Quote: James Hawes: Rancid Aluminium

 

I was running on pure belief. No, not on belief: on the pure need to believe.

But then you always do, in the end. You cannot run on logic: the maths always adds up to absolute zero, one way or another, and you never lose the black stretch Lada*, no matter how hard you drive. You can only live as if.

(Peter Thompson, p 312)

 

* in the book’s context, read ‘the hearse’

 

Neil Gaiman: American Gods

A bit of a disappointment. The problem was, partly at least, that I had the book recommended by Terry Pratchett (in A Slip of the Keyboard), which led to the mistaken belief it was a comic fantasy like the Discworld novels. In fact, despite the ocassional wisecrack, it’s about as comic as a Philip Marlowe mystery. (Also, a lot of the cultural allusions/references were lost on me.) In fact, I enjoyed best the part when the hero goes to lie low for a time in a small Wisconsin town – an almost slice-of-life part. And the ‘end’ drags on and on like the end of Planxty Noel Hill . . .

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Quotations:

No man, proclaimed Donne, is an Island, and he was wrong. If we were not islands, we would be lost, drowned in each other’s tragedies. We are insulated (a word that means, literally, remember, made into an island) from the tragedy of others, by our island nature.
(Mr Ibis, p 322)

 

I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative.
(Sam(antha) Black Crow, p 394)

 

Terry Pratchett: Thud!

There seems to be a pattern to late Discworld novels: They begin as mostly jokes, wordplay &c, but gradually the fun is being sidelined and some ethical allegory takes the centre of the stage.

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Quotations:

No excuses. He’d promised himself that. No excuses. No excuses at all. Once you had a good excuse, you opened the door to bad excuses.
(of Sam Vimes, p 138)

 

      Vimes tried to think. Don’t think of it all as one big bucket of snakes. Think of it as one snake at a time. Try to sort it out. Now, what needs to be done first?
      Everything.
      All right, try a different approach.
(p 163)

 

Home was where you had to feel safe. If you didn’t feel safe, it wasn’t home.
(of Sam Vimes, p 341)

 

Terry Pratchett: Hogfather

Somehow I enjoyed it (not much, but certainly) more than the two Discworld novels I’d read just before this one, but don’t ask me why, I’ve no idea. I just did.

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Quotation:

IT’S RIGHT TO BE HAPPY WITH WHAT YOU’VE GOT. BUT YOU’VE GOT TO HAVE SOMETHING TO BE HAPPY ABOUT HAVING. THERE’S NO POINT IN BEING HAPPY ABOUT HAVING NOTHING.
(Death to Albert, p 251)

 

Quote: Andrew Marr about keeping a diary

I write a diary every day and have done for many, many years. It’s a kind of idiotic schoolboy diary, “Got up, sun shining, had eggs for breakfast, very tasty” – that kind of diary. I ask myself why I’m writing it. And I think it’s an act of kind of mental hygiene, a sort of throat-clearing every day, a tic, a habit, and also, of course, outrageous vanity.
 

(From the first programme, “James Boswell”, of a BBC Two series “Great Scots: The Writers Who Shaped a Nation”)

Aonghas Pàdraig Caimbeul: Tilleadh Dhachaigh

Mas ma mo chuimhne, nuair a leugh mi an nobhail ghoirid seo (goirid ach annasach, inntinneach is tarraingeach) a’ chiad turas, trì bliadhna gu leth air ais, bha corr is duilleag làn notaichean agam dhe faclan is abairtean nach do thuig mi a dh’aindeoin a h-uile faclair a bha agam. A-nis, cha mhòr nach do thuig mi a h-uile rud. Cuideachd, cha chreid mi nach e gu math na b’ ainneamh a b’ fheudar dhomh coimhead ann am faclair.

Feumaidh gu bheil tuigse na Gàighlig agam a’ sìor fhàs nas fhearr – rud nach eil fìor idir, feumaidh mi aideachadh, mu dheidhinn a’ bhriathrachais ‘ghnìomhaich’ agam. Uaireannan, bidh mi a’ faireachdain mar gu bhios mi ag ionnsachadh is a’ dìochuimhneachadh is ag ionnsachadh is a’ dìochuimhneachadh agus mar sin sìos na h-aon fhaclan a-rithist ’s a-rithist …

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Às-aithrisean (sgrìobh mi na ceithir seo nam leabhar às-aithrisean a cheana a’ chiad turas, ach ’s fìor thoil leam iad fhathast, oir tha iad fhathast iomchaidh):

Sin an rud a tha mi ag ionndrainn. Comann nan daoine.
(Peadar Sutharlanach, td 22)

 

Tha mi mar a bha mi ach nas sine, gun aois. Chaidh mìorbhail a bhuileachadh orm: am bàs fhulang gus am mealainn beatha, annasach agus coimheach ’s gu bheil e, gu h-àraidh an-seo air taobh sear an t-saoghail far a bheil mi nam shrainnsear a dh’aindeoin gach fiosrachadh a fhuair mi, a dh’aindeoin gach rannsachadh a rinn mi, agus a dh’aindeoin gach oidhirp a nì mi.
(Peadar Sutharlanach, td 39)

 

“Creag Alasdair a bha riamh ac’ air a’ chreig seo,” thuirt e. “Ge bith cò bh’ ann an Alasdair.” Bha e caoineadh, na deòir nan sruth sìos aodann còmhla ri uisgean nan speuran. Shuidh sinn an sin fad uair a thìde, ’s na h-uisgeachan a’ cur thairis.
“Dè bh’ ann?” dh’fhaighnich mi dha.
“O – cha robh aon rud. Bha a h-uile rud.”
(Peadar Sutharlanach agus a sheanair, tdd 59-60)

 

“Bha mi a’ leigeil orm,” thuirt e an uair sin. “Fad mo bheatha. Ach bha a h-uile nì dheth fìor.”
(mu Pheadar Sutharlanach, td 90)

 

Agus tha às-aithris san nobhail bhon leabhar eile, leabhar nach do leagh mi riamh, Terre des hommes le Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

Aimer, ce n’est pas se regarder l’un l’autre, c’est regarder ensemble dans la même direction.

 

James Robertson: The Testament of Gideon Mack

The alleged link to James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner is in actual fact quite tenuous; and the passage in which the main character meets the Devil is actually weaker than the rest of the book. But the bulk of it is very good indeed: the ‘autobiography’ of a fictional atheistic Church of Scotland minister. I know authors as good as Robertson in making up a ‘personal’ life story and setting it against the changing historical background; I do not know any better ones.

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Quotations:

This is the hard lesson of my life: love is not in us from the beginning, like an instinct; love is no more original to human beings than sin. Like sin, it has to be learned.
(Gideon Mack, p 27)

 

Having achieved all she could have hoped for, she went into a three-year decline, at the end of which she expired.
(of Mrs Campbell, p 41)

 

Austerity is not highly regarded these days; not to have things is considered a mark of poverty. But there is more than one kind of poverty, and I have not seen more wretchedly impoverished people than the desperate crowds shopping for the sake of shopping in the post-Christmas sales.
(Gideon Mack, p 47)

 

I was boiling away within, but I kept a lid on my passions. Somewhere in his Journal Walter Scott says something about this, I forget the exact words: ‘Our passions are wild beasts: God grant us the strength to muzzle them.’ Unconsciously at first, and then deliberately, I learned how to do this. It was what enabled me to survive, but it was what prevented me, for so long, from really living.
(Gideon Mack, p 52)

 

I was an adolescent, brimming with energy and opinions: I should have despised, deplored or raged at my parents, but I didn’t. I simply didn’t care about them.
(Gideon Mack, p 86)

 

I’m not an atheist, I wouldn’t be so presumptuous. How do I know what’s out there and after this? I’m an agnostic.
(Catherine Craigie, p 181)

 

Terry Pratchett: Going Postal

Maybe not quite as good as, say, The Truth which I’d read before this one (I couldn’t really relate to the main character, never had much understanding for these ‘lovely rogues’ or whatever it’s called, and the climax is too unconvincing), but only marginally, the humour is there in the usual amount.

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Quotations:

He gave up. Mr Groat was in some strange, musty little world of his own. ‘Do you call this a life?’ he said.
For the first time in this conversation, Mr Groat looked him squarely in the eye. ‘Much better than a death, sir’ he said.
(Moist von Lipwig & Tolliver Groat, p 60)

 

Although an elderly man probably has a lot less future than a man of twenty, he’s far more careful of it.
(p 372)

 

Terry Pratchett: The Truth

Having read in the ‘pedia that the novel featured “the coming of movable type to Ankh-Morpork” I was, as a former printer myself, naturally even more interested than usual. It turned out that the book was more about media than about printing, but I liked it as well as any other Discworld novel nonetheless. The brilliant handling of a situation when two ‘good’ characters (Sam Vimes and William de Worde) are to a great degree at cross purposes . . . or the scene in which the Guild of Engravers tries (unsuccessfully) to stop the emerging newspaper being published . . . or the moment when it turns out the main character mistakenly supposes the werewolf in the Watch to be . . . no, I mustn’t spoil it for you.

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Quotation:
 

‘Come on, Mr de Worde. We’re on the same side here!’
‘No. We’re just on two different sides that happen to be side by side.’
(Sam Vimes & William de Worde, p 403)

 

Terry Pratchett: A Slip of the Keyboard

An assortment of the author’s newspaper/magazine articles, conference speeches and so on, from throughout his life, divided into three parts: The first part describes what it’s like being a (successful) writer and reflects on some aspects of the fantasy & SF genres, mostly in a humorous way. The second is more concerned with Pratchett’s life before the Discworld craze, and I could quite often (although by no means always) relate to his memories and sentiments. The last part is all about Alzheimer’s and what Sir Terry calls ‘assisted dying’ and with my thanatophobia I found it somewhat hard reading.

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Quotations:

On the internet, no one cares how you spell. Dyslexia is imitated, not as an affliction, but as a badge of coolth.
(p 75)

 

Escapism isn’t good or bad in itself. What is important is what you are escaping from and where you are escaping to.
(p 114)

 

I didn’t tell my mother, of course, because you never told your mother, just in case it got you into more trouble.
(p 212)

 

I have little work-arounds to deal with this sort of thing [….] In short, if you did not know there was anything wrong with me, you would not know there is anything wrong with me. People who have spoken to me for half an hour or so ask me if I am sure I have the illness. Yes, it’s certainly there, but cunning and subterfuge get me through.
(p 271)

 

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Le Petit Prince

Lorsque je commençais à lire des livres en anglais, je choisissais ceux-là que j’avais déjà lu en traduction. J’ai trouvé cette façon utile pour un débutant : j’ai fait la même chose maintenant avec le français.

Le roman n’était pas aussi « charmant et sage » que je me suis souvenu ; en revanche, je ne suis plus adolescent. Il y a beaucoup de bons passages, mais parmi eux sont ceux qui j’ai lu, plus tard, traité par d’autres auteurs, parfois dans une meilleure manière. Et j’ai mes avis d’enfants … et mes expériences d’avoir êté apprivoisé. (Certains d’entre eux beaux, certains tristes.)

Néanmoins, généralement c’est un roman plutôt bon. Peut-être le meilleur, d’un auteur francophone, que j’ai jamais lu.

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Citations:

J’ai ainsi vécu seul, sans personne avec qui parler véritablement.
(chapitre II)

 

Il faut des rites.
(le renard, chapitre XXI)

 

William McIlvanney: Laidlaw

I used to think I knew the names of all major Scottish writers, although of course I hadn’t read every one of them. When William McIlvanney died last year, I was surprised by the the number of authors, from Irvine Welsh to Ian Rankin, who claimed he’d influenced them, as I didn’t remember having ever heard about him before. After some hesitation I bought his first crime novel and now I’ve read it.

And I was surprised again. How could I have missed such an outstanding author for so long? Even allowing for the bias in the book’s favour I probably have on account of its mentioning so many Glasgow places I know, its enlightened attitude (it was first published in 1977) towards homosexuality, and its having a cynical eponymous character, it’s still a masterpiece. Imagine a Scottish novel by Ed McBain who’s been helped by Raymond Chandler for the wisecracks and by Iain Banks for the geography and the ambience (and of course the lingo) …

I don’t say it’s one of the top ten books of my life. I do say I wasn’t amazed by a first-time-read book as much as by this one for quite some time. During the last two years I’ve read several books I enjoyed but don’t expect to ever read again. This is not one of them.

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Quotations:

He had been taught despair but he had learned defiance.
(of Harry Rayburn, p 136)

 

In that careful balance between pessimism, the assumed defeat of contrived expectations, and hope, the discovery of unexpected possibilities, Harkness recognised Laidlaw.
(p 185)

 

Who thinks the law has anything to do with justice? It’s what we have because we can’t have justice.
(Laidlaw, p 204)

 

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: Don Quixote

I had John Ormsby’s translation, which was good, because the first part of his Preface, in which he comments on the book’s previous English translations, was well worth reading. It confirmed my opinion that one should only read a translation when one doesn’t know the original’s language: if you read a translation, you may or may not read something as good as the original, but you almost certainly won’t read the same thing.

But despite Ormsby’s admiration for the novel and its humour, I laid it aside before I was one fifth through. It’s not all bad (the parodic “the reason of the unreason with which my reason is afflicted so weakens my reason that with reason I murmur at your beauty” is brilliant), but generally it goes along the lines “Don Quixote and Sancho Panza go someplace, Don Quixote falls under the spell of some delusion and, ha ha, somebody gives them a thrashing”. It’s too … oafish for my taste. In fact the last straw was the passage in which, ha ha, Don Quixote spews into Sancho’s beard.

 

Terry Pratchett: Night Watch

My ninth Discworld novel, and my fifth featuring Sam Vimes and the Night Watch. Neither worse nor better than the previous four I’d say – which means quite good. I suspect it won’t be long before I buy another Pratchett book, but just now can’t tell whether, when the moment comes, I’ll want to see more of the Watch or more of the rest of Discworld . . .

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Quotations:
 

Vimes thought better when his feet were moving. The mere activity calmed him down and shook his thoughts into order.
(p 134)

 

‘Are you one of us?’
‘I doubt it.’
‘But you don’t know who we are!’
‘I still doubt it.’
(Sandra the Real Seamstress & Sam Vimes, p 174)

 

Jerome Klapka Jerome: Three Men on the Bummel

If this sequel is marginally less enjoyable to me than Three Men in a Boat, it is only because it mostly happens in Germany, rather than in England. Even so, I have a soft spot for it, because I had once named my diary account of a trip I took with my friends from college Four Men on the Bummel, and later began to refer in my mind to all such trips as ‘bummels’ (pronouncing it [ˈbʌm(ə)l], unaware that this Germanism did not become a part of the common English lexicon). Later I even had it with me on one such … bummel. Reading the novel after many years and a three-year stay in Britain, I was now also amused by the fact that a few of the passages describing some disagreeable German custom (for instance getting up at unearthly hours) made me think “ay, and they’re the same here in the Czech Republic”.

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Quotation:

Age and experience have taught me that there are few matters concerning which a man does well to be positive. Consequently, there remain to me now but a limited number of questions upon which I feel any degree of certainty.
(Chapter III)

 

P.G. Wodehouse: Love Among the Chickens

Averagely good Wodehouse. Not as good as the Blandings Castle novels I’ve read, but at least as good as the Jeeves short stories. At the very beginning it looked as though the [Stanley Featherstonehaugh] Ukridge character might steal (and kill) the show, but luckily it didn’t.

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Quotation:

Conversationally, I am like a clockwork toy. I have to be set going.
(Jeremy ‘Jerry’ Garnet – narrator)

 

Walter Scott: Old Mortality

First read in February last year, but that was during one of my alcoholic periods, so I had to begin reading it again in December to even realise I already had. Unsurprisingly, I remembered little apart from the ‘popinjay’ scene near the beginning and the ‘cataract’ scene near the end. Anyway, one of Scott’s better novels, rarely cloying and often humorous* despite the historical period described (battles of Drumclog and Bothwell Brig), but I don’t think I’ll read it for a third time. Still, having read it sober will hopefully put an end to my mixing up these two particular battles with others of the post-Reformation, pre-Union times, like it happened with Killiecrankie after I’ve actually visited the place.
 

* Including a joke in the final paragraph resembling more a line from some sitcom than from Sir Walter: “I was apprised, somewhat unceremoniously, by my publisher that he did not approve of novels (as he injuriously called these real histories) extending beyond four volumes, and if I did not agree to the first four being published separately, he threatened to decline the article. (Oh, ignorance! as if the vernacular article of our mother English were capable of declension.)”

 

Neil Munro: The Vital Spark

Generally speaking this is not the kind of humour to make you roar with laughter (although Para Handy’s simile “he hass a nose that minds me o’ a winter day, it’s so short and dirty” did). It is the mild, kind humour which simply keeps you smiling all the time. Reading a chapter of this story book makes an ideal start or end of a day (it’s likewise quite good when you can’t sleep at night).