The Life and Times of…

Read two tiny books that were in grandpa’s pile to be given away. They were both part of a series called The Life and Times of… and written by someone called A. Noble. One was on J.F.K. and one was on Martin Luther King. The series seems to have a wide variety of names, and oddly includes both Anne Frank and Hitler in the list of other Life and Times titles at the back.

The books are from 1994, but still informative. I feel like I know a tiny tiny bit more about American history now. It’s a shame I haven’t seen many books like this any more; these ones are beautiful hardback books around the size of a post-it note. I’d certainly find them useful because, as I’m realising, I don’t know a thing about anything.

Noble, A. The Life and Times of Martin Luther King. London: Parragon, 1994.

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Memento Mori

Finished reading Memento Mori just now. I went to Edinburgh Central library in search of something to read, and one of the few interesting authors I could find was Muriel Spark. This one was weird, shocking and scandalous as she always is, full of unsympathetic characters caught up in adultery and deception. Some weird and questionable bits – I stopped short at the word “negress”, which I’m sure is one of those dodgy old words that people used to say without thought in the olden racist days – and also some euphemisms about paying and lifting skirts that are hard to judge whether I am being too innocent or too worldly in my interpretation of them. One character paid in pound notes and made me realise how old this book is (it was published in 1959). But it’s still compelling, and always great to see some realistic characters, both men and women: people who are selfish, treat others badly, and keep secrets. Affairs seem to be a prerequisite of literary fiction.

I had thought it was one of these ‘classics’, but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I’m not sure if it’s regarded as a classic book in itself or if it’s just famous for the title being the kind of saying that spawns endless internet screen names. Strange how it leads on from the last book I read, also about older characters coming to terms with their mortality, and partially set in a retirement home. Maggie Smith seems to have been in the TV adaptation of Memento Mori, as well as the film adaptation of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but she also starred in the adaptation of Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the role which began her career.

The main story of this book is about how a mysterious caller affects different characters in different ways, with their repeated telephone message: “Remember you must die”.

These Foolish Things

On the 29th of February this year, at around ten past 8 in the evening on the train to Edinburgh from Oxford, I just managed to finish reading The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, or These Foolish Things to give it its proper name before it was re-jacketed for the film release. A man in a suit who had been sat across from me on my right approached me as the train started slowing down toward the station, and asked if I’d finished my book. I told him I had and he was really excited. “I’ve never seen anyone finish a book before! I was rooting for you!” Nice that reading can sometimes be a spectator sport. And now I can’t remember whether I’ve ever seen anyone finish a book before.