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  1. ‘In my snug little room I shall forget the world outside; I shall narrow down to my lot, and possibly come to believe that my valley is the hub of the universe.’

    20200326_152205The need to self-isolate has reportedly sent many people online to buy new books to help them through the weeks ahead. Others have surely returned to the pile of unread novels already sitting on their bedside tables. Now’s the perfect time to catch up with the reading we all feel we ‘should’ have done or have been putting off.

    One book that probably won’t be on anybody’s reading list in the coming weeks of quarantine is Étienne Pivert de Senancour’s Obermann. And yet this is in many ways the perfect self-isolation novel. It is, after all, a work that is largely about self-isolation, or at least the active pursuit of solitude. 

  2. French dictionaryI’ve never been one for New Year’s Eve celebrations. I’ve also never been one for New Year’s resolutions. However, this year I’ve decided to set my cynicism aside and actually make one. It’s a little late, I know, but here it is:

    I resolve to get better at French in 2020.

    Of course, I have no expectation that I’ll be speaking the language fluently any time soon, if ever.

    I can, though, look to improve my listening, reading and writing skills as well as my spoken French. I can take easy, practical steps over the coming months to get better. This blog post is my promise to myself that I will set out and complete this journey. 

  3. Franz LisztLiszt’s piano music is often incredibly difficult to play. It can also be difficult to listen to. It's ambitious, complex and often very intense. It can also be discordant, disconcerting and ugly. There are other problems too. Liszt was as prolific as he was virtuosic, so there’s the question of how to approach such a large body of work. Liszt was also a compulsive rewriter, meaning we might ask which version of a piece it is we should even be listening to.

    Happily, these problems are not intractable. Just as Liszt composed challenging music so too did he write music of great simplicity. And whilst it's true that some pieces are not always melodically straightforward or pretty, others are sumptuously romantic with the most elegant and loving of melodies.

    I offer some pointers below on how to begin listening to Liszt and then provide a list of 10 works that can act as signposts for any beginner starting out on their own journey or pèlerinage into his work. 

  4. Proust Novel and HeadphonesThere are many barriers to entry when it comes to reading Marcel Proust’s novel In Search of Lost Time. Most obviously, it’s very long – 7 volumes in the original French (usually reduced to 6 in translation) and runs to over 3,000 pages. It’s also notoriously complex. Proust’s text is written in an allusive, meandering style that requires a high level of concentration from the reader. It is, therefore, easy to be put off. Many give up after the first volume, The Way by Swann’s. In fact, you could argue that you shouldn’t start reading Proust at all, given the commitment that it requires.

    If the thought of reading this novel is a little overwhelming, don’t panic! Instead of reading Proust’s In Search of Lost Time you can listen to it. 

  5. Batgirl and the Birds of PreyThere are currently two books on my beside table: Patrick Rothfuss’ fantasy novel The Name of the Wind and the DC Comics omnibus Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Vol 1. Who is Oracle? Looking now, I can see the bookmarks in each marking the place where, too tired to continue, I last stopped reading. In my study bookmarks poke out the top of other books too – novels, works of philosophy, collections of letters and essays. I’m part way through each of these. Some I’ll return to, some not.

    I’ve been thinking about this over the last few days. I’ve realised that I’m following a large number of stories at once. I’m currently reading, playing through, watching or am otherwise invested in many narratives over multiple formats and through various channels, from novels and comics to podcasts, actual play live DnD streams, network TV series, narrative-heavy JRPGs and other videogames. I'm holding together in my memory the narrative threads of all these different stories at the same time.