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Through the Window: Seventeen Essays (and one short story) [Format Kindle]

Julian Barnes

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Excerpted from the preface
I have lived in books, for books, by and with books; in recent years, I have been fortunate enough to be able to live from books. And it was through books that I first realized there were other worlds beyond my own; first imagined what it might be like to be another person; first encountered that deeply intimate bond made when a writer’s voice gets inside a reader’s head. I was perhaps lucky that for the first ten years of my life there was no competition from television; and when one finally arrived into the household, it was under the strict control of my parents. They were both schoolteachers, so respect for the book and what it contained were implicit. We didn’t go to church, but we did go to the library.
My maternal grandparents were also teachers. Grandpa had a mail-order set of Dickens and a Nelson’s Encyclopaedia in about twenty-five small red volumes. My parents had classier and more varied books, and in later life became members of the Folio Society. I grew up assuming that all homes contained books; that this was normal. It was normal, too, that they were valued for their usefulness: to learn from at school, to dispense and verify information, and to entertain during the holidays. My father had collections of Times Fourth Leaders; my mother might enjoy a Nancy Mitford. Their shelves also contained the leather-bound prizes my father had won at Ilkeston County School between 1921 and 1925, mostly for ‘General Proficiency’ or ‘General Excellence’: The Pageant of English Prose, Goldsmith’s Poetical Works, Cary’s Dante, Lytton’s Last of the Barons, Charles Reade’s The Cloister and the Hearth.
None of these works excited me as a boy. I first started investigating my parents’ shelves (and those of my grandparents, and of my older brother) when awareness of sex dawned. Grandpa’s library contained little lubricity except a scene or two in John Masters’s Bhowani Junction; my parents had William Orpen’s The Outline of Art with several important black-and-white illustrations; but my brother owned a copy of Petronius’s Satyricon, which was the hottest book by far on the home shelves. The Romans definitely led a more riotous life than the one I witnessed around me in Northwood, Middlesex. Banquets, slave girls, orgies, all sorts of stuff. I wonder if my brother noticed that after a while some of the pages of his Satyricon were almost falling from the spine. Foolishly, I assumed that all his ancient classics must have similar erotic content. I spent many a dull day with his Hesiod before concluding that this wasn’t the case.
The local high street included an establishment we referred to as ‘the bookshop’. In fact, it was a fancy-goods store plus stationer’s with a downstairs room, about half of which was given over to books. Some of them were quite respectable—Penguin classics, Penguin and Pan fiction. Part of me assumed that these were all the books that there were. I mean, I knew there were different books in the public library, and there were school books, which were again different; but in terms of the wider world of books, I assumed this tiny sample was somehow representative. Occasionally, in another suburb or town, we might visit a ‘real’ bookshop, which usually turned out to be a branch of W. H. Smith.
The only variant book-source came if you won a school prize (I was at City of London School, then on Victoria Embankment next to Blackfriars Bridge). Winners were allowed to choose their own books, usually under parental supervision. But again, this was somehow a narrowing rather than a broadening exercise. You could choose them only from a selection available at a private showroom in an office block on the South Bank: a place both slightly mysterious and utterly functional. It was, I later discovered, yet another part of W. H. Smith. Here were books of weight and worthiness, the sort to be admired rather than perhaps ever read. Your school prize would have a particular value, you chose a book for up to that amount, whereupon it vanished from your sight, to reappear on Lord Mayor’s Prize Day, when the Lord Mayor of London, in full regalia, would personally hand it over to you. Now it would contain a pasted-in page on the front endpaper describing your achievement, while the cloth cover bore the gilt-embossed school arms. I can remember little of what I obediently chose when guided by my parents. But in 1963 I won the Mortimer English prize, and, being now seventeen, must have gone by myself to that depository of seriousness, where I found (whose slip-up could it have been?) a copy of Ulysses. I can still see the disapproving face of the Lord Mayor as his protectively gloved hand passed over to me this notoriously filthy novel.
By now, I was beginning to view books as more than just utilitarian: sources of information, instruction, delight or titillation. First there was the excitement and meaning of possession. To own a certain book—and to choose it without help—was to define yourself. And that self-definition had to be protected, physically. So I would cover my favourite books (paperbacks, inevitably, out of financial constraint) with transparent Fablon. First, though, I would write my name—in a recently acquired italic hand, in blue ink, underlined with red—on the edge of the inside cover. The Fablon would then be cut and fitted so that it also covered and protected the ownership signature. Some of these books—for instance, David Magarshak’s Penguin translations of the Russian classics—are still on my shelves.
Self-definition was one kind of magic. And then I was slowly introduced to another kind: that of the old, the secondhand, the non-new book. I remember a line of Auden first editions in the glass-fronted bookcase of a neighbour: a man, moreover, who had actually known Auden decades previously, and even played cricket with him. These facts seemed to me astonishing. I had never set eyes on a writer, or known anyone who had known a writer. I might have heard one or two on the wireless, seen one or two on television in a ‘Face to Face’ interview with John Freeman. But our family’s nearest connection to Literature was the fact that my father had read modern languages at Nottingham University, where the Professor was Ernest Weekley, whose wife had run off with D. H. Lawrence. Oh, and my mother had once seen R. D. Smith, husband of Olivia Manning, on a Birmingham station platform. Yet here were the ownership copies of someone who had known one of the country’s most famous living poets. Further, these books contained Auden’s still-echoing words in the form in which they had first come into the world. I sensed this magic sharply, and wanted part of it. So, from my student years, I became a book-collector as well as a book-user, and discovered that bookshops weren’t all owned by W. H. Smith.
Over the next decade or so—from the late Sixties to the late Seventies—I became a furious book-hunter, driving to the market towns and cathedral cities of England in my Morris Traveller and loading it with books bought at a rate which far exceeded any possible reading speed. This was a time when most towns of reasonable size had at least one large, long-established secondhand bookshop, often found within the shadow of the cathedral or city church; as I remember, you could usually park right outside for as long as you wanted. Without exception these would be independently owned shops—sometimes with a selection of new books at the front—and I immediately felt at home in them. The atmosphere, for a start, was so different. Here books seemed to be valued, and to form part of a continuing culture. By now, I probably preferred secondhand books to new ones. In America such items were disparagingly referred to as ‘previously owned’; but this very continuity of ownership was part of their charm. A book dispensed its explanation of the world to one person, then another, and so on down the generations; different hands held the same book and drew sometimes the same, sometimes a different wisdom from it. Old books showed their age: they had fox-marks the way old people had liver-spots. They also smelt good—even when they reeked of cigarettes and (occasionally) cigars. And many might disgorge pungent ephemera: ancient publishers’ announcements and old bookmarks—often for insurance companies or Sunlight soap.
So I would drive to Salisbury, Petersfield, Aylesbury, Southport, Cheltenham, Guildford, getting into back rooms and locked warehouses and storesheds whenever I could. I was much less at ease in places which smelt of fine buildings, or which knew all too well the value of each item for sale. I preferred the democratic clutter of a shop whose stock was roughly ordered and where bargains were possible. In those days, even in shops selling new books, there was none of the ferociously fast turnaround that modern central management imposes. Nowadays, the average shelf life of a new hardback novel—assuming it can reach a shelf in the first place—is four months. Then, books would stay on the shelves until someone bought them, or they might be reluctantly put into a special sale, or moved to the secondhand department, where they might rest for years on end. That book you couldn’t afford, or weren’t sure you really wanted, would often still be there on your return trip the following year. Secondhand shops demonstrated how severe posterity’s judgment often turns out to be. Charles Morgan, Hugh Walpole, Dornford Yates, Lord Lytton, Mrs Henry Wood—there would be yards and yards of them out there, waiting for fashion to turn again. It rarely did.
I bought with a hunger which I recognise, looking back, was ...

Revue de presse

"So elegant is Barnes' prose that it's easy to overlook his comic talents...this is Barnes cementing his reputation as a lively, curious reader as well as one of Britain's best living writers." (Tom Cox Sunday Times, Books of the Year)

"Engaging, eloquent, entertaining and erudite... There is a capacious generosity throughout this book, and I would defy anyone not to leave without feeling both better informed and better disposed... It is rare indeed for a collection of occasional pieces such as this to inspire feelings of profound thankfulness." (Stuart Kelly Scotsman)

"A truly wonderful collection." (Sunday Times)

"The book relies on stylish intelligence and cool calm to accomplish its mastery. This is a coquettish book. Barnes flatters readers into feeling that they may be as shrewd, discriminating and attractive as he is." (Richard Davenport-Hines Spectator)

"A devastatingly brilliant critic." (Olivia Laing Prospect)

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 1306 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 256 pages
  • Editeur : Vintage Digital (1 novembre 2012)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 0099578581
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099578581
  • ASIN: B009HSPOC0
  • Synthèse vocale : Activée
  • X-Ray :
  • Word Wise: Activé
  • Composition améliorée: Activé
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: n°157.149 dans la Boutique Kindle (Voir le Top 100 dans la Boutique Kindle)

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Amazon.com: 4.1 étoiles sur 5  34 commentaires
14 internautes sur 16 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Spoiler alert: It will add to your reading list... 2 novembre 2012
Par John P. Jones III - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
Julian Barnes is a preeminent English writer and a keen observer of human dilemmas. I've read and reviewed a couple other works of his: Flaubert's Parrot, which is one of his most famous works, as well as The Lemon Table. The latter is a collection of "end game" stories, and since I am a coeval, I felt the aches and pains. When the Vine Program... which seems to be getting better at "targeting" their members with appropriate books...offered me this one, I had to say: Yes. It is a collection of 17 literary essays, and one short story. In one of his stories he mentioned Clive James, and Barnes' selection of subjects is highly reminiscent of James' work Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts. Some stories involve, for me, unknown facets in the life of authors that I have read. Other essays involve subjects that I was either totally unaware of, or only vaguely so. Each essay had been previously published, over the last decade in a half, in periodicals such as the NY / London Review of Books.

A fellow Amazon reviewer has been urging me to read Penelope Fitzgerald, who I had never heard of before (Gulp!). Barnes starts strong, and continues his collection in that mode, with an essay on her "deceptiveness," a wry and insightful vignette on a personal interaction he had with her. Barnes also convinced me that I need to read her The Beginning of Spring and The Blue Flower. Next up was the very familiar George Orwell, and what he did with the (unprintable, at least in Amazon reviews) elephant. A confirmation, however, that he did "off" it. This was followed by THREE, yes, count `em, three essays on Ford Maddox Ford, whose most famous book is The Good Soldier which I have not read. One of the three was on his book, Provence (Millennium Ford) which I had read, and enjoyed the additional background and details. In terms of literary criticism, Barnes is a joy to read.

Two essays were particular highlights, with their title inversions: "Kipling's France" and "France's Kipling." As Barnes says, in a word association game, Kipling is not immediately associated with France, but he should be, given his life-long love affair with the country. Barnes quotes Kipling, and it strongly resonated with me: "He spoke less than the truth. It was through the eyes of France that I began to see." (There is a wry double entendre involved). The second essay concerned the work Jerome and Jean Tharaud, Dingley L'Illustre Ecrivain (1906) (French Edition), which is a thinly disguised roman à clef on Kipling, which made him famous throughout France, and was one reason he could only stay in a town for a night or two, before someone figured out who he really was, resulting in a deluge of social invitations.

Barnes did an essay each on more obscure writers, at least for me, Nicolas-Sebastien Roch de Chamfort, Prosper Mérimée, Félix Fénéon and Michel Houellebecq. From the choice of subjects, as well as his famous book on Flaubert, "the cross-channel observer," Barnes, is obviously a Francophile, which also strongly resonates. Furthering the theme, another true highlight of an essay is "Translating Madam Bovary." A "takeaway" is that it is far from simple, in fact, it just might be impossible to truly translate any work from one language to another, and capture all the nuances, including the historical period.

Barnes also does the "cross-ocean observer" bit with essays on Hemingway, Edith Wharton, and John Updike. I've never read any Updike (gulp, again), and Barnes essay was a solid push in that direction. His last essay is "Regulating Sorrow," a fascinating look at how two women authors, both of whom wrote a book on the experience, dealt with life after the loss of their long-time husbands. The two are Joyce Carole Oates and Joan Didion.

Julian Barnes is a wonderful erudite guide, illuminating other aspects of a familiar author, and providing introductions to those that "never made it onto the radar." 5-stars.
6 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Avoiding fashion, achieving ease and brilliance 16 novembre 2012
Par Thomas F. Dillingham - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
Julian Barnes collects here a group of essays--book reviews and other thoughtful pieces about books and reading--and demonstrates both the charm of his prose style and his thinking personality, and his ability to persuade us of the value of writers not always promoted or valued. Three essays, for example, on the works of Ford Madox Ford, including fine commentaries on both The Good Soldier and Parade's End, offer reassessments of Ford's works that should convince any reader not already familiar with them that they are absolutely worthy of reading or re-reading.

Similarly, Barnes writes about and precisely identifies the particular charms of the little-known poet, Arthur Hugh Clough, and pinpoints the extraordinary value of the novels of Penelope Fitzgerald; he offers useful comments on Rudyard Kipling, explores a minor but fascinating work by Edith Wharton, and otherwise displays the good reasons for reading a number of works that are, if not absolutely unfashionable, at least outside the range of literary fashion of our time. His concluding essay, which comments sensitively on the memoirs of their widowhood by Joan Didion and Joyce Carol Oates, both reveals the distinctive and different characters of those two books and goes past them into a thoughtful and emotionally powerful meditation on the role of grief and mourning in adult life.

The "Preface" to the collection is an essay on Barnes's lifelong pursuit of books for his library. This topic (how I became a book collector, a bibliophile, a constant reader, etc.) has been a perennial one for many essayists over the past several centuries, but seems to have become a particularly popular one in the past several years as various technologies have seemed to challenge the hegemony of the book as the principal mode of communicating the written word. In this Preface, Barnes manages to establish, before the collection provides variations on it, the fact that he is neither submissive to fashion nor compulsively contrarian in its presence. He develops his reasons for his preferences and his admirations, his evidence for his claims on behalf of the writers (such as the rather obscure Felix Feneon) he finds worthy of exposure, in a calm and elegant prose that carries the reader along in the best tradition of belles lettrist writing. Any admirer of Barnes's own novels will find this book fascinating (his essay on translating Madame Bovary, for example, cannot help but illuminate his novel, Flaubert's Parrot), and those who do not know his work (or the works of the writers discussed) will find plenty of encouragement to find and read with his guidance.
6 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A Dazzling Literary Journey 19 novembre 2012
Par L. Young - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
For those with a literary bent nothing could be more satisying than dippping into this dazzling literary journey with British novelist Julian Barnes. Opening with a delightful preface describing a youth spent loving books and collecting them, Barnes then takes us by the hand showing us the importance of forgotten writers like Ford Maddox Ford (he devotes three chapters to Ford), forgotten and reviled writers like Kipling, and forgotten novels like Edith Wharton's 'The Reef'. Barnes ranges widely expounding on the virtues of controversal, contemporary French,novelist Michel Houellebecq; reassessing Updike's Rabbit tetrology; demonstrating the difficulties of translating Madame Bovary or cheerfully showing us the unique haiku-like qualities of art critic and dealer Felix Feneon's 'nouvelles en trois lignes' -jewel-like snippets of news written for Le Matin. Barnes ends with an enthralling look at two writers' exegeses on the pain and sorrow of widowhood, one by Joyce Carol Oates and one by Joan Didion.

If you love literature you will find this collection of essays deliciously satisfying.
3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 "respect for the book and what it contained were implicit" 20 décembre 2012
Par Foster Corbin - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
Since Julian Barnes is one of my favorite writers, I came to this collection of seventeen essays and a short story expecting to be well rewarded for my reading effort and was not disappointed. Mr. Barnes has included three essays on Ford Madox Ford, two of Kipling and his thoughts on John Updike, George Orwell, Penelope Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, Lorrie Moore et al. He is quite wonderful I think at making writers I have not read interesting and, more importantly, he appears not to have a malicious bone in his body, something that a lot of other so-called critics/reviewers should emulate. And, being the master of the English language that he is, he delights when he tells us that one writer's "dragonfly fame has lost much of its sheen" and reminds us that Kipling was just as "interested by inner tubes as by high art." And he has dug up the quote of Rebecca West about Ford Madox Ford that "being embraced by Ford was `like being the toast under a poached egg.'"

When I finished the essays on Orwell and Kipling, I found myself liking Orwell less and Kipling more and agreeing with much of what Mr. Barnes has written about John Updike when he says that Rabbit Angstrom is the American Everyman and that the Rabbit Quartet is the greatest post-war American novel.

Finally, Mr. Barnes' "Preface" alone is worth the price of this book for in it he discusses his life-long love of books: he grew up assuming that all homes contained books, reading was part of his first "awareness of sex," and he writes at length of the joy of collecting books. In his own words from the first paragraph of the Preface": "I have lived in books, for books, by and with books; in recent years, I have been fortunate enough to be able to live from books. And it was through books that I first realized there were other worlds beyond my own; first imagined what it might be like to be another person, first encountered that deeply intimate bond made when a writer's voice gets inside a reader's head. I was perhaps lucky that for the first ten years of my life there was no competition from television; and when one finally arrived into the household, it was under the strict control of my parents. They were both schoolteachers, so respect for the book and what it contained were implicit. We didn't go to church, but we did go to the library."

Of course, Mr. Barnes went on to write some of the best and most beautiful contemporary fiction in English. For that, we can all be grateful.
1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 A thoughtful writer's shelf of influences and favorites 14 juillet 2013
Par Andrew C Wheeler - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
Julian Barnes always feels like a writer insufficiently lauded -- even after winning the Man Booker Prize for his last novel, The Sense of an Ending, a couple of years back, he's never had the attention of his flashier contemporaries like Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, and Salman Rushdie. And yet Barnes has been more formally interesting than any of those contemporaries, from brilliant and formally complex novels of his early career like Flaubert's Parrot and A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters to less flashy but equally incisive later novels like Love, etc. through his books of stories like The Lemon Table -- he's kept writing books of short stories long after most writers abandon them for novels -- and a thread of serious non-fiction, from his Letters from London for The New Yorker to the precise mediation on death Nothing to Be Frightened Of. Perhaps it is that very facility, the breadth of his work, that has kept him from those literary-bestseller heights -- the next Julian Barnes book is guaranteed to be very different from the last one.

THROUGH THE WINDOW keeps up that streak; it follows a collection of stories, Pulse, with a very different collection: these seventeen essays (and one closely related short story) are all about writers and writing, mostly from the prior decade and mostly from the Guardian. There are three pieces from the late '90s, but it's all relatively recent Barnes; THROUGH THE WINDOW collects the thoughts of the mature Barnes on what we presume are the writers most important to him, or the ones he had the most to say about. (That's likely more of a presumption than we should make; Barnes was writing, in all of these cases, for a specific editorial purpose and time, rather than planning the book from scratch -- it's possible that several writers he considers even more vital just didn't come up.)

Barnes is mostly writing about his predecessors here, Orwell and Ford Madox Ford, Kipling and Johnson, Wharton and Arthur Clough, though he does write about some influences whose careers overlapped his, Penelope Fitzgerald and Lorie Moore and John Updike. And what Barnes has to say about each of those writers is measured and thoughtful and based on long experience -- the impetus for many of these pieces may have been an immediate news hook (a new edition, new scholarship, an anniversary), but Barnes's critical opinion exists already -- he's examining it in print on those occasions, but there's nothing quick or haphazard here.

So THROUGH THE WINDOW is a quiet and bookish book; the result of long hours sat reading and thinking and arguing in one's own head about books and writers. And Barnes's head is a pleasant and well-ordered one to spend a few hours in, particularly if your favorite writers overlap somewhat with his, or if you suspect he'll lead you to new discoveries.
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