Wednesday 28 October 2020

Favourite Books #26

During the first lockdown in March (ah! those halcyon days!) my friend Deirdre Irvine, owner of The Open Window Gallery in Rathmines, kindly asked me to post the covers of 7 books, with no reviews, as part of a challenge to create a library of great classics. Deirdre wrote: ‘It was difficult choosing one book over another and leaving swathes of beloved authors behind. But, now I nominate Des Traynor to take the baton and run. He has been known to read a few books, so I look forward to seeing his choices.’ I stopped at 25. As we are in the midst of another lockdown now, at least until the end of November, I’ve decided I’ll press on. Will I reach 30? 50? Most of my library is in storage still, which makes this a more difficult task, but I’ll see what I can do. Note: I didn’t adhere to the ‘no reviews’ stipulation.


A Roland Barthes Reader, edited by Susan Sontag, who did so much to popularise Barthes’ work in the Anglophone world. A compilation is the ideal introduction (although I’d previously enjoyed the accessible and witty Mythologies). Just look at the table of contents to get a flavour of the material covered in these essays:


Table of Contents


  Writing Itself: On Roland Barthes by Susan Sontag p. vii

Part 1      

  On Gide and His Journal   p. 3

  The World of Wrestling   p. 18

  from Writing Degree Zero   p. 31

  The World as Object   p. 62

  Baudelaire's Theater   p. 74

  The Face of Garbo   p. 82

  Striptease   p. 85

  The Lady of the Camellias   p. 89

  Myth Today   p. 93

  The Last Happy Writer   p. 150

  Buffet Finishes Off New York   p. 158

  Tacitus and the Funerary Baroque   p. 162

Part 2      

  from On Racine   p. 169

  Authors and Writers   p. 185

  The Photographic Message   p. 194

  The Imagination of the Sign   p. 211

  The Plates of the Encyclopedia   p. 218

  The Eiffel Tower   p. 236

  Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives   p. 251

  Flaubert and the Sentence   p. 296

  Lesson in Writing   p. 305

Part 3      

  The Third Meaning   p. 317

  Fourier   p. 334

  Writers, Intellectuals, Teachers   p. 378

  from The Pleasure of the Text   p. 404

  from Roland Barthes   p. 415

  from A Lover's Discourse   p. 426

  Inaugural Lecture, College de France   p. 457

  Deliberation   p. 479


My copy is covered in pencil underlinings – the sure sign of a riveting read. (George Steiner: “An intellectual is, quite simply, a human being who has a pencil in his or her hand when reading a book.”) ‘Flaubert and the Sentence’ is a particular favourite. (‘For Flaubert, the sentence is at once a unit of style, a unit of work, and a unit of life; it attracts the essential quality of his confidences as his work as a writer.’) But so are the extracts from The Pleasure of The Text and A Lover’s Discourse – which I went on to read in full, along with my own personal favourite, the last book he published before he died, Empire Of Signs.