Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….Men ploughed with wooden ploughs and yoked oxen, small on a boundless expanse, as if attacking immensity itself. The mounted figures of vaqueros galloped in the distance, and the great herds fed with all their horned heads one way, in one single wavering line as far as eye could reach across the broad potreros. A spreading cotton-wood tree shaded a thatched ranch by the road; the trudging files of burdened Indians taking off their hats, would lift sad, mute eyes to the cavalcade raising the dust of the crumbling camino real made by the hands of their enslaved forefathers. And Mrs. Gould, with each day’s journey, seemed to come nearer to the soul of the land in the tremendous disclosure of this interior unaffected by the slight European veneer of the coast towns, a great land of plain and mountain and people, suffering and mute, waiting for the future in a pathetic immobility of patience.

~Nostromo by Joseph Conrad

* * * * *

….In 1564-5, cloth and woollens account for 81.6 per cent (by value) of all the exports from England – amounting to some £1,100,000 – and the largest proportion of the remaining 18.4 per cent is raw wool, followed by woolfells. This is why you will see so many sheep in England: more than eight million of them, twice as many as there are people. Having said that, these are not quite the animals with which you are familiar: they are very small. Average weights are gradually rising (through improvements in husbandry), from about 28lbs per sheep in 1500 to 46lbs in 1600, with the largest weighing 60lbs; but still these are tiny by comparison with modern ewes, which weigh 100-200lbs (a modern ram can weigh more than 350lbs). Much the same can be said for the cattle (about 350lbs in Elizabethan times, and 1,200-1,600lbs today).

~The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer

* * * * *

….On one side it was tied to the window grille of the church tower, on the other to a flagpole jutting out of the wall next to the window of the town hall where the reeve worked, which didn’t happen often, however, because he was lazy. In the window stood the young woman, who must have just knotted the rope – but how, we wondered, had she stretched it? You could be here or there, in this window or in the other, you could easily knot a rope and drop it, but how did you get it back up to the other window to fasten the other end?
….We gaped. For a while it seemed to us as if the rope itself were the trick and nothing more were required. A sparrow landed on it, took a small jump, spread its wings, changed its mind, and stayed perched there.
….Then Tyll Ulenspiegel appeared in the church tower window. He waved, jumped onto the windowsill, stepped onto the rope. He did it as if it were nothing. He did it as if it were only a step like any other. None of us spoke, none shouted, none moved. We had stopped breathing.

~Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann (subsequently abandoned for being tiresome)

* * * * *

….Indubitably a public school ‘chap’, [Charles Hamilton] Sorley nevertheless rejected Rupert Brooke’s war poetry as too clothed in ‘fine words’ and a ‘sentimental attitude’. Some of his own best verse fuses body and soul as he sings of the physical exaltation of running, or of being at one with the earth in battle. For Sorley the German troops are simply ‘blind like us’. One of his last poems is a verse letter to his Scottish friend John Bain, praising Homer, and there is probably an allusion to The Iliad in the tenth line of his magnificently uncompromising final sonnet, found in his kit when it was sent home from France after Sorley had been shot in the head by a sniper:

When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you’ll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, “They are dead.” Then add thereto,
“Yet many a better one has died before.”
Then, scanning all the o’ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.

~Scotland’s Books by Robert Crawford

* * * * *

….She hauled the blind open again, turning Logan’s computer screen into an eye-watering blare of light.
….‘Argh….’ He backed away from it, squinting.
….‘Sitting here in the dark like a wee troll.’ She cracked the window open, letting in the diesel growl of buses and the seagulls’ mournful cries. ‘It’s no’ good for you.’ The tip of her e-cigarette/sonic screwdriver glowed as she sooked. A huge cloud of watermelon vape drifted its way around Logan’s head, glowing in the sunlight. ‘Come on then, what you doing?’
….‘Investigating.’ Logan held up a hand, blocking the glare from his screen. ‘Or at least I’m trying to.’
….‘I know that, you idiot; investigating, what?’
….‘People’s Army for Scottish Liberation. Apparently they had ties to the Scottish People’s Liberation Army, the Scottish Freedom Fighters’ Resistance Front, End of Empire, and Arbroath Thirteen Twenty. AKA nutters so extreme that even Settler Watch didn’t want anything to do with them.’
….Another cloud of fruity smelling fog. ‘It’s Womble-funting dick-muppets like that who give good old-fashioned Scottish Nationalists a bad name.’

~All That’s Dead by Stuart MacBride

(NB I have no idea what ‘Womble-funting dick-muppets’ means, so if it’s as obscene as I fear, I apologise.)

* * * * *

So… are you tempted?

48 thoughts on “Bookish selfie…

  1. I never thought I wannted to know about sheep particularly, but I’m strangely tempted by the Elizabethan book. Scotland’s Books looks interesting too. As for the MacBride? I’m still not convinced.

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    • Haha, I’m glad the sheep affected you that way because that’s exactly how I felt! Such a strange and useless piece of info, but still interesting. It’s changed my mind about the amazing feat of the guy in Lorna Doone who tucked two sheep under his arms and trudged off through a snowstorm, now I know the sheep weren’t much bigger than my cats! He’s slipped down my hero list a bit…;) Scotland’s Books is hard work, but worth it, I think. And I enjoyed the MacBride far more than I expected to in the end. 😀

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    • I loved it too – very moving, especially the “millions of the mouthless dead”. I don’t know why he’s not better known. This book is packed full of poets I’ve never heard of, not that I’m very knowledgeable about poetry anyway. But the author has convinced me that Scotland is far more a nation of poetry than novels…

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    • I suspect I might have loved Tyll at a different time, and might try it again sometime, but it was too quirky and plotless for my mood right now. I loved the Sorley poem – turns out Scotland’s Books is far more about poetry than prose!

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  2. Hmmm…the Mortimer looks the most tempting to me, FictionFan. I do like to learn about history, and when the author can also make it interesting and accessible, all the better. I think that would be my vote this time. And I know exactly what you mean about abandoning books. I’ve done the same thing. It is a disappointment, but life is short…

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    • The Mortimer is very good so far, although I’m not sure the audiobook format is well suited to this type of information-heavy book. I may transfer to a print version at some point. Yes, I’m being brutal about abandoning books right now especially, since I’m struggling to commit even to books I’m enjoying. Maybe I’ll go back to some of them at a different time…

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    • Hahaha, I must admit the first person plural is very annoying but happily it doesn’t last too long. I might have enjoyed the book at a different time, but not at the moment…

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    • Haha, at the rate I’m currently reading and writing reviews it may well be Christmas before it appears! I love Conrad but I do find him exceptionally hard work – the need to concentrate on every word makes me realise what a skimmer I must usually be.

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    • I’m delighted to say I thoroughly enjoyed it! I used to love his books, but then I felt he dipped a bit and they started becoming almost parodies, but this one felt much more like the balance of the early ones again. Hurrah! 😀

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    • I know! I couldn’t believe that sheep were once that small – the little lambs must have been even more adorable back then! And tiny cows too – about the size of modern sheep! I love that kind of quirky information… 😀

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  3. I loved Mortimer’s book on Medieval England, so I feel sure I’d like the one you have going, but… I’m not so sure it’s book I’d want to listen to. Then again, I’m not an audio book kind of person.

    Tyll really doesn’t appeal to me, but I did enjoy the snippet you shared.

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    • I think you’re right that it’s the type of book that works better in print, although the narrator is excellent. But I find I don’t take in the information as well – I’m still thinking about one bit and he’s gone on to something else!

      I suspect I’d have enjoyed Tyll at a different time, but at the moment I need something less quirky and more plot-driven…

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  4. Despite the strange slang, I’m intrigued by the Stuart McBride-I’ve never read one of his books but I’ve heard such wonderful things about him!

    Ok wait after I typed that I thought “maybe i have read one of his books” and I have! I think I also may have met him when I worked at the literary festival but now I can’t remember 😦

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    • Ha, he clearly made a big impression! 😉 I used to love his books and then went off them for a while when the comedy seemed to take over from the plot. But I thoroughly enjoyed this one – either he’s gone back to his old style, or else just having a break from him worked! 😀

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  5. Something about “people, suffering and mute, waiting for the future in a pathetic immobility of patience” struck me as quite apropos of our current situation. But Sorley’s sonnet sums up war in 14 lines with the finality of death. And to know how he died adds to the awfulness of it all.

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    • Yes, the similarity to today’s events struck me too and made me very conscious of the young men who survived WW1 only to succumb to Spanish Flu. I guess we’re still part of the *lucky* generation…

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  6. I’m very tempted by the time travellers guide, I love stats about husbandry and household accounts – it’s such a brilliant way of actually seeing how our ancestors lived and what our country would have looked like. This information about sheep is sad (but fascinating) because of what’s happened more recently with breeding programmes and intensive farming, My husband is always giving me facts about ears of corn in history, if I listen to this I can get back at him!

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    • Hahaha, now I’m deeply intrigued about ears of corn! The sheep stat horrified me a bit too, since it really highlights how much we interfere with nature in order to increase “yields”. Mind you, we interfere just as much with cat and dog breeding, purely so they look nicer. I wish we could just learn to live with the world as it is – all our improvements don’t seem to have improved it much…

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      • Sorry about the delay in my reply – it’s something to do with a medieval ear of corn only having 2 or 3 seeds and a modern one having 40 or 50! Although I heard on the news this morning that with our bizarre weather the seeds are decreasing (there’s a science fiction novel in there somewhere!)

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  7. I’m drawn to Conrad’s writing in Nostromo, Tyll entices me (I like the right kind of quirky), and I’ll take your recommendation on the McBride. I also appreciated Worley’s grim and commemorative words especially as we just had our ANZAC Memorial Day last weekend.

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    • I love Conrad even though I find him incredibly hard work – I feel I need to read every word or I get lost very quickly, and that makes me aware of what a skim reader I must usually be. Nostromo is great though! The MacBride was a lot of fun and just right for my current predicament, and Tyll, I’m almost sure, is one I will enjoy one day – just not today! The Scotland’s Books book has made me realise Scotland has had a million poets I’ve never heard of…

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