Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A writing life

I'm so delighted that my Shakespeare quote struck a chord. I primarily posted it here to have somewhere to store it for future reference! Just goes to show how the best light on situations/books is usually cast by totally unexpected sources.

Have also just read "A writing life" by Annie Dillard, which I enjoyed. Don't particularly think it's a blog book, but the following quotes struck me, so I offer them up:

"Thornton Wilder cited this unnamed writer of sonnets: one line of a sonnet falls from the ceiling, and you tap the others around it with a jeweller's hammer."

"The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from beneath, like well water...Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes."

Julian Barnes: "It's easy, after all, not to be a writer. Most people aren't writers, and very little harm comes to them."

"Nothing on earth is more gladdening that knowing we must roll up our sleeves and move back the boundaries of the humanly possible once more."

Friday, May 29, 2009

One day in the life of Shukhov

A fascinating quote about Shakespeare, Emily, and one which helps me to pin down my reaction to One day in the life of Shukhov. Solzhenitsyn, like Shakespeare, is writing about human nature – what we do in extremis, and in both cases, we can perhaps see this best or at least from a different angle when the setting is unfamiliar.

I’d never have chosen this to read, expecting it to be harrowing, and still myself not entirely over my disappointment with Stalinist communism, which has no redeeming features whatsoever and which has tainted the idea of communism fatally, I think. But was glad to read a classic by someone I’ve never read – and it really grew on me as I got into it, to the extent that I wanted to get back to the camp each evening for the next instalment. That’s some achievement. Valerie’s right, I can’t imagine the suffering, but I enjoyed the insights into the reactions of Shukhov and others. And I was amazed by the cunning way in which the authorities manipulated the men so that the prisoners policed themselves and competed with each other to complete work etc. “Who’s the zek’s main enemy? Another zek. I f only they weren’t at loggerhead with one another’ (p 105)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Shakespeare: The Lodger

Just to share a quote from an interesting book on Shakespeare I've just finished (thanks, Val!). Probably not of interest to you as such - it's very detailed on the historical setting, and the Bill Bryson book was a better overview - but I loved the author's analysis of why Shakespeare is always setting plays in places he (we think) hadn't visited. Nicholl writes: "the foreign... is an imaginative key for Shakespeare: it opens up fresher and freer ways of seeing the people and things which daily reality dulled with familiarity... a foreign country was a kind of working synonym for the theatre itself - a place of tonic exaggerations and transformations; a place where you walk in through a door in Southwark and find yourself beached up on the shores of Illyria."

Monday, May 25, 2009

Accustomed to horror?

I found the effect of this story lacked the immediate shock and horror that I experienced visiting the Occupation Museum in Riga... and subsequent visits to Prague ghettos and the House of Terror in Budapest. I don't think this reflects on the writing, which is purely narrative and unemotional but the acceptance of evil through familiarity I sense is an insidious danger and one to guard against and the story I found needed reflection and visualisation to fully appreciate the truth of their situation. In fact, I think it needs a second read.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A day in the life

I am so grateful for the suggestion to read this. I found it profoundly moving, illuminating and horrifying. It was a privilege to read it, but I would never have thought of it for myself. A perfect reading group choice, in other words! His language was so precise, it captured so many nuances and shades of grey in what I would otherwise have assumed was an unbearably dark situation. Which of course it was, but some people did, astonishingly, survive or even cope well and this indicated how. Hard to imagine the shock this must have caused when it came out.

My only reservation is that the author very wisely chose a firmly delineated canvas, and (presumably) decided to write of a moderately successful day for his protagonist to avoid unendurable bleakness for the reader. All of which I'm very glad of. But somehow I felt I perhaps came away feeling a little too positive at the end. What do the rest of you think? Did he get the balance right?

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Life in the Day.....

I found this web site to be an interesting read although I am sure that there are many.

Another short but profound book which does more than it states in its title. A book of misery imposed by men, but for what purpose? The detailed description of the minutae of camp life, whereby so much time and thought was put into mere survival on the one side, and the prevention of escapes on the other, while trying to survive the intense cold, gave a vivid picture, although I don't think I could really imagine how they survived in those temperatures with very little heating without permanently suffering frost bite. In fact, I can't really imagine being that cold! I wonder what the summers are like in Kazakhstan? I suspect quite the extreme, bringing another set of problems.

Shukov's actions are geared to his own survival, if he offers to help, he also hopes to gain, usually extra food. He is also ready to take the best broth in the evening, doing down his comrades. In fact, it seems that all the jobs in the camp are carried out by fellow prisoners, but there seems to be few who are above gaining advantage over their 'comrades'. One cares that he will be released at the end of his ten years and three days and it is a relief to get to the end and not find that his sentence has been extended.

I find it hard to understand that even today, some Russians think Stalin was a good leader. Are they still unaware of what went on?