The not-so international world of books

I distinctly remember the thrill in the days of going into a good bookstore when traveling outside my home country. Coming from London to a great book town like Berkeley gave me the chance to hoover up all the juicy American books that had not yet been published in Britain.

Amazon changed all that, if you overlooked the shipping fees. Suddenly I could read about something recondite but desireable in the New York Review of Books and immediately satisfy my craving.

Still, one of the goals of my trip to London last week was to snap up two British books that have not yet been published in the US. It would be wrong to say that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on these books (if that were the case, I would have turned to, but I was champing at the bit, and early reading suggests I was right to be so eager.

Tom Holland’s Persian Fire is subtitled “The First World Empire and the Battle for the West”. I devoured Holland’s Rubicon, about the Roman Republic, a couple of years ago. I’m only up to Darius, so haven’t reached the central story of the book, the war between the Persians and Greeks, but it’s a great read so far, and a salutary tonic to a Greek-oriented perspective like mine.

The fact that I waited until my trip to obtain Christopher Logue’s Cold Calls must show that I’ve become patient in my old age. Logue’s modern rendering of Homer’s Iliad is one of the great achievements of contemporary poetry to my mind. When I read the first few volumes of his War Music in the mid-90s (thanks to a classicist friend‘s recommendation) I was absolutely floored. “How does Logue compare to the original?” I asked. “It’s pretty good, but still nowhere close,” he replied. That’s what convinced me to study ancient Greek at the University of London: how could I survive without being able to pick my way through the original in some way, if Logue was “nowhere close”?

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