Category Archives: Non-fiction

On Beauty

These days, welcoming the Spring and celebrating Women’s Day, we are looking through the shelves of the library reflecting on the subject of beauty. “Beauty is but skindeep”, “beauty will save the world”, “apperances are deceptive”, “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”… Are there any books to help us?

Homer, “Iliad” 6c28dfcb4d790bb4a29f2ea627008cdb

Of course! The most famous legend about how a war started. Beauty! Is it the root of the evil? The Trojan war originated from a quarrel between the goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, after Eris, the goddess of strife and discord, gave them a golden apple, sometimes known as the Apple of Discord, marked “for the fairest”. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy (Ilium) by a coalition of Greek states, “The Iliad” tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles.

Oscar Wilde, “The Picture Of Dorian Gray”2325167

The question of selling your soul for the eternal beauty. But who are you inside, are you still a human being? What’s the good looks worth? In this celebrated work, his only novel, Wilde forged a devastating portrait of the effects of evil and debauchery on a young aesthete in late-19th-century England. For over a century, this mesmerizing tale of horror and suspense has enjoyed wide popularity. It ranks as one of Wilde’s most important creations and among the classic achievements of its kind.

OnBeautybookcover.jpgZadie Smith, “On Beauty”

A 2005 novel by British author Zadie Smith takes its title from an essay by Elaine Scarry (On Beauty and Being Just). The story follows the lives of a mixed-race British/American family living in the United States. On Beauty addresses ethnic and cultural differences, the nature of beauty, and the clash between liberal and conservative academic values. Not only does Zadie Smith’s work focus on physical beauty but it also looks at the concept of beauty itself and its value. Throughout the work many of the characters look at beauty in different ways or some, like Monty and Howard, fail to look at the beauty in anything,  even in the materials that they teach in their art history classes.

“In Search Of Paradise: Great Gardens Of The World” 61Y+0VaaqyL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

For many of us, beauty is associated with nature, something, that was not created by humans, something that existed forever and is still a mystery for us. This book is a survey of the great gardens of the world, presented through photographic images and the descriptions of the garden designer and writer Penelope Hobhouse. Here you will find the oases of the Middle East, the gardens of Chinese scholars, Japanese sages and Renaissance humanists, French baroque gardens, the English landscape garden of Capability Brown and his followers.

William Shakespeare, Sonnets

9780099518860-us.jpgO how much more doth beauty beauteous seem,
By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!
The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
For that sweet odour which doth in it live.
The canker-blooms have full as deep a dye
As the perfumed tincture of the roses,
Hang on such thorns and play as wantonly
When summer’s breath their masked buds discloses:
But, for their virtue only is their show,
They live unwoo’d and unrespected fade,
Die to themselves. Sweet roses do not so;
Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made:
And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth,
When that shall fade, my verse distills your truth.


Dickens 205: writers in books and in the flesh

Image associéeThe bibliography of Charles Dickens includes more than a dozen major novels, a large number of short stories (including Christmas-themed stories and ghost stories), several plays, several non-fiction books, and individual essays and articles. Dickens’s novels were serialised initially in weekly or monthly magazines, then reprinted in standard book formats.

He is often called the “creator” of Victorian age, having described and “conserved” it for the future generations. When we read his books at school and in childhood we don’t really imagine him a real person. We seldom do that with writers of the decent past. When it concerns “the pillars”, the giants, the great masters, we tend to imagine them made of bronze or stone, but not of flesh and blood. But they were humans once.

Specialists in literature theory distinguish several types of authors: author as a real person, a human being; author as someone who created a text, creative personality, everything that is called poetics belongs here; finally – author’s point of view, his presence in the text not to mix up with narrator or storyteller.

At the library, thinking about recommendations what to read and watch Image associéeon the occasion of Dickens’ anniversary we looked at the book by Claire Tomalin about Dickens and his relationship with Nelly Ternan. And then there was a question: should we try to know more about writer’s real lifes? Or should we be satisfied with their works and what we can learn and find out in these works? Of course, there’s no definite answer to this. It depends on the researcher, and we think, if the aim is to learn about the time and not to judge someone, if the aim is to feel this connection with someone who lived long or not so long ago, then there’s probably nothing bad in our interest.

Our suggestion is to read talented works like Tomalin’s, which is not only the story of Dickens and Nelly, but a great excursus into theatrical world of England of the second part of the 19th century.

There are also a lot of works of fiction where writers are shown as characters and this is another curious direction of exploring the theme. Real people in fiction and fiction in real life – exciting reading is guaranteed!

In the British Book Centre:

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Claire Tomalin’s multi-award-winning story of the life of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens is a remarkable work of biography and historical revisionism that returns the neglected actress to her rightful place in history as well as providing a compelling and truthful portrait of the great Victorian novelist.
 The book is based on the life of the author Henry James. Lodge populates his novel with several of the most famous figures of English literature from the time of the book’s setting in the late nineteenth century.
 The novel features the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky as its protagonist. It is a deep, complex work that draws on the life of Dostoyevsky, the life of the author and the history of Russia to produce profoundly disturbing results.
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The novel depicts the life and character of Christopher Marlowe, one of the greatest playwrights of the Elizabethan era.
The novel recites amateur Gustave Flaubert expert Geoffrey Braithwaite’s musings on his subject’s life, and his own, as he looks for a stuffed parrot that inspired the great author.
The book concerns three generations of women affected by a Virginia Woolf novel. The first is Woolf herself writing Mrs. Dalloway in 1923 and struggling with her own mental illness. The second is Mrs. Brown, wife of a World War II veteran, who is reading Mrs. Dalloway in 1949 as she plans her husband’s birthday party. The third is Clarissa Vaughan, who plans a party in 2001 to celebrate a major literary award received by her good friend and former lover.

“Perfect Wives In Ideal Homes”: British women in the 1950s

images“Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes: The Story of Women in the 1950s” by Virginia Nicholson, Viking, 2015

Virginia Nicholson tells the story of women in the 1950s: a time, when divorce spelled scandal, two-piece swimsuits caused mass alarm and the only thing women were expected to do after finishing school, was to get married.

The book reconstructs the real 1950s, through the eyes of the women who lived it. Step back in time to where a shining doorstep was one of the signs of a good housewife leaving in this house, where young smart women just couldn’t imagine they actually had the possibility to enter a college or university and where having a TV set at home was yet a  luxury.

Perfectly structured book with lots of examples of first-person experience and from literature and popular culture.


Leila Williams, one of the many heroines of the book,  won the 1957 Miss Great Britain title.

Eric Morley, the founder of Miss Great Britain contest, stated very definite parameters for the ideal British beauty:

“…would have to be at least five feet five inches tall (ideally 5 feet 7 1/5 inches), weigh between eight stone ten pounds and nine stone six…”.

But for Leila this was a way of escaping from the environment she didn’t like, working at the pub in Birmingham.


Donkey stone was a type of scouring block, used mostly in the mill towns of the North of England to clean stone steps. The ‘donkey brand’ was originally the trade mark of a Manchester company called Edward Read & Son, who were one of several makers of the stones. Other companies used other animal designs or simple lettering, but the name ‘donkey stone’ stuck. Donkey stones were first used in textile mills to clean greasy steps, and give them a non-slip finish. However the stones also became popular with housewives who would use them to give doorsteps a decorative finish. Quite often the stones would be given out in exchange for old clothes or scrap metal, by rag totters, or rag and bone men as they were sometimes called.

Learn about other interesting 1950s realities and remarkable women in this captivating book.

Available for borrowing at the British Book Centre.

Also in the library: “Best Of British” vintage magazine about Britain’s past and culture.

Julian Barnes “Levels Of Life”

barnesbookweb1_2517739bAccording to Mikhail Bakhtin, famous Russian specialist in study of literature, there are several authors that we might be speaking about. The first one is the “real author”, the writer from this reality, that sleeps, eats and does other common for a human being things. Then, entering the reality of fiction, there is “author’s image”, which is divided into “author-creator” (as a certain view on the world expressed in the work) and “author-narrator”, which can be present explicitly if it’s a first-person narration and implicitly in different words and observations, if it’s a third-person narration.

How do we apply this to the “Levels Of Life”, one of the latest books by Julian Barnes? First, the genre is a wonderful mixture of fiction and non-fiction (memoir and essay). Then, there is this “author”. In the first two parts of the book we can find a lot of traits of fiction, author-narrator who “recreates” characters’ thoughts and dialogues between them. But the last part completely knocks out. Probably, we’re too used to writers’ hiding their true feelings behind metaphors? Here they are: bare feelings, being so trustingly presented to the audience. No names are mentioned, so there is this effect of writer telling honestly about himself, but still being just an image of a writer, which we cannot fully identify with the real person.

Probably, this is a question only for specialists, the common reader being more interested in thoughts and emotions expressed. Meanwhile, this example of contemporary literature presents an interesting material for investigation: how is a real person presents in the created texts? Does he become somebody else? And what how have we, audience, deserved this honour to be shared such intimate things with?

Quote: “Love may not lead where we think or hope, but regardless of outcome it should be a call to seriousness and truth. If it is not that – if it is not moral in its effect – then love is no more than exaggerated form of pleasure”.

In the library:

Julian Barnes, “Levels Of Life” (Vintage, 2014)

text – Elena Kuznetsova


41QHwyMc4ML._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“This book would never have been written had it not been for the publication of Robert  Harris’s novel Enigma, and the West End production, and TV adaptation, of Hugh Whitemore’s play Breaking The Code. These two dramas, which are both based on what happened at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, not only fascinated me, but popularized the Enigma story, and showed that there was a market for more books on the subject”. – Hugh Sebag-Monrefiore, “Enigma: The Battle For The Code”.

Now, after the film “Imitation Game” with popular British actors, Keira Nightly and Benedict Cumberbatch, was released, this interest grew even more.

No episode in the history of the Second World War has captured the imagination more vividly than the deciphering of the Enigma code messages by a group of eccentric boffins at Bletchley Park. Many people now are trying to solve ‘Enigma puzzle’ – the crossword that was a kind of an enrty exam for the potential decoders. And many people are fascinated by the brilliant mind of Alan Turing, proffessor of Mathematics and the leader of the goup of decoders. The brilliant work of Alan Turing and his team, as they worked round the clock to decrypt the messages sent by the most sophisticated coding machine of the age, played a huge part in winning the war for the Allies. But it was a part of a much bigger and equally dramatic story – that of the spies and ordinary seamen who risked their lives to capture the codebooks and manuals that would provide the key to Germany’s top-secret Enigma machine.

A noted British journalist Hugh Sebag-Montefiore uses new material from the archives to tell for the first time the full, thrilling story of Enigma.

In the library:

“Enigma: The Battle For The Code”, Hugh Sebag-Montefiore, Cassell Military Paperbacks, London, 2004_TFJ0226.NEF .



One of the strongest voices of english-speaking literary world, the example of great style and deep knowledge of human psychology, the explorer of female images in myths and history, this writer definitely should be on your to-read list.
Margaret Atwood (b. 1939) is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, and environmental activist. While she is best known for her work as a novelist, she has also published fifteen books of poetry. Many of her poems have been inspired by myths and fairy tales, which have been interests of hers from an early age. Atwood has published short stories in various magazines. She has also published four collections of stories and three collections of unclassifiable short prose works.

In the library:

“Oryx And Crake”, Virago, 2008
“Alias Grace”, Virago, 2009
“The Blind Assasin”, Virago, 2008 – The Man Booker Prize 2000
“Dancing Girls”, Cox & Wyman Ltd., 1989 (short stories)
“In Other Worlds: Science Fiction And Human Imagination”, Virago, 2012 (non-fiction)

Non-fiction: NEW LIFE STORIES by David Attenborough


Sir David Attenborough’s second series of award-winning Life Stories broadcast in 2011 was soon afterwards published as a book containing the author’s own choice of pictures and his comments on them. In New Life Stories, Attenborough looks at birds , insects and other animals with astonishing behaviour, at the work of other naturalists past and present – and at the relics of plants and creatures that lived in very early times; a backwards view across 600 million years and a passionate interest since he was a schoolboy. These short pieces – relaxed in approach, general in scope, concentrated but always clear and engagingly illustrated – perhaps offer new pleasures to his widest audience yet.

In film, television, writing and speaking, Sir David Attenborough  is himself a natural phenomenon. For nearly sixty years unquestionably the best-liked and most influential naturalist in English-speaking countries, he is admired far beyond those as a teacher of the highest quality. Attenborough is widely considered a national treasure in Britain, although he himself does not like the term.

Trailer of the Life Stories series on BBC One.


“There are three species of kiwi, all chicken-sized and very much the same, and they live only in New Zealand. I once went down to the South Island to try and film them on a remote and lonely beach. They lived in the thick forest at the head of the beach, but I was told that sometimes they came out on to the sand to look for sand hoppers and that then we would be able to get a clear view of them. So I lay down on a strand line and draped some rotting seaweed over my shoul-ders. I reckoned it smelt strong enough to conceal any odour that might come from me.
About an hour after sunset, a small hunchbacked shape appeared at the head of the beach. It stood there, with its long beak touching the ground as though it was a tripod. Then it strolled slowly down to the strand line and started turning over the weed with its long beak and probing the sand beneath for the hoppers. Uniquely among birds, a kiwi’s nostrils are not at the base of its beak but at the tip. That must be very useful when it needs to sniff out small creatures in leaf litter. Now however, it had to blow down its nose every few seconds to clear its nostrils of sand.
Puffing and snorting, it waddled slowly towards me, along the strand line, probing as it came. When it was about eighteen inches away, it looked up and gazed at me with its small bead-like eyes in a baffled sort of way — and then slowly walked round me and carried on with its probings. If there were to be such a thing as a hobgoblin, my guess is that it would look something like that strange little being. It certainly didn’t seem to be much like a bird.”

This book is currently available at the British Book Centre,
the Interdistrict Public Library System of Saint Petersburg.