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1001 Books Round-Up September 2022

This month’s winners and losers

The Rings of Saturn by W G Sebald. BOTM – What GR Says: The Rings of Saturn — with its curious archive of photographs — records a walking tour along the east coast of England. A few of the things which cross the path and mind of its narrator (who both is and is not Sebald) are lonely eccentrics, Sir Thomas Browne’s skull, a matchstick model of the Temple of Jerusalem, recession-hit seaside towns, wooded hills, Joseph Conrad, Rembrandt’s “Anatomy Lesson,” the natural history of the herring, the massive bombings of WWII, the dowager empress Tzu Hsi, and the silk industry in Norwich. Or in other words random rambling…

My Thoughts: I don’t enjoy non-fiction; I don’t enjoy rambling and I don’t like stories with no natural progression and as such I didn’t really enjoy this book. There are sections that I did enjoy particularly the silkworms but each section reads more like a magazine article rather than as chapters in a cohesive narrative.

3 Stars – I am in the minority everyone else seems to have loved it so don’t take my (curmudgeonly) word for it read it yourself at the very least you will probably learn something new.

News from Nowhere by William Morris.  BOTM What GR Says: ‘The only English utopia since More’s that deserves to be remembered as literature.’ News from Nowhere (1890) is the best-known prose work of William Morris. The novel describes the encounter between a visitor from the nineteenth century, William Guest, and a decentralized and humane socialist future. Set over a century after a revolutionary upheaval in 1952, these ‘Chapters from a Utopian Romance’ recount his journey across London and up the Thames to Kelmscott Manor, Morris’s own country house in Oxfordshire. Drawing on the work of John Ruskin and Karl Marx, Morris’s book is not only an evocative statement of his egalitarian convictions but also a distinctive contribution to the utopian tradition. Morris’s rejection of state socialism and his ambition to transform the relationship between humankind and the natural world, give News from Nowhere a particular resonance for modern readers. The text is based on that of 1891, incorporating the extensive revisions made by Morris to the first edition. It is all this but I enjoyed the boat trip up the Thames as an exercise in nostalgia…

My Thoughts: Another book that I found myself really enjoying to my surprise. OK the utopia sounds too good to be true and I can’t see that the society created could ever advance itself but given the state of the world now would that be such a bad thing?

For me though the best bit was the trip along the Thames and seeing how he imagined the places I know quite well (they are nothing like he imagines) and hearing what they were like in the past (they are nothing like the past).

3 Stars – a short look at an imagined socialist utopia with some interesting ideas.

Quicksand by Nella Larsen. Tackle the TBR. What GR says: Born to a white mother and an absent black father, and despised for her dark skin, Helga Crane has long had to fend for herself. As a young woman, Helga teaches at an all-black school in the South, but even here she feels different. Moving to Harlem and eventually to Denmark, she attempts to carve out a comfortable life and place for herself, but ends up back where she started, choosing emotional freedom that quickly translates into a narrow existence.

Quicksand , Nella Larsen’s powerful first novel, has intriguing autobiographical parallels and at the same time invokes the international dimension of African American culture of the 1920s. It also evocatively portrays the racial and gender restrictions that can mark a life. All true

My Thoughts: This is a powerful story but to me it is overshadowed by the brilliance that is Passing, that said this is an earlier work and you can see how Larsen has developed as a writer.

As a mixed raced child Helga doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere she doesn’t feel black or white enough to belong decisively to either camp. Being in Harlem, New York doesn’t suit her but when she is away in Denmark living with her white relatives she misses her black heritage. In Denmark she is treated as an exotic beauty and a prize to be won while in the US she remains essentially an outcast from the best of society. The ending for me is tragic.

3 Stars – this is an important work, it is a short read (under 200 pages) but it really packs a punch.

Have you read any of these? Let us know what you thought

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