Auschwitz: A footnote to the Periodic Table post:

Now that I have discovered the handy ‘aside’ post facility I can jot down snippets as I think of them…

I just wanted to add a link to a blog post by one of my colleagues at the Irish News Review Glenn Dowd, which ties in with one of my ‘Landing Eight’ authors, Primo Levi. Glenn describes a tour of Auschwitz, which was the concentration camp where Levi was incarcerated. Some of the stories in Levi’s Periodic Table (mentioned in 31 August’s entry) describes his experiences there. I can highly recommend If this is a man/The Truce if you want to know more.

That’s all for now…


The Best Science Book of All Time*: The Periodic Table

As I explained in a previous post, the latest book that I have been tackling here on the ‘Landing Eight’ Reading Challenge is Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table (or Il Sistema Periodico in the original Italian, 1975). I have previously read If This is a Man and The Truce (published in one volume) which I would list as a ‘must read’ even though strictly speaking I dislike the idea of telling folks what they should read. I find it hard to resist doing it occasionally though. To read of Levi’s experiences is the nearest that most of us will, fortunately, ever get to such inhumanity. Reading of them, bearing witness to such actions, is therefore the very least we can do.

Italian first edition of Il Sistema Periodico

First edition with Escher etching

The Periodic Table has long been on the back burner (as opposed to the Bunsen burner), probably because the scientific term of the title put me off a little. I was anticipating the prose to be inevitably laden with chemical names and processes and consequently rather hard going. After having finally read the book I can testify to the fact that my brain has been absorbing the names of elements and compounds that it has not had much reason to consider in years (apart from the basics such as oxygen and carbon that is).

stack of classics

It’s the fifth one down

As it happens, I found the chemistry experiments fascinating (especially when things failed to turn out as hoped) despite it being a very long time since I last studied science.  I admit that I would have had trouble recalling many of the elements on the Periodic Table off the top of my head (of course, chemists have added new discoveries to the table over the years). Since reading the book, I have been trying earnestly to recall the chemical symbols I used to know.

Having my chemical memories jogged a little has brought back images from the school year that saw our form ensconced in Lab 12 with Dr F as our form mistress. Looking back, I question the wisdom of the school using a science lab as a form  room, but I suppose anything really dangerous was locked safely away. I actually used to enjoy chemistry though I have a vague memory that my experiments generally failed to turn out as expected. There was a definite excitement in the processes of measuring and heating. Fortunately nothing actually exploded.

Then, I did go on to study bakery and confectionery, which is where you mix one ingredient with another to produce a chemical reaction.

diagram of The Periodic Table of Elements

The Periodic Table showing elements used by Levi

We all do chemistry every day, but just tend not to realise it as such. Now, I think that before I go in search of my old school lab coat, perhaps I had better do just a little more reading. If anyone has a favourite scientific read I would love to hear about it, so drop me a line in the comment box.

*As voted for in 2006 by a Royal Institution survey – link to a Guardian article here.

(Thanks as always to the nice people at Wikipedia for the additional illustrations of The Periodic Table diagram and the cover of the original Italian edition of Primo Levi’s book)

‘Landing Eight’ Progress (or lack thereof): Primo Levi

It is time to return to my self-imposed Reading Challenge task of tackling the ‘Landing Eight’ selection. After several literary distractions (of which more below) I have decided to tackle The Periodic Table by Primo Levi which I have long intended to read. I have been racking my brains trying to recall where and when I acquired my copy. It is an Everyman Classics hardback edition with an introduction by Neal Ascherson. I am almost sure that I bought this one new (I often put my name and date of purchase or gift on the title page, but not this time) when I was a student in Preston. If I remember correctly, I bought it with the proceeds from winning a student prize. Of course, next week I might have a blinding flash of memory and recall the real circumstances. Anyway, as The Periodic Table has languished patiently on my TBR Pile ever since then, the moment to read it has finally arrived.

stack of classics

It’s the fifth one down

I mentioned the literary distractions that have lured me away from my blogging mission. One such diversion was Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which I found recently on a bedroom shelf. I had completely forgotten that I had ever bought it. It just goes to show how beneficial it can be to clean ones shelves on occasion. The results often amaze me: gems from a foray to a charity shop tucked away for safe keeping. I should make a memo to self about cleaning book cases more often.

There was a Guardian interview with Mantel this week in which the author talks about the ending of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy. I can see that I might need the tissues handy at the end just as I did in the closing pages of A Place of Greater Safety when I was crying over the execution of Camille Desmoulins. You know how the story is going to end, but it is just the way she tells it. Mantel manages to bring historical figures that you may never have thought too much about before, alive and kicking. I have a feeling that I may resort to the tissue box once more when Cromwell’s story draws to a close.

Other digressions have involved reading books (with my bookseller’s hat on) for reviewing on the brilliant writers’ website . Recent reviews have been on Tana French’s Broken Harbour and Chris Ewan’s Safe House. I have also been trying to keep up with my commitments to Irish News Review with this piece on the sand sculptures on at Dublin castle this month. I have a notebook with ideas jotted down for articles from various activities, so I have no excuse not to keep writing.

At the same time I must push on with Primo Levi; more next time!