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Coming Up for Air by George Orwell.

George Orwell's Coming Up for Air (1939) made the past three days for me bearable: I've had a rotten cold, the type that makes you wonder if this is the end: I've been that poorly and I'm still suffering. As you might expect I've read a fair amount these past two days whilst being stuck in bed and too ill to sleep: On the Nature of Things by Lucretius, Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne as well, and Coming Up for Air was the absolute best and I am eternally grateful to Mr. Orwell for making this gruesome cold not quite as bad as it would have been without it.

It's a simple plot: Orwell tells the story of George Bowling. He's 45 years old and by his own account not much a looker (fat and red faced). He's an insurance salesman and is unhappily married to Hilda who married down somewhat when she married him. George finds himself hardly living, merely existing in suburbia, and when he wins a small sum of money on a horse race he decides to retu…

Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche.

Thus Spake Zarathustra: A Book for All and None (Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen) is a philosophical work written by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and published in four parts between 1883 - 1891. I think it's safe to say I've missed the boat with Nietzsche. I know people who have read it as teenagers or in their early twenties and adored this and other works by Nietzsche, but here I am in my mid-thirties and I was wondering why. It's not that I don't think Thus Spake Zarathustra is good; it is good and an impressive achievement, but it left me completely hollow and, dare I say, a little bored.

As in Russia during this period, Germany was concerned with the rise of nihilism and, as with all of Europe, Christianity appeared to be in decline as the influences of science and rational thought became ever more powerful. This influenced his philosophy and, in this case, Thus Spake Zarathustra greatly. In it, Nietzsche proclaims that religion…

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

Meditations (Ta eis heauton) is a collection of thoughts and observations on ideas concerning Stoic philosophy written by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius who ruled from from 161 to 180. It was written for his own benefit somewhere around 170 - 180 A.D. and it's thought these meditations weren't intended to be shared, and so the first time it was published was 1559 in its original Greek and not until 1634 in English. These writings have been divided into twelve books. Here's some of my notes on each book:
Book I
In this section Aurelius writes on things he has learned from people close to him, such as the importance of diplomacy over rhetoric, avoiding superstition, tradition, the avoidance of tyranny, and the importance of self-control. Here's two of my favourite quotes: 12. Alexander the Platonist cautioned me against frequent use of the words "I am too busy" in speech or correspondence, except in cases of real necessity; saying that no one ought to shirk t…

Wordless Wednesday: the houseplant edition.


Les Chants de Maldoror by Comte de Lautréamont.

"May it please heaven that the reader, emboldened and having for the first time being become as fierce as what he is reading, should, without being led astray, find his rugged and treacherous way across the desolate swamps of these sombre and poison-filled pages; for, unless he brings to his reading a rigorous logic and a tautness of mind equal at least to his wariness, the deadly emanations of this book will dissolve his soul as water does sugar. It is not right that everyone should read the pages which follow; only a few will be able to savour this bitter fruit with impunity. Consequently, shrinking soul, turn on your heels and go back before penetrating further into such uncharted, perilous wastelands. Listen well to what I say: turn on your heels and go back, not forward..." So begins Les Chants de Maldoror (1868- - 1869) by Comte de Lautréamont, the pseudonym of the Uruguayan-born French writer Isidore-Lucien Ducasse who died a year after the publication at the age of …

The Blessed Damozel by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

The Blessed Damozel is a poem and a painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the poem first published in 1850 and the painting painted between 1875–78. It tells the sad story of a lover mourning the death of his loved one.
It begins, The blessed damozel lean’d out
From the gold bar of Heaven;
Her eyes were deeper than the depth
Of waters still’d at even;
She had three lilies in her hand,
And the stars in her hair were seven. He goes on to describe her and writes that it only feels like a day since she died ("Herseem’d she scarce had been a day / One of God’s choristers") yet in fact she has been gone ten years. Still, our narrator imagines she is with him now, feeling as though she is leaning over him with her hair falling about him, but he is mistaken: it is "the autumn-fall of leaves". She is in fact in heaven, and he imagines her there alone and surrounded by lovers who have been reunited: Around her, lovers, newly met
’Mid deathless love’s acclaims,