1. A virtual friend of mine asked if I could advise her as to the best translation of Proust and Choderlos de Laclos’s Dangerous Liaisons. I had to admit that I had only read them in French, but offered to ask my very well-informed blog readers. Any ideas, preferences or suggestions?
2. I had this heretical thought the other day: does reading actually make you sadder rather than happier? I wondered about this after a series of novels that have been at best bittersweet and, at times, terribly sad. I really felt the need to try to manage my mood after them, but when I began to look over my bookshelves, it seemed to me that so many more books were about serious or tragic situations than cheerful ones. There are relatively few novels I possess that are intended to make the reader laugh (and I certainly don’t have a taste for sad books). I found it impossible, also, to search for upbeat books. If you type into the search engine ‘comic books’, which sounds to me like it ought to produce an avalanche of P G Wodehouse and Barbara Pym, you end up with comics, as in Dennis the Menace or Spiderman or graphic novels. Humour brings up all those dreadful little hardbacks that sprout at Christmas but sink mercifully into obscurity the rest of the year. Comedy takes you to film, tv and radio. Aren’t readers supposed to want a good laugh?
3. Even though this is a book blog, book reviews are the posts that attract the least hits and comments. The effect is really noticeable if I post several reviews in a row. About one post in three or four as a book review seems about right. I’m not criticising because I know myself I don’t read all the book reviews in my feed folders. I am likely to read a review according to these factors in diminishing order of importance: 1) I’ve already read the book, 2) I am fully intending to read the book, 3) I have heard of the author or the book, 4) the cover design is attractive or the first few lines of the review sound very enticing, 5) I’ve never heard of the book at all. This is dreadful, really, because it ought to be the other way round, surely? Why don’t I feel the greatest motivation to read reviews of books that are brand new to me? (Of course, there are the dozen or so book blogs whose every post I read, and they provide exceptions to the general rule.) But I’m wondering if this is what finished off the newspaper book review pages, and whether it will also affect book blogs in time. And it must indicate what publishers are up against, when readers are primarily interested in books that already have that numinous ‘buzz’. I remember reading a post a while ago on a blog where an argument broke out over the suggestion that reviewers had to write wildly positive reviews to gain any attention. I confess it is the most effective solution for me, but of course, I don’t feel wildly positive about all the books I read. Is the issue here about good reviews and negative reviews, or is it simply that we all prefer to talk about general bookish matters rather than books in particular?
4. With only a couple more weeks before the end of term, I am reconsidering my policy this year of trying to work only on Thursdays. It’s disruptive to the week to have to see a student here and a student there. But of the students I’ve seen this term, only two have managed to turn up on Thursdays at the right time for our meeting. The rest have failed to show, turned up at the same time as I am seeing other students, or been unable to make Thursday because of other lectures and supervisions. One student failed to turn up on his Thursday appointment, apologised, booked in for the next Thursday and failed to turn up again. I find it hard to be cross with them because they are suffering mostly from unconscious self-sabotage – as in, they’d rather do anything than face up to their problems and try to solve them. But it is vexing to have to keep rearranging meetings for days when I had hoped to plan for other things.
5. It’s all Emily’s fault because of this post. But she’s got me on a Mikhail Baryshnikov kick. He is quite probably the best male dancer, ever, and watching him makes me feel completely humbled, as prodigious, superhuman talent will. Not the greatest quality video, but this clip of him in Giselle is extraordinary; he hovers in the air, executing a few lazy entrechats before drifting back to earth again. I calculated he must be in his 60s now and it seems a shame; he ought to have immortality, at least until they figure out how to clone him. Or isolate his dancing DNA. I would have some injected into Mister Litlove as a Christmas present to me – what a thought!