Monday, September 22, 2008

Orwell in Tribune : 'As I Please' and Other Writings 1943-7

This excellent collection carries with it a characteristic aura of cigarettes, cups of strong brown tea and counting out one's change. It is peculiarly Orwellian, although it speaks of the lot of any jobbing freelance in the 1940s. His 80 "As I Please" columns are impressive, even before we discover that he was simultaneously writing Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

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Kipling Sahib : India and the Making of Rudyard Kipling by Charles Allen

"Kipling is a jingo imperialist," declared Orwell. "He is morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting" (yet at the same time he was also "a shameful pleasure"). A sensitive study of Kipling's Bombay childhood and lifelong interest in India, Kipling Sahib presents the author in a much more forgiving light. This isn't Kipling the Little Englander, this is young "Ruddy", the "little friend of all the world" . . .

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Leviathan or, The Whale by Philip Hoare

A performing killer whale at Windsor Safari Park provided the young Philip Hoare with his first experience of whalekind, but it was a sad-eyed beluga whale in a tank at Coney Island ("a huge ghostly baby fixing me with its stare") that sparked a continuing fascination. This enjoyable trawl through the history, literature and lore of whales shows that Hoare's time has not been misspent. He seems more attuned than most of us to what motivates these "charismatic megafauna". Cetologists have yet to explain why whales leap out of the water, for instance, but I suspect Hoare's far-from-scientific explanation is closest to the truth: because it's fun.

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Little History of the English Country Church by Roy Strong

"When churches fall completely out of use / What shall we turn them into?" wonders Philip Larkin in "Church Going", the poem that begins and ends this engrossing history. According to Strong, the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries were the golden age of the parish church. After that the story is one of desecration and decline, yet Strong resists the idea of the modern country church becoming a mere museum of lost faith.

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Cavalier: The Story of a 17th-Century Playboy by Lucy Worsley

"No one can fail to warm to William's attractively voluble enthusiasms," says Worsley, chief curator of the Historic Royal Palaces, but I'm afraid I did.

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