Last night I finished reading Tim Jeal's excellent biography - Stanley: Africa's Greatest Explorer.
Just reading the introduction alone and looking at the maps is a fascinating occupation. What an extraordinary man living in extraordinary times. It is interesting to examine those last days of the 19th century, the carving up of Africa, attitudes and ambitions - how close it all is to us, what we have all inherited from the actions then; but also how far away with hindsight we now feel it to be.
What I also found fascinating was the psychology, not only of the man himself - which is riveting enough - but also the psychology of us, the readers of stories. How we take some stories as truth, and why - without much examination of corroboration or context. I remember Stanley as being the man who walked across Africa to say 'Dr Livingstone I presume!' In school in Scotland we learned a lot about Livingstone and other missionary explorers - but nothing at all about Stanley other than this sentence.
Luck taught me otherwise. It was lucky that this biography was a Kindle Daily Deal (yes, it is perverse that I still accumulate more to read when I already have an insurmountable pile). It was not the bargain which swayed me completely, but luckily curiosity took me to read the recommendations. Such praise - and well deserved - had me clicking, and luckily, as I had just finished my previous Kindle novel and felt in the need of some non-fiction, that night I embarked on this epic journey. In many ways I am sad to have completed it.
Now, as I commented to dovegreyreader when talking about short stories, I shall read a story from Alexander McCall Smith's Trains and Lovers before embarking on I don't yet know what.
My daytime - and therefore less consistent reading - is also at last drawing to a close. John Richardson keeps the reader so intimate with Picasso, warts and all, that I feel I am drawn immediately to be a fly in his presence as soon as I open the book. I find that it is important to keep to reading a whole chapter at a time, however, otherwise an extended gap has me losing that feeling of proximity until I have recovered the thread.
It has been strange, being in France with Picasso in the early 20th century with creative people whose work I have known and loved since childhood. Then being toasty with hot water bottle upstairs in bed while with Stanley in Africa battling errant Belgian officers, disease, hunger, desertion, attacks, impassible terrain, .... But it has worked really well. Each author has pulled me in as reader to encompass me with his world alone.
I must finish Vol. 3 this week, however. Just a couple of chapters to go, which is just as well, as of course I added another book to my pile when I was at Tate Modern on Saturday!