CCCB: Mind as Passion


Eenie meenie… It’s Thursday, so time to pick another book to read from the cache of my most ancient unread books and bake another cake.

And this time the lucky winner is Susan Sontag: Mind as Passion by Liam Kennedy. Which I apparently bought at a sale in mid-90s (so it’s a bit newer than most of the books here, I think).

Back when I was pretentious teenager (before maturing into a pretentious adult), I used to read books written by all kinds of intelligent people (preferably in places where people could see me reading them), and Susan Sontag was one of them. I vaguely remember On Photography and… er… Notes on “Camp”? Was that a book or just an essay in a book?

Oh, yeah, it’s in this one:

Isn’t that a stylish edition?

Anyway, I was a fan, so I picked up this book about Sontag and never read it. Because you know.

It’s not really a biography, but it’s an overview of her writings. Here’s a sample:

But the thing is, I’m not really that interested in reading about Sontag’s writing. It’s interesting to have it contextualised to see what she was writing against, I guess, but it just mainly reminded me that I probably should be re-reading Sontag instead of reading this book.

It’s refreshing to read a British take on her writing. And, I mean, it’s well-written and all.

Let’s look at the cake instead:


The cake to go along with the book is ginger layer cake with rhubarb fool.

Look at my expert decorating skillz!


It turned out pretty delicious, although I over-baked the ginger cake by a couple of minutes.  (I was watching Xena, and I couldn’t find the time buzzer thingie.)  And the rhubarb for the fool could probably have been a little less wet — the fool turned a bit more runny than was probably warranted. I mean. A lot more runny.

But it was pretty delish anyway.  Mmm.

CCCB: Larque on the Wing

Like everybody, I’ve got a bookcase of unread books, but perhaps weirdly, mine is organised along a simple principle: Older books sink towards the bottom. That is, as I read books, I compact the rest and move them towards the bottom left.

It’s a sedimental journey.

The last couple of years I’ve read very few books, and have instead been reading comics and comics and comics, and I’m totally burned out on that. So what better way to get back into reading books again than to take a whack at those books that I’ve been avoiding reading most of my life?

That’s the selection. I think the oldest ones here have been with me since the late 80s, probably… and somehow I’ve never gotten around to reading them because other books have seemed more urgent.

Oh god. One of them’s fucking Ulysses, and now I have to read it…

But to entice me to make headway here, I’m also going to teach myself how to bake cakes and cookies. One cake, one book. Cake, Cookies, Crumpets and Books: CCCB.

Let’s aim for… one per week? And I can read other books in-between while finishing off the cake.

I started with this banana mocha cream cake, which looks very scrumptious in the pictures at least…

Do I have all the ingredients? Yes!

I ate too much of the dough. I’m allowed!

Bake baby bake.

So shiny.

For the book I chose Larque on the Wing by Nancy Springer, which I’ve always pronounced in my head “Laroque” when I’ve decided not to read it, several times per month, the last 24 years.

It’s a very witty, and strangely unclassifiable book. It’s not quite a fantasy, but it’s not quite a non-genre book either. It reads more like a magic realism book? But it’s marketed as a a fantasy book.

Just read these three opening pages:

But how does it pair with the cake?

Hm, it came out dryer than on the picture on that blog… but it’s been in the fridge, so I should probably let it sit on the table a few hours to get back to room temperature.

But it’s really more like a banana bread with a chocolate covering than a cake, really, which isn’t quite what I wanted. But it’s a pretty good banana bread, anyway.

And it pairs well with the sinister whimsy of the Nancy Springer book. Which is very good, indeed. I never know where it’s going.

One thing I find upon returning to books after this hiatus is that I’ve aquired some bad reading habits, probably from spending too much time reading blogs: My eyes have started skipping past text I think I know what’s going to say. They slip into skimming mode for short periods of time. And that doesn’t work with this book at all, because just about any sentence here doesn’t go the way you think they’re going to go.

It’s published by Avon Books, and this is what they usually publish:

So it’s somewhat out of their normal remit, but I seem to remember them also publishing weirder stuff like this. It’s got a very exciting plot, with the most horrifying monster of all time as the main antagonist: A mother who can change reality by just refusing to see whatever is in front of her eyes. But it’s also a somewhat frustrating read, because for most of the book, things don’t much develop as repeat themselves, so reading it feels like we’re stuck in molasses. Which may be Springer’s point, but…

But you can’t fault the fabulously climactic confrontation at the end, wart hog and all.

I ❤ The Paris Review

My favourite thing to read while travelling is The Paris Review.  It has like full-spectrum literature that’s perfect for reading while getting slightly drunk on airplanes.


So I just bought a whole stack of old issues from the sixties, seventies and eighties.  You can still get them pretty cheap from sources on the interwebs.


Man, look at those covers.  Makes me want the next holiday to happen now.



IMG_4742I rather like reading books, but I have this absurd sense of accomplishment whenever I finish something. Anything. “Wow, I managed to finish eating that hamburger! USA! USA!” Finishing something you like doing isn’t really something to brag about, but that’s the way I feel.

So a couple of years ago I started putting books I’ve read recently in a smaller book case where I can stare at them while I’m on the couch, reading other books.  It’s a kind of ludicrous feedback loop.

At the end of the year, I empty the book case and put the books away in less accessible areas, but I thought it’d be fun to measure the books first:

Taller than me!
Oops. Fall down go boom
Another year starts

Anyway.  This year I’m going to watch more movies.  I used to be a movie fanatic, but I kinda just stopped.  Inspired by this, I’m going to start a Movie Watching Project later this year.  After I get back from the holidays.  Perhaps…  watch all Criterion Collection movies or something?  Something.

1995: The Novellas of Martha Gellhorn

1995 is over, and this is perhaps the essence of books-that-I-didn’t-read:  It’s a short story collection; it’s an omnibus; it’s really long; I bought it on sale; it’s by an author I had grown disenchanted with.

I first read Martha Gellhorn’s The Face of War, and was completely blown away.  Then I bought The View from the Ground, and I … wasn’t.

So when I happened upon this book in 1995, I bought it, but probably didn’t intend to read it.

It’s an omnibus of four collections published between 1936 and 1978.  I hate omnibus collections.  Books are usually the length they are because that’s the right length.

You pick up a book, read it, and then choose a different book to read.  When you collect separate books into collections, it just feels wrong.  I go out of my way to avoid these, and buy the separate editions instead.


The first book collected here, The Trouble I’ve Seen, was published in 1936.  I think I remember (from her essay collections) that she was a reporter working somehow for the White House (or something) collecting reports on the poor.  This book has four stories about very poor people indeed, so I’d say it’s likely that there’s some sort of connection.  Based on true people?  I don’t know, but the stories are shattering.

Totally shattering.

Every one of these tales are bursting with emotion.  Reading these, I found myself thinking sometimes “Is she beeing too maudlin here?  Is this too gauce?”, but I don’t really care.  I love the insight into these people’s lives, and I love the passion Gellhorn writes about them with.

The second book, Two By Two (1958) is quite different.  Each story is about a couple in love, and most of them take place during or after WWII.  We have (Italian) princes and princesses, British gummint aspirants, and war correspondents.  While interesting and well written (perhaps “better written” than the first book), the passion seems to be gone.

I have no idea whether anything much in this book is based on real life, but the last story has a character who used to be passionate about reforming the world, but then she toured all the German concentration camps during the liberation, and lost faith in humanity.  It’s tempting to read something autobiographical into that (Gellhorn was a war correspondent and she did visit the concentration camps (I think)), but perhaps that’s a too trivial explanation.

By 1965 with Pretty Tales for Tired People, Gellhorn seems to have lost what remained of her enthusiasm.  The three stories brim with ennui.  I find myself wondering why she even bothered writing this book. 

The stories have the unfortunate whiff of gossip.  As if she had heard  some deliciously scandalous tales about aquaintances, and felt compelled to make gossip into short stories.  But hearing gossip about people you neither know nor care about is tedious.

The last book in this collection is from 1978: The Weather in Africa.  Here the gossip is explicit — all the stories feature several scenes with people gossiping about the protagonists.  But!  Gellhorn has gotten her enthusiasm back.  Perhaps it’s because these stories are set in Africa, but Gellhorn writes more intensively again.  Not as harrowing as the first book, but with real tension and interest.

The final novella is particularly good.

As long as a book starts and ends well, the middle parts are forgiven and forgotten.

Rating: Novelicious

1995: Sol, stå stille

I got this book in 1995.  It’s another of my grandfather’s books.

It’s about Israel, and was written in Denmark in 1950, so it’s written while things were still going on in Israel.  On the other hand, when weren’t they?

Poul Borchsenius doesn’t make much of an effort to tell a balanced tale, but he retells the history of the young state in an easy-to-read manner.  Calling the book a zionist propaganda effort is probably not entirely fair, but probably not entirely inaccurate, too.

And there’s fun illustrations, too:

“Haj Amin el Husseini in good company”

That’s more snarky than the text is in general.  It’s a very enthusiastic text.  With a not entirely reliable narrator.

I have to admit I started skipping around in the book after a while.  Not my primary area of interest, really.

Rating: Zioniffic