I started this blog when I angrily left Goodreads due to its selling out to Amazon. While on Goodreads, I would keep track of and review pretty much every book I read. I continued doing that with “Tolle, lege!” However, after a while I started to have doubts about that method. I’m a huge fan of unstructured reading and things here were getting too, well…structured for my anarchic tastes. From now on, I’ve decided to only review a book if I have something significant (good, bad, or mixed) to say about it. Any review will be (for me) a significant event so, if I read a book and have just a few thoughts on it, I probably won’t review it. However, all of my previous reviews will remain here. This includes all the reviews I originally wrote for Goodreads, plus one piece (a review of Thornton Wilder’s novel The Cabala) I originally posted on Amazon many years ago, before I knew what an awful company Amazon is. It’s badly written but it has sentimental value to me as a record of my reaction to one of my favorite books, and as one of the few examples of my writing from the period when I would enthusiastically review things on Amazon that I care to preserve. Below you will find the (very slightly revised) text of what I wrote in this “About” section when I first started “Tolle, lege!”
The title of this blog comes from St. Augustine. I first read of it in an essay on Shakespeare by Jacques Barzun. The Latin phrase means “Take up and read!” Augustine said he heard a voice speaking these words, urging him to read the Bible. Barzun used it as the best piece of literary advice I’ve ever read. There is far too much over-preparation and close-mindedness about literature these days. I suffer from it too. However, I have been trying to get over it and just pick things up, read them and see what I think. If I have a higher goal here, it’s to encourage that kind of thinking. This is a blog dedicated to reviewing books but it will also try to promote other blogs and websites. It will, naturally, reflect my own passions and tastes. I love drama and poetry. My favorite genre, by far, is horror. I also enjoy reading history, historical fiction and science fiction. My heart seems to belong to an idea of the pre-Romantic era but often strays elsewhere. Victorian literature draws me but primarily in its less familiar manifestations. Sorry Charlotte Bronte and Charles Dickens, but I’m more interested in Marie Corelli and Arthur Machen. The heyday of American pulp magazines (for me the 1920s to the 1950s) is, in my opinion, an unsung golden age of short fiction. I’m heavily into opera, classical music, and classic American cinema (the very late 1920s to the very early 1960s) so books on those topics will appear somewhat frequently. At times, I also hope to communicate my love for the physical book. I will try to be eclectic in my choices for books to review but politics will be generally be avoided. For a deeper look at what I’m trying to do with this blog, see below for what I call my Credo.
In 2001, English dramatist Edward Bond did an interview on BBC radio with arts administrator John Tusa. I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything that better explains my belief in literature than the first part of their discussion. The whole interview is worth reading but I’ve quoted the part that truly inspires me below.
**Tusa: Let’s start with your own first theatrical experience to get some idea of the journey that you have made. It was Donald Wolfit in Macbeth. What do you remember of that occasion?
Bond: I obviously didn’t understand a lot of it, but I understood enough of it, and it was the first time that anybody had spoken to me seriously about my life. Which is strange, I was taken by a school party, I think it was the Labour government that had begun to organise things like that, and I’d lived through a war and been bombed so I knew all about Macbeth as a tyrant, but it seemed to me that somebody was telling the truth. It seemed to me to be talking about very basic and very essential things that you have to get right that which young people concern themselves with.
Tusa: Looking back on it now, do you think that in a way it’s quite amusing that this very traditional, almost reactionary theatrical experience, an old actor manager of the most traditional actor-management kind, doing Macbeth. It’s rather fascinating that that should have been your first key theatrical experience isn’t it?
Bond: I don’t think it was an old fashioned experience at all, I think the man was playing a play that had probably been rehearsed for about 200 years because it passed on many traditions. So that it came down to absolute essentials, and that’s really what I got from it. It’s like, if you go about the Oresteia well it begins with a century and a group of old soldiers complaining and it is the case that that in many ways is contemporary. The classics understood the questions, they don’t have the answers but they understand the questions and they tend to know what a disciplined approach to truth is. And in that sense it is valuable, and when Macbeth pursues an idea he pursues it. To find out exactly what’s in it there is no compromise, he doesn’t avoid the question by being clever, he pursues it to what I suppose you could call a truth.**