Overview of 2018 Reading

Literary classics. I was able to finish 16 different classics this year, and each by a different author! I won’t go into detail here as I wrote a blogpost for each of them. The authors, in the order I read them, are: Virginia Woolf, Honoré de Balzac, Sigrid Undset, Evelyn Waugh, Willa Cather, Ismail Kadare, George Eliot, Chaim Potok, Kazuo Ishiguro, Émile Zola, Vladimir Nabokov, Aristophanes, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jane Austen, Stanislaw Lem, and Mikhail Bulgakov. (Clicking any of those names will direct you to my posts on them.)

Other literary books. Following recommendations from workers at a local bookstore in Rome, I read and finished a couple other literary works this year that I would not list among the classics. The first of these is Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer, an autobiographical account of the author’s attempt to write a biography of D.H. Lawrence. I had previously heard of Dyer only from a lengthy article on Rebecca West, but the recommendation was strong, so I went for it. It was an unfortunate choice. Apart from a few amusing anecdotes about Italy (which eventually led to me watching spaghetti Westerns this summer), the books is basically just a cranky monologue. Another worker from the same bookstore recommended The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood. In this case, the book was entertaining and clever at parts, but ultimately left me wanting to read the real thing.

michigan

Michigan. I have often thought: Spain, Italy and Greece have all produced great literature. But what do they have in common? They are peninsulas. Should not then Michigan have an even greater literature? For it is two peninsulas. Indeed, according to the barely-known and perhaps unfortunate 1972 Pledge to the State Flag, it is:

two beautiful peninsulas united by a bridge of steel
where equal opportunity and justice to all is our ideal.

And so I searched for the literary treasure that I expected to find in Michigan, and though I did not have time to search as thoroughly as I would like, I found a very helpful book for this journey: Michigan Literary Luminaries by Anna Clark. In this book, Clark brings forth the best Michigan has to offer: from the more literary Ernest Hemingway and Joyce Carol Oates to the more popular Elmore Leonard and Donald Goines. Anna Clark concludes with a much more hopeful estimation of Michigan’s literary output than I arrived at, but she does a great job telling the story along the way. I will continue my search once I am back in Michigan.

Odd coincidence: While talking with workers at a bookstore in my home town, I found out that Anna Clark once worked there! She was scheduled to give a talk there after I left, but I was able to meet her at another venue in Kalamazoo where she was presenting her newest book on the Flint water crisis. She seemed very excited that someone had found and enjoyed her book on Michigan’s literature!

Also on the subject of Michigan literature, I mention here Michigan author Jon Oldham’s project which I recently wrote a post on.

Books I did not finish. There are probably more books than these that I picked up an put down again, but these stand out. The first is Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain, an autobiographical work about a nurse in World War I. It was highly recommended on a number of blogs and had found a place among the Penguin Classics, but I just couldn’t do it after 200 pages. She struck me self-centered and I wasn’t given reasons to expect any improvement, so I decided to let that one go. Then next one was recommended by a lady working at Barbara’s Bookstore in the O’Hare airport, who said it was her favorite book: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. It starts with a boy discovering a forgotten book in a hidden library, and the drama goes from there. There were many things I liked about it early on, but the main character became less and less interesting with every chapter, and then I stopped. There are too many good books in the world to be spending time on ones that miss the mark. One last book I did not finish a was a collection of poetry by Cavafy, a modern Greek poet. This book is excellent! I dropped it when I went home for the summer and I hope to pick it up again in the new year.

Comics. Should I include this in my reading for the year? When I spent time with my family this summer, we often watched either Marvel movies or the recent sequel series to Dragon Ball Z. Inspired by the first of those and tempted by special offers for Marvel Unlimited, I ended up reading the 1991 Infinity Gauntlet comics on which the recent Infinity War film is at least partly based. This led to reading comics about Adam Warlock as well as his Infinity Watch, a group similar to the Guardians of the Galaxy, each member of which is entrusted with an Infinity Stone. These were fun, but I decided not to renew my month’s subscription—they’re almost endless and they make new ones every day! The other comic I picked up was Jaco the Galactic Patrolman, a recent work from the creator of Dragon Ball Z. It was short and fun, but I don’t think it would reading for anyone but fans of Akira Toriyama.

breviaryPsalms. Back in June, I spent a few days the Benedictine monastery in Norcia, where I was at last convinced to switch to the older use of the Roman Breviary for my daily prayers. Instead of praying the Psalms over the course of a month (as the current Liturgy of the Hours does) the Breviarium Romanum (as it was prayed in 1962) moves through the entire Psalter each week. This takes a little more time, but one eventually gets used to the rhythm and the Psalms quickly become more familiar. Recognizing the how central the Psalms are to my daily prayer and how they are used at Mass every day, it seemed worth the effort to understand them better. I started with a commentary on Psalm 119 by St. Ambrose, and then started going back and forth between the homilies of St. Augustine and St. Jerome on various Psalms. Apart from these ancient commentaries, I read John Bergsma’s Psalms Basics for Catholics, a very simple but very helpful overview on the structure of the book of Psalms and how the entire story of the Old Testament is reflected in them. After that I read N.T. Wright’s A Case for the Psalms, which was not so much an argument for their usage as a reflection on his own experience praying and singing them. On a recommendation in that book, I started listening to recordings of Anglican choirs chanting the Psalms—truly something to work up to in our own churches. I didn’t get around them, but I had hoped to read reflections on the Psalms from C.S. Lewis and Girolamo Savonarola, and then a book recommended by Bergsma called Singing in the Reign.

Saints. I love preaching on the lives of the Saints. If there is a Gospel passage that is difficult to interpret, you can never go wrong by seeing how the Saints lived that Gospel in their own lives. The only life that I read in full this year was a small book on Blessed Margaret of Castello. She was born blind and crippled, was ignored and eventually abandoned by her wealthy parents, and attained to the heights of holiness. I highly recommend her biography by Fr. William Bonniwell, O.P.

State of the Church. With all the craziness in the news about goings-on in the Church, I read The Book of Gomorrah by St. Peter Damian, written about 1000 years ago. He writes about the awful lifestyles of clerics in his own day and about the heights of virtue which God demands of every priest. The other book I read, before any of the scandals this summer, was The Last Testament, an interview with Pope Benedict XVI. What a humble and intelligent man! Only time will tell us the full ramifications of his weighty decision to step down from the Petrine office.

tribunalCanon law. Though I don’t usually write about it on here, I would bet that over half of my reading in the last year was in one way or another related to canon law. In the first half of 2018, I was in a seminar on the power of governance in the Church and so I read many articles related to that, especially on judicial power and its delegation as this was the topic I presented in the seminar. This last semester, my focus shifted almost entirely to presumptions as a form of proof, and especially judicial presumptions, as this is the topic I have chosen for my license tesina. I have whole bibliography of textbooks, commentaries, articles, and original sources on this topic, but I’ll wait until it’s finished before I share a summary.

Books started. There are two books I am going through at very leisurely pace, which I do not think I will finish for a very long time. One of these is the Collected Fictions of Jorge Luis Borges, which collects his many collections of short fiction. As finish each of these collections, I will write a post on it, but I am only reading a couple pages a day. The other book I am plodding through is the Disquisitiones Arithmeticae by Carl Friedrich Gauss. When I was reading Stanislaw Lem, there were many references to Gauss as if he were quasi-deity and, though I knew the name, I could not recall any of his discoveries or contributions off the top of my head. A couple searches later, I found that he wrote a textbook on number theory and sent away for it. It is an exact work and I never get through more than a page in a sitting, but it’s a pleasure to pick up something mathematical after nearly 6 years without anything of the kind. I intend to write a post on it soon, though it may be years before I actually finish it.

15 thoughts on “Overview of 2018 Reading

  1. Always a joy to read about your readings. I am recreating the way I wrote my 2018 in books post, lol, I just love the way you and other blogger friends went about this, relating and narrating why and how they picked and read what they did.

    I share with you the fact that I do read by recommendation, or when I see a book that someone who loves a certain book and whose review excites my curiosity.

    I do love how you quit books that miss the mark. I don’t think I have had to quit any this year, -the few bad titles, I read quickly and passed pages unread, but this year I am not picking something up because of book club anymore, (I quit that).

    You may want to know that I am back to The House of Ulloa, which I started and loved but never finished.

    I am determined to read books I acquired because I loved them but never read.

    I also enjoyed your Psalm devotional. We are currently studying the Psalms and I have to get back to my habit of reading from Psalms everyday.

    So glad to hear that you have some examples of those religious men who also read outside the religious cannon. I am reading a book called On Reading Well, and for some, there’s a link between reading literature and all types of books, and our spiritual life. Again, we all have to be honest and see that we have the right order of priorities and affections, -ordo amoris.

    Looking forward to your 2019 reviews, and thanks for praising Spain among other peninsulas for her good literature, I share the sentiment.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello, Max! I just wanted to share that I’m reading England’s Hour by Vera Brittain (a journal describing the bombings in England she experienced in the Second World War, intended for publication), & I wanted to share a paragraph from the Foreword written by her friend Winifred Eden-Green (1981), who had known her for years:

    “[Brittain’s] feelings at the end of [WWII] were a mixture of hope and despair. In March 1944 she looked back over 4 1/2 years and reflected that far from Poland’s integrity being saved by the imminent allied victory, that country was going to be carved up like a joint of meat. Two months later, with the victory bells ringing in her ears, she wrote: ‘There is a real danger that we may underestimate the capacity of the common man to build a new heaven and a new earth.’ It was a brave thing to say for she was all too well aware of the hazards. [Pacifists were being imprisoned at the time, for one thing. She was also being held in England and refused the right to travel because of her professed views on war. She was separated from her children for three years because of this.] She was always concerned about the diverging paths of technology and ethics, and were she alive today she might well have been near despair with a world that can successfully launch and bring back a space shuttle but which has failed to solve the post-war housing problems of even the Western nations. So far the common man has not done very well but, as she was fond of reminding her friends, Christianity did not end with the death of Christ.”

    You write, “She struck me self-centered and I wasn’t given reasons to expect any improvement.” I find that comment fascinating since Testament of Youth was written by a woman about a war that punched a hole in a Victorian tradition that had for FAR too long expected women to stick to moral delivery in their books. (I have yet to actually complete a George Eliot novel, so I’m interested in seeing how she (Eliot) confronts that expectation. I believe she was a favorite of Brittain’s.)

    In Testament of Youth, Brittain must focus on self in order to convey the workings of her mind in war, her rationalizations, her real emotions and feelings. She could have conveyed herself as more palatable (you can’t go wrong with a self-sacrificing heroine), but she doesn’t, because she wasn’t. She was blunt. She had opinions, and vim, and anger. You want her to “improve,” but she’s writing about a world that was tearing her in two. You want her to look outward, but all around her she sees destruction. I think that was probably part of her point. That world trapped her, stifled her, and nearly broke her. She was held in stasis for four years, and then told to go on in a world that was already beginning to forget even as she climbed out of the destruction.

    For me, Testament of Youth is like a photographic essay of what happened to her, which means it comes warts and all, and you must be able to see past that, in order to see the humanity, and the incredible sacrifice she is trying to show us, lest we forget.

    (Spoiler follows). Brittain lost, one after the next, her fiancé, her friend Victor, her friend Geoffrey, and finally her brother, in that war. She was full of rage, even, I think, as she wrote it. Rage at the senseless loss, the senseless fighting, and her very real fear that Europe was beginning to do the same thing all over again (she wrote it in 1933, only a few years before the Second World War began). She was full of rage at a carefully constructed Victorian childhood that she believed kept her from seeing what was coming — kept her brothers from seeing it. She was terrified for the next generation. And I think very introspective as she wrote — about her role in that world, how it felt to try to defy it, how it felt to be duped. And she was speaking, I think, for a great many women (and men) who felt the same way she did.

    As I understand it, one of your favorite authors, Rebecca West, found Testament of Youth exquisite, as did Virginia Woolf, who (with deepest respect to her, as I never knew the woman) was reportedly no picnic herself. More power to her, for she wrote anyway. ❤

    All of this said, I totally respect reading what you want, and stopping if a book isn't doing it for you. I just wanted to give you more insight on her. Because honestly, having now read two biographies on Brittain, two of her novels, two of her memoirs, and heaps of her essays, the last thing I'd call her is self-centered. Instead I'd call her angry, and terribly, terribly sad.

    I've read that in person she was very quiet, even often shy, and extremely compassionate. Eden-Green writes that when she was speaking with people, there was sometimes a touch of "lady bountiful" about Brittain, even in her later years. She adds that "it was the last impression she would have wished to convey."

    Brittain would go on to risk her professional reputation and her life in the 1940s, to try to attain peace for her children, for her country, for the Germans themselves, and for us during the Second World War. She argued against the ill treatment of the Italians in her country and tried to convince the British to go on even tighter rations in the 1940s because "if we can't be generous enough to feed the hungry [Belgians, Dutch, and Greeks], we are unworthy of freedom and shall not deserve our victory." She wrote a series of peace letters that earned her a place on Hitler's arrest list on the same page as Winston Churchill.

    Was she a little unpleasant sometimes? Oh yes. Undoubtedly. As, I can only assume, were many of the survivors of the First World War, & her fellow surly humans. She had PTSD that haunted her. She had endured unimaginable loss. And she went on to fight for others, for the rest of her life. I'd a sight rather have a courageous and crusty human than a polite and apathetic one. She got back up, over, and over, and over. And she kept speaking. She kept trying. She kept working toward the very improvement you wanted 200 pages into her book. Dear Max. With all due respect, sometimes it takes a lifetime.

    “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.” – Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell To Arms.

    Cheers. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for all of your comments!! (I’m replying to this one, but I see the ones you making on my Woolf and Austen posts.) I really do appreciate your efforts at helping me to see what I was not patient to see. You are certainly correct in recalling Brittain’s love of George Eliot–she peppers the early part of Testament with references to a handful of Eliot’s novels, and I was able to appreciate that.

      I’m struggling to find the words for what I found so unattractive in Brittain’s writing. Simply reading the things you describe are enough to make one’s heart go out to her: her efforts for peace and care for the hungry, her loss of friends and separation from her children. Again, perhaps I did not give her enough time, but even in the midst of all that she saw and experienced and did, I had little confidence that her insight would go deeper than that. “She had opinions, and vim, and anger,” but I am so little interested in opinions that are merely that. You describe her feeling duped in the way she was raised, and yet she still gives me the impression that she is in shadows. That all sounds for more dismissive than I would like, but those are the thoughts/feelings that come to mind as I try to remember it. I think you’re right that self-centered isn’t the correct word to describe her–her actions on behalf of others indicate this. But there’s something so “not quite” in all of her thoughts, and as you say, she is “angry, and terribly, terribly sad”.

      I would contrast this with someone like Rebecca West whose vision of life (as much as I disagree with it) more often sought an all-encompassing approach to things, a vision of the whole. Her worst book is certainly her biography of St. Augustine where she reduces him to a caricature of her own invention. Her most excellent work is Black Lamb and Grey Falcon where she looks at what most of the world sees as unimportant countries and peoples, and she paints in detail their very souls and bodies, bringing them to life and setting them up as the equals and betters of the rulers and philosophers renowned in world history.

      It’s the importance of it all. You mentioned in another post my bias against meaninglessness, but it is true–I have no tolerance whatsoever for someone putting effort into convincing me that something is meaningless. This is the default, or worse, the result of ignorance, miseducation, or disappointment. I do not watch comedies that are less funny than my own life, and so I will not seek meaning from someone who admits to seeing less of it than I do. I love authors like George Eliot or Rebecca West because they convince me that what they are writing about is extremely important, whether it is a character’s fear of looking silly or whether the fate of nations are at stake, they somehow couch their subject in a drama that makes me look for the greater import in my own daily life.

      Jane Austen doesn’t really do this so much…but I still think she is very funny and sees a lot that I otherwise wouldn’t notice. I like Jane Austen.

      I think you offer the best possible argument for reading the annalists of meaninglessness–they’re human. This means one can’t help but learn something every time one reads an author who is honest. At the same time, to read a novel (or memoir) is to spend time in someone’s mind. However much we think we are influenced by the words and tones of others, it is certainly much more than that. For that reason, I think it’s worth being selective.

      …That being said, I’ve read almost nothing since the start of the new year! My main excuse at the moment is that I’m finishing up my thesis (for which I am reading plenty), but your comments have certainly reignited my desire to start reading again. I may even have to pick up Testament of Youth, or perhaps a different work of hers (if I had started with the wrong work of Rebecca West, it is very unlikely I would have arrived at her masterpieces). Thank you again for your comments! I do hope I haven’t said anything entirely off, and that you’ll forgive my impressions being based on 200 pages that I read half a year ago.

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      • Hi Max! Thanks so much for taking the time to answer. I really respect your viewpoint and appreciate hearing what you have to say.

        Of course I forgive you giving up on Brittain after 200 pages! I’ve stopped on books I dislike well before 200 pages, & have never made it through a full book by either of your two favorite writers. 😛

        I wouldn’t presume to have an opinion about your discomfort on Brittain’s work, beyond to tap you on the shoulder and suggest that you may miss a bit of enlightenment by avoiding the emptiness you say you find uninspiring. Sometimes hearing of another’s emptiness can widen your perspective, even if it isn’t comfortable. Not emptiness for the sake of emptiness, really. But emptiness as a perspective on history, which is I think what Brittain offers. She wasn’t a perfect human by any means, and I’ve read that many were turned off by her blunt/cold perspective in life as well as writing. But I personally feel she had a great deal to contribute. (And I don’t find her at all cold. I find her full of depth and compassion and feeling such as I’ve never read before. But many have other opinions.) 🙂

        Brittain was a very black and white thinker — and possibly this is what you find frustrating. She was an historian and thought and dealt in cause and effect. She knew what she believed was right, and she knew what she believed was wrong, and when she wrote of her experience, she tended to write it with a tinge of predetermined judgment, and that may be what you’re picking up on?

        I believe her purpose in Testament of Youth isn’t to try to make sense of the war and its effect on her so much as to report on its senselessness (by describing its effect on her personally.)

        Her message isn’t that she’s made peace with it, or that the experience strengthened her. She’s gifting you with the terrible and the senseless so that you can take that torch and attempt to do better, and see better, and be better. For history. (You being the universal you. Not you personally.) 🙂

        I find her story incredibly meaningful (and universal), because she is telling you what war feels like at the individual level. Not on the battlefield. Not in some dusty book describing Hector’s fight with a distant ancient. But in her home, in her mind, in her diary, in her letters, in the waiting, in the conflict between wanting to cheer for the soldiers you’ve sent off and staring human violence in the face. You favor Eliot’s “all-encompassing” approach, and that’s understandable. I love Brittain’s up close and personal, individual approach. I feel that I am practically there with her.

        Brittain’s aim was to add a female voice to the literature of World War One that was beginning to come out in the 1920s. She had enormous respect for what the men had seen overseas, and the effect that the war had on returning soldiers, and the memoirs of their experience. Books were coming out by men like Robert Graves, and she admired and respected those works but felt they didn’t tell the full story, for she had lived the female experience. Her aim was to show what the war did to women — the effect of war on the home front. But she was an historian far more than she was a novelist. Her aim isn’t to write theme so much as to communicate cause and effect. If she has a theme, it’s that history is made up of decisions, and acceptance, and apathy, and courageous choices and terrifying losses and machinations well beyond the individual, so we must never sleep through our lives.

        There’s a scene in Testament of Youth in a German ward near the end of the war, where she is nursing, that really speaks to the hope I believe she ultimately sees in humanity: her brother is off killing Germans, and she is close by in France trying to save the very people he is killing, because it is asked of her in that mad machine of war where nothing made sense. Anyway, she begins to see that the Germans she has been told are the enemy are as terribly frightened as her own side of the war, and that’s when she really starts to interrogate the cause of it all and realize that she has been duped. She starts to see that she and her brother and his friends have been used — like pawns. They have been numbed. These Germans aren’t her enemy. They are fellow humans, caught in the same machine she is.

        I think the basic message she wanted to speak throughout life (in all the work I’ve read by her, including her speeches, which increasingly occupied her time in the 1940s and going forward) is that we must awake to make any difference in history. We cannot be herded along like sheep, and it is so easy to never realize we are being herded. We all have the power to change history. By simply changing ourselves, becoming more aware, making active choices in favor of a better way.

        If her delivery is rather like a hammer beating the table, I think that was her urgent effort to shake people awake. If her delivery is broken, faraway, in the shadows, I can only say that it’s likely more effect than cause. And what I meant to convey was only this: if you turn away because you don’t find her view personally uplifting, you are closing your eyes to the senselessness many have felt throughout history, and that may rob you of the benefit of perspective that contributes to enlightenment and empathy.

        Which in no way means I think you should finish Testament of Youth. Read what moves you. This may not be your book. I’m only saying that when you see meaninglessness or anguish expressed in literature, you can use that. You don’t have to wait for the writer to tie it all up for you and make it meaningful. You can see it as history, because it is. Reading it, even if it doesn’t personally uplift you, can contribute to how you see your fellow humans.

        I think that works that tie it all together universally, like West, like Eliot, that give you an impression of “the whole” are great. But works that are at a loss for meaning, that take you up close and personal into a fellow human’s anguish, can expose you to the agony of never finding meaning, and that can only strengthen your empathy. And there is benefit in that — insight in that — that can be priceless. Those Lost Generation writers were lost for a reason, is I suppose what I’m saying. We did it to ourselves, and how we did it, how it felt, how to process it — that’s the great benefit of literature. It’s the cousin to history — the artistic embodiment of who we have been. And surely you know it hasn’t been easy. x

        “Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
        Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
        But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
        Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
        I am no prophet–and here’s no great matter;
        I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
        I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
        And in short, I was afraid. ”
        – T.S. Eliot

        I’ll definitely be reading George Eliot and Rebecca West. I respect your remarks on both writers and am very interested in experiencing what they had to say, and how they said it. I’ll especially be looking for the universality and “all-encompassing” approach you say you appreciate.

        I have read a lot, and there is much I have never read. So I say all of the above with the caveat that I am a work in progress and will likely change with the books I read. Possibly in ten years I will see Brittain differently. But I doubt it. I think she has climbed fully into me, and given voice to feelings I didn’t even know I had, and as strange as it may seem, given that you read her work as you do, she has given light to me, and strength, and courage, and purpose, and hope, in a way no writer ever has. I guess there’s a writer for all of us, who somehow manages that. ❤

        Good luck with your thesis!! I've just been through my exams and have earned my degree, and I can tell you it's sunny over here on the graduated side! I'm sending luck and good thoughts. x

        Liked by 1 person

      • * that you’ll forgive my impressions being based on 200 pages that I read half a year ago *

        I believe I misread this. I see you meant “forgive” as in “forgive the quality of my review, as I wrote it based upon only 200 pages read half a year ago.” Well, of course on this as well! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • * I have no tolerance whatsoever for someone putting effort into convincing me that something is meaningless *

        My point is that sometimes they aren’t trying to convince you at all. They are simply saying something along the lines of “it has come to this.” Novelists (the good ones) create mirrors that reflect humanity back at itself. Example, Woolf. I doubt it was her aim to convince anyone that life was meaningless (although, for all I know, she felt that it was). I think she was simply reflecting the feeling of that back on the reader. As in, life contains this sense of meaninglessness. Humanity is filled with this. Make of that what you will.

        (My goodness, sorry for a choppy response here! Also, you’re in good company. I’ve only read two books so far this year! One was a Vera Brittain novel that, while imperfect near the end {she was better at memoir} was THRILLING to read because it features female friendship. And says to women, be\asically, get thee out there and write however imperfect you are because it will have mattered that you said something. Yes, and yes. Good grief, I like her!) 🙂

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      • “It’s all rot that they put in the war-news about the good humour of the troops, how they are arranging dances almost before they are out of the front-line. We don’t act like that because we are in a good humour: we are in a good humour because otherwise we should go to pieces.” – All Quiet on the Western Front.

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      • I was wondering: Now that you are finished with your degree, are you going to take up your blog again?

        Hi! 🙂

        I don’t know. I was actually just thinking about that when I logged on here this morning. There is much I love about blogging, so possibly? I do miss the conversation.

        I was actually wondering if you could recommend a good history on the Balkans/Yugoslavia to read before I take up Rebecca West again? I bought a copy of Black Lamb & Grey Falcon a while ago based upon your recommendation. I love (love) your description above, about her all-encompassing approach to a peoples overlooked in books/history up to that point, but when I started reading her book, I was totally confused: it seems to presume a pre-knowledge of that history I haven’t got. I thought reading an overview of the history before her book might help? Although Wikipedia might be all I need. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • So I have to admit: I actually did a 2-week road trip through the Balkans before picking up West’s masterpiece. Most of what I learned there (and from Wikipedia) however was recent history, such as the Balkan wars throughout the 90’s, or the rise of socialism and Tito and all that, so that when I arrived at West (writing in 1939 I believe), she was discussing events that I hadn’t read much about before, and yet it was helpful to at least have the geography in mind. I think staring at a map for a while may be the most useful thing to do: even her original audience wouldn’t have know much about the Balkans, so I think she only presumes a more general world history in her reader.

        So yeah, basically Wikipedia 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ha ha, okay! That’s the conclusion I was just drawing: I have been on Amazon this morning trying to find books, and most seem to center on the ’90s. The few I can find on prior history have reviews that suggest the books on the topic rush through the history and presume a pre-knowledge much like the one I experienced with West. I found one which may be of use: The Balkans: A Short History by Mark Mazower. But it might be just as useful to Google as I go while reading West. I like the idea of the map.

        How exciting to have a chance to walk the actual land!! You should blog about that experience. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh!! And I must tell you, simply because of the conversation we’ve had above: my sister is on a mission trip in Liberia right now. I’ve been conversing with her daily by video, and my it is beautiful there. The sunrises! Anyhow, yesterday, a delivery person knocked at my door, and what did I find waiting for me? A FIRST EDITION COPY OF VERA BRITTAIN’S SECOND NOVEL NOT WITHOUT HONOUR. It’s so rare I believe it only had one printing, and it’s very hard to find a copy. I couldn’t even get it through the library! I own Brittain’s other four novels but had given up hope of that one. My sister had it sent over for my graduation gift!! She is tops. 😀

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