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about books (3)
middle ages (3)
Last updated December 2016
What do I know about this?
Writers are first of all readers. It is by reading, and then reading some more, and then reading a bit more just in case, and then reading again in case we missed something, that we learn to write.
I've been a professional reader and a professional writer and a professional writer about writing and about reading. I've dealt in the past for a long time, and count amongst my friends some writers who have been dead for several centuries. Reading intelligently and carefully is a way of getting to know other human minds and lives. Learning to read is not all ABC - that's only the start. The editions on this page are of books I feel modern readers should read. It's important not to read only books written in the last few years. A good book never ages as it tells us something fundamental and unchanging about being human.
I did an English degree, a PhD that dealt with English and French literature (and models of scientific thought), and I've taught literature for years so I'm reasonably well equipped to write about other people's books. It's interesting, though, how often I don't see things in my own writing that are clearly there. Things that I later recognise but wasn't consciously trying to include at the time. And then there are things I know I was including but most readers won't spot. It makes literary criticism an even more interesting activity. Just like everyone else, writers don't always mean what they say or say what they mean.
The Prince: Better pictures in 2010 than in 1523
I didn't write these books. I'm not claiming to be Voltaire, Coleridge or Chaucer. They were cleverer than I am, but I win on one point - they're dead and I'm not. (Yet.)
The introduction is the only bit I wrote, though some of the Candide is re-translated. These are beautifully produced, especially the illustrated edition of The Prince.
Bad boat-ride with a big bird
The Prince (Arcturus, 2010)
By Macchiavelli - political treatise noted for its amoral stance. Respected and consulted by many political leaders, including Napoleon, Hitler and plenty more recent ones I won't mention. Essential reading if you're a prince - or want to be a politician.
Candide (Arcturus, 2009)
By Voltaire - satirical novel written in 1759 attacking the pathological optimism of Leibniz, who maintained that we live in the best of all possible worlds. Brilliant stuff (Voltaire, not my introduction).
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Arcturus, 2008)
By Coleridge - jolly poem in the Romantic tradition about a sea-faring chap who shot an albatross. Bad plan. Nice pictures by Gustav Doré; narrated by a grey-beard loon.
The Canterbury Tales (Arcturus, 2007; 2010)
By Chaucer - stories in many forms on many topics, told by a motley crew of narrators en route to Canterbury. Written between 1370 and 1400. Beautifully decorated by William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones - this is a reproduction of the famous Kelmscott Press edition of 1891.
This is where I started with writing - a PhD in literature. I still sometimes write about other people's books (it's easier than writing my own). There two are 'A' level guides, also useful for undergraduations. I much prefer writing about authors who've not been written about before, because then I don't have to wade through lots of other criticism. #lazyauthor
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (York Press, 2015)
About Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. If you're doing this book for GCSE, this will really help. There is also a workbook, but I've not put a picture as the cover is the same so it would look boring. GCSE
Spies (York Press, 2007)
About Spies by Michael Frayn. It's the only book about Spies, so if you're studying the text, buy this book. A level
Atonement (York Press, 2006)
About Atonement by Ian McEwan. Read the book, see the film, read the crit. A level
Back in the old days, when the pteradactyls lined up on the birdbath, I was a medievalist. The first of these has a beautifully Stalinist look - if only it were red instead of blue. The second is the book of my PhD thesis. I wanted a more exciting title and a more exciting cover. I wasn't allowed either. It's out of print now. I'll rights-revert it and reissue with both!
Stop press! I've been commissioned to write a book about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - so back to the Middle Ages I shall go...
Hunting in Middle English Literature (Boydell and Brewer, 1993)
State of the Art: Chaucer (Bristol Classical Press, 1989)
The Tretyse off Huntyng (UFSAL, 1987)
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