Sunday, 14 March 2010

Buchan; The Thirty-Nine Steps

I've been waiting a long time to read this book - I picked up a copy of Greenmantle almost a year ago in a shop, and have been looking out for The Thirty-Nine Steps ever since. Well, I finally found it in a second-hand bookshop in Camden this January, and finally got round to reading it this weekend.

The Thirty-Nine Steps is the story of Richard Hannay, who through a visit from one man goes from being a bored man exploring London to a fugitive in the possession of dangerous knowledge, holding the fate of England in his hands and trying to survive long enough to pass the information on to the people who need it.

Buchan wastes no time getting on with his book, it's exciting and fast paced from the first page, with Hannay constantly on the run, getting in and out of danger, fooling others as to his identity and being fooled by others in turn. It's a short book, an easy read (I read it in about two hours), and just really, really fun. Hannay is witty and likable, the dialogue is natural, the suspense is well maintained throughout. All in all, a very pleasant read.

Greek Lyric Poetry

I bought this book the other day thinking I needed it for my dissertation (the library's copy was withdrawn and though I'd reserved it, I didn't think it would be returned in time) so that I could look up a quote by Mimnermus. A few days before the book arrived, the library copy was returned and I discovered it didn't contain the quote I needed anyway. Slightly annoying, but hardly a huge issue for me - I'm sure at some point in my attempts to become an academic the book will be useful. But since I was travelling that weekend, I figured I'd read it now anyway to keep me occupied on the coach.

This book contains, unsurprisingly, the poems and fragments of the Greek elegiac, iambic and lyric poets from the seventh to the fifth century. Including, amongst others, Simonides, Sappho and Stesichorus, and excluding Pindar and Bacchylides. The poems are about love, life, politics, love, travel, love, war and young boys. And unless Classics is your thing, it's not a book I'd really recommend to you.

The poems are sometimes funny, beautiful, and provide an interesting window into the everyday lives and concerns of the Ancient Greeks, reminding you that they were living, breathing, party-going, marriage-attending, hard-working normal people, just like you and your next door neighbour today. However, the fragmentary nature of the poems is annoying, to say the least. Some of the fragments are quite big, several pages long at times, but most are 1-5 lines tops and therefore - unless you're really interested in what those 1-5 lines can tell you about Greek life, culture and religion - they can be a bit frustrating or even dull to read. There are definitely some beautiful lines of poetry worth reading in there though, if you're not too annoyed by the fragmentary nature.

So the verdict is: good for me, as a Classicist, probably not so good for others. I would recommend instead getting a book that contained say, Just the fragments of Sappho, or the works of Pindar or Bacchylides instead.