Last month I mentioned that a couple of my February book purchases were the result of coping with some rough days. I had a bout of pneumonia when I was a teen. This was not quite the same yet I was actually annoyed when my doctor told me I did not have pneumonia because the alternative – that I’ve had the misfortune of three separate colds in six weeks – seemed far more irritating at the time. I am pleased to say that March was a much better month for me. Consequently, there was only one book purchase as a result of needing something to pick me up, coming at the beginning of the month and the tail end of that horrible period.
This was Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. I’ve had my eye on this book for a while, but reading JM Roberts’ Ancient History helped push me. Written in the 5th century BCE, it is considered to be one of the earliest surviving attempts at a ‘scientific’ history. That is, a history that attempts to be an objective retelling of facts free from bias, apologetics or myths.
As for my more intentional purchases this month, I bought Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, Faith vs Fact by Jerry Coyne and Why Orwell Matters by Christopher Hitchens.
The Decameron has been on my list for a while but it was reading and enjoying The Canterbury Tales last year that gave me the push to consider more medieval literature. The book was a lot bigger than I had expected. Sure, it is a book of 100 stories (10 people sharing 1 story each a day for 10 days while they wait out the plague), but the ‘Translators Introduction’ is also over 100 pages long!
I am a fan of Jerry Coyne and have been wanting his latest book Faith vs Fact; Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible for a while. As a follower of his blog, I know the lengths Coyne went to in researching this book, reading a lot of theology. This is one of those books where you feel gratitude towards the author for the effort made on an important, but little discussed, subject so that the rest of us can enjoy the results while being spared the same effort.
Following Kellyanne Conway’s immortal ‘Alternative Facts’ remark, Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four enjoyed a spike in sales. This was followed by a similar spike for Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (probably also partly due to the upcoming TV series) and renewed debates on whether Nineteen Eighty Four or Huxley’s Brave New World will better capture our future dystopia.
Such are the times we live in. Which made me wonder if it was now time to finally get Christopher Hitchens’ Why Orwell Matters. It may also serve my wife, who may soon be teaching Nineteen Eighty Four again. Hopefully books like Nineteen Eighty Four, Brave New World and The Handmaid’s Tale will be taught in English classes the world over in the next few years.
That was all I was planning to get in March, but a trip to a local Sunday market led to two more. I had been to that market before. It has a second-hand book stall with some very good books in very poor condition! Last time I was there I spotted a first edition of Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark but it had a personal message inside so I passed it by.
This time I found what looked like a first edition of Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh. It is a book I like, in good, but not great, condition. But I passed it by too, despite being only $5. As I’ve said previously, I’m trying to avoid these ‘why not’ type purchases. I also spotted a first edition of Hornby’s About a Boy. I liked the movie but do I really need the book? Even a $5 first edition? I also found a copy of The Good Soldier Švejk. It was a hardcover, illustrated with some interesting cartoons. But the top side was covered in dust and dirt. Annoyed, I passed it by too.
Despite all this, I did find two books in reasonably good condition that I do want. So I came away with Underworld by Don Delillo and American Pastoral by Philip Roth.
This is a quiet time here at We Need to Talk About Books. I have long suspected that a lot the views this site generates are from students looking for reviews of the books they are studying in class like Pigeon English and A Single Man. Since Easter is a pretty universal school holiday period in the English-speaking world, visitors to this site plummet around this time! There is also the fact that non-fiction reviews don’t get nearly as many views or likes as fiction, but non-fiction is all I have to review at the moment. This is exaggerated even more because the books on my reading list this year are quite long. I’ve just finished the almost-700-page Wild Swans by Jung Chang and the almost-900-page Ancient History by JM Roberts. I’ve just started Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, so hopefully it will not be long before I can post something more to my follower’s liking!