Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Another tree on the shelf

I've fallen off the Book-buying Self Denying Ordinance in a big way this week. More Peter Tate novels have arrived: I'm trying to collect them all. He was a sub-editor on the South Wales Daily Echo then an executive at the Bournemouth Evening Echo, and wrote science fiction short stories and novels in the 1970s, published by respectable houses like Doubleday and in the UK, Faber and Faber. They're beautifully designed. They tend to be projections of 1970s concerns: biological warfare, religious and political fanaticism and the like. Only one is set in Wales, Country Love and Poison Rain, but they all look interesting. If anyone knows Peter, let me know. He'd be about 75 by now, and might still be alive. He doesn't get an entry in the New Companion to the Literature of Wales, which is an oversight.

Also in the post, Niall Griffiths' celebrity culture satire with Christian themes, A Great Big Shining Star. The hardcover isn't even out yet but someone's already sold their 'Free Uncorrected Jonathan Cape Proof - Not For Resale' copy. You can't trust anybody! I'd be tempted to review it pre-release, but I'm in the middle of several other books at the moment (including Kim Stanley Robinson's absorbing but clunky 2312) and have lectures to write too. But I have high hopes for it. I like Griffith's work and when he visited The Hegemon to talk to the students he was very impressive indeed.

The other book which came today is Craig Koslofsky's Evening's Empire: A History of the Night in Early Modern Europe. I'd quibble with the 'early modern' bit: it takes up to 1750, but it looks like a fascinating new way of looking at history. We've all been scared of the dark at some point, individually and collectively, and this book uncovers the cultural, political and social significance of something we don't think about very often: light, dark and our efforts to vanquish the former. Of course now, a few of us are trying to vanquish the former. Urban lighting – often excessive thanks to excessive paranoia about crime – has rendered the stars invisible, darkness impossible. Koslofsky looks at stage lights and drama, Christian conceptions of night, witch-hunting, race and blackness, street lighting and discourses of crime, prayer, entertainment, gender and darkness, and the ways we organised our activities around light and dark. I sense a lecture coming on… Talking of which, my The Sorrows of Young Werther seminars went quite well today, I think. However, they still don't know the text well enough to roam around in it. They understand the points I make about it, but don't examine it for themselves. What to do, what to do?

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