On a previous website, I used to list, periodically, what I happened to have been reading. I think it is worth reviving, but this time, I invite others to comment on the books listed and to share their own recent adventures in literacy. I am not including With Fire and Sword.
1. Two days ago my wife and I, who read aloud or listen to a book after breakfast, completed the last chapter of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. This was my second complete reading of the work, but I frequently take up one or another part of it. I cannot say that there is any more enjoyable book in the English language, and the majesty and harmony of the prose could only have been written by someone well flogged in the classical languages. As dessert, we have now started
2. Gibbon's Autobiography, which I have not looked at in over 40 years but remember having thoroughly enjoyed. I used to make a serious attempt at reading the English classics, but I no longer do anything with any degree of seriousness. I was reminded of this work by a passage in a silly mystery novel written by a film composer writing under the name of Edmund Crispin. In one of his books, the hero--an Oxford don--is working on a book about mid-2oth century English fiction, most of which he finds tedious--and when the publisher's bankruptcy liberates him, he immediately turns to the Autobiography. Good move.
3, Yesterday afternoon, good cigar in hand, I began thinking about volume II of Properties of Blood, subtitled The Reign of Hate. The early chapters have a lot about revenge, including a discussion of Seneca's essay on Anger. It occurred to me that I have managed to avoid any serious reading of Seneca's tragedies, so I decided to start with the most infamous of them, Thyestes. Yes, it has all of Seneca's faults--it is too obviously brilliant and sententious, extremely dark in its implications, but it is pretty thrilling, especially in its portrait of political power. At one point King Atreus, who has been asked by a loyal retainer not to contemplate doing anything to his brother that is not consistent with justice, responds that justice and decency are private goods, but it is a king's right to do as he pleases. The best guess is that the work was written while he was tutor or minister to Nero. His depiction of a political world dominated by lust, libido dominandi, and nastiness and pervaded by fear and anxiety would not appeal to an optimistic age, but to the Elizabethans--and to us--the appeal is powerful.
4. I'm reading a Nero Wolfe mystery I may have read before but don't have the book in front of me. I recently finished Blindfold, a not very satisfactory Patricia Wentworth mystery in which her heroine Miss Silver does not appear.
5. My old friend Jane Greer has a new book of verse out, and I hope to be reviewing it in a few days.