For the first time this year, I have read only a small handful of books. The motivation just wasn’t there. There is darkness all around. We are all on edge … and at the edge of falling into the abyss of societal decay we won’t easily recover from.
“Though neither happiness nor respect are worth anything, because unless both are coming from the truest motives, they are simply deceits. A successful man earns the respect of the world never mind what is the state of his mind, or his manner of earning. So what is the good of such respect, and how happy will such a man be in himself? And if he is what passes for happy, such a state is lower than the self-content of the meanest animal.” –How Green Was My Valley – Richard Llewellyn
Previous book reports: 2020 – September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January. 2019 – December, November, October, September, May, April, March, February, January. 2018 – November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February and January.
Thoughts on reading for October:
I liked all of the very few things I read in October (there were only six books):
“’Mammy, help. I can’t.’ ‘Yes. You. Can.’ She was still smiling through her open teeth. “Just hold your head up high and Gie. It. Laldy.” She was no use at maths homework, and some days you could starve rather than get a hot meal from her, but Shuggie looked at her now and understood this was where she excelled. Everyday with the make-up on and her hair done, she climbed out of her grave and held her head high. When she had disgraced herself with drink, she got up the next day, put on her best coat, and faced the world. When her belly was empty and her weans were hungry, she did her hair and let the world think otherwise.”
A heartbreaking book with a clear sense of language, culture, class and place (Glasgow). It hits close to home, and I devoured it.
One of those books you always think you should read. A friend read it back when we were in junior high school, and then I recall Frasier Crane making a big deal out of the film adaptation in an episode of Frasier. I haven’t seen the film or read the book. But now, suddenly, I thought, “Why not?”
“HERE IN THIS QUIET HOUSE I sit thinking back the structure of my life, building again that which has fallen. It do seem to me that the life of man is merely a pattern scrawled on Time, with little thought, little care, and no sense of design. Why is it, I wonder, that people suffer, when there is so little need, when an effort of will and some hard work would bring them from their misery into peace and contentment.”
Like many stories about people living in communities where everyone ends up doing one dangerous job – whether it’s mining, as it is here, or logging, or something similar, the main character (Huw Morgan) has academic promise that can help him achieve something more than going down into the mines.
“Post-national, welfare-state, cooperative, pacific Europe was not born of the optimistic, ambitious, forward-looking project imagined in fond retrospect by today’s Euro-idealists. It was the insecure child of anxiety. Shadowed by history, its leaders implemented social reforms and built new institutions as a prophylactic, to keep the past at bay.”
This was a really long book and goes into a fair amount of depth about the many different challenges faced by Europe after World War II.
“But the Communist myth bears unintended witness to the importance (and the difficulty) in both halves of Europe of managing a burdensome inheritance. World War One destroyed old Europe; World War Two created the conditions for a new Europe. But the whole of Europe lived for many decades after 1945 in the long shadow cast by the dictators and wars in its immediate past. That is one of the experiences that Europeans of the post-war generation have in common with one another and which separates them from Americans, for whom the twentieth century taught rather different and altogether more optimistic lessons. And it is the necessary point of departure for anyone seeking to understand European history before 1989—and to appreciate how much it changed afterwards.”
“Why were Europeans willing to pay so much for insurance and other long-term welfare provisions, at a time when life was still truly hard and material shortages endemic? The first reason is that, precisely because times were difficult, the post-war welfare systems were a guarantee of a certain minimum of justice, or fairness. This was not the spiritual and social revolution for which many in the wartime Resistance had dreamed, but it was a first step away from the hopelessness and cynicism of the pre-war years.”
It’s fascinating to see how the idea of a united (western) Europe is juxtaposed with the eventual unification of Europe after Communism and the splinters that created, whether in the breakup of Yugoslavia and subsequent war or the significant differences between the way the United Kingdom is governed and how Scotland wishes to be governed.
“What these figures suggest is that Slovenia and (to a lesser extent) Croatia already ranked alongside the less prosperous countries of the European Community, while Kosovo, Macedonia and rural Serbia more closely resembled parts of Asia or Latin America. If Slovenes and Croats were increasingly restive in their common Yugoslav home, then, this was not because of a resurfacing of deep-rooted religious or linguistic sentiments or from a resurgence of ethnic particularism. It was because they were coming to believe that they would be a lot better off if they could manage their own affairs without having to take into account the needs and interests of underachieving Yugoslavs to their south.”
“Scotland was another matter. There too the decline of the old industries had taken a terrible toll; but the Scottish National Party (SNP) which emerged in the Seventies could count on a share of the local vote four times that of their Welsh colleagues. Within two decades of its breakthrough as a ‘single-issue’ party at the 1974 elections—where it returned eleven members to parliament—the SNP had overtaken the Conservatives and was placing serious pressure upon traditional Labour strongholds. Unlike the Welsh, the voters of Scotland did favour devolution of power; and although they had to wait for it until 1997, the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh indisputably speaks for a country which thinks of itself as a distinct and separate nation, if not quite a state. Scottish nationalism benefited both from the fortuitous discovery of North Sea oil and gas—which brought prosperity to Aberdeen and the north-east—and from EC regional policies, which allowed Scottish administrators and businessmen to bypass London and forge direct links to Brussels. But Scotland, though joined to England by an Act of Union in 1707, had always been a land apart. Its sense of self rested less on linguistic or religious distinctions, which—though real enough—had grown tenuous for most of its residents, than on a curious admix of superiority and ressentiment.”
“Thus, in the same way that so many of the classics of modern English literature are in fact Irish, so some of the greatest achievements of English-language political and social thought since the Enlightenment, from David Hume to Adam Smith and on to John Stuart Mill and beyond, were actually Scottish. Not only was Edinburgh in some ways the intellectual capital of early industrial Britain and Glasgow the radical core of the British labour movement in the early years of the twentieth century; but Scottish businessmen, Scottish managers—and Scottish émigrés—were responsible for establishing, settling and administering much of England’s empire. Moreover Scotland had always claimed and maintained a distinctive and separate identity: even at the height of centralized rule from London it preserved its own system of education and its own legal system. An independent Scotland, then, was a perfectly plausible proposition—particularly in a European Union in which it would have been by no means the smallest or the poorest nation-state. Whether the majority of the Scottish population, having secured much of the appearance and some of the substance of independence, would ever wish to go further is less certain. The limitations of geography, demography and resources which have kept Scotland dependent upon the UK are still there; and by the end of the Nineties there seemed reason to suppose that in Scotland as elsewhere the engine of nationalism was running out of steam.”