A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
As any regular visitors here will know, Kirsty’s specialist subject is Leon Trotsky. Moira thought she’d have a poke around when no-one was looking and see if she could find out what else was lurking inside the brain of the Book Fox affectionately known as ‘Comrade K’ …
M: How did you end up as a Book Fox? (Sorry – that came out sounding as if it was a BAD thing, sort of the Skid Row of the blogosphere – but you know what I mean …)
K: I knew Leena through the old Operaphile forum and she got in touch with me when the VL collective started. Unfortunately she wrote to an old email address of mine, so it took me a while to find her email. Citizens, always check your old email accounts! (+1000 VL brownie points to anyone who can spot my cheeky reference here.)
M: Well – it won’t be me getting the points, I can tell you that. The only thing that comes to mind is the Harry Enfield sketch, “Women! Know your limits!”. Perhaps we should move on, before I make myself look any more tragic … Who or what has been the greatest influence on your reading life?
K: My old school! Suddenly there was this massive, diverse library right there for me to enjoy. I didn’t do homework if I could avoid it, or even if I couldn’t (sorry to everyone who had to teach me); I preferred to read my way through the library, and I think I did get through most of it. At the end of each term my parents would bring back binbags full of books to return to the long-suffering librarian. (Last time I visited they had implemented a computerised borrowing system complete with sensors on the doors. I wonder why.)
School was where I first read Che Guevara. For some reason they had a Penguin paperback copy of Guerrilla Warfare (never checked out) that must have been there since at least the 1970s. Maybe some rebellious student (or teacher) snuck Che onto the shelves. I’ve always wondered.
M: I’m not surprised. In all the schools I went to, I think it would have spontaneously combusted. Your interests are nothing if not diverse. Everyone who’s hung around here for any length of time will know that your specialist field is Trotsky – but …. BATMAN? Where on earth did THAT come from?
K: I’m a late-blooming geek. I went to see The Dark Knight thinking it would be a fun trashy film; I had no idea how much it was going to… absorb me. Thrill me. That prompted me to dig deeper into the history of the Batman franchise and particularly the Joker, a character I find utterly fascinating. My conclusion was that I’m not a Batman geek so much as a Dark Knight geek, although now I do a fine line in Joker geekery. I completely understand how people become so wrapped up in the comics, but for me personally, nothing can top that film.
M: I really need to get around to seeing it … (It’s just the pencil that worries me. You should never have told me about the pencil …) Next up: What fictional character do you most identify with, and why?
K: Oh my. I have no answer to this and I feel like a philistine. I can tell you though that were I Roxane, I wouldn’t have given Christian a second look. Cyrano was right there! I mean, come on.
M: Don’t worry … Emily lobbed that question at me from left field, and I didn’t have an answer, either. We can be philistines together. Next question – Do you collect anything (apart from books on Stalin/Trotsky/Russia I mean) – you know – thimbles, Beanie Babies, parking tickets …?
K: No objects, but I have a vast (probably almost complete) collection of James Thurber’s work, most of which is out of print. I also seem to be collecting copies of Svetlana Allilueva’s Twenty Letters to a Friend, because my mother keeps finding it in charity shops, forgetting whether or not I have it and buying it just in case.
M: If you could go back in time and meet one real-life character from history, who would it be? Or is that a no-brainer?
K: I just finished translating some very early Trotsky. If I met him now I’d be compelled to smack him upside the head.
I do wish I could have seen Freddie Mercury perform live. Does that count?
M: I’ll allow it, since it’s you, and since he was so gorgeous. Okay … try this one: What is the last book in the world you’d ever want to read?
K: Glancing at the passages nominated for the Bad Sex award, it appears to have been written. Oh dear.
M: And the very first record you bought with your own money? (Mine was Marianne Faithfull’s “As Time Goes By” … now that REALLY dates me …)
K: Fun Lovin’ Criminals’ eponymous debut album. That dates me nicely too.
M: What sort of music do you like? (I’d lay good money that you’re not going to say “Heavy Metal”)
K: Well, I do love Ozzy of course, and I finally got to hear Deep Purple here in Chile. My inner rock chick is very old school.
I have completely incoherent taste in music. Putting iTunes on shuffle at my house is always an interesting experience. A typical sequence might go: Mussorgsky, Johnny Hallyday, Inti-Illimani, Hector Lavoe, Ozzy, Bach, Elena Burke, Britney, Fernandel, Celia Cruz, topped off with perhaps some very cheeeeezzzzy Russian pop. And Queen. Always Queen.
My musical upbringing was very much country. As a little girl I went to quite a few concerts with my parents, typically to see Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and/or Willie Nelson. This is the music I return to as a kind of safety blanket, but as I’ve grown up I’ve also acquired a far deeper understanding of it, especially Cash and Kristofferson. Kristofferson is a poet:
Casey joins the hollow sound of silent people walking down the stairway to the subway in the shadow down below/ Following their footsteps down the neon-darkened corridors in silent desperation, never speaking to a soul.
His skill with language never fails to amaze me, and neither does the extraordinary impact he can give to a few well-chosen words.
I’ll get along, you’ll find another/ And I’ll be there if you should find you ever need me/ Don’t say a word about tomorrow or forever/ There’ll be time enough for sadness when you leave me.
In the pairing of music and lyrics, the lyrics are at the very least an equal partner.
Those are my favourite songwriters: the ones who love words as much as they love music. That’s what is so wonderful about the music I have found here in Chile. The great Chilean songwriters are poets as much as they are musicians. Just look at Violeta Parra’s Gracias a la vida:
Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto/ Me dio dos luceros que, cuando los abro/ Perfecto distingo lo negro del blanco/ Y en el alto cielo su fondo estrellado/ Y en las multitudes el hombre que yo amo
I give thanks to life who has given me so much/ It gave me two bright stars, and when I open them/ I can perfectly distinguish black from white/ and the starry background in the high heavens/ and the man I love in the crowd
I always have music on. If not it tends to be playing in my head. The worst earworm in the world is Cat Stevens’ Peace Train.
M: Well – that selection is nothing if not eclectic … And finally – the classic Vulpes question – nominate your five favourite books (fiction / non-fiction / plays / whatever) and give reasons …
K: L’envers et l’endroit (which I suppose translates as Reverse and Obverse) is very, very early Camus and he spends much of the foreword apologising for it. But for me it has a clarity and a freshness that more than compensates for any (relative) immaturity at work. It is a collection of short essays and vignettes about life and death. I could aspire to write like that my whole life and never get near it, but for Camus it was an embarrassing early attempt. It’s like Pushkin’s adolescent poetry – by rights it ought to be clumsy and pretentious, and yet it really isn’t. I wish Trotsky had reached such heights in his early prose. Alas…
Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, of course, although not even the best translations can get at the joy of the language. Incidentally, Rappeneau’s film (with Depardieu in the title role) is a very faithful adaptation. The subtitles use the translation by Anthony Burgess and while they are not Rostand by any means, at least they give non-Francophone viewers a true poetic experience. Which is what Cyrano surely would have wanted!
Kapitanskaia doch’ (The Captain’s Daughter). I will never know how such a dissipate, genial creature as Pushkin wrote something so redolent of blood and dirt and good old filthy human complexity. Read it together with his History of the Pugachev Rebellion.
All That is Solid Melts into Air, by Marshall Berman. Beautiful. Read it.
Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn’s Yes, Minister/Yes, Prime Minister books. Consisting of a “posthumous edition” of James Hacker’s diaries supplemented by the papers of Sir Bernard Woolley and the late Sir Humphrey Appleby, these have all the wit of the television series with an extra touch of poignant and (often prescient) humour. And there’s an odd sort of shock in seeing the characters on paper; they are uniformly less sympathetic in writing. To me, at least, it seems that Eddington and Hawthorne in particular moulded their roles into a far more human and approachable form. Without their influence, the political satire is more cruel and the landscape of these familiar episodes is considerably changed.
M: There are three there that I’ve never even HEARD of. Eclectic, just like the music. Fascinating answers – thank you very much. Off now to investigate Marshall Berman …
(Photograph of Koba courtesy of Kirsty, at Trotsky Towers, somewhere in Chile.)