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Necromancer

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If you’re interested, I put up a post just before this one giving the  list of the books read and completed in January, plus short stories and long essays from anthogies but not newspapers, magazines and websites.

There’s got to be a limit somewhere.

Anyway, the idea wasn’t  to list everything I read, but only books plus those things I read outside of the day to day routine.

And yes, I do read a lot in the way of newspapers, magazines and websites.

A couple of notes, now, on what’s up there for the end of January.

8) Mikhail Bulgakov.  The Master and Margarita.

I picked up this book because people kept telling me I wasn’t going to like it, and eventually I just got annoyed with the prejudgment.

I kept going with this book because its opening scene was just so eerily familiar.

This book is a novel of the kind that was called in the Sixties and early Seventies “fabulist.” 

The form actually existed long before then.  Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy is a fabulist  novel.   

And of the fabulist novels of the Sixties, Seventies and sometimes early Eighties, only Thomas Pynchon’s first two–V and Gravity’s Rainbow–have survived. 

They’re both good books, and very wild rides–the wild ride being what a fabulist novel always is.

The Master and Margarita was written first in the 1930s and then destroyed when it got him into political trouble and then written again and then–the thing has a manuscript history that sounds  like a fabulist novel itself.

The premise of the book  is that the Devil comes to Moscow, and then…never mind.

No spoilers.

I wouldn’t know where to start.

But that first scene meant I wasn’t going to be able to stop before I’d finished, and that first scene is this:

The editor of a magazine called Godless is talking to one of his poet-contributors, insisting that the latest poem will  have to be rewritten, because, although it does vigorously oppose and despise Christianity, it seems to imply that Christ once actually existed.

Since all educated and intelligent people know this is not true, the poem will have to be rewritten before it can be published.

That’s when the Devil shows up.

What got my attention was that I have been in that conversation, many t imes.  It’s a staple of freethought, atheist and secular web sites, books and articles and discussion groups to this day.

Of course, the Devil doesn’t show up–but that seems like a quibble.

It’s the kind of thing that you just  have to accept, from the outside, is going to be completely bizarre on more levels than you can count, and some people who get interested in it get completely obsessed.

But it’s worth the time whether you want to go into all that or just take it at face value.

And it isn’t the usual kind of thing.

The last is

9) Lionel Cassel.  Libraries in the Ancient World.

It’s a very little book, covering the development of libraries up until the start of the Middle Ages, written by the kind of old-fashioned expert who is so completely absorbed in his passion that he doesn’t seem to  notice that the rest of the world exists.

It is, of course, largely archeological and anthropological, as it would have to be, and there’s a lot of information in there about how books came to look like they do know (instead of being on rolls), how alphabetical order rose and developed, and lots of other things that are  good to know just because they are.

I  personally think there aren’t enough books of this kind in the world, but that may just be me.

The first book I read in February was

10) Robert A. Heinlein.  Stormship Troopers.

But I won’t be discussing that here for reasons I’ve already made clear.

Written by janeh

February 3rd, 2013 at 10:38 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response to 'Necromancer'

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  1. Count me among the obsessed. There are six translations of The Master and Margarita into English. I’ve read five, and the Hugh Aplin is in the TBR stack. If anyone’s going in for the first time, the Pevear and Volokhonsky (Penguin) is the best footnoted, which is helpful especially with the Moscow background.

    If you enjoyed LIbraries, may I recommend Henry Petroski, The Book on the Bookshelf? It’s especially interesting on the interaction between the physical nature of book and bookshelf and the people and institutions they served. Best quote: “It appears to be a law of nature that shelves, whether empty of full, attract books.”

    “To the everlasting glory of the infantry
    Shines the name, shines the name of Roger Young.”

    Heinlein mixed lines from different verses–but he got the spirit right.

    robert_piepenbrink

    3 Feb 13 at 2:01 pm

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