Saturday, September 02, 2006

Being well red

NOT IN THE QUIZ but I picked this up from a second-hand stall once. If there'd been a question about which one book's author I wished I'd met... not as a film star but as a comrade.. .
France under Occupation, the Cold War, Czechoslovakia under Stalinism. Simone Signoret had been there, seen through the High and Mighty, and also made good films.

There's a sort of pyramid-quizzing game afoot about books, and I've been tagged by Janine Booth. so after rackiong my sluggish mind and ramshackle low megabyte memory here goes with my answers to the questions as set.

1. One book that changed your life.
I'm still waiting for it to change! But I guess some books, articles, and films have influenced me along certain lines though not as much as events and people. One of them was Abram Leon's "The Jewish Question", which I read in an edition published in Mexico, just as I was approaching a decision-making time in my life as a teenage Labour Zionist. Leon had gone from the Hashomer Hatzair to the Trotskyist movement and wrote the book under the terrible conditions of underground life in Nazi-occupied Belgium. He managed to leave this legacy before perishing in Auschwitz. That it took time before his book was made widely available is also significant.

One book that you've read more than once.
The Old Testament. Not all at once, of course. But you can keep going back and finding different things in it, and because it is really not one book but a collection by different authors, it has variety. It's fascinating to feel in contact with minds thousands of years ago, and tantalising to think what the authors were getting at. And the English of the King James version (though I wish my Hebrew was good enough to read the original) is roughly from Shakespeare's time and very poetic.
Other things I've read and re-read at different times are Lenin's What is to be Done, and the Transitional Programme of the Fourth International (or if you prefer it's snappier title, "Death Agony of Capitalism..etc". You have to think about the time they were written and what was happening, but you can also find your interpretation of the methods and issues changes as you read them at different times in your own experiences.
Also - humourous books like Three Men in a Boat and things you read as a kid like the William books. Once you have read a thriller it has gone, but you can always laugh again at things that amused you before -it's the same with some TV sitcoms - I must have watched episodes of Porridge, Dad's Army and Fools and Horses several times and still laugh at situations and lines and appreciate the skill of the performers.

3. One book that you'd want on a desert island.
A sort of survival handbook on hunting, fishing and how to make the most of what food there is, plus first aid tips and so on. Maybe even boat building tips if there were any materials. I might never get off the island but it would give me a purpose and something to do.

4. One book that made you laugh.
Ah, several, one of which I already mentioned. Another,because not so well-known, is "Beer in the Snooker Club", by Waguih Ghali. The author was a left-wing Egyptian whom I met in 1968 and it is semi-autobiographical, touching and very humourous.

5. One book that made you cry.
Big boys don't cry, though my eyes watered when losing fights a couple of times, and at certain -actually happy -points in films, and after a young mother thanked us for giving her kids a bar of chocolate and an orange by a roadside in Bosnia. But if a book was to do it it would be the one I have just mentioned, because it is moving in parts, and because I re-read it knowing its author, exiled from his homeland, and denied the right to work in Britain (by one of our kind Labour Home Secretaries) kept up a brave, good-humoured face, gave me some helpful advice about going to college, and then -tears of a clown -committed suicide in London.

6. One book you wish you had written.
The one I still have not written - my first one. Maybe never will, as I spend too much time with internet ramblings and quiz games. But OK, entering the spirit of the thing - though if I'd written someone else's book wouldn't I be someone else? - I'll give you two. Because my eye falls on it on my shelf, Stephen Dorril's "MI6: 50 years of special operations". And springing up from somewhere in my mind, "The People of the Abyss", by Jack London. Which I now see you can look at on the internet -

7. One book you wish had never been written.
Tricky. Various works by right-wing hacks and reactionary historians, and the collected works of ridiculous dictators. Still I suppose if they were not writing they would be up to something worse, so what I really wish is that they were not published.

8. One book you're currently reading.
"Rembrandt's Jews" by Steven Nadler. Fascinating history, people, art and ideas in 17th. Century Holland, and beautifully illustrated. There's a chapter on Menassah ben Israel who spoke to Cromwell about re-admitting Jews to England. I've also pinched one of the pictures by Rembrandt to illustrate my blog.
For fiction, "Dark Voyage" by Alan Furst. Dutch captain, his cargo vessel, cosmopolitan crew and mysterious passengers, on secret World War II missions, Mediterranean and Baltic. Very atmospheric.

9. One book you have been meaning to read.
"Nostromo", by Joseph Conrad. It's well written, and said to give a graphic picture of 19th century colonialism, and I read and enjoyed his "Secret Agent", about terror and agent-provocateurs at work in London (So well worth reading in these times). But somehow I've not got beyond the first rich chapter of "Nostromo" before putting it aside and meaning to read it later.

And now, I know they won't thank me but I'm tagging Renegade Eye , DesertPeace
David Renton
and Mike Marqusee



At 4:32 PM, Blogger DesertPeace said...

will get to this later in the week..


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