About Some Books

I have read thousands of books in my life, and, until yesterday evening there had only been two I have not finished. These were Thomas Malory’s ‘Le Morte d’Arthur’, in which I was bored by lists of names of biblical length; and James Joyce’s ‘Finnegan’s Wake’, which I had seen as a challenge, especially as it had a reputation for multi-lingual puns, yet which I found unintelligible.

It has not been my practice to have more than one book on the go at once, but while working my way through re-reading ‘David Copperfield’ by Charles Dickens I thought I would try an experiment with this and with Harold Brodkey’s ‘Profane Relationship’.

I managed to reach 200 pages before abandoning each of the first-mentioned works. I wasn’t much past that point in Brodkey’s 1994 novel, and more than somewhat inclined to make that the third with which to dispense. In order to ensure that my boredom with it was not influenced by comparison with the Victorian classic, I waded through another thirty-odd pages.

Then I picked up

In ‘David Copperfield’, Dickens tells a story which, complex as it is, hangs together, and, romantic as is the author’s style, engages our interest in his characters. There is, of course, no mention of sex in the writer’s depictions of love. The writing is humorous and descriptive of place, events, and personalities. One-dimensional most of them may be, but we can forgive him that. The narrative wends its way to a credible conclusion for all concerned.

Mr Brodkey’s book also begins with friendship between two children, both boys, and professes to be the story of its development. There any similarities end. Profane as the relationship undoubtedly becomes when, after some years apart the older boy ensnares his not unwilling, yet seemingly heterosexual, friend into graphic activity, I could not become engaged with these characters for whom there are no truly loving relationships – unless, of course, you see love and hate as two sides of the same coin. Dickens wrote in a time when sex could not be mentioned; Brodkey writes as if the physical activity is all there is to love – at least that is how I understand one who so frequently ejaculates streams of logorrhoea throughout his pages. There may be a credible conclusion, but I have no inclination to discover it.

Today I set about scanning the first three of Charles Keeping’s illustrations to ‘Our Mutual Friend’. The frontispiece shown above illustrates ‘He put both his arms round her waist’.

‘A boat of dirty and disreputable appearance, with two figures in it’ displays the artist’s skill with perspective.

‘The Veneering establishment’ depicts Victorian nouveau riche.

For the Head Gardener, tomato blight is one of the most distressing consequence of weeks of warm, wet, windy, weather. She successfully grew several plants from seed, and was looking forward to enjoying the fruits of her endeavour. The condition, like that currently besetting the human population of the planet, is caused by a wind-borne virus.

On either side of lunch we tackled the triffid tentacles of Félicité Perpétue extending across the front drive. It fell to me to bang in a pair of iron poles to carry a crossbar to support the rose, in danger of dragging down the fence.

Jackie, capable of being much more vicious than I, then savaged the stems.

The clippings were chopped and bagged up by Jackie who wishes it known that those trailers across the concrete have been sprayed with a herbicide which will make its way to the roots without damaging anything else.

Early this evening I posted: https://derrickjknight.com/2021/08/13/a-knights-tale-15-from-the-irish-civil-war-to-estonia/

Later, we dined on a Red Chilli takeaway meal. Jackie enjoyed chicken sag, sag bahji, and sag poneer with more of the rosé; my choice was king prawn naga, special fried rice, and plain nan accompanied by the last of the Shiraz.


  1. Maybe I should start reading two books together, it makes a more interesting comparison for the visitors of the blog ( who am I kidding? That’s not going to happen, I cannot reach that level of concentration).

  2. The book that I cannot finish is Don Quixote. I remember forcing myself through War and Peace. Shame about the tomatoes. When the blight strikes need to act fast and save the green fruit for chutney making.

  3. The second illustration demonstrates not only Mr Keeping’s skill of perspective, but also his mastery of expressing emotions visually, such as the shiver and shudder of the girl at the rudder.
    I think ‘ejaculates streams of logorrhoea’ neatly summarizes your book review, Derrick. I am chuckling as I write.

  4. I gave up on ‘The Old Ways’ by Robert Macfarlane. Sheer brilliance coupled with pretentious twaddle; sadly, the latter won. Dickens is always brilliant. I want to build “frequently ejaculates streams of logorrhoea” into a future article, Derrick; hope you don’t mind!

  5. I always like to go with one by one books too but so far I do have some that I’ve started and I was never been able to finish so I’ve passed to another one ?☺️
    I’m sorry for that tomatoes ?

  6. I often have two books going at the same time – one on kindle and one “real book.” But life’s too short to stay with a book that is continually distatastful. It looks like there might still be some hope for a few of those tomatoes.

    1. Thanks very much, JoAnna. It wasn’t so much the distaste as the gobbledegook that was so boring. Jackie is going to separate some of the trusses to see if they have escaped – or I suppose she could try bleach 🙂

  7. The ‘Our Mutual Friend’ book definitely sounds like a worthwhile read, and of course Keeping’s drawing are superb Derrick …

  8. I tend to have multiple books on the go – or in the doldrums. 😀 In a number of cases, they are anthologies. I jump from short story collection to collection, like a slow motion stone on water. I recently made head way on Pride and Prejudice, saved on my tablet. We suffered a heavy storm with a power outage that extended from Wednesday afternoon to Thursday, 6:30 in the evening – different areas got power back at different times, the last group didn’t have power to 11:30.

    There was a time when I could read through a stack of books as if they were popcorn. 😀 Now I am sporadic – going from a full tilt to stuck on the same page for days on end. Jane’s novel was very enlightening – with the power out. 🙂

    1. I like your Ducks and Drakes analogy, Joseph. I can see how anthologies might be the way to go for multiple reading. It is good that you found some light in the darkness. Thanks very much.

  9. I am excited to find myself at the beginning of a new series of the two Charleses. Thank you. Now that you say it, graphically magnified descriptions of physicality has been one of the chief reasons I have also abandoned many a book. One wonders if the erotic journey was the predominant avocation of the author rather than the end in such works. I am dismayed by the havoc caused by tomato blight. The viruses, who exist in a twilight of living and non-living, are the ultimate challenge to the living.

  10. So sorry about Jackie’s tomatoes! I wish we could share with you. We have a dozen different types and they are all producing well. Our cucumbers are getting that awful powdery mildew. That’s not good!

      1. I have been battling the cucumber thing for years and have moved them all over the place. I might have to move them to a big planter in our back yard next year.

  11. I have quit so many books in my life, but not as many as I have read. I don’t really want to go back and re-read “The Magic Mountain,’ or other books I read slowly and loved. God only knows how much I love Pip and Mrs. Havisham, little Doritt, and Lady Dedlock. The big problem I have now is that there are very few new books that actually are interesting to me. If I find one, I review it on Goodreads. I am only fully happy when reading a good book. You just convinced me, without you even trying to convince me. I am going to pull the old Dickens books off the shelf, and read the ones I haven’t read. My husband says Dickens is too depressing. No he’s not, honesty is liberating.

    1. Thank you very much for your view on all this, Cindy. I.too, enjoyed “The Magic Mountain”, and, unusually, I remember it. I very seldom read a book twice – Dickens is the exception – only because of my Keeping project, but I am appreciating him much more this time round.

  12. It won’t be any consolation but I was told years ago that many of these viruses used to be killed off by hard winters. Nowadays, the mild winters just don’t do it.

  13. I’m sorry to hear about the tomato blight. I wonder if those grown in greenhouses have also suffered the same fate.

    Andrew’s remark about green tomato chutney took me back to when my husband was alive; large pans on the stove taking your breath away as you entered the room and warm jars lined up on the worktop.
    The taste of the delicious chutney he made stays with me.

  14. Aw, so sorry to hear about the tomatoes. 🙁 The weather can be so harsh on growing things. 🙁
    When they make it, they certainly are delicious…home grown tomatoes are the bestest.
    I’ll have to add that Dickens’ book to my To Read List. That’s one I’ve not read before.
    When I was younger I always had two books going at the same time…These days trying to concentrate on only one is best. 🙂
    (((HUGS))) 🙂

  15. Since getting books on my mobile phone via Kindle I’ve been forced into having two books ‘on the go’ at the same time. I don’t find it easy, but the convenience of having both formats is undoubtedly useful.

  16. Perhaps you should read more books you don’t like to entertain us with your reviews! ? But the Keeping drawings are an added bonus to the Dickens that you do like.
    There are many books I haven’t finished, though some I’ve gone back to at another time and enjoyed.

    I’m sorry about your tomatoes.

  17. No tomato blight around here this year, but there was a lot of splitting near the end of the first season because we had so much rain. Now, everyone is waiting for September, and a chance to begin again with the fall gardens. With luck, we’ll be eating tomatoes in October.

  18. There is always so much to think about in your posts and so various responses too. You made me laugh with the vicious Jackie comment. I send my sympathies to her for that and for the tomatoes. The illustration of the building interested me in how the artist stops drawing from left to right and the effect gives a feeling of the carriage moving off. And not finishing books reminded me of starting to watch ‘All is True’ on iPlayer last night to find every Shakespearean cliche glibly tossed in as if working against a check list. I could not finish it.

  19. I try very hard to read a book on its own terms. However, if the terms of our acquaintance are as distasteful as those you describe for the Brodsky novel, I bid the book adieu.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: