April 14th, 2009


April Books 9) The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

A bleak, gripping post-holocaust narrative, focussed very very tightly on the journey of a man and his son across the blasted and horrific landscape. The setting has been done many times before (from my reading this year alone, here and here for instance) but I felt this was indeed something different - the psychology between the two key characters beautifully studied, and the moral questions posed by their survival and continuing need to survive neatly explored. Not a book to help you sleep at nights, though.

Buying books

The recent Amazon kerfuffle, which now seems to be over, prods me to post my own preferred (and in some cases aspirational) mechanisms of getting hold of books to read.

Amazon have a huge market advantage. There are other alternatives out there too. If you tend to buy a lot of second-hand books, the places to go are AddAll and Bookfinder - both do worldwide searches, and both include the Amazon providers and others who may do the same books but cheaper.

I've also recently joined BookMooch, which I hope will live long and prosper.

Here in Belgium, I flirted a few years back with Proxis, but in those days Amazon's rates were simply better. I may try Proxis again now.

Also, of course, we should support our local independent bookshops. For me, that means Sterling Books in Brussels, now that the American Book Center in Leuven has closed. Go on, pick up the phone and ask them to order that book you want. It will probably be no more expensive than Amazon would have been, and let's face it, the walk to the shop won't do you any harm. (Probably.)

April Books 10) Timon of Athens, by William Shakespeare (and Thomas Middleton)

Timon is an Athenian whose generosity knows no bounds: certainly not, as it turns out, the bounds of his own finances. Meantime his friend Alcibiades leads an army against Athens for obscure reasons. Timon flees Athens because of his debts and dies in a cave, having coincidentally though not happily discovered a vast store of gold, while Alcibiades marches mercilessly on Athens.

There are several serious problems: the style is uneven (because of the shared authorship - a theory I completely buy); the Alcibiades plot is rather bolted on; several significant plot events (including Timon's death) happen off-stage; the pacing is very weird (where most Shakespeare plays have a significant moment in Act 3, here the key scene is not until the end of Act 4); and Timon himself is a rather uninspiring hero, a poor reflection of Lear and Hamlet - so much so that I really wondered if the accepted chronology might be wrong and this a trial piece for better known and frankly superior works.

No doubt a good actor and inspired director could make a great production of this (and no doubt several have). Arkangel has made a good effort with Alan Howard in the title role. But it seemed to me surprisingly thin.

Henry VI, Part I | Henry VI, Part II | Henry VI, Part III | Richard III | Comedy of Errors | Titus Andronicus | Taming of the Shrew | Two Gentlemen of Verona | Love's Labour's Lost | Romeo and Juliet | Richard II | A Midsummer Night's Dream | King John | The Merchant of Venice | Henry IV, Part I | Henry IV, Part II | Henry V | Julius Caesar | Much Ado About Nothing | As You Like It | Merry Wives of Windsor | Hamlet | Twelfth Night | Troilus and Cressida | All's Well That Ends Well | Measure for Measure | Othello | King Lear | Macbeth | Antony and Cleopatra | Coriolanus | Timon of Athens | Pericles | Cymbeline | The Winter's Tale | The Tempest | Henry VIII | The Two Noble Kinsmen | Edward III | Sir Thomas More (fragment)