Friday, December 09, 2011
From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned.
Sacred Ground? St David's Cathedral, Macquarie Street, Hobart. December 2011.
With the year rapidly coming to a close, I am currently sitting on 96 books read (not counting
The first book - History in Practice by Ludmilla Jordanova - is a bit of a deviation from this year’s usual reading list, but I ran out of library books and resorted to digging in the cupboard for something to read.
This is firmly in the ‘academic history’ camp, so will not be for everyone’s tastes. However, if you are a bit of a history buff you will surely find something worthwhile. Jordanova explores how the study of history has dramatically altered in recent decades. She does an able job at exploring what historians do, and in particular, why and how there have been such sweeping changes to the discipline.
I’d happily recommend it to anyone with an interest in the topic.
Second up today is Giovanni's Room, James Baldwin's second novel. Typically described as a “homosexual novel”, I think that the moniker “tragic love story” it is more apt. That said, the homosexual element is a critical part of the story.
Written in the 1950s, Baldwin’s honesty and frankness is to be applauded. I can only imagine the reaction at the time, indeed, Baldwin’s publisher advised him to “burn it” after he read it. The novel focuses on the events in the life of an American man living in Paris and his feelings and frustrations with his personal relationships. Despite an obvious physical attraction to other men, he remains (in part) in denial. The he meets an Italian bartender named Giovanni.
This is a beautiful book, and offers tender, naturalistic and complex representations of human relationships to the reader with empathy and artistry that doesn’t treat same sex desire as some kind of fundamentally different experience, perversion or aggressive political point. You may well think that such a novel then would not have as much resonance or currency today, but it is strikingly prescient in the context of the current gay marriage debate.
I can heartily recommend this book. It is refreshingly honest and should (hopefully) encourage you to reflect on your own life and relationships. I could not recommend it any more highly.