Reading Books Before Other Books

One of the books I’m reading at the moment, in my non-fiction mood, is

David Birmingham’s A Concise History of Portugal (in the Cambridge Concise Histories series, which I’ve been collecting for a while). This

follows on from William Atkinson’s A History of Spain and Portugal, which I thought I’d read first to get a more general overview of the

area; – this latter book I’m hoping will fill in gaps, solidify ideas in the mind, and concentrate a bit more on the modern period. (I’m amazed

though so far how Portuguese history is intertwined with British history – a love/hate relationship if ever there was one: – but seemingly, while you

could easily tell the history of Britain without once mentioning Portugal (I certainly don’t recall it ever being mentioned), you could never tell

Portuguese history without constant reference to Britain).

The reason though why I’m reading Portuguese history (apart from my long-term goal

of reading through the whole of world history) is because one day I was looking at the first page, thinking of reading, an Antonio Lobo Antunes novel,

and I realised I didn’t know any of the political context he was talking about – and I felt to myself I owed it perhaps to the author and my

appreciation of his work to learn something about it.

Later, while I was already well into my history reading, I bought José Saramago’s

The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, the opening words of whose prefare are: “José Saramago suggested in a recent interview that …

The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis might be fully appreciated only by somone who is Portuguese. In effect, the novel demands

considerable knowledge of Portugal’s history and culture from the stirring times of glory and empire up to the first ominous chapters of dictatorship

under Salazar.” – So I felt pretty pleased with myself. – On the other hand, maybe I should also be reading Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of

Disquiet first as well.

I do get into these long chains of books however: for various reasons to be explained later, I wanted to read

Machiavelli’s The Prince and Discourses, but I felt that, better to appreciate them, I should first read:  JCL de Sisimondi’s

A History of the Italian Republics, Vincent Cronin’s The Flowering of the Renaissance, Christopher Hibbert’s The Rise and Fall

of the Medici, the first ten books of Livy and Aristotle’s Politics (by way of philosophical contrast). – Needless to say, it’ll take

me a long time to get around to Machiavelli.

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2 thoughts on “Reading Books Before Other Books

  1. It depends which one you mean. The History of Portugal was informative but dry, and I have by now forgotten most of it. The Lobo Antunes referred to here was, I assume, The Return of the Caravels, which I greatly enjoyed. The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis I’ve not yet got around to (I did start it once, quite recently, but was just reading too much else and gave up); but I’ve a strong suspicion I don’t really like Saramago (I read about 100 pages of The Double, before giving up). I find his narratives quite boring; he concentrates perhaps too much on what is uninteresting (to me, at least), like a lot of contemporary writers, as if he specifically selects what aspects to write about on the basis of how little they appeal to readers. I’ve read some of Machiavelli, Sisimondi, Hibbert, Livy (and perhaps Cronin – he has too very similarly titled books). A man who can read Aristotle’s Politics (or any of Aristotle’s works, saving The Poetics) is a better man than me; but then, I suppose they weren’t written to be read (certainly not from cover to cover).

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