recently! It makes me wonder whether sometimes books choose us because they “know” it is the right time.
“Opposite of the blond beast. If that was written nowadays blond beast = UK prime minister.
Yesterday the blond beast prime minister tried, like the Americans, banning some journalists and not others from being let into Downing St.
Some were told to stand on one side of the carpet and the others to stand on the other side of the carpet. On the one side they were going to be permitted. On the other they weren’t.
All the journalists boycotted the dividing of them into two.
But that won’t last.
Robert Greenlaw admires above all the adviser of the prime minister, who knows how to style politics so that it doesn’t look like politics any more, who knows full well that Stalin and Hitler were possible even though everyone in old-style politics looks aghast when anyone suggests it’s possible to act the ways they did.
The people in charge in England right now are geniuses of manipulation.
Robert Greenlaw is in awe of their performance of callousness. He is in awe of how they get away with talking about patriotism with all the fervour of 12 year olds – Robert Greenlaw still aspires to it a bit, though he’s now 13 and recognizes its pre-adolescent ventriloquisms. It is all just more genius.”
The book is not all about doom and gloom. At the same time, it is impossible to list everything that the book is about. What I do know is that, like the previous books in the series, it’s a treasure hunt: it’s packed with references to current affairs and historical events and best of all art and literature that have always acted as a record of context. And, as promised, there is some hope in this, too:
“Sacha’s chest filled with the kind of warmth that once when she was really small she’d asked her mother about because it felt so nice and her mother’d said that’s your inner summer.”
Now that is some very existential stuff right here. And, yes, I think – hope – we’re talking Camus here and his declaration of the invincible summer that exists in the depth of winter. As I said before, Smith’s books are literary catnip to me. That is why I needed to make time for this book.
As I said at the start, I read quite a lot this week. So, I also managed to finish two other books:
I reviewed Shakespeare’s Kings by John Julius Norwich earlier today, so will not go into any detail about it here.
The last book I finished this week was Planetfall by Emma Newman:
I have never been a reader of sci-fi. This is one of the genres that I have tried but just have not been able to get excited about. There is just something about the settings and world building that makes my brain go “blah, blah, blah” skipping a lot of the elements that many sci-fi lovers seem to love most. I find them confusing at worst and nice-to-haves at best. I’m reading stories for the portrayal of character or for a discussion of issues, and I need a plot to move these along. With sci-fi, I seem to get distracted by things that irrelevant to me.
However, every now and then I am in the mood to try new books in genres that are not my usual go-to places. So, when a few friends praised Planetfall online recently, I thought I’d pick it up.
I am glad I have read the book. I loved the portrayal of characters in the book and thought that the latter part of the story was really, really good. I loved the betrayal and the shift in the story and the conclusion that the lie … or rather the exposure of the lie would lead to mayhem.
I also liked the discussion of faith and the contrasting of group vs individual believes, but thought this was not really developed in the story.
There were a few things that weren’t really developed in the story and I am curious whether Newman gets around to working on this in the sequels.
Still, the book really only came to life for me in the second half (if not later) and for the first 50% or so I was rather bored.
Reviews posted this week:
Shakespeare’s Kings by John Julius Norwich
Other Bookish Links:
I have probably mentioned this before but the Edinburgh Book Fest is taking place online this year. All events are free and you can watch them from anywhere. The book talks and interviews I have caught so far have all been fantastic and I think the Festival organisers have done a marvellous job.
If you’re interested, check out their website: