The Paradoxes of Loneliness from Jean Vanier’s Becoming Human

Depression isolates and introverts. It's a brutally vicious circle. And so when one occasionally gets swept up by outbreaks of energy, they are often focused on desperately trying to make connections beyond oneself. It might be music; it might be a conversation with someone who gets it with minimal explanation; it might be words on a page. I love that line from Shadowlands, William Nicholson's TV play (turned into a stage play and then feature film) about C. S. Lewis's grief for his late wife Joy (though bear in mind that the film really misses a lot of the theological nuance of the play, inevitably): 

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Transports of delight: 5 great Books about reading other Books

It wasn't a plan particularly, but then that's part of the joy of books - I never have a plan for what I'm going to sink my teeth into next. It is usually just a matter of wanting something different from the one before. But a couple of books recently have done that self-referential thing: they're books about books (a bit like U2's recent self-referential album, I suppose). And it got me thinking about the other books I've loved that have done this.

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Veiled irrelevance: a surprising point of connection?

As ever slow on the uptake, but I finally got round to reading Azar Nafisi's beautifully written 2004 book, Reading Lolita in Tehran. It is a rich, highly thoughtful and thought-provoking memoir from an Iranian English literature professor about her life and students (in particular the small but diverse groupof women in her reading group). She meditates deeply on her culture, on their favourite authors and their books, on the simple wonders of reading. She makes extraordinary, unexpected connections - which aid understanding of both the literature and life in Tehran.

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Odds and ends: some random book reviews on China, Marriage… and Auschwitz

So, there's been seriously long radio-silence from Q in recent weeks. But this is not the result of inactivity. Far from it. Regulars will be pleased to hear that my book is seriously under way - with 5 out of 10 chapters now completed in draft. Phew!! There's going to be lots to blog on when it's done - but I don't have the energy or brain to do both at the same time! Nevertheless, I've been keeping up reading and stuff. Here are a few reviews of recent freebies I got on the Amazon Vine programme. There might be something of interest to someone...

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All is not well … in the state of Denmark: George Packer’s THE UNWINDING (USA’s ‘inner history’)

Well, to all my American friends and family, Happy 4th July. I wish you a great day of celebration and fun. That is always a little strange coming from a Brit. After all, you did rebel against us. But I think we've kinda gotten over it now (as you might put it). But it's well-meant. America is a country I've grown to love (or at least certainly the bits I've visited). And as Bono has said more than once (perhaps explaining why he's never forsaken his Irish roots despite his love for the US): Ireland's a great country, but America is a great idea. And that's what the 4th is all about at its best. A great idea.

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Francis Spufford on Childhood books 4: Why Narnia matters

For me, though, the standout of Francis Spufford's reading memoir The Child That Books Built is the chapter entitled The Island. For it is here that he waxes lyrical about Narnia. It is not just because he chimes with the countless numbers who loved C S Lewis' books (despite the likes of Philip Pullman and Polly Toynbee). It is the fact that he grasps something of their theological wonder (which will come as no surprise perhaps to those who have enjoyed his Unapologetic).

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Francis Spufford on Childhood books 3: Why libraries matter

One of the most poignant aspects of Francis Spufford's reading memoir The Child That Books Built is his having to come to terms with his younger (by 3 years) sister's desperate, chronic illness. She eventually died at 22, as a result of some well-timed medical breakthroughs - but it inevitably took its toll on the whole family. It drove the young Francis even further into books. And to very regular bus journeys to the local public library.

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Francis Spufford on Childhood books 2: Why fairy tales matter

Having considered the importance of stories and fiction in general, Spufford in The Child That Books Built now works through the different stages of growing up, moving from the simplest picture books onto fairy tales. Much psychologising about their significance has been indulged in over the last century or so, and Spufford weaves a careful threat through it all. The crucial thing is to understand why stories resonate:

'Only those voices from without are effective,’ wrote the critic Kenneth Burke in 1950, ‘which speak in the language of a voice within.’ (p52)

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