Vulpes Libris

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.

How was it for you? … #2


Brother Guy Consolmagno is a planetary scientist, Jesuit brother and sci-fi enthusiast.  In addition to his own research, he is Co-ordinator for Public Relations at the Vatican Observatory and curator of the Vatican meteorite collection.

I first learned of this site when Kirsty asked to interview me; she provided a set of the most unusual, probing, intelligent, and just plain fun-to-answer questions I have ever faced! After seeing how she wrote up the interview, I stuck around on the site to find out what other folks were writing about… and learned about a whole boatload of books I might easily have missed (including a few that, you’ve warned me, might be better off missed). In the process I have also gotten to know a wonderful online community of regular writers whom I enjoy spending a few minutes with every day. And I’ve passed on this delightful time sink on to many of my friends, especially my sister who is also a regular reader now!


JBOn his own Facebook page, Jay Benedict describes himself as a ‘Company Director/Actor/Writer and right clever dick’ – and who are we to argue?  He first joined us as the subject of one of our ‘In Conversation With’ interviews, and he’s been with us ever since …

I was really impressed with Moira and Vulpes Libris when they first approached me to do an interview. The fact that they had seen me in that marvellous Spanish movie of CARMEN (not many people in England had), knew that I spoke French and had also seen me in a couple of episodes of Foyle’s War playing an American, told me immediately that they knew their stuff.  Their research had been non pareil.

Moira subsequently offered me a platform for my ramblings in the form of further topical interviews and book reviews, which eventually lead to me to joining the team of Book Foxes in an honorary capacity. We’ve  forged what I hope to be a lifelong friendship.

The Book Foxes are quirky, funny and inclusive. They get great people to interview whether it’s about religion or feminism or showbiz and there have been some truly great book reviews – often better than the books themselves. As well as Moira, I’ve met other Book Foxes on the team and the highlight for me was getting involved as a judge at the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Annual Awards last year, which culminated in a ceremony, followed by posh dinner, at a five star hotel in London. All I had to was read the six shortlisted  romantic novels and judge them in order of merit.

I’ve met another Book Fox too – in Cornwall – and wound up getting an impromptu surfing lesson in a hotel next to the beach with a bunch of German actors. I should have met two more this week at the Royal Albert Hall, where the great Johnny Hallyday was performing his first ever gig in the UK – but the RAH has too many bars and my ‘phone ran out of juice, and we never managed to be in the same place at the same time.

I’ve never met such a whacky, diverse bunch of people since I joined the acting profession.  They’re engaging and committed and all extremely well read. We met on the ‘net which was also a first for me. I was raised with pen and ink and traditionally forged relationships through work on tours and film sets and pubs. Never would it have occurred to me to have a cyber friendship of any description: truly a first for me –  but it sustains me and nourishes me … I feel a more rounded person as a result.

I think it’s the combination of debate, comment, intellect, random thought – Vulpes Libris seems to have attracted a truly eclectic bunch of people, which is why others have fallen by the wayside but they power on.

Here’s to another 5 years at least!


EPEdward Petherbridge‘s theatre career spans over 50 years but he is probably best known as Newman Noggs in the ground-breaking Royal Shakespeare Company production of ‘The Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby’, as co-founder of the Actors’ Company with Sir Ian McKellen and as Dorothy L Sayers’ aristocratic detective Lord Peter Wimsey in the BBC’s 1987 dramatisations. He was the subject of one of our very first ‘In Conversation with’ interviews and has since joined us on many occasions with extracts from his memoirs, poems and rehearsal diaries.

Extraordinary how, as one tries to impose a shape and meaning into the arbitrary flux of day-to-day existence, it sometimes throws up clusters of coincidence. Coincidences have a way of tempting one see shape and significance –with a capital S – as if fate might be taking special notice.

Vulpes Libris comes to my aid on the subject of Albert Camus’s Absurdist philosophy which:

“refers to the attempt by man to find meaning where none exists. A person can create specific meaning for his own individual life but this does not change the fact that life, a sensory rather than rational experience, has no deeper purpose other than existence. Death is the only certainty and the world is indifferent to man who is of no importance once he no longer exists”

I quote from this Vulpes Libris review to enhance today’s promised appreciation … an appreciation I might have polished off by now had I not felt obliged to go to a private view last evening. (Was I looking for meaning in my life?) I walked up to The Hampstead School of Art in its decrepit semi-detached house in Kidapoor Avenue to be greeted by a small collection of pleasant but unremarkable water colours and the artist Leonard Fenton – a veteran actor, my senior, who I know but slightly. We chatted very amiably about art and life. I was about to go when he told me he was doing a play by Albert Camus at The Kings Head (the fringe venue notorious amongst actors for its single cramped, sordid dressing room and its tiny stage).

He made no claims for the piece or his part in it –  inferring that Camus was not much of a playwright, but I got home to discover that it seems to be a rare collector’s piece of a performance and that he has landed the dream job for an eighty six year old actor – one that this seventy six year old actor envies him for. Why?  Because (a) they only perform on Saturdays and Sundays (b) the part is practically mute, (not many lines to learn) – BUT he has the last line and the last laugh, and (c) he has run away with some of the very best notices!

All this envy and excitement and thinking I ought to book seats threw me back on Vulpes … I was supposed to be writing an appreciation after all: I appreciated being able to connect things up by finding a Vulpes review of one of Camus’ key novels and from there I found myself linked to Eliot and The Waste Land with the tantalising promise that I might learn to love it.  I shall certainly go back to that!

I don’t know how I found myself reading the thoughts of your Cambridge Mediaeval scholar on the rock group Spinal Tap, but the word ‘great’ used to describe one of their numbers had me striving to expand my education by sampling it on You Tube …. I think I will stick to my slight acquaintance with mediaeval history – even The Waste Land is sweet coherent music to my ears in comparison to Rock. I found a reference to Shostakovich too:  I had been particularly moved by his Symphony No 5 in D minor on Tuesday night at the Festival Hall – remarkable that the Albert Hall could be filled by fans just as passionate about Spinal Tap and that at least one of them might be a Cambridge scholar and Vulpes critic.

“Man is of no importance once he no longer exists”? Well Monsieur Camus, Shostakovich, Stalin and the USSR are dead and gone but a Symphony Orchestra (surely one of man’s supreme inventions) brought something thrillingly alive and significant beyond words to the Festival Hall the other night … and I haven’t even touched the extraordinary musical and literary coincidences of the last few days.

Vulpes Libris has been a touchstone I will go back to – part of the zeitgeist that helps to give shape and significance to this confusing world … perhaps it might accept a review of The Stranger at The Kings Head- but excuse me I have an appointment with Vulpes and The Waste Land and I must follow up that that glimpse of Shostakovich …

5 comments on “How was it for you? … #2

  1. kirstyjane
    October 19, 2012

    Thank you very much, all three of you, for these brilliant contributions. A great end to a great week! We are very lucky here on VL, I must say.

    Kirsty (neither a mediaevalist nor Cambridge staff: and both communities breathe a great sigh of relief…)

  2. Melrose
    October 19, 2012

    Lovely and very well deserved plaudits, Bookfoxes. Nice end to a good week. As Jay says “Here’s to another 5 years for Vulpes Libris!”

  3. Jackie
    October 19, 2012

    Wow, such elevated company for us! It was great to see such lovely reflections from these three distinguished gentlemen on our anniversary celebration. They’ve been very generous with their time and writings, which always adds a bit of sparkle to VL. Thank you for saying such nice things!

  4. Christine Harding
    October 20, 2012

    Happy anniversary to the Book Foxes – long may you continue! I love the diversity and intelligence of your posts and, of course the excellence of the writing (I like people who know about apostrophes). You’ve made me read a few things I might not otherwise have tried, as well as revisiting old favourites (and one or two ‘not so favourites’, just to see if I liked them any better). I don’t always agree with your reviews, but I always enjoy reading them.

  5. Rosyb
    October 21, 2012

    Thank you so much for these lovely pieces.

    “it’s the combination of debate, comment, intellect, random thought – Vulpes Libris seems to have attracted a truly eclectic bunch of people, which is why others have fallen by the wayside but they power on.”

    This is what I like about the site – the eclecticness of it and the mix of fun and thoughtful, academic and ridiculous, and the extremely wide-ranging selection of books we ramble on about on here.

    The fact that everyone is a tad eccentric is a boost. 🙂 And we have a lot we owe our contributors like the three of you and other guests and semi-regulars which really brighten things up.

    Occasionally I’ve been asked to talk about the site and I’ve concluded that we are the opposite of everything that the “How tos” told everyone. The how tos on blogs suggest ultra short (we do hugely long fairly often), timely or topical (we often do out of date and out of print!) and popular (we do small-scale and obscure as often as we look at the big hitters – in fact, much more often).
    We used to try and debate things like our overall attitudes and house style but over the years have simply accepted that we are all different, have different but overlapping taste, often don’t agree, but hopefully all have something to say. And that seems to work and means we don’t get bored of the whole venture and we all have relative freedom on the site to explore things of interest to us.

    I liked Edward’s random coincide analogy. The net itself can operate like this and VL starts to operate in a manner where you follow lines and threads through all the random pieces on the site. I think it’s a lesson for me in not trying to control things too much, and letting things take their own shape. I hope we last another 5 years. Will be interesting to see how things grow and change if we do.

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The views expressed in the articles and reviews on Vulpes Libris are those of the authors, and not of Vulpes Libris itself.

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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