August reading

Here are some books I read last month! I reread a few too (Emma, The Pillow-book of Sei Shonagon – both still very fun, both recommended) but these are the new-to-me ones.

Augustus: From Revolutionary To Emperor, Adrian Goldsworthy: On the plane to San Francisco I polished off this new biography of Augustus/Caesar/Octavian/first hottie of the Roman republic, which was released to time with the 2,000th anniversary of his death on August 19. He’s one of my favourite historical figures: my birth month is named after him and I love his characterisation in eg Rome and Antony and Cleopatra as a placidly ambitious weedy sociopathic teenage politician (so hot). Goldsworthy sets out to break down the boundary history has created between the young ‘Octavian’ (above-mentioned teenie sociopath) and the older ‘Augustus’ (wise emperor who created aqueducts, firefighters, decades of pax Romana, etc.), and create a picture of one man, and he does it clearly and thoughtfully.

Goldsworthy is I believe a military historian and he focuses a lot more on Caesar’s campaigns than on the questions I really want answered about his life, such as: How accurate do we think was that scene on Rome where he talks to Livia about spanking her? Because personally in that relationship I see him as more the spankee. Do you think that Agrippa and Julia went to orgies together, or was that more something she did on her own? Tiberius: probably terrible in bed, right? That said, Goldsworthy does get into some comedy anecdotes, like when Mark Antony was taking petitions in the Forum and he was so hung over he had to grab a friend’s cloak to throw up in, or when a provincial governor decided that the best way to get into Antony and Cleopatra’s good graces was to strip nude, paint himself blue, affix a fishtail (…where?) and dance in front of the Egyptian court on a festival day. (It worked, apparently, the guy had a very successful career.) For his part, teenage Octavian was reportedly much sought after by the adulterous matrons of Rome and very, very understandably so. Read more...

Foyles Bookshop, Charing Cross Road

Foyles Charing Cross Road
Foyles Charing Cross Road
Foyles Charing Cross Road
Foyles Charing Cross Road

Aren’t bookshops great? Apparently when I was a wee Portlander of six or seven, I asked my parents if Powell’s did birthday parties (it doesn’t, which in retrospect is probably one of the main reasons I fled America for the land of my ancestors). Powell’s is an excellent bookshop and probably one of the world’s best, although like most of Portland it suffers from overexposure these days among the twee bourgeoisie (I include myself in this group). It has very high shelves of medium brown wood, big crowded rooms organised by topic, and my favourite ever sign in a bookshop or any shop: Nautical Fiction / Erotica.

Foyles is the exciting big bookshop where you want to have your birthday party of London. It’s the best in the country (Blackwells is better organised, therefore less interesting), mostly because it’s trying to be a Bookshop in the way I think a bookshop morally should be, getting people excited about books as well as putting on really good events for people who are already excited about books and want to share that with other excited people. It puts on international literary tours and live-action Where’s Wally? hunts for kids and says lovely earnest things like, “Wherever possible we make our events at all of our branches free of charge so that everyone can experience the joy of hearing an author talk about or read from their work.” Read more...

“Judaism: All That Matters” by Keith Kahn-Harris

Judaism: All That Matters by Keith Kahn-Harris

Title: Judaism: All That Matters
Author: Keith Kahn-Harris
Published: Hodder Education, 2012. 126pp. [buy ethically: UK, US]

I’ve read quite a few books about Judaism by Jews for Jews (or potential Jews), but “Judaism: All That Matters”, by Keith Kahn-Harris, is the first book I’ve read about Judaism, by a Jewish person, aimed at non-Jews – intended as a primer for people who might not know very much about us. Read more...