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Category Archives: Literature

Remember the stars?

The Human Cosmos: Civilization and the Stars. Jo Marchant, Dutton, 2020. 388 pages. Marchant is concerned about how modern people and our cultures have lost touch with the sky. Paradoxically, we think of ourselves as living in a larger world than our ancestors. But in truth, by cutting ourselves off from the sky, we live […]

The Heart of Mid-Lothian ★★★★

“The Porteous Mob,” James Drummond, 1855. The painting is on display in the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Click here for high-resolution version. A couple of weeks ago, I came across an article in The Herald of Scotland in which a scholar of literature urged filmmakers to make “blockbuster” movies from Walter […]

Martin Chuzzlewit

Pinch starts homeward with the new pupil. Hablot Knight Brown (also known as Phiz). Source: Wikimedia Commons. In our era, Charles Dickens is neglected and undervalued. Martin Chuzzlewit surely is one of Dickens’ most neglected and undervalued novels. For reasons that I was completely unprepared for, now would be a good time for a Dickens […]

Charles Dickens: Barnaby Rudge

The Maypole Inn Choosing the next novel to read is a huge pain in the neck. I Google for novels on particular subjects or particular periods, or I pore over book lists, and then I look up the books on Amazon. Sometimes I settle on a novel that looks like it might be a good […]

Shadow and Bone

Who knew that Tsarist Russia could look so good? Actually, most of this series was filmed in Hungary. Not since “Game of Thrones” has a fantasy series been such a visual treat. I had watched the trailer for “Shadow and Bone,” and I was skeptical. But I heard good reviews from friends. I’ve watched two […]

Literary novels and other trash

I know that, when something really gets under your skin, it’s a psychological red flag and that one should ask oneself what’s really going on. Whatever. But when I ask myself what’s really going on with my aggressive hatred of literary novels (or literary anything), I think it’s this: Literary novels are not merely bad, […]

Not for squeamish readers

Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis. Bantam Spectra, 1992. 608 pages. The title is a warning: This book is going to be about doom. To avoid spoilers, all the reader should know before starting the book is that it’s about time travel to the 14th Century, and that the plot has to do with the plague. […]

Life in Squares

I would have to watch this BBC mini-series at least twice to have any hope of following it. Those who have recently read up on the members of the Bloomsbury Group, or who have recently read a biography of Virginia Woolf, might be able to keep up a bit better. Still, it’s great fun to […]

Tolkien on HBO

I resisted watching this, because I was afraid that the film had turned the story of Tolkien’s life into yet another costume romance for, and about, twenty-somethings set in all the usual sorts of glamorous British settings. In fact, it is that, and it requires that we re-imagine the quintessential white-haired and tweedy Oxford professor […]

Wigtown podcast with Ken and Astrid

Here at the abbey in April 2020, at the baby’s six-month-old half-birthday party. For some years now, Ken and Astrid have been regulars at the Wigtown Book Festival in Scotland. This year, because of Covid-19, the book festival will be virtual. As one of the virtual events, here is an excellent 30-minute podcast from Wigtown […]