Another Bookish Thread

We have not done a general thread about books for a very long time. I did one two years ago. I have just finished Kafka’s The Castle: I think I have now read most of his stuff. Metamorphosis was probably my favourite along with the In Penal Colony. Actually all Kafka is fairly heavy going: I tend to read a page or two and then stop for a think; the blurb explains part of the problem is a German literary device whereby one has enormously long sentences. I suspect the reason I go so slowly is stupidity (clearly I am reading it in English so the German language explanation does not really wash). Before Kafka I read Beckett’s Molloy. I have Murphy in front of me but now I am a bit fed up with being pretentious and might try something sensible: probably some history. I gave up completely on Finnegan’s Wake after 30-40 pages: that after managing Ulysses; at least it was in English. Any comments about books: pretentious, life changing or just fun are welcome.

This author has not written a biography and will not be writing one.

  • Mark McGregor

    I brought loads of books on holiday with me and managed to complete just three:

    Dmitry Glukhovsky’s, Metro 2033 – Made me wish I could read Russian, the concept was good, the English translation just didn’t flow. Can’t wait for someone to realise how good a movie this will make.

    Thomas Hennessy’s, A History of Northern Ireland – failed to identify it was themmuns fault. Being serious, can’t believe I’ve never read it before – crammed a lot into just over 300 pages.

    Peter F Hamilton’s, The Naked God – finally finished the most agonisingly awful SF trilogy I’ve ever had the misfortune to buy (after getting all three on a whim I had to force myself to complete this shite over 6 months)

  • I am reading Oliver Twist, at the same time as looking at videos of the London looting: the modern way to ask for more.

  • michael-mcivor

    Finished the last of the Stieg Larsson trilogy- pity there cant be more- reading the Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry at the momment- a few good storys in this yarn-

  • One of the books I am currently reading is Edward Rutherfurd’s Rebels of Ireland. It starts with the flight of the earls and goes up to the 1916 rebellion. It’s a work of fiction after his usual style of following the ups and downs of several families over the centuries. Like all of his monumental works, it is also packed full of factual history. I recommend it.

  • Damian O’Loan

    You’ve perhaps read this short story by Kafka, I’d recommend it if not.

    A Hunger Artist:

    Also, his Letter to His Father is worth reading to contextualise The Castle in particular:

    Nothing pretentious about liking Kafka in any case, seems very sensible to me.

  • I wonder how many of the great writers names have become adjectivised. Kafkaesque, Dickensian etc.

  • I reckon my books of the year will include Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane. Since I’m now keeping public count, I’m open to offers and brickbats.

  • joeCanuck @ 7:45 pm:

    Interesting thought: Sapphic (can’t think why that one came to mind), Chaucerian, Lutheran, Machiavellian, Shakespearean, Miltonian, Byronic, Sadistic (another inexplicable mind-leap), Tennysonian … I was doing quite well until cut down in full flow by the Pert Young Piece around Redfellow Hovel, who instantly googled it and spoiled the moment.

    I instantly recovered to notice the omissions: for an obvious example, no adjective for Austin (I subsequently found the OED accepts “Janeite” and “Austenite”).

  • Nunoftheabove


    How’s about fellow, er, adjectivalians such as Orwellian, Wodehousian, Nabokovian, Phildickian, Hemingwayesque, Pepystic, Twainian, Perelmanesque, Joycean, Shavian, Gibsonian, Brontean, Ballardian, Shakespearean, Jamesian, Faulknerian, Brechtian, Pinteresque, Mametesque, Lovecraftian, Tolkienesque (although I much prefer Tolkienian), Proustian, Seussian or, for that matter, Beckettian.

    Danny ‘The’ Morrisonian was unavailable for comment.

  • Great selection, Malcolm. Thanks for the link; I didn’t know the word eponymous.
    Austenite sounds like a rock to me.

  • Great selection of yours too, Nunoftheabove.

  • How about sluggerish as an adjective for, say, whataboutery?

  • Good grief, joeCanuck @ 8:35 pm! You are spot on.

    I see Encyclopedia Britannica, 1902 edition, describes Austenite, troostite, sorbite, and other constituents [of iron] (I suspect they mean allotropes). The etymology is from Sir William C. Roberts-Austen.

    One does, indeed, learn something new every day. Occasionally it’s even useful.

  • Nunoftheabove


    Fealtesquenessness ? Whataboutery simply has to go. It’s got to the point that I take an instant and enduring dislike of people who use it let alone those who practice it. Likewise MOPE needs a makeover too – no more mope or, if you’d prefer, no mope here.

  • Turgon:

    [Back on topic.]

    My most recent bit of history reading was Amanda Foreman’s A World on Fire, an Epic History of Two Nations Divided. All 814 pages of it. Then there’s another 124 pages of notes and references, Plus a comprehensive index.

    I hesitated on this one for all the obvious reasons. Once I’d got it on the boil, it was a week well spent.

  • Dewi

    Arkady Renkoesque, Lee Childean…

  • Apologies, Turgon, if I have led part of the thread down a byway.

  • Drumlins Rock

    was a pretty byway joe.

    I’m going to open myself to derision by saying I’m reading “Just As I Am” Billy Graham’s Autobiography, the atheists will sneer, and the fundamentalist will tut tut saying he sold out but it is clear he has had a major impact on post WW2 society. It is quite a large book I was given a few years ago, and hard to ignore on the shelf, proved to be a good antidote to the violence and sleaze of the entire 13 Inspector Morse novels I have just finished. Was listening to a radio version of Gormenghast today on radio 4 and thinking it is due a re-read.

  • I wish Drumlins Rock @ 12:09 am well with his Billy Graham autobiography.

    With luck it might explain Graham’s fall from grace over Vietnam. In particular, it might refer to the letter of 15 April 1969 Graham wrote to Nixon, advocating the escalation of the war, by bombing of the dykes. Nixon was advised this strategy would cost as many as a million Vietnamese lives.

    There might also be room in the self-exculpations to explain the 1972 Oval Office tapes which show Graham, speaking with Nixon and Haldeman, in an anti-semitic rant about the “stranglehold” Jews had on the media and Hollywood. All good, forgiving, inclusive Christian stuff, no doubt.

    Graham appears at the opening of George Macdonald Fraser’s The Steel Bonnets (yes — that GMF, as of Flashman):

    At one moment when President Richard Nixon was taking part in his inauguration ceremony, he appeared flanked by Lyndon Johnson and Billy Graham. To anyone familiar with Border history it was one of those historical coincidences which send a little shudder through the mind: in that moment, thousands of miles and centuries in time away from the Debateable Land, the threads came together again; the descendants of three notable Anglo-Scottish Border tribes — families who lived and fought within a few miles of each other on the West Marches in Queen Elizabeth’s time — were standing side by side, and it took very little effort of the imagination to replace the custom-made suits with leather jacks or backs-and-breasts. Only a political commentator would be tactless enough to pursue the resemblance to Border reivers beyond the physical, but there the similarity is strong.

    Lyndon Johnson’s is a face and figure that everyone in Dumfriesshire knows; the lined, leathery Northern head and rangy, rather loose-jointed frame belong to one of the commonest Border types. The only mystery is when the “t” which distinguishes Border Johnstones from the others of the name was dropped from his surname. Billy Graham has frequently advertised his Scottishness, perhaps a little thoughtlessly, since there are more Grahams on the southern side of the line than on the northern, but again, the face is familiar.

    Richard Nixon, however, is the perfect example. The blunt, heavy features, the dark complexion, the burly body, and the whole air of dour hardness are as typical of the Anglo-Scottish frontier as the Roman Wall. Take thirty years off his age and you could put him straight into the front row of the Hawick scrum and hope to keep out of his way. It is difficult to think of any face that would fit better under a steel bonnet.

    None of this, possibly, is capable of definite proof, but one can at least say that the names go with the faces, and that Johnson and Nixon especially are excellent specimens of two distinct but common Border types.

  • slappymcgroundout

    These were finally on sale. Have read the library borrowed copies but now my own:

  • Drumlins Rock

    Malcolm, I can read between lines, and also we now have the advantage of wiki etc. to fill in some on the background, however your bit about the Border Reivers gives another dimension which raises all sorts of speculation about cultural traits.

  • Drumlins Rock @ 9:25 am:

    To be fair, my source for the “dikes” was Alexander Cockburn. What is really interesting is that came to light in some obscure US journal as early as the late ’80s, but went unremarked until Cockburn picked it up a decade ago, and then — as you say, and I now see — it went viral.

    An aside thereon: I see I spelled it “dykes”, which worried me for a moment, but I now see is allowed — but not preferred — by the OED: The spelling dyke is very frequent, but not etymological. Phew! Yet dyke is, I suspect, the preferred version in my natal Norfolk.

    That, of course, applies only to the excavated version. The other meaning only arrives later — first cited by Lester V. Berrey & Melvin Van den Bark: The American thesaurus of slang: a complete reference book of colloquial speech, 1943.

    Hmm: I feel a blog entry coming on.

    As for GMF, he is unfailingly good value. I had a recent enjoyable trot through The Complete McAuslan, the collection has (I think) only been available in this form in the last year or so. So, for the benefit of anyone left on the planet who hasn’t been through The General Danced at Dawn and been introduced to McAuslan, the dirtiest soldier in the world, and to GMF at his early best, here we go on an immediate post-war football excursion:

    I used to watch them wheeling like gulls, absorbed in their wonderful fitba’. They weren’t in Africa or the Army any longer; in imagination they were running on the green turf of Ibrox or Paradise, hearing instead of bugle calls the rumble and roar of a hundred thousand voices; this was their common daydream, to play (according to religion) either for Celtic or Rangers. All except Daft Bob Brown, the battalion idiot; in his fantasy he was playing for Partick Thistle.
    They were frighteningly skilful. As sports officer I was expected actually to play the game, and I have shameful recollections still of a company practice match in which I was pitted against a tiny, wizened creature who in happier days had played wing half for Bridgeton Waverley. What a monkey he made out of me. He was quicksilver with a glottal stop, nipping past, round, and away from me, trailing the ball tantalisingly close and magnetising it away again. The only reason he didn’t run between my legs was that he didn’t think of it. It could have been bad for discipline, but it wasn’t. When he was making me look the biggest clown since Grock I wasn’t his platoon commander any more; I was just an opponent to beat.

    With all this talent to choose from — the battalion was seventy-five per cent Glasgow men — it followed that the regimental team was something special. In later years more than half of them went on to play for professional teams, and one was capped for Scotland, but never in their careers did they have the opportunity for perfecting their skill that they had in that battalion. They were young and as fit as a recent war had made them; they practised together constantly in a Mediterranean climate; they had no worries; they loved their game. At their peak, when they were murdering the opposition from Tobruk to the Algerian border, they were a team that could have given most club sides in the world a little trouble, if nothing more…

    When I lined them up on the quayside, preparatory to boarding one of H.M. coastal craft, I was struck again by their lack of size. They were extremely neat men, as Glaswegians usually are, quick, nervous, and deft as monkeys, but they were undoubtedly small. A century of life–of living, at any rate–in the hell’s kitchen of industrial Glasgow, has cut the stature and mighty physique of the Scotch-Irish people pitifully; Glasgow is full of little men today, but at least they are stouter and sleeker than my team was. They were the children of the hungry ‘thirties, hard-eyed and wiry; only one of them was near my size, a fair, dreamy youth called McGlinchy, one of the reserves. He was a useless, beautiful player, a Stanley Matthews for five minutes of each game, and for the rest of the time an indolent passenger who strolled about the left wing, humming to himself. Thus he was normally in the second eleven (“He’s got fitba’,” the corporal who captained the first team would say, “but whit the hell, he’s no’ a’ there; he’s wandered.”)

    The other odd man out in the party was Private McAuslan, the dirtiest soldier in the world, who acted as linesman and baggage-master, God help us. The Colonel had wanted to keep him behind, and send someone more fit for human inspection, but the team had protested violently. They were just men, and McAuslan was their linesman, foul as he was. In fairness I had backed them up, and now I was regretting it, for McAuslan is not the kind of ornament that you want to advertise your team in Mediterranean capitals. He stood there with the baggage, grimy and dishevelled, showing a tasteful strip of grey vest between kilt and tunic, and with his hosetops wrinkling towards his ankles.

    “All right, children,” I said, “get aboard,” and as they chattered up the gangplank I went to look for the man in charge. I found him in a passageway below decks, leaning with his forehead against a pipe, singing The Ash Grove and fuming of gin. I addressed him, and he looked at me. Possibly the sight of a man in Highland dress was too much for him, what with the heat, for he put his hands over his eyes and said, “Oh dear, oh dear,” but I convinced him that I was real, and he came to quite briskly. We got off to a fine start with the following memorable exchange.

    Me: Excuse me, can you tell me when this boat starts?
    He: It’s not a boat, it’s a ship.
    Me: Oh, sorry. Well, have you any idea when it starts?
    He: If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be the bloody captain, would I?

    Now that we were chatting like old friends, I introduced myself. He was a Welshman, stocky and middle-aged, with the bland, open face of a cherub and a heart as black as Satan’s waistcoat. His name was Samuels, and he was not pleased to see me, but he offered me gin, muttering about the indignity of having his fine vessel used as a floating hotel for a lot of blasted pongos, and Scotch pongos at that. I excused myself, went to see that my Highlanders were comfortably installedWhen I lined them up on the quayside, preparatory to boarding one of H.M. coastal craft, I was struck again by their lack of size. They were extremely neat men, as Glaswegians usually are, quick, nervous, and deft as monkeys, but they were undoubtedly small. A century of life–of living, at any rate–in the hell’s kitchen of industrial Glasgow, has cut the stature and mighty physique of the Scotch-Irish people pitifully; Glasgow is full of little men today, but at least they are stouter and sleeker than my team was. They were the children of the hungry ‘thirties, hard-eyed and wiry; only one of them was near my size, a fair, dreamy youth called McGlinchy, one of the reserves. He was a useless, beautiful player, a Stanley Matthews for five minutes of each game, and for the rest of the time an indolent passenger who strolled about the left wing, humming to himself. Thus he was normally in the second eleven (“He’s got fitba’,” the corporal who captained the first team would say, “but whit the hell, he’s no’ a’ there; he’s wandered.”)
    The other odd man out in the party was Private McAuslan, the dirtiest soldier in the world, who acted as linesman and baggage-master, God help us. The Colonel had wanted to keep him behind, and send someone more fit for human inspection, but the team had protested violently. They were just men, and McAuslan was their linesman, foul as he was. In fairness I had backed them up, and now I was regretting it, for McAuslan is not the kind of ornament that you want to advertise your team in Mediterranean capitals. He stood there with the baggage, grimy and dishevelled, showing a tasteful strip of grey vest between kilt and tunic, and with his hosetops wrinkling towards his ankles.
    “All right, children,” I said, “get aboard,” and as they chattered up the gangplank I went to look for the man in charge. I found him in a passageway below decks, leaning with his forehead against a pipe, singing ‘The Ash Grove’ and fuming of gin. I addressed him, and he looked at me. Possibly the sight of a man in Highland dress was too much for him, what with the heat, for he put his hands over his eyes and said, “Oh dear, oh dear,” but I convinced him that I was real, and he came to quite briskly. We got off to a fine start with the following memorable exchange.
    Me: Excuse me, can you tell me when this boat starts?
    He: It’s not a boat, it’s a ship.
    Me: Oh, sorry. Well, have you any idea when it starts?
    He: If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be the bloody captain, would I?

    Now that we were chatting like old friends, I introduced myself. He was a Welshman, stocky and middle-aged, with the bland, open face of a cherub and a heart as black as Satan’s waistcoat. His name was Samuels, and he was not pleased to see me, but he offered me gin, muttering about the indignity of having his fine vessel used as a floating hotel for a lot of blasted pongos, and Scotch pongos at that. I excused myself, went to see that my Highlanders were comfortably installed — I found them ranged solemnly on a platform in the engine room, looking at the engines — and having shepherded them to their quarters and prevented McAuslan falling over the side, I went to my cabin. There I counted the money — it was a month’s pay for the party–and before I had finished the ship began to vibrate and we were away, like Hannibal, to invade the North.

    What was that about “cultural traits”?

  • Johnny Boy

    I’ve just finished the The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and have Infinite Jest and Don Quixote lined up on the Kindle.

  • John Ó Néill

    After a couple of weeks of an eye inflammation that has now calmed sufficiently to read (computer screen is still a bit of a strain though), I daftly decided to make my third attempt at Ulysses (first was while still at school twenty years ago). Am now almost finished. I get it (and appreciate the reason why it is so highly regarded).
    Still feel the eye thing was less of a struggle though.

  • RepublicanStones

    Currently picking my way through Major Problems in the History of the American West which contains some fascinating reads, such as Thomas R. Hietala’s essay- The Myths Of manifest Destiny. There are also the opposing views of John C. Calhoun and John A. Dix on American expansion into Mexico. The book also has gems such as Queen Liliuokalani’s Statement at Her trial for Treason, 1895, and accounts of the Rock Springs massacre from the Chinese perspective.
    And seeing that Build My gallows High is on BBC2 on Thursday, has made me dust off Hardboiled Hollywood – The Origins of the Great Crime Films. Mitchum’s classic isn’t cited IIRC, but it’ll put me in the mood for it.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Don’t want to sound pretentious, but I’m trying to write a novel, based on a 19thC murder and scandal, with loads of politics & religion thrown in, I will probably never finish it and it may be complete tripe but bit of fun and a good yarn worth telling I believe.

  • RepublicanStones

    Good man Drumlins, fair play to ya. Lets just hope it doesn’t become your monster in a box 🙂

  • Rory Carr

    Moochin mentioned in a previous thread that he was off to an Elmore Leonard signing in Dublin and to purchase his latest, Djbouti which prompted me to rush out and get a copy for myself as, like any inveterate reader, I am held spellbound by the ease with which Leonard constructs his character and plots and how seductively he holds us with his dialogue. Apparently his trick in editing is,

    “If it sounds like writing, I cut it out.”

    Unfortunately, for the first time ever, I have not been held by one of Leonard’s works precisely because it seems like writing and I have put it away after two chapters without much intention of picking it up. I would not ever have believed that possible. But I am compensated by my new love for John Sandford in the thriller genre and I bought a shitload of his Prey series at ridiculous prices from Abe Books through which I am happily working my way, pausing only to draw breath in admiration of a very fine writer indeed.

    In biography I have started John A. Farrell’s life of Clarence Darrow – Attorney for The Damned which, on the recommendation of a New York Times review, I choose in preference over Andrew E. Kersten’s biography. I am happy with the choice I have made. Farrell brings Darrow to life much more clearly than any previous biographies I have read of the Old Devil who at one time was demonised as America’s leading atheist and was a special hate-figure of the evangelical Christian right. In it there is a remarkable appraisal of Darrow’s character by Nathan Leopold, the father of one of the two young Chicago men whom Darrow saved from execution for the horrendous murder of young Bobby Franks inspired by a skewed Nietzschean amorality:

    “His instantaneous reaction towards people – especially people in trouble – was the welling forth of that tremendous, instinctive kindliness and sympathy. It was so genuine, so immediate, so unforced. And it embraced the whole world. Or, at least, nearly the whole world. The only things that Mr. Darrow hated were what he considered cruelty, narrow-mindedness, or obstinate stupidity. Against these he fought with every weapon he could lay a hand to.”

    Truly a man for all seasons we might think and one more truly Christ-like in his life’s work than any of his many Christian detractors.

    I am also reading Joseph McBride’s Searching for John Ford and a biography of Emiliano Zapata, Zapata and the Nexican Revolution by John Womack Jr., which is written in an unnecessarily dry academic style (as indeed was Friedrich Katz’s The Life and Times of Pancho Villa). A pity, I think, that these historians had not read and heeded the wise words of their fellow historian, John Clive who, in his text book on the writing of history, Not By Fact Alone, used the examples of Gibbon, Macaulay, Carlyle, Marx et al to illustrate how the writing of history could, indeed should be, colourful and exciting. Mick has occasionally drawn on the words of Stephen Fry to illustrate the necessity of being able to place ourselves inside the skins of those in history before we begin to judge them, but in order to do this we require historians who are able to so spark our imaginations. I do wish that John Womack were one. But then, although an historian like Frank McLynn can, with his vivid prose style, bring the towns and villages, the peons and soldados and soldaderos of early 20th century Mexico to live in our mind’s eye, it is the Womacks and the Katz’s of this world, for all their dry-as-dust style, whom we rely upon and upon whom we fall back for verification when the facts of any matter falls into dispute.

    On a recent break on the Essex riviera I bought and read two confections that are worth a look at;

    The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino which is an interesting Japanese (as you might have guessed) policier which might have been inspired by Simenon. Anyway, it’s a big hit in Japan apparently which is not difficult to imagine.

    I also managed to enjoy (though not quite so much) Thomas Enger’s Burned – a Norwegian cop whose face has been badly scarred in a house fire in which his young son perished investigates the strange death of a young woman whose body is disovered in a tent in an Oslo park, apparently the victim of Islamic ritual punishment. But all is not as it seems.

    I had read this before the recent orgy of killings by Anders Breivik (the Christian terrorist ?) and it shows how there was already a lively debate ongoing in Norway on immigration and on the integration of Muslims into Norwegian society in particular.

    Retirement is wonderful !

    Happy reading.

  • RepublicanStones @ 10:56 am:

    The Pert Young Piece around Redfellow Hovel had to do the West as a topic for her “Rethinking History” module. That anthology is drily academic, but I got the impression, from a casual glance at what you get for £25+, it was as good as anything she had on her reading list. Would you agree that most of us need a more general intro — perhaps the Robert V. Hine & John Mack Faragher thing? [See here for the on-line taster.]

    Aforesaid PYP reckons the same authors’ Frontiers(which is the same thing for slow readers) is the instant lifesaver for tomorrow’s tutorial.

    By the way, when Wounded Knee came out (1970-ish) I took some convincing of Dorris “Dee” Brown”s gender.

    I hope Drumlins Rock prospers with his novel, which was what circuitously put me in mind of Dee Brown. Serving my eldest’s New Jersey suburban home, the Midtown Direct railway station has a carousel in the waiting room. The civilised convention is you can take a book for free, but should contribute one on the same basis. That’s how I came across a crumbling copy of Brown’s Civil War fiction, Conspiracy of Knaves. OK, if lumpy.

    Further tangental, Allen Barra provided me with a run-down of modern Western novels (and movies). If nothing else, it provided camouflage for my indulgence in Larry McMurtry.

    Also apologies for poor editing on that previous post. Can I have another go?

  • Drumlins Rock

    Malcolm, used to do love those book swaps when traveling, you read all sorts of obscure books, I even read one of Edwina Curries about naughty goings on in Westminster, which was hilarious consider the subsequent revelations, the other one I picked up then was. Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village by Ronald Blythe, well worth a read and it shows things wern’t all garden fetes and roses in southern England either.
    But the really strange thing about it was I picked it up in New York, and a few days later got on a bus tour, which was mainly aussies but had 3 or 4 English on it too, one of whom came from “Akenfield” or the village it was based on, several of the characters were based on his relatives, certainly gave an extra dimension to the book, what are the odds on that happening?

  • Seimi

    I’m currently reading ‘Dissolution’, the first of the Matthew Shardlake novels by C.J. Sansom. Very good so far. I’ve read 3 of the others, with only ‘Dark Fire’ to go, which I also have lined up on the Kindle.

    Also re-reading a few Terry Pratchetts, and re-re-re-re-reading various Wodehouse books.

  • Drumlins Rock @ 12:27 pm:

    Indeed!. We should never underestimate the likelihood of coincidence. Equally, it’s not always as many as six degrees of separation.

    If my memory hold, “Akenfield” was a conflation of Charsfield and a couple of neighbouring village. My mother’s grandparents are buried at Leiston, and I still have the odd cousin nearby. I nearly went to school at Woodbridge. It’s all true, I tell you!

    Blythe is an Anglican lay-reader (and lay canon of St Edmundsbury), still turning out a gentle weekly Word from Wormingford (which, sadly, is just into — uggh! — Essex) for the Church Times. That alone justifies an occasional pootle into the more-refined reading room to catch up.

    Seimi @ 12:51 pm:

    The trouble with Sansom is he only produces once every couple of years. However, it’s quality over quantity. Heartstone is magnificent.

    Have you done Winter in Madrid? Would anyone agree it has overtones of the Frank Ryan story? Or is that also coincidence?

  • Seimi

    Heartstone is amazing, Malcolm. I thought Revelation was great too.

    I haven’t read Winter in Madrid yet, but I think I’ll download it for the Kindle soon.

  • RepublicanStones

    Malcolm @ 11:55am – it is indeed fairly text-bookish in format, being source and footnote heavy with suggestions for further reading – which i must admit to quite liking as yours truly is a bit of a nerd when it comes to such things. And considering it cost me the princely sum of £3, due to a rather fortuitous bout of window shopping along a sunny Botanic Avenue earlier this summer…i can’t complain. I hadn’t heard of The American West: A New Interpretive History, many thanks for the link. Seeing it on Amazon for £11.39, i shall print out the taster you’ve supplied, when back at work (and at the minister’s expense 😉 and it’ll hopefully whet my appetite for the rest.

  • JR

    I read Ivo Andreic’s book “The Bridge on the Drina” last summer while travelling through the Balkans. It is an excellent book and a must for anyone interested in ethnic tension. It also won the nobel prize.

  • Nunoftheabove


    Great shout; checked out Bosnian Chronicles too ? It’s somewhat slow going but well worth the patience.

  • Dewi

    Old – but new to me: The Scots and the Union: C.A. Whatley…different.

  • Dewi @ 9:22pm

    Now seek out (if you haven’t) T.M.Devine: Scotland and the Union, 1707-2007 (but only if your s/hand book-shop has a cheapie).

    Failing that:
    T.M.Devine: The Scottish Nation 1700-2007 (which ought to be in paperback).

    [Professor] Tom Devine is the one-man, multi-horsepower, intellectual powerhouse, currently dynamising Scottish separatism. All power to his elbow.

  • Whoops!— insert /b as appropriate.

  • Brian

    Just bought a Nation on Fire…have been looking forward to this book for quite some time.

    Recently read a good portion, but not in linear fashion, of George Orwell: Essays (Everyman’s Library Classics). Probably read about 1100 of the 1400 pages worth of the book. I didn’t intend to read that much in a short period or so many essays consecutively, but I was quickly reminded of how much I liked Orwell’s prose and his talent as a polemicist and commentator. I love the way he thought and how he always sought the truth through the upheavals and ideologically wars of his time period. This hardcover collection is especially rewarding as it had so many small essays and “As I Please” columns that I never read before.

    It made me put other books on hold but Orwell is always worth it. I wonder what he would make of today’s society and of the recent riots.

  • Brian

    *I meant “World on Fire”, not “Nation on Fire”

  • Quite an eclectic selection of books, Hope it’s a sign that the “death of the written book brigade” have got it wrong despite a few references to “kindle”.

  • Seimi

    The Kindle’s a great wee tool Joe. I have a half decent collection on mine now, between classics (Dracula, Treasure Island etc.) to more modern books (Pratchett, Sansom etc.) to personal favourites (Wodehouse, Wodehouse & more Wodehouse!)

    I also managed to get some PDF versions of old Irish texts on there too.

    Also, Mrs. Seimi and 2 of the weeans have their own selections on it, so there’s some Roald Dahl and Jacqueline Wilson on there too.

    It’s a great resource, and surprisingly similar to reading a ‘real’ book.

  • I’m waiting for something more advanced that the Kindle or the Nook (my grandson’s toy) or even the iPad.

    It’ll be pocket-sized and eminently portable.

    It will be self-powered, and need no batteries or recharging.

    It will be totally recyclable, exchangeable, or — should the whim strike — disposable.

    It’ll contain the odd megabyte or three of instant information (which is about my limit at any one time).

    It will have a good storage life (in the best versions this could be infinite). This may mean that some acquire enhanced value by vintage or presentation or content.

    It will be multi-lingual and capable of high-quality illustrations.

    It will be reasonably priced, some as cheap as a glass of wine.

    I’m thinking of calling it a “book”.

  • Nunoftheabove


    Do you ever dander into audiobook territory or are you a fairly traditionalist cullulose-pulp-only type of chap ?

  • Seimi

    Don’t get me wrong, Malcolm. I love the feel and smell of a ‘real’ book. I was sceptical about the Kindle at first, but have to say, it’s been fantastic. I read constantly, and it’s so much easier having just one source, one portable library, for all my favourites. As for price, Kindle books are generally cheaper than paper ones.

    I agree with a lot of your points, however, I could equally apply most of them to the one Kindle, whereas you must apply them all to each individual book 🙂

  • Drumlins Rock

    I have resisted Kindle etc. so far, but I suspect I will surcome to its convenience within the next year or so.

  • Rory Carr

    Have any of you been as astonished/appalled as I was on reading the list of 100 most banned books from the American Library Association which has been linked in the list on the right under, “Harry Potter: the most banned book…” ?

    While I care little for Harry Potter, a series which I cruelly dismiss under the catch-all title: Harry Potter and the Crock o’ Shit, nevertheless I am at as much of a loss as each of you must be to find it heading up such an exalted list which includes works which one would assume might be found on any US educational curriculum (at no.):

    5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
    6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
    14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
    17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
    19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
    21. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

    but also some favourites of my own:

    46. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
    49. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
    65. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
    76. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
    81. Black Boy, by Richard Wright
    96. Grendel, by John Gardner

    The twin no-no’s that seem to dictate displeasure most often are race and God with sex coming in at a poor third. Unsurprisingly, on the race issue, it seems that it is not just liberalism on that front that excites condemnation but also any sign that blacks themselves might be literate. But then it is even more surprising that a black, gay, extremely literate writer like James Baldwin does not make the list Given the company one would be honoured to be included.

  • Nunoftheabove @ 10:49 am and others:

    My smartass throwaway comments apart, I’d agree with your points about e-books and their vehicles.

    Let’s widen the notion.

    I am for ever grateful for all those BBC radio adaptations and “books at bedtime”. That is how I first came to Asimov’s Foundation series, to Lindsey Davies’s Falco stories, and much, much more.

    Yes, I do have numerous texts in audiobook format. I suspect every (ex-)English teacher does — along with the Argo recordings of Shakespeare plays. Who could be without the original 1954 (Richard Burton) Under Milk Wood? Or the Charles Parker Radio Ballads? — John Axon is on Radio Four Extra next Saturday, by the way. If those are “audiobooks” (in the loosest sense), I’m definitely a fan.

    My e-reading was definitely spoiled by being an “early adopter”. I had various PDAs — Visors, Treos, Palms — when they first emerged. I found all of them unsatisfactory, except as inefficient diaries. I’m aware the technology is much advanced — and I confidently predict I’ll give way to iPad temptation on my next transAtlantic excursion.

  • Brian


    That list is very surprising to me. I went to my last 3 years of high school in the States (in the Washington DC area) and 5,14,19, 21, and 49 were books that were required reading in my school district. (Actually, Mockingbird was a 9th grade book, but I recall my half-brother having to read it. I also just read an article about Harper Lee in Smithsonian magazine, and it relayed that that Mockingbird was the most commonly required book across the country among middle and high schools).

    I guess that the list largely pulls its ‘banned’ data from a few evangelical areas of the South, or possibly from banned book over the years. It was certainly not my experience, I wasn’t aware of too many books that were banned (one I do remember being unable to get at the school library is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which makes sense being banned). I first read Slaughterhouse 5 after picking it up in my school library.

    When I get to a computer and off this i-phone I’m gonna go for a search of that list.

    BTW, Harry Potter and the Crock o Sh*t, you got that right!!

  • JR

    I bought a kindle last year and have since bought two more for presents. The advantages I see with them are. They are great for travelling, All books out of copyright are free, you never loose your page and it is phisically much more managagable to read a big book such as war an peace on the kindle.

  • Rory Carr

    I suspect, Brian, that you are correct in assuming that the list is heavily weighted with books that have been banned from libraries in small Southern Baptist communities. That race played a bigger part than sex is largely confirmed by the inclusion of good ol’ Huck Finn which tends to run neck and neck with Moby Dick as THE Great American Novel in most critics’ eyes (it is akin to banning Dickens’s Oliver Twist or Fielding’s Tom Jones in England) while sensous, best selling sex thrillers of the 60’s lke Grace Metalious’s Peyton Place or Rona Jaafe’s The Best of Everything escaped censure. I surmise that the latter may be the case because those who would normally order these things were in fact too busy enjoying the thrills of steamy illicit WASP sex under brown paper wrappers.

    Republican Stones,

    Many thanks for the hat tip on Hardboiled Hollywood – Amazon were out of stock but I sourced a copy at London Books, the outlet shop for No Exit Press. I also managed to source a copy of Major Problems in the History of the American West from a Texas bookshop for under £6 (including postage).

    On second thoughts, as I had forsworn any new purchses this month in order to reduce the plastic bills, maybe I should be cursing you instead of thanking you. But, what’s a guy to do? I’m addicted and that’s that.

  • Seimi

    Where can I see that list, Rory? There’s a book called ‘Boy’s Life’ by Robert McCammon, which has been banned in different schools in different states a few times. I’ve read it numerous times (it’s one of my favourite reads ever) and can’t really understand why it’s ever been banned. the reason given usually is the language, but I think there are only one or two wrods which might be offensive in it. I’d like to see if it made that list…

  • A quick Google will turn up numerous lists of “banned” books. I’ve often suggested the best way to encourage reading is to ban as many as possible. That Bill Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is really mucky stuff — try explaining the psychology of the “Queen Mab” speech — which I assume is why it falls foul of the average school’s filter settings.

    Apart from the ALA lists, Herbert N. Foerstel produced a “definitive” top 50 some 15 years back.

    The major reason why Of Mice and Men is so high in the rankings is not the murder, nor the character of the unnamed girl: it’s the half-dozen occurrences of the word “nigger” (if Steinbeck is allowed it, so am I). In my chalkface years I repeatedly taught that text. Frequently a student, without prompting, would declare it a “racist” book. The answer was to work through each occurrence, and show that it was always put in the mouth of characters, never in Steinbeck’s authorial narrative. Furthermore, the most sympathetic depiction (the one, too, with the most extended description) is the Black stable-hand. I trust I generally won the case.

    Let us not ignore our own little local difficulties and the Irish banned books list.

    Despite the general belief to the contrary, Ulysses was not included. Borstal Boy and The Country Girls both were. So were works by Graham Greene, William Faulkner, Aldous Huxley, Thomas Wolfe …

    The banning of books tells us a lot about the society which tries to do it, but nothing about the society’s morals.

  • Rory Carr


    The list can be found on the right on Slugger’s home page (back out of the thread you are in) just above Eamonn O’Mallies blogs in the section titled “Rollong News and Comment” under the heading “Harry Potter: America’s most challenged/banned book?”.

    I am unable to find Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life anywhere on the list but don’t be too disappointed, neither is Naked Lunch or Giovanni’s Room among others that we might think fittingly off-the-wall for southern Baptists.

    Q: Why are Southern Baptists so down on dancing?

    A: They don’t wan’t God to think they’re fucking standing up.

  • Seimi

    Thanks for that Rory. I’ll have to check the list out.

    If you haven’t read Boy’s Life, I would highly recommend it. A lovely story, full of murder, suspense, ghosts, dinosaurs, love, bullies and dogs 🙂

  • Seimi

    Also, monsters, gunslingers, magic, baseball and monkeys 🙂

  • Rory Carr

    Stop it, Seimi, you’re scaring the life out of me.

  • Rory Carr

    Here is another terrific ‘Banned Books’ site which lists books other than those banned in the USA and gives more detail on each book and the reasons given for its banning.

    This entry on Ireland’s banning of one of the works of one of the very greatest prose writers in the English language, the late, much lamented, John McGahern is telling for reasons upon which I need not elaborate:

    The Dark – John McGahern


    Set in the rural north west of Ireland, The Dark concerns itself with themes of adolescence and guilty sexuality. It was banned in Ireland for its alleged pornographic content and suggestions of sexual abuse by the clergy, and The Dark also led to McGahern being dismissed from his job as a teacher.

    Fiction, Modern classic

    Recommended by: Kensington & Chelsea Libraries

    I had mistakenly assumed that McGahern had lost his job as a schoolteacher upon the publication of his novel The Pornographer, the title alone of which might have been enough to frighten the bejasus out of ‘The Illiterati’ (as I dub them).

  • Rory Carr

    p.s. I have just learned that The Da Vinci Code was banned in Lebanon, which almost makes me want to rethink my total opposition to censorship. But then in a really healthy society there would have been no need to ban it – good taste would have ensured its failure.

  • PaddyReilly

    The word ‘ban’ is often used for a much more level-headed deselection of reading matter. You have to be careful which books you make required reading in school: many will never read anything else; others will be unduly influenced by them.

    I would not allow the reading of Harry Potter in schools, because there is a risk that some of the scholars might have read him before, and become bored and disruptive. I would not allow the reading of The Colour Purple, because the narration is not in standard English, and the content matter depressing and liable to be offensive to parents.

    Kafka and Becket I read in my late teens, but would not set them for English Literature because they were not originally written in English .

    Currently I am reading Peter Ackroyd’s Thomas More.

  • PaddyReilly

    Perhaps I should specify that in the above I am referring to the compulsory reading of a literary works in class, as part of an English Literature course: in this context you need to exercise both taste and caution.

    I am not saying that these books should not be in the school library.

  • HeinzGuderian

    Who Was Then The Gentleman,a novel about the peasants revolt of 1381,by Charles E Israel.

    One of the most powerful books I have ever read.

    Highly recommended !!

  • PaddyReilly @ 8:39 pm:

    I would not allow the reading of The Colour Purple, because the narration is not in standard English, and the content matter depressing and liable to be offensive to parents.

    How do those three considerations differ, in principle, from the reasons given for “banning” Of Mice and Men?

    [This post was generated without harming any sock-puppet.]

  • Brian

    Rory et al.

    Got a chance to look at the ALA list. It actually is NOT a list of banned books, but banned/challenged books. Most of those books were never actually banned in the 2000-2009 period for which list covers..

    “Due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.”

    The list makes more sense to me know, because I couldn’t imagine even in Jerry Falwell country most of those books being succesfully banned. Unfortunately, that website doesn’t have a list of books that actually were banned (unless I managed to miss it).

    As was mentioned above by Harry, often times if the word “nigger” is in a book someone will try to have it banned. I recall seeing on the news a few years book some parent’s well-meaning but idiotic, and unsuccessful, attempt to ban Huckleberry Finn for its use of the N-word.

    Here were the most challanged in the last year (I am not familiar with most of them):

    “1.And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
    Reasons: homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group
    2.The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: offensive language, racism, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence
    3.Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
    Reasons: insensitivity, offensive language, racism, and sexually explicit
    4.Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
    Reasons: drugs, offensive language, and sexually explicit
    5.The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence
    6.Lush, by Natasha Friend
    Reasons: drugs, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group
    7.What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
    Reasons: sexism, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group
    8.Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich
    Reasons: drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, and religious viewpoint
    9.Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie
    Reasons: homosexuality and sexually explicit
    10.Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer
    Reasons: religious viewpoint and violence”

  • Greenflag

    @ malcolm , rory et al

    A bit late to this thread having just returned from the no internet zone for a few weeks 😉 What did we do when there was no internet ?

    Been reading Nicholas Carr’s ‘The Shallows ‘ as in what the internet is doing to our brains a fascinating and at times scary read. Also David Eagleman’s ‘Incognito ‘ on the secret life of the ‘brain’. Still batting away through Naomi Klein’s ‘No Logo ‘ and just finished a book I picked up at a book sale for one euro – Alistair Cooke’s Six Men – Alistair Cooke of ‘A Letter from America ‘ fame . The Six Men with whom he had more than journalistic relationship were Charlie Chaplin, H.L Mencken, Humphrey Bogart, Adlai Stevenson, Bertrand Russell and Edward VIII.

  • slappymcgroundout

    Some assigned reading while at that fine Jesuit prep, Loyola HS, in LA:

    Even Cowgirls Get The Blues (dedicated to the amoeba and on the premise that our asexual friends might still be here, since with no mutation and DNA being what we are physically, then the same amoeba (DNA) that first lived may still be alive and floating in that one water drop on you on your raft in the pool…the amoeba).

    Catcher In The Rye

    A Walker In The City (what I usually lend or recommend to those who question why, more important than the standard tourist fare and the partying is the walking in the city)(also reminds one to catch the richness just next door).

    Of Mice And Men (let me tend the rabbits)

    And if some with to know more about US history in relation to some others:

  • slappymcgroundout

    To continue: (and note the comment by Orion X, and since I’ve read the work I largely agree, and so pick yourself up a copy of Black Elk Speaks as well)

  • slappymcgroundout
  • slappymcgroundout

    Lastly for now, from the wife at home to her man the regimental chaplain:

  • I have to say to Slappymcgroundout at 5:38 am that I am deeply, deeply impressed by the syllabus of that fine Jesuit prep, Loyola HS, in LA. Even in my most liberal moments I’d never have proposed Tom Robbins, Sissy Hankshaw and the doings at the Rubber Rose Ranch for school study.

    Some interesting stuff there, especially that last one — which I shall investigate with considerable interest.

    I my post-retirement I was called in to take over an A-level class which was committed to studying, as a set text, David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars. Quite how that one snuck in — especially noting the stipulations of PaddyReilly @ 8:39 pm — is beyond me. I found it pretty turgid stuff, difficult to maintain a pretence of enthusiasm. It did, among other things, introduce me to

    ¶ the Pig War of 1859 (which appeared also in Amanda Foreman’s A world on Fire (see above);


    ¶ Executive Order 9066, the internment of Japanese-Americans and the “Relocation Centers” such as Manzanar.

    I don’t know how others took it, but I found Guterson hard work, and his dénouement profoundly unconvincing.

    But Tom Robbins … wow! That takes the chocky biscuit, wrapper ‘n’ all.

  • Brian


    I have not received the “World on Fire”in the mail yet, but as you read it I was hoping you could answer a question about. I recall in a review that Foreman relates how thousands of Irish immigrants eagerly signed up for the Union Army in the mistaken belief/impression that they, and the US, would be fighting the British (along with countless others who signed up for 3 square meals and a chance at social improvement). Do you recall that part of the book? Were recruiting agents actively misleading them or did the hysterical press lead them to believe that Britain would soon be in the fight with the Confederates? (I’d imagine fresh off the boat immigrants were easily fooled…and don’t doubt the enthusiasism of any Irishman of that period to jump any any chane to take up arms against the Crown)

    It was a long book, I understand if you don’t recall that particular passage!

    (Munsterview would probably know a lot about this history off the top of his head but I haven’t seen him around these parts lately)

  • Brian @ 6:11 pm:

    At the risk of outstaying my welcome, and trespassing on Turgon’s hospitality, I’ll have a go at that small matter.

    Certainly Foreman didn’t confirm what was my preconception — that decent Irish lads were being kidnapped wholesale off the immigrant ships and wrenched from the bosoms of their families.

    So, there are three main references to the Irish immigrant and recruitment — and this may take some time.

    Page 114 [i.e. 1861]

    Forced volunteering was not solely a Southern phenomenon and the greatest call on Archibald’s time was the plight of Britons who had been imprisoned or punished for their refusal to join a regiment. His task was made more difficult by those who had joined willingly but had changed their minds and were looking for an excuse to escape. Despite Archibald’s efforts to publicize the Foreign Enlistment Act, Britons were volunteering in droves. The slightest hint of a conflict between the North and Britain had also encouraged thousands of Irish immigrants to join the war effort.

    The language employed by Irish recruiters was so explicit that Archibald warned the Foreign Office to prepare for a new threat. Posters urged their fellow Irishmen to train in America in order to fight the British oppressors back home. At least three regiments in New York were filled with Irish recruits, the majority of whom were avowed Fenians. Michael Corcoran, the Colonel of the famous 69th Infantry Regiment — the regiment that had refused to parade in honour of the Prince of Wales — was also the commander of the Fenian movement’s military wing. Another well-known Irish revolutionary in the 69th was Thomas Meagher, whose stature among the New York Irish community was almost godlike since his escape from a penal colony in Tasmania where he had been banished for sedition. (Meagher’s friend and fellow escapee, John Mitchell, had thrown in his lot with the South.)

    Foreman helpfully prefaces her tract with a list of Dramatis Personae, which tells us Sir Edward Mortimer Archibald (1810-94) was British Consul at New York, 1857-71.

    Now let’s go, for convenience, to a further post.

  • Still with me, Brian @ 6:11 pm?

    Pages 503-4 [i.e. 1863]

    The abrupt silence had been caused by the complete breakdown of civic order in New York. For five days, between 13 and 17 July, the city lay at the mercy of 50,000 rioters who exacted a gruesome revenge on the two classes of persons they considered most responsible for the war: Negroes and those who defended them. There had been signs of working-class resentment ever since the Draft Act became law on 3 March 1863. In theory it provided Washington with more than three million potential new soldiers; in practice it netted about 100,000 reluctant conscripts and 70,000 substitutes. The draft applied to all able-bodied white males between the ages of 20 and 45, but the exemptions for particular family circumstances, such as only sons with widowed mothers to support — -as well as the provision which allowed a man to purchase a substitute for $300 — mostly benefited the middle classes and native-born Americans. (For immigrant labourers earning an average of 85 cents a day, the sum of $300 was a cruel joke.) Nowhere was the resentment greater than among the 200,000 Irish immigrants of New York, many of whom felt that they had been enticed into emigrating so that they could provide ‘food for [gun]powder’. The editor of the Freeman’s Journal, a popular Irish newspaper in New York, demanded to know why the Irish were expected ‘to go and carryon a war for the nigger’.

    Although aliens were specifically excluded from the draft, the State Department had recently tightened the rules and increased the burden of proof required from resident foreigners [see footnote 1]. Consul Archibald was struggling to keep pace with the demand for his help. There had been a sharp increase since the spring in the number of ‘crimpings’, kidnappings and illegal conscriptions of British subjects. The latest complaint to reach the consulate involved three Caribbean sailors who had disappeared from the Mary Harris only to reappear as unwilling seamen on board USS Tulip. Archibald wondered if the recent strike by Irish dock workers had something to do with the Tulip case; the shipyard owners had brought in contrabands — freed slaves — to replace the workers. The combination of the looming draft and black strike-breakers was an especially inflammable mix. The working-class Irish community was outraged that the draft only applied to whites and feared that cheaper — and better educated — black workers were out to steal their jobs.

    Footnote 1:

    British residents were required to go in person to the New York consulate to receive a certificate of nationality, which could be presented to the Enrollment Board. Each person had to sign an affidavit and bring a witness who could corrobroate his statement. The fee for the certificate was $3, which Archibald generally waived. He tried to make the process faster but the enrolment offices frustrated his efforts. There was one in every district of the city, and all demanded different criteria for proof of exemption. Archibald was overwhelmed.

    Page 504ff continues with a detailed account of the New York Lottery Riots.

    Onwards to a third post.

  • See wht I mean about taxing everyone’s patience, Brian @ 6:11 pm?

    This should complete my current stint:

    Pages 581-583 [i.e. later in 1863, just after the Alabama affair]

    [Lord John] Russell [the British Foreign Secretary, 1859-65] was relieved when an alleged violation of British neutrality at Queenstown, Ireland — involving the USS Kearsarge and sixteen Irish stowaways for once reversed the direction of complaints, giving him the opportunity to play the injured party with the US legation. [see footnote 2]

    The British government was fully aware that large numbers of Irishmen were enlisting in the Federal army; Consul Archibald had observed the crowds at Castle Garden, the immigration depot on the southernmost tip of Manhattan, and estimated that every week 150 Irish labourers were stepping off the boat and into the arms of recruiters. A Home Office clerk compiling passenger statistics first spotted the phenomenon in April 1863, when he noticed a sharp increase — it had almost tripled since 1862 — in the number of single, male travellers. The shipping lines were asked to resubmit their passenger lists in case there had been an error. In Ireland, local squires and magistrates were directed to make discreet enquiries in their districts as to who was leaving and why. The results showed that between January and November 1863, when the USS Kearsarge docked at Queenstown, more than 80,000 jobless males had emigrated from Ireland. After carefully reviewing all the statistics from the past three years, the Home Office discovered that the actual increase in the emigration of unmarried Irishmen was roughly 10,000 a year (a figure the government decided it could accept without too much heartache).

    The Confederate government was also concerned about the vast influx of Irish immigrants to the North, and in August 1863 sent its propagandist in France, Edwin De Leon, to Ireland, where he diligently spent several weeks publishing articles about the horrors of the war. James Mason followed in September, but his findings confirmed their worst fears. The Irish were so poor after two failed harvests, Mason wrote to the Confederate Secretary of State, Judah P. Benjamin, on 4 September 1863, ‘that the temptation of a little ready money and promise of good wages would lead them to go anywhere’. But the Draft Riots in New York in mid-July had given Benjamin hope that it was not too late to stem the tide. The accusation that the US government was throwing its Irish immigrants into the slaughtering pen was gaining credibility following the near-obliteration of the Irish Brigade at Fredericksburg and Gettysburg. He dispatched to Ireland two more agents, Lieutenant James Capstan, a former Dubliner, and Father John Bannon of Vicksburg, with orders to discourage Irish immigration using all the means at their disposal.

    The exposure of the stowaways on the Kearsarge had been Lieutenant Capston’s first success. But he could not uncover any proof for the Home Office that Captain Winslow had acted deliberately, nor did he find evidence of official Federal recruiting in Ireland. (The US government had no need to send over agents when there were plenty of unscrupulous entrepreneurs ready to assume the risk themselves in return for a large cut of the bounty paid for volunteers [see footnote 3]). Capston and Bannon soon gave up that particular line of attack and concentrated instead on spreading anti-Northern propaganda. The two Confederate agents tried to tap into nationalist sentiment by comparing the South’s fight for independence with Ireland’s; and distributed thousands of handbills, warning potential emigrants that they would end up as cannon fodder if they went to the North. Father Bannon also used his Church connections to ensure that the injustices endured by the Irish community in the North were broadcast from the pulpit. Although emigration continued apace, the agents successfully rubbed off any glamour in volunteering for the North.

    Footnote 2:

    Captain John Ancrum Winslow had been searching tor James Morgan’s ship, the Georgia, when storm damage forced the USS Kearsarge to put into Queenstown, Ireland, on 3 November for emergency repairs. While it was there, a local newspaper printed a story that it had come expressly to enlist volunteers. The following day the Kearsarge was surrounded by rowing boats filled with men clamouring to be chosen. The Kearsarge set sail on 5 November with sixteen extra men. Winslow’s explanation of the incident failed to say how the sixteen climbed aboard unnoticed and managed to find such perfect hiding places on an unfamiliar ship.

    Footnote 3:

    On 11 March 1864, for example, 120 Irish labourers stepped off the Nova Scotia in Portland, Maine, expecting to begin work on the railroads. They were unaware that Mr Finney, their agent, had been arrested in Ireland for illegal recruiting. They were taken by train to Boston, where they were locked in a warehouse and given nothing but whisky. Two days later an official recruiter arrived, backed by the police, who blocked all the doors so that the men could not escape. So outrageous was the scheme that local Irishmen battled with the police and broke open the warehouse. But their intervention was too late for Thomas Tulley and six other hostages. Despite the British Consul’s vigorous protests, and a prompt complaint by [British Ambassador] Lord Lyons, the men were shipped off to the 20th Maine regiment in the Army of the Potomac.

    I trust all that came over as nature and a bit of seat intended.

  • Sweat, dammit. Sweat.

  • between the bridges

    Anyone any tips on how to explain to ‘her indoors’ that you don’t get rid of a book just because ‘you’ve read that’?!!!!
    My favorite genre is the ‘historical’ novel, Cornwells ‘Arthur’ and ‘uthred’ series, Wilbur smith’s sunbird & river god, Steven Saylor’s ‘gordianus the finder’ & ‘roma’ series, Follett ‘pillars of the earth’ etc etc. it’s years since i have read anything closer to home as its depressing enough without knowing more! but I recently revisited A History of Ulster by
    Jonathan Bardon.
    other non-fiction i have read recently and enjoyed … The fall of Constantinople 1453 by Steven Runciman and the Classical World: An Epic History of Greece and Rome by Robin Lane Fox.

  • Brian


    Thanks for taking the trouble, I greatly enjoyed reading those passages. A while back I read a book on the Fenian movement in the US, and it relayed how at different times in the Civil War prominent Fenians were able to cross through the lines and meet with their Fenian comrades who were fighting for the opposite side.

    Footnote 3 was quite a story.

    ‘They were taken by train to Boston, where they were locked in a warehouse and given nothing but whisky.’
    Reminds me of my fraternity days…

  • Thanks are due, Brian @ 4:25 am, mainly to Mr Adobe and his amazing Acrobat Pro, and all the little electrons who worked so nicely.

    We’re off the main topic here, but I should have noted an end-note (page 900):

    Final estimates for Irish-American recruitment throughout the war hover around 140,000 in the Federal army, and between 20,000 and 40,000 in the Confederate. Of the sixteen stowaways on the Kearsarge, five were tried in April 1864 for violating the Foreign Enlistment Act. They pleaded guilty to the charge and were released on their own cognizance. By then, Adams [US Minister at the London legation] thought the government was pursuing the case in order to appear even-handed in its battle to shut down Confederate operations.

    That intrigued me because I think it calls into question that term Irish-American. Does it mean simply those who migrated to either side purely to enlist? If it also includes longer residents of the States, still claiming Irish connection and even birth, then the numbers are patently far too low.

    Beyond that again, there must have been a far greater representation of Ulster-Scots among the Rebels. I keep coming up against Ulster Prods who are convinced of a close connection to Stonewall Jackson — recently I was even allowed to handle what I was confidently assured was his pepperpot pistol.

    Best not pursue that too far. It might in the short term exceed even Turgon’s patience with asides. It might also call into debate Belfast’s role in slave-trading.

    One other loose end, which points me a way to future reading, is Foreman’s epilogue sketching the period down to 1875. She briefly notes the Fenian raids into Canada (May-June 1866) which had at least a nod-and-a-wink from the Johnson Administration.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Malcolm, I have more of an affinity with U S Grant, who’s ancestors lived close by (who knows maybe even a relation) so the ulster Scots community was divided, maybe not equally but significantly enough not to put them on either side, geography had more to do the side you were on than any issues or ethnic group, and even Lincoln said it had little to do with slavery. Interestingly I was reading of quite a few Nova Scotians volunteering for the North, although much of Canada also did well trading with both sides. Makes you realise America dosn’t have much firm ground to lecture the rest of the world after all, maybe thats why they are quick to whitewash various groups and nations past deeds.

  • Ah, Drumlins Rock @ 2:22 pm, you’re making me all nostalgic for old times and the Sluggers of yesteryear.

  • Before this delightful thread staggers to its conclusion, let me throw in my present bed-side book.

    Until yesterday afternoon I was plodding through Connie Willis’s Blackout. Despite all the reviews, I wasn’t doing too well.

    I happened to pass my local independent bookshop (so conveniently mid-way between the supermarket and the local pub). As a result of a 3-for-2 sale I hit on a paperback copy of Joseph O’Neill’s Blood Dark Track. On a previous parallel thread here I raved about O’Neill’s Netherland, which seemed to do a lot better in the US and Ireland than in the GB bit of the UK. I’d also dipped into a borrowed copy of Blood Dark Track, so it was a no-brainer.

    What O’Neill does is a parallel history of his two grandfathers — one a Syrian-Turkish Christian imprisoned in WW2 Palestine by the British; the other a veteran of the 1st Cork Brigade IRA, interned by the de Valera government in the “Emergency”.

    Ms Willis will have to wait.

  • Mark

    Heinz , after your Graham McDowell tip for the golf last week , I think I’ll pass .

    Between The Bridges , I grabbed Blood and Thunder last week as you suggested and it seems ok . I remember you saying it was an oursiders view and as i said , it seems fine however an insiders view ( an honest one ) is one I’d like to read . Maybe you could send Mick something , I mean for all your faults ( lol ) you seem an honest guy , a bit like lamhdearg .

    John O Neill of Slugger fame recommended a book / books by Flann O Brien ( I bought At swim – Two – Birds ) however i had my barin with me on hols at Easter and never reallt got into it . As I really enjoy John’s work I will find the time .

    Like you Bridges , I tend to keep away from you know what subject but Killing Rage by Eamon Collins is worth reading as it’s warts and all . While I wouldn’t agree with alot of what he says , it’s one of the better ” troubles ” book .

    I was given Trinity ( Leon Uris ) by my Gran a long time ago and that had a lot to do with what I read subsequently .

  • Rory Carr

    I have read Joseph O’Neill’s Blood Dark Track, a most intriguing investigation by O’Neill into dark secrets on both sides of his parentage and I must say that am happy to find in Malcolm Redfellow someone who is scathing as I am of Snow Falling on Cedars (or Mugs Falling for Hype as I now categorise its readership – including chiefly, myself).

    But if we are going to talk American Indians and Scots emigration to the U.S. (okay, I know I’m stretching it a bit), I would heartily recommend James Hunter’s Glencoe and the Indians about which you will find all you need to know here:

    and you will be able to buy a copy on Amazon for 1p (+ £2.80 postage).

  • between the bridges

    Mark, just to return the compliment i will give it a go (collins book). it’s not that i haven’t read plenty re ‘the troubles’, i just got fed up reading about the stupidly of it all and for the last 10 years or so have avoided all the ‘mad dog’ and ‘dead men walking’ etc.

    i can remember (as a teenager) the first ‘ira book’ i read, was by John Stevenson/ Sean Mac Stiofan (just checked on Amazon and it’s worth 70quid!,mum’s roof space will have to be checked!) quiet a character, born in england to an english & a ulster prod parent, brought up catholic, joined the army, joined ira. there’s just something about having been a corporal that drive’s them (corporals) nuts, lol.

    Re submitting something to mick i think the poor man has enough to deal with without correcting my spelling and grammar! anyway life in a rural band is very mundane! out of the 40 odd parades we do, only one is deemed ‘contentious’. even at that participants and protestors usually share the same car park and then walk to opposite sides of the road for a bit of flag waving!

    Re Leon Uris, trinity, exodus, haj, Mila 18 all great novels.

  • Mark

    Between the Bridges , I must confess I’ve only read Trinity and Redemption and I did read somewhere that Uris based the character of Thomas / Conor ( ? ) Larkin on the then future Deputy First Minister .

    But moving swiftly away from current affairs ( Great Hatred , Little Room was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me ) as you can probably tell , I’m a huge sports fan and have just finished Brian Moore’s ” Beware of the Dog ( England Hooker as I’m sure you know ) . Now that’s a book that I’m not sure fits in the sports catagory but a great read all the same .

    What about ” The Damned Utd ” by David Peace ? . Great book crap film . That leeds team never got the credit …..

  • slappymcgroundout

    “I have to say to Slappymcgroundout at 5:38 am that I am deeply, deeply impressed by the syllabus of that fine Jesuit prep, Loyola HS, in LA. Even in my most liberal moments I’d never have proposed Tom Robbins, Sissy Hankshaw and the doings at the Rubber Rose Ranch for school study.”

    I assume that it was on the reading list owing to:

    “You have taught us much. Come with us and join the movement.”

    “This movement of yours, does it have slogans?” inquired the Chink.

    “Right on!” they cried. And they quoted him some.

    “Your movement, does it have a flag?” asked the Chink.

    “You bet!” and they described their emblem.

    “And does your movement have leaders?”

    “Great leaders.”

    “Then shove it up your butts,” said the Chink. “I have taught you nothing.”

    My personal fav line:

    As a child, I was an imaginary playmate.

    Lastly, the other reason why on the reading list:

    One has not only an ability to perceive the world, but an ability to alter one’s perception of it; more simply, one can change things by the manner in which one looks at them.