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Through the Window: Seventeen Essays and a Short Story (Vintage International) (2012)

by Julian Barnes

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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24013110,097 (3.74)13
In these seventeen essays (plus a short story and a special preface), Julian Barnes examines the British, French, and American writers who have shaped his own writing, as well as the cross-currents and overlappings of their different cultures.
  1. 00
    Letters from London by Julian Barnes (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Both books have splendid witty indexes.
  2. 00
    Something to Declare by Julian Barnes (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Both books have splendid witty indexes.
  3. 00
    The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse by D. B. Wyndham Lewis (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Both books have splendid witty indexes.

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» See also 13 mentions

English (11)  Dutch (1)  All languages (12)
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
I still buy books faster than I can read them. But again, this feels completely normal: how weird it would be to have around you only as many books as you have time to read in the rest of your life.

That bibliophilia shows in this collection of 17 essays (most previously published in the Guardian or New York Review of Books), where Barnes examines some of his favorite writers’ attachments to various countries and some various countries’ attachments to certain writers.

I especially enjoyed getting acquainted with Penelope Fitzgerald, reading about John Updike and the Rabbit books, and Barnes’s comparison of Joan Didion’s and Joyce Carol Oates’s memoirs of grief. He writes that Oates converted her deceased husband’s garden of annual plants into perennials, and draws the metaphor that it’s “…the problem confronting the widow: how to survive that first year, how to turn into a perennial.”

It’s the most accessible and entertaining literary criticism I’ve read -- interesting even about writers that I have little knowledge or interest in.

(Review based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher.) ( )
  DetailMuse | Nov 30, 2022 |
Barnes is always a joy to read. In the opening essay about life with books you’ll find a kindred spirit. And if Ford Maddox Ford or Kipling are your jam, you’ll certainly want to read the essays on them. ( )
  trav | Feb 16, 2020 |
"The most misspent day in any life is the one when you've failed to laugh." - Chamfort

Yesterday I first cracked the cover of this in Frankfort Airport, enjoying espresso as I gazed about at the number of beer drinkers at 9 a.m. on a Sunday. As Julian Barnes notes early, his family didn't go to church but they did go to the library. Finally succumbing to slumber, I crashed without finishing Barnes' second examination of Ford Maddox Ford. Replenished, I awoke today before dawn and was off wandering New Belgrade. Pleasantly winded, I returned and read for a hour in a churchyard waiting for the currency exchange to open. Kipling and France were blended in pair of masterful pieces while I waited. It is now nearly noon here and the author closed the collection with a multifaceted reflections on Updike and literary grieving. My own life appears ripe and expanded at the present. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
Julian Barnes examines the British, French, and American writers who have shaped his own writing, as well as the cross-currents and overlappings of their different cultures.
  JRCornell | Dec 7, 2018 |
Lurid post-it notes jostle pink-yellow-red-blue-green post-it flags at the page edges. I think only the five-star ones merit this number of flags. And — (sigh) — Barnes’s essays on writers and their books has bumped up my TBR count. At least I can re-use the post-it flags for those new ones.

Preface: A Life with Books (5*) — This eleven-page essay was one of my favourites. I love reading about other people’s love affairs with books, about how and what they read as children, what ensared them, about how they grew up in their reading tastes, about their influences and favourite authors.
He starts with, ”I have lived in books, for books, by and with books; in recent years, I have been fortunate enough to be able to live from books. And it was through books that I first realized there were other worlds beyond my own; first imagined what it might be like to be another person; first encountered that deeply intimate bond made when a writer’s voice gets inside a reader’s head.”
His book world began to expand at age 17, when he got to choose his book for a school prize. He chose Ulysses: “I can still see the disapproving face of the Lord Mayor as his protectively gloved hand passed over to me this notoriously filthy novel.”
He describes his phase of being a “furious book-hunter, driving to the market towns and cathedral cities of England in my Morris Traveller and loading it with books bought at a rate which far exceeded any possible reading speed.” He collected first editions, complete sets, and just random books to justify otherwise fruitless expeditions.
"The dividing line between books I liked, books I thought I would like, books I hoped I would like, and books I didn't like now but thought I might at some future date was rarely distinct."
Barnes still buys books faster than he can read them, and his defense is one of my favourite quotes in the book: “But this feels completely normal: how weird it would be to have around you only as many books as you have time to read in the rest of your life.”

Most of the essays were previously published in Guardian, NYRB, LRB, New Yorker, or as forewords. About half of them are related to french authors or to France.

It was fascinating to read "Translating Madame Bovary", in which he discusses the Lydia Davis translation in the context of her predecessors, especially since I am (still!) reading her translation of Proust’s “The Way by Swann’s”. He is politely disapproving of her work, describing it as a “linguistically careful version, in the modern style, rendered into an unobtrusively American English.” Ouch.
Davis says that past translations “that are written with some flair and some life to them are not at all that close to the original; the ones that are more faithful may be kind of clunky.” Barnes comments that “This is the paradox and bind of translation. If to be ‘faithful’ is to be ‘clunky’, then it is also to be unfaithful because Flaubert was not a ‘clunky’ writer. He moves between registers; he cuts into the lyric with the prosaic; but this is language whose every sentence, word, syllable has been tested aloud again and again.” I so wish I knew French…

He admires Penelope Fitzgerald’s work. They are examples of the subtler wiser type of novel, in which the “structure and purpose may not be immediately apparent…Nor do such novels move mechanically; they stray, they pause, they lollop, as life does, except with a greater purpose and hidden structure.”

“George Orwell and the Fucking Elephant” is about class, ideologies, Being a Great Writer, and moral ambiguities. He reports, via Orwell’s biographer Bernard Crick, on a restaurant meeting between Crick and Orwell’s widow Sonia. “Crick dared to doubt the utter truthfulness of one of Orwell’s most celebrated pieces of reportage, ‘Shooting an Elephant’. Sonia ‘screamed’ at him across the table, ‘Of course he shot a fucking elephant. He said he did. Why do you always doubt his fucking word!’ Crick had discovered that in fact no one had been killed by the elephant, although Orwell did kill the elephant, angering the owners and resulting in a form of disgraceful internal exile.

He writes a graceful literary eulogy of John Updike, and is particularly fond of the Rabbit books, calling Rabbit at Rest “the greatest post-war American novel.” This makes me want to re-read them again, twenty years later.

Three of the essays were about Ford Maddox Ford. In “Ford’s the Good Soldier” he gives a master class in literary criticism. He discusses the opening sentence…’This is the saddest story I have ever heard.“, and at the end of the paragraph provides this most memorable description: “And if the second verb of the first sentence of the book is unreliable — if it gives a creak under the foot as we put our weight on it— then we must be prepared to treat every line as warily; we must prowl soft-footed through the text, alive for every board’s moan and plaint.” Love it. Wonderful.

The last belongs to Mr. Barnes:
“Nothing can replace the exact, complicated, subtle communion between absent author and entranced, present reader.” ( )
  TheBookJunky | Apr 22, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Julian Barnesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dean, SuzanneCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Franks, PhilipNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vlek, RonaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A Sempé cartoon set in a second-hand bookshop.
Grief dislocates both space and time. The grief-stricken find themselves in a new geography, where other people's maps are only ever approximate. Time also ceases to be reliable.
The perfect translator must be a writer able to subsume himself or herself into the greater writer's text and identity.... Some translations need as long as the book itself took to write, a few even longer.
The general trend of translation over the last century and more has been away from smoothness and towards authenticity, away from a reorganising interpretativeness which aims for the flow of English prose, towards a close-reading fidelity which seeks to echo the original language.
Flaubert said that a line of prose should be as rhythmical, sonorous and unchangeable as a line of poetry.
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In these seventeen essays (plus a short story and a special preface), Julian Barnes examines the British, French, and American writers who have shaped his own writing, as well as the cross-currents and overlappings of their different cultures.

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