1950s Soho was a cess pit. There are many probably good books I’ve had to give up on because the narrator’s voice was too annoying. Chernow shows why that approach is a mistake. Our companion on the drive was an audiobook of The Last Juror, by John Grisham — a master of pulp instead of a master of literature. But fate has other tragic plans in store for him. Eager to learn more about history, but unwilling to put the time in, my mum has sent over some of Jonathan Sumption’s Reith Lectures. Thomas Cromwell’s somewhat dark reputation was given a new and bright shine by Hilary Mantel in the Wolf Hall trilogy and this life takes us from the fictional into the authentic; its triumph is that it is just as thrilling and equally stimulating and challenging. Daniel McCarthy is editor of The Modern Age and a Spectator contributing editor and columnist. The Earth is Weeping tells the story of the decisive years in the fate of the Indians on the western plains (and in this book, which is delightfully free of politically correct language and doctrines, they really are Indians) between the 1860s and 1880s. The Dickens novel that immediately came to mind, though, in this instance was Little Dorrit, a novel whose plot begins in some ways in quarantine, as several important characters meet on shared quarantine on a boat in Marseille harbor. Read it with David Rieff’s Triumph of the Therapeutic, which a half-century ago perfectly, indeed eerily, predicted the intellectual and emotional breakdown that defines our world. Oh, and lots of Eighties’ Stephen King. Buckley’s latest book is American Secession: The Looming Threat of a National Breakup (Encounter). White’s 1949 essay ‘Here is New York’ discusses a different New York to the one I’ve gotten to know in the past four years. Sex, crimes and cassoulet: Georges Simenon contemplates a quick Maigret. New Member Introductions: 3: 10 May 2020: J: What books have you started reading During Lockdown: CC Cafe - General Chat: 18: 7 May 2020 Take this random section from Vainglory (1915): ‘“I should hate to keep an Italian cow,” she said. Though they didn’t have streaming, poor things. There are some passages which, however many times I read them, almost cause me to cry out, especially the repeated blow on the bruise , and the moment when the incessant shouting voices cease. The second half of his memoir is devoted to how we find meaning in life, which as he sees it, is through embracing the idea that we are challenged by life, daily and hourly. Two-fifths of UK adults are reading more since lockdown started, with many people changing their reading habits but not necessarily buying more books, according to … Surprising they haven’t canceled Martin Amis yet. I, too, enjoy long, wistful walks in the city, pondering disasters both personal and cosmic, and I really vibed with Candace’s canny observations of the crisis, as well as her clear-eyed reflections on the world that existed Before. Carr’s A Month in the Country, which describes a soldier acclimatizing to normal life after the horrors of World War One, and which might give us some perspective while making us look forward to summer. COVID-19: oy-yoy-yoy! The only book I have come to afresh in this odd time is from Ann Patchett’s neglected backlist, a small jewel called Taft which really ought to be easier to find. That’s what my editor Freddy Gray did in February, lending me his copy of Write to the Point by our colleague Sam Leith. In each regional case, the story is much as one might expect, but rather more interesting. Of course, ‘wasting’ one’s talent is a supreme talent in itself. The father’s Christmas gifts introduced Mencken to technology and the trades — the most fateful being a toy printing press. To begin with, Clark is the old rogue we’re used to — gleefully rude about his colleagues, eyeing up women, reminding himself how rich he is, regretting his decision to leave Parliament in 1992, delighted by his return in 1997 with the plum seat of Kensington and Chelsea. On this occasion, that book, Grant, is Ron Chernow’s biography of 18th president and Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant. The daring, joy, and manliness memorialized in these great narratives recall a world that grows more remote with every injunction to ‘stay safe’. Boy, did that Akron babe do drugs. When he became ill himself, he was cast out of town to die in the forest. Stahl has ‘lived’ a bit, so is the perfect conduit to tell the tragic tale of silent movie auteur Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle. The perfect companion book was Ernest R. May’s revisionist history of the Fall of France, Strange Victory, since it argues that with better luck and intelligence methods, the French military — not at all overmatched in weaponry and manpower — could well have halted the German blitzkrieg during those four awful days in May 1940 and stopped Nazism in its tracks. Eric Nelson is a professor of political science at Harvard. Clearly remote teaching should be no barrier for encouraging reading for pleasure. Both offer searing candor and wisdom about the human condition that is all too relevant given our current COVID-19 predicament. Chernow’s treatment of Grant is even-handed, showing both his failures when it came to trusting people and his successes in getting results. Angel Flight. And then for the meaty main course. The father took his son with him to visit customers in the cool, shady saloons of Washington DC, a city notable at the time for its modern asphalt streets. The perfect companion for a long summer’s lockdown, I’d say. With J.G Ballard you are guaranteed a feisty, compelling and smolderingly sensual experience. (One copy was left on a plane, etc.) Sam Leith is Books editor of the London Spectator. The genre I most turn to in times of uncertainty is poetry, not because poetry has a consoling message (it usually doesn’t), but because it has a way of companioning one. Like Grant, he fights to win. While looking out for differences from the later revised text (they are few but important) I read the book more thoroughly than ever before. He spoke several European and Asiatic languages and was regarded as the leading Army intellectual of his day. Reading Wolfe’s chronicle about the ‘ineffable quality’ possessed by Yeager, John Glenn, Gus Grissom and other American aviators is just the kind of exhilarating and inspiring story we need which shows we can overcome anything. A profoundly important book. There were those, he explains, who believed that a ‘sober and abstemious form of life’ would protect them and so ‘lived in isolation from everyone else’. The thing about Cervantes is that he’s just so very funny, funny in a way that even now, after all these centuries, just sings from the page. Fancy something shorter, sharper, and much chillier? There’s a cold, ruthless beauty to Simenon’s writing. The Earth is Weeping is a tragedy played out under big skies and in fickle weather which could often turn from searing heat to temperatures of minus 40. Find it anyway. Spectator readers might enjoy American Conservatism: Reclaiming an Intellectual Tradition, just published by the Library of America. But be forewarned, there’s a virus going around. Then again, as Clerc notes, his previous book ‘was devoted to annotating every street in Paris’s 10ème Arrondisement’.
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