Books I'm Adding to the TBR List: Hans Christian Andersen and Delphi

Hans Christian Andersen:European Witness - Paul Binding Delphi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World - Michael Scott

[Oddly I can't add another book using the + option - I enter info, hit return, and nada, no search. Also the usual magnifying lens icon isn't clickable. This may just be Firefox issue? Maybe?] [Later: Yes, it was totally a Firefox problem! In case you wondered!]


Of course I've only read one review, but that was interesting enough for me to want to read more:


Hans Christian Andersen by Paul Binding, a review

Guardian, 29 May 2014

" Paul Binding makes clear, it was when he delved into his own complicated psyche to create his unforgettable cast of tin soldiers, matchgirls and mermaids that his work took on a new dimension. Binding does not just analyse the famous tales, but makes bold claims for Andersen as an adult novelist, in which guise he is less well-known. This book contains extensive quotes in the original Danish, followed by English translations, often Binding's own. In this way the non-Danish speaker can get a sense of Andersen's crisp, unstuffy style.


It is not a biography so much as a detailed critical study. Along the way Andersen is born, educated, makes friends, travels, writes and dies, but Binding highlights only those aspects of the life that illuminate and contextualise the works. He was born into poverty in Odense, Denmark in 1805, his father a book-loving shoemaker and his mother a virtually illiterate washerwoman. His grandfather had been confined to a lunatic asylum, and his grandmother was the model for the various kindly old ladies of his later fiction. His father spent two years fighting on the French side in the Napoleonic wars, returning spent and broken, rambling in his last illness about a maiden glimpsed in the frost patterns of the icy windows, who had come to fetch him. Andersen's mother married again, but to no greater financial advancement, dying in her 50s of alcoholism."


And it goes on to give more background and examples. The bit about extensive quotes in original and then translation really interested me - I like to see that the original language is cited. I also really enjoy a book that tries to put biography alongside of examination of the content of an author's work. Even if I don't always agree with the critique I tend to look at these sorts of books as if I were having a seminar class on the subject, and I enjoy this type of lit crit.


I'd also like to learn more about Andersen, and while I've read some basic biography I've not had enough lit crit on him. (I'd also like to stop misspelling it Anderson - I keep doing that!) Mainly because I've not managed to get through my copy of his stories that I tried to read through last year. I started on some of the less well known works and found many to be very somber tales which often ended - well, remember the ending of the Little Match Girl? I don't really consider that a happy ending - or at least it doesn't compensate for the sorrow and suffering that went on first. I guess it depends on your own tolerance for melancholy, but after a while I had to set aside the book and go read something with a different tone. But this doesn't make me any less interested in Andersen's work - it just means I need to read in small doses rather than get into being a completionist before I read anything else.


Time for a few links to Gutenberg, for those wanting some immediate Andersen:


Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Anderson by H. C. Andersen

I didn't specifically check, but I'm pretty sure this is the version I picked up, specifically because it had so many I'd not read before.


The True Story of My Life: A Sketch by H. C. Andersen

I'm tossing this link in because it's also sitting on my ereader - one of the many that I have in there that I can remember thinking "this sounds good, I'll just download that and get around to reading it later."


Another book I had to add to my TBR list (and also going on my email alert list to catch future sales) is this one, via another Guardian review:


Delphi: A History of the Centre of the Ancient World by Michael Scott, a review

Guardian, 30 May 2014

"...Almost exactly 200 years later, the Phocians melted and minted Croesus's golden offerings to fund war-machines – battlefield catapults – and an army of mercenaries to man them. A contemporary pamphlet, "On the Treasures Plundered from Delphi", gives a sense of the outrage felt by the rest of the Greeks at the Phocian occupation. The pamphlet's author accuses Phocian generals of using these precious objects given to Apollo by cities whose years of grandeur were now a distant memory, some of them actually extinct, to buy sexual favours: "to the flute-girl Bromias, Phavullos gave a silver tankard, a votive offering of the people of Phocaea; to Pharsalia the dancing-girl, Philomelus gave a crown of golden laurel, a gift of the people of Lampsacus".


...There was therefore great excitement when, in the early years of the 21st century, geologists discovered that the temple was built over a faultline that would have allowed methane, ethane and ethylene to reach the surface through cracks in the rock, a heady mix in a confined space, which may partially account for the large number of fires that periodically devastated the sanctuary as well as for lines such as these: "Smell of a strong-shelled tortoise to my senses has come / Boiling in bronze with lamb's flesh" – an augury that correctly divined what King Croesus was cooking up at that very moment in distant Lydia and earning thereby his lucrative admiration.


But if geology explains the location it does not explain why the rational, patriarchal Greeks chose to place so much faith in the utterances of an old woman high on entheogens. Solutions to the problem have passed in and out of scholarly fashion...


...For as well as providing a fascinating time capsule, Delphi had a more direct role to play in Greek history. The occupation of the shrine was never going to end happily for the Phocians. Strange things started happening to the boys and girls of easy virtue who had been the receivers of Apollo's stolen goods. Pharsalia the dancing-girl was on tour in Italy performing near a temple of Apollo when local youths noticed her wonderful laurel wreath and ripped her apart in their attempts to prise it off her."


Even if you're not interested in reading the book, the review is a nice summary of the Delphic Oracle's history, as far as we know it anyway. In fact you have to dig through a lot of the reviewer's interest in the history of the Oracle to find out specifics about the book. I liked hearing that the author "sifted through the 33 shelf-shattering volumes of French excavation reports" for the archaeological information. How readable the book is I'll look into later, when I get around to reading the sample. And speaking of which, that's the case with the Andersen book too - I have yet to look at the sample. But so far these reviews are enough for them to make it to the TBR list (which never does get shorter - just longer).


These articles are typical examples of what's become my morning reading - the Guardian Books page. I take at the very least an hour to fully wake up (remembering how to make toast, etc.), and book reviews seem to help. Or are at least are interesting enough to wake up most of my brain.