09 July 2010

Weekend Reading List

Have you ever read a book that made you pause before you put another spoonful of sugar into your coffee? I just did. Sugar: A Bittersweet History by Elizabeth Abbott is about the history of this taken for-granted, everyday substance, and reading about a time when sugar did not even exist in our diets made me view with suspicion adding even half a teaspoon more. Ms Abbott makes this history dramatic by long, detailed detours into the history of slavery that enabled sugar to be brought into our lives, but you can easily skip these painful chunks. Less disturbing a read is Henry James's The Sacred Fount (1901) which has that decadent atmosphere of a very long tea party - or perhaps it's more disturbing a read, but this style is so essentially James. It's about society, ugliness and beauty. Less languid in tone, I'm also dipping into Anita Loos Rediscovered, which brings to light many of Ms Loo's (above in a portrait by Steichen)unpublished works. I've always been a fan of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes but I'm afraid the bubbly quality of that novella isn't to be found here. The effect is just like reading Jane Austen's juvenelia - it has none of the sparkle of her great novels. It makes me think that perhaps some of these lesser works should remain undiscovered, or at least unpublished.Another favourite of mine is Graham Greene, but do you know I've never read Travels With My Aunt? (Dame Maggie Smith played Aunt Augusta in the movie version, above). I'm starting on this this week. Isn't the title (and premise) gloriously drag? Speaking of travel, I must be depressed or something, because I keep looking at my well-thumbed book The Rough Guide To Thailand's Beaches & Islands. I've grown to hate travel, and nothing short of work will make me pack my bags these days, but it's really been quite a while since I've been to one of these Thai Beach Holidays (very different, you know, from a Bali Beach Holiday or indeed one in the Maldives or Sri Lanka) and I feel I need one right now. Or maybe just looking at the map and reading the names in the guide would be enough? The names are so evocative: Ao Loh Moodii, Sunrise Beach, Ao Nui, Camel Island, Ko Kood,Hat Sai Ri, Hua Hin...


  1. oh i so agree about the 'juvenelia' bit: they should absolutely be banned as far as the general reading public is concerned; and should only be available in certain restricted, non-circulating libraries for scholars & experts specialising in that particular author.

    and speaking of Greene, i think Brighton Rock must have one of the most brutal/cruel endings in english lit, don't you agree?

  2. anon: very pleased that you agree about the juvenelia. you know after i posted my thoughts up i suffered a pang of... doubt? maybe i was missing something? or i'm just too thick to enjoy it blah blah blah... and your comment made me feel better! vindicated! so thanks for this comment. about brighton rock: agreed.