A New Reading Challenge?

shelves of classics

Tantalising Glimpse

I have been thinking about ways of revitalising my Landing Book Shelves challenge for 2015 and beyond. Many books remain to be read, especially if I count in all of the books belonging to He Who Put The Shelves Up as well. This means that I have plenty to be going on with for the foreseeable future. The astute amongst you will no doubt point out that if I stopped going to the library then I could concentrate better on the Landing Backlog. Book club books and miscellaneous items of review copies that come my way have also regularly distracted me. Alas, ‘twas ever thus (and it will probably remain ever thus!).

I have set myself ‘mini challenges’, challenges within the main challenge as it were, over the last couple of years of this blog. You might cast your minds back (assuming that you have been with me that long) to the Christmas Advent Challenge/Calendar, Poetry in June and The Landing Eight Challenge. All of these literary challenges duly documented, have appeared within these virtual pages. The first two were time specific and featured poetry, rhymes and fiction extracts. I really enjoyed doing those as it was rewarding to rootle through the shelves and search out pieces to read/reread and talk about on the blog. The third challenge centred on my reading a random selection of books from the shelves. This actually drifted on for longer than I had planned and I was relieved to finish my self appointed task. What is next for the Landing TBR Pile Reading Challenge? Some literary planning is urgently required, to give the Landing Blog some fresh topics to feature.

I need to choose a challenge theme first; then to establish a period for the challenge. A month is quite a handy length, as it is long enough to look at extracts from a few volumes but not too long, that I will be in danger of going off the page (as I so frequently do). That would work for poetry or short stories, or for selecting extracts or essays to feature. Or I could aim for a longer (more in depth) challenge of a few months, reading one book per month (book club style).

Now, the task is to work out a few options and make a decision; easier said than done methinks. One choice would be to select a publisher or an imprint and read one title a month perhaps. I could tackle some unread Penguin Classics, Orange Penguins, Modern Classics or Twentieth Century Classics. Then there is a batch of Canongate Classics and several Pimlico non-fiction titles. Not to mention my green and gold ‘Book Club’ classics series (of which Diary of a Nobody was one). Several remain unread to this day, so perhaps that would be the way to go….

I’ll let you know when I have managed to come to a decision!

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Samarra or Isfahan?

I found this poem by Dutch poet PN Van Eyck (1887-1954) in a novel by Kader Abdolah called My Father’s Notebook (Canongate Books, 2006). I bought it in 2008 when I was working in Dún Laoghaire; you will be impressed to know that it didn’t stay on the TBR Pile for very long. It tells the story of Ishmael in exile in Europe who is trying to piece his father’s story together from notebooks written in a strange code. Poetry is a very important part of Abdolah’s book, but the following poem in particular caught my eye and I copied it into a notebook in case I ever lost track of the novel.

Van Eyck’s poem closely resembles a story that I remembered from many years ago that I never got around to tracking down. It has many variations and I think the version that I must have heard was the retelling of what is actually a very ancient story, by Somerset Maugham (1933) called Appointment in Samarra. The story that Maugham re-wrote and that Van Eyck turned into a poem is possibly a thousand years old. I’ve been delving into the history a little and it seems as though I wasn’t the only person to have this ghost of a story about Death and Samarra floating around in my head all this time.

Death and the Gardener (translated from Dutch by David McKay)book jacket to My Father's Notebook by Kader Abdolah

A Persian Nobleman:
One morning, pale with fright, my gardener
Rushed in and cried, “I beg your pardon, Sir!

“Just now, down there where the roses bloom, I swear
I turned around and saw Death standing there.

“Though not another moment did I linger,
Before I fled he raised a threatening finger.

“Oh, Sir lend me your horse, and if I can,
By nightfall I shall ride to Isfahan!”

Later that day, long after he had gone,
I found death by the cedars on the lawn.

Breaking his silence in the fading light,
I asked, “Why give my gardener such a fright?”

Death smiled at me and said, “I meant no harm
This morning when I caused him such alarm.

“Imagine my surprise to see the man
I’m meant to meet tonight in Isfahan!”

You never know when and where you are going to find literary connections; with Van Eyck, I discovered a connection to one of my previous #PoetryinJune authors, WB Yeats. Apparently Van Eyck was very interested in the Irish Question and Irish Literature. He subscribed to the Cuala Press and corresponded with Lily Yeats and WB and Georgie Yeats during the 1920s and 30s. It’s an amazingly small literary world; either that or serendipity has been at work again.

That’s all for now on #PoetryinJune…but there’s plenty here to return to discuss another time. I spotted another of Kader Abdolah’s books in the library recently so I am sure he will feature as an extra to my Landing Reading Challenge at some point.

Meanwhile, if anyone else remembers Appointment in Samarra (or Isfahan) from childhood, I would love to hear about it, so drop me a line below.

NB – the ‘history’ link above seems to work better in Firefox than IE (haven’t tried Chrome but let me know)