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A Certain World: A Commonplace Book Hardcover – Jun 1970


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Product details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Viking Press (Jun 1970)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670209945
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670209941
  • Product Dimensions: 22.4 x 14.5 x 4.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,055,338 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By GlynLuke TOP 500 REVIEWER on 16 Dec 2012
Format: Hardcover
When the guest is asked at the end of Desert Island Discs which book they would take to the proverbial island, a pot-pourri like this one would make a fine choice. It is packed with passages and briefer quotations that W.H. Auden one of the foremost British literary figures of the twentieth century, noted down for his own delight, enlightenment, and perusal.
The beauty of it for `the common reader` is that the cerebral, discerning Auden`s choices are surprisingly wide-ranging, eclectic, often unexpected. There are as many excerpts from mythology as there are religious quotes, as many aphorisms as poems.
Paul Valery rubs shoulders with Bruno Bettelheim, Langland with Ronald Firbank. The poets John Barnes and John Clare are here alongside Horace, Goethe, Pope, Edward Thomas, Hardy, Cavafy, Tu Fu, and many far more obscure poets. You`ll find in these pages Yiddish proverbs, lists of Names For The Green Woodpecker (as well as for the male and female genitals) and plenty of one-line thoughts from the world`s philosophers, such as Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Buber, Hegel, Wittgenstein, and Kierkegaard.
He seemed to like Simone Weil, Chesterton - always good for a playfully paradoxical one-liner - and Dr Johnson as much as our old friend Anon. There is also, I`m happy to say, a generous number of thoughts and brief essays by Auden himself.
The book, compiled by Auden and first published in 1971 (my copy is the excellent 1982 Faber 1st edition paperback) is arranged by him in alphabetical order of subject, which gives a sense of order to an otherwise random selection.
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By David Owen-Bell on 1 April 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The book remains one of the most exceptional commonplace books ever published. This paperback version although adverts tied as used was in such a fragile condition that most f the pages fell out as I read it. Not value for money.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By ganaois on 22 Nov 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a book which I bought for my husband for his birthday next month. As it is a common place book it has many quotations from a huge number of sources and as they were chosen by Auden they give an insight into his character as well as one being sure that the entries will be thought provoking. My husband has looked for this book for many years so he will be very happy on his birthday.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 2 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A Splendid Writer, a Revealing & Eclectic Reader 13 July 2013
By Lois-ellin Datta - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
"A Certain World: A Commonplace Book" shares the passages that appealed enough to Wystan Hugh Auden to note down, rather as did the 10th century Irish monk to whom we are indebted for "Pangur Ban." There are 173 sections in "A Certain World," arranged alphabetically. We today are much indebted to the Auden of 1969, when this book was published, for at least two reasons.

First, art probably is not compounded of biographical bits. Yet if there be truth in "Tell me what you eat and I'll tell who you are," then the more so in "Tell me what you read..." There's a fascination frantic in seeing of what our acquaintances' libraries consist (Kindle or no) and the books in the homes of, say, Elvis Presley, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Doris Duke. Auden was one of great poets of his time (1906 to 1970). Many of his poems such as "September 1, 1939" are canonical. Auden intended "A Certain Country" to be a self-portrait, not an auto-biography but as close as we may come to knowing what he was feeling & thinking & believed in the last few years of his life. Each section iis introduced by a brief essay or reflection of the topic.

What Auden read & thought worth copying down tended to be shadowed, to cross centuries from Horace to his present time, to vary in style, and to include both expected and the unexpected. He had, for example, a fondness for the history of British roads; mathematics, number theory, and arithmetic; writings showing the individuality of birds, cats, dogs, and horses; ethics and morality; and about the roots of human behavior.

There are also some fine flashes of humor in Auden's selections. For instance, "Book Reviews, Imaginary" has the fine frolicking reviews by J. R. Morton, including "No Second Churning, by Arthur Clawes. An almost unbearably vital study of a gas-inspector who puts gas-inspecting before love. Awarded the Prix De Seattle, this book should enhance the author's growing reputation as an interpreter of life's passionate bypaths." (p. 43).

A second reason for buying "A Certain World" is that for a low price, we get a bibliophile's pleasure. The book itself is sturdy, with an embellished red cloth cover, strongly bound, and on almost archival-heavy paper. The choices are in themselves generally not-often met, unusual & splendid, including some good translations from Horace, much Anglo-Saxon, Icelandic, and Irish poetry including the powerful Vision of the Sybil from "The Deluding of Gylfi," much from Simone Weil, Goethe & Bettleheim, from mathematicians and scientists such as Whitehead, and from political observers. Here and there, a selection may be more to Auden's liking than to the readers, but many give nourishment to mind & spirit.

The topics can be of interest in themselves to a reader of broad interest. As an example, the reader can find under the P's alone, the topics/headings of Paradise, the earthly; P*nis rivalry; Phrase Books, Foreign; Plants; Pleasure;Praise, epithets of; Prayer, Nature of; Prayers, petitionary; Prose annihilating; Prose, impressionistic; Prose, judges'; Prose,purple; Prose, woozy; Puns; and Puritanism.

The author index gives their dates and the pages on which each selected work is to be found. References are listed by publisher, not author nor title. There is nary a cross-reference, for instance, to help a reader who wants to find the source of the Tolkien quote in which Elrond says farewell to the Ring Bearer. Here and there, what seems a clunkier translation is given than one lovelier one available at the time (example, not using Robin Flower's luminous translation of Pangur Ban) and for readers in 2013, more better translations such as those of Odes & Epodes now can be found. However, Auden also has chosen some of the best of translators, such as Helen Waddell, for medieval Latin and he himself has been the translator for Icelandic, Latin,and German selections.

Five stars for Auden the writer, Auden the reader and "A Certain World."
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A book for nibbling 11 May 2013
By NRB - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am enjoying it. Auden gathered passages that appealed to him and arranged them "alphabetically by topic." It is fun.
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