Good Reading : March 2007
8 goodreading ı MARCH 2007 me my shelf i barry jones BARRY JONES has at various times been a teacher, lawyer, politician, writer and broadcaster. He joined the ALP in 1950 and was a Member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly 1972-77, Member of the House of Representatives 1977- 98, Minister for Science 1983-90, and Australia’s representative to UNESCO in Paris 1991-95. He was National President of the ALP 1992-2000, and is now a Vice Chancellor’s Fellow at Melbourne University. His autobiography, A Thinking Reed, was published last year to great acclaim. ● What are you reading now, and why? Thatcher and Sons by Simon Jenkins, a brilliant and disturbing account of Thatcherism and its extension by John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. It provides a sharp and witty insight about the direction of modern politics, in which managerialism and economics displaces ideology. I love poetry and The Norton Anthology of Poetry is always within reach. Robert Hughes’ memoir Things I Didn’t Know is compelling. Inga Clendinnen’s Agamemnon’s Kiss is a luminous collection of essays. ● Who are your favourite authors? Homer, Shakespeare, Montaigne, Pascal, Austen, Pushkin, Dickens, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Proust, Wodehouse, Joyce, Robert Musil, Gunter Grass, Thomas Pynchon, Patrick White, David Malouf, Helen Gar ner, WG Sebald, Julian Barnes, Don de Lillo. ● Which books have had the most influence on your lifestyle or philosophy? The New Testament (especially the Gospels), Montaigne’s Essays, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Pascal’s Pensées, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Freud’s Civilisation and its Discontents, and Albert Schweitzer’s Civilisation and Ethics . ● Which author would you most like to meet, and why? Of the glorious dead: Shakespeare, to understand how a provincial, with strikingly limited experience of the world, could explore it so profoundly; Montaigne for his genius in converting the observation of everyday life into wisdom; and Tolstoy – an elemental force with understanding of every personality except his own. Of living writers: Alan Bennett, a playwright and essayist of genius; Thomas Pynchon (a notorious recluse); and Gore Vidal. ● Is there a well-known book you never finished? I worked my way steadily through Henry James and Her mann Hesse but grew weary with both. I used to be fascinated by DH Lawrence but now find him unreadable. ● Which book/s did you love best as a child? I loved the work of Hendrik Willem van Loon (1882-1944), a Dutch-bor n journalist and historian in the United States, whose The Story of Mankind (1922) and The Home of Mankind (1923) shaped my thinking. The Story of Mankind tried to explain the world and its complexities to enthusiastic children and mysti - fied adults, has remained in print for more than eighty years and won him international recognition. The Home of Mankind was a world geography. He deplored the ‘incurable vice of nationalism’ and the hor rors of what he called ‘the Great Era of Exploitation’, during the Imperial expansion of the 19th century. ● What is your all-time favourite book? I would put three in a dead heat: Homer’s The Iliad (especially in the superb translation by Robert Fagles), Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. ● Do you have a favourite fictional hero or heroine? I identified myself with Pier re Bezhukov in War and Peace and Konstantin Levin in Anna Karenina. Both were inquisitive, observers rather than activists, often indecisive, plagued by self-doubt. ● Do you have a favourite film of a book? Sergei Bondarchuk’s War and Peace (1967) is a great masterpiece, six hours long, with the director himself playing the role of Pier re Bezhukov. It is passionate, committed, irresistible. There are many films of Hamlet, and most are outstanding, including versions directed by Laurence Olivier, Grigori Kozintsev, Tony Richardson and Kenneth Branagh. ● Where are most of the books in your home? In my study – in shelves and on any flat surface. ● Is there any one category that dominates? My collection demonstrates the overlap between history/ biography/politics. ● How are the books on your shelves organised? Rare books, first editions and signed copies are kept apart, but most are ar ranged according to categories – or sometimes, size. ● Where is your favourite place to read? Anywhere. Everywhere. ● Do you have a favourite bookshop? I could lose many friends if I say too much. I use and admire many bookshops but, if pushed, I would name the Hill of Content (Melbourne), Heffer’s (Cambridge), Blackwell’s (Oxford).