Douglas Adams’ Ford Prefect may have found the actual getting-from-place-to-place aspect of travel boring, but it does at least provide the opportunity to squeeze in some wuality reading time – especially when the airport bookshop has a small but high-quality selection of classics. And so my Easter break provided a useful opportunity to tick off a few must-reads. On my reading list for late March and early April:
The Canterbury Tales: Not much to say here except that I’m slowly plodding on, and am now almost half-way through.
The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoevsky: I’m now up to Part Three, and worrying about the fate of Nastasya Filippovna as well as Prince Myshkin. At the moment they’re all on holiday, which is where I no longer am.
The Story of Painting, by Sister Wendy Beckett: This weighty tome is significantly more up-to-date than my own History of Western Art, and I anticipate taking full advantage of the library’s renewal service to get through it. The simple, accessible language, short, clear sections, and abundant illustrations make this easy to read, if not exactly easy to lift.
The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane: Set during the American Civil War and often regarded as ‘the first war novel’, The Red Badge of Courage is a study in courage and cowardice from the perspective of ‘the youth’, Henry Fleming, whose romantic illusions about war are swiftly shattered by his first contact with the enemy. His illusions about himself, however, take rather longer to dissolve, and for much of the novel the ‘hero’ is a decidedly unheroic and unpleasant little tit. However, this is in a way a coming of age novel, and he does improve. Also, it’s short (only 136 pages), so you don’t have to put up with him for long
Murder in the Dark, by Kerry Greenwood: My light reading this month is another one of Greenwood’s Miss Fisher Mysteries. This time around our heroine has been invited to the Last Best Party of 1928. Someone clearly doesn’t want her to go, which of course guarantees her attendance. Or was that their motive all along? Once at the party, the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher soon finds the festivities paling beside the rather more pressing diversions of missing children, the riddles of a taunting killer, and the rather delicious Nicholas. As always, Phryne is a larger-than-life character, which is a huge part of what makes these stories so much fun.
While Miss Fisher was off breaking hearts, chasing killers and rescuing children, in the real world Virginia Woolf was delivering the talk on women in literature which would become the essay A Room of One’s Own. Woolf’s argument that the absence of women from the history of literature is due to the unimportance with which women’s endeavours – be they literary, artistic, scientific, or business – have historically been treated by society, symbolised by the lack of provision of ‘a room of one’s own’ in which to work, is a searing indictment of the inequalities of the past, and, for today’s reader, an earnest reminder not to forget where we’ve been, how far we’ve come, or how far we have to go before we realise that ‘[a]ll this pitting of sex against sex, of quality against quality; all this claiming of superiority and imputing of inferiority, belong to the private school stage of human existence where there are ‘sides’, and it is necessary for one side to beat another, and of the utmost importance to walk up to a platform and receive from the hands of the Headmaster himself a highly ornamental pot.’
That’s a sentiment with which St. Paul might well have agreed: among my recent Bible readings was the book of Philippians, in which Paul (who elsewhere wrote that ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ – Galatians 3:28) outlines the Jewish heritage and righteousness in which he once took pride, only to add that ‘I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ’ (Philippians 3:8-9). Some of those laws are my next stopping-point in my annual read-through: I’m off to Leviticus, with a side of Mark for balance.
That’s my recent reading list: what’s on yours?