Walter Benjamin on book collecting

"I am unpacking my library. Yes, I am. The books are not yet on the shelves, not yet touched by the mild boredom of order. I cannot march up and down their ranks to pass them in review before a friendly audience. You need not fear any of that. Instead, I must ask you to join me in the disorder of crates that have been wrenched open, the air saturated with the dust of wood, the floor covered with torn paper, to join me among piles of volumes that are seeing davlight again after two years of darkness, so that you may be ready to share with me a bit of the mood - it is certainly not an elegiac mood but, rather, one of anticipation - which these books arouse in a genuine collector...

O bliss of the collector, bliss of the man of leisure! Of no one has less been expected, and no one has had a greater sense of well-being than the man who has been able to carry on his disreputable existence in the mask of Spitzweg,'s "Bookworm." For inside him there are spirits, or at least little genii, which have seen to it that for a collector - and I mean a real collector, a collector as he ought to be - ownersliip is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them. So I have erected one of his dwellings, with books as the building stones, before you, and now he is going to disappear inside, as is only fitting."

Walter Benjamin: "Unpacking my Library: A Talk about Book Collecting," in Illuminations, Engl. trans. (London: Fontana, 1982), pp. 59-60, 63, and 66-67.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula by Bram Stoker is a very original and creepy classic that I think everyone should read at some point in their reading lives.

The story begins with one of the main characters Jonathan Harker, a new lawyer, making his way to Count Dracula's castle in Transylvania to complete some legal business his form has with Count Dracula. The villagers he meet all warn him against his plan, however he puts this down to traditional superstition at most, and dismisses their warnings. Once at the castle, Jonathan Harker becomes more and more suspicious of Count Dracula's behaviour, until eventually his suspicions are proved to be true and he finds himself a prisoner in the castle.

I can't recreate the thoroughly evil atmosphere that Stokercreates, nor would I want to. I hope that you will experience it for yourself. Suffice to say that what happens on the castle is the scariest part of the book and I almost wondered whether I would be able to finish reading it. Fortunately I did finish reading it and I was rewarded. The story moves between different countries and cities and the entire time I was riveted.

The book is written from many different characters perspectives by way of diary entries, journal entries, letters and newspaper clippings. This was apparently a very new and different way of writing a novel in 1897. I was nervous when I first started reading it that this method of story telling would act as a barrier between me and the story but it worked well, ensuring the suspense is intense throughout the entire book. The story does become less and less creepy as it progresses. Don't get me wrong, there are some evil images Bram Stoker creates all the way through, but it is never quite as creepy as it is at first in Count Dracula's castle.

 I couldn't put Dracula down, despite there being points in time when I really wanted to put it down. This is easily the creepiest book I have ever read. I remember watching parts of Nosferatu when I was a child and being really terrified. Now, having read Dracula by Bram Stoker I would like to watch again as an adult.

All in all, I think that if you are in for a very different read and you're not afraid of a bit of blood, I think you should give this classic a go.

Star Rating

6.5 / 8

Brilliant, couldn't put it down.

Eucalyptus by Murray Bail

Eucalyptus is based in New South Wales and tells the story of Holland, a man who's wife dies leaving him a young daughter Ellen. Following his wife's death, he purchases a farm to which he and his daughter move. Holland starts planting eucalypts on the farm, and before long he has hundreds of different varieties all over the land. His daughter grows to be a beautiful woman, and being acutely aware of how attracted to her men become, he develops an individual way in which to chose her future husband (I won't spoil anything by telling you how he chooses her husband).

This novel is a patchwork of different stories and narratorial detours. The main love story unfolds through the stories of others and through the descriptions of the eucalypts themselves. As the love story reaches its climax it becomes more erotic and it has a satisfying conclusion.

Bail vividly describes the Australian landscape throughout the novel, and particularly the eucalypts that make up the story. I did find that sometimes I got a lot more carried awy witht he description of the landscapes and the trees than the story itself. Ellen seems so aloof and distant that it was difficult for me to identify with her at times. Despite this, I enjoyed the story a lot, laregly because of its uniqueness.

I was left wondering at the end of the book - the story of Ellen and her suitors begins as if it is a fairytale, and given the manner in which the story is told, I can't help but wonder whether the story of Holland, Ellen, Mr Cave and the final suitor is itself a fairytale?

If you are interested in reading a professional essay about this book please follow the following link:

Star Rating

5 / 8

Good and worth reading if you have the opportunity, but there's no need to prioritise it.

The Mill on the Floss By George Eliot

Some time ago I read a book entitled Payback: Debt and the Shadow of Wealth by Margaret Atwood. It is a discussion about the concept of debt – not just financial, but personal and moral and other such debts. Why am I talking about a book by Margaret Atwood when I’m supposed to be reviewing The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot? In this book Payback, there is chapter entitled “Debt as Plot”, which discusses how debt is often at the centre of the plot of a good fiction story. Atwood discusses different books in this chapter to illustrate her idea, books such as A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot. I found the discussion in Payback fascinating, particularly this particular chapter about the role debt had played in literature, and so I decided to read the Mill on the Floss.

It didn’t disappoint. It was nice to read a classic, something I feel like I hadn’t done for a long time. The old English language was challenging, particularly at first, however I eventually acclimatised to it. The novel follows the fortunes of the Tulliver family. The father, Mr Tulliver, involves himself in legal proceedings with the evil lawyer Wakem which he eventually loses and in turn finds himself almost a bankrupt. His family fortunes take a turn for the worse. His wife is forced to sell all her household goods and their children Tom and Maggie are forced to leave their educations and start to work in their teenage years. The central character is Maggie, a young intellectual girl who struggles in a society that sees women as mere decoration and certainly not anyone with brains. Maggie falls in love, and the novel follows her love stories to a tragic end (don’t worry – I wont ruin the ending).

I really felt for Maggie, it’s always frustrating to see the plight of women in the past. Although it’s a novel, George Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans) wrote her novel about the times in which she lives, and as such they are an accurate portrayal of those times from Eliot’s perspective. Maggie wants to be free but is constantly thwarted by society, and particularly her older brother Tom, who feels it is her duty to keep her check and prevent her from bringing disgrace upon her self and her family. It’s usually read as a feminist manifesto, but I liked Atwood’s discussion of debt being the idea that moves the plot along. The financial debt Mr Tulliver owes following his unsuccessful lawsuit, the debt owed to him by him sister and brother-in-law which he refuses to accept payment for out of family loyalty, the debt the Tulliver family is seen to owe to Mrs Tulliver’s family who help them (in their own selfish way) through the period of their disgrace. There’s the debt that Mr Tulliver feels Wakem owes him because of Wakem’s ill treatment of him, and which Mr Tulliver seeks repayment of in his vicious attack on the lawyer. It’s a story about morals and values I think – whether they be in relation to the position of women in society or the concept of debt.

It’s an interesting book that is worth reading if ever you are in the mood for a good old fashioned classic.

Star Rating

5.5 / 8

Really enjoyable and well written. Worth reading if you have the opportunity.