Monday, December 13, 2010

Bios and Christmas letters

It's the time of year when I'm thankful to have been dropped from most Christmas letter lists, probably because word got out that I really don't think much of them.

Maybe it's penmanship envy, maybe because to write a letter that is not full of oh this terrible thing happened to us in January, and we bravely soldiered on, then this terrible thing happened to us in February, and once again we soldiered on, etc. etc., is above my pay grade.

I mean, that's why God invented blogging! And then there's the other letter full of name dropping and exotic travel bragging and credential getting by offspring, save me. That's why God invented autobiography.

Anyway, I believe the Christmas letter is an artform beyond the capacity of most of the people who attempt it. And so is autobiography, but there are shining exceptions.

One is a wonderful book by Penelope Lively, one of my favorite novelists anyway, who uses a novel hook for her bio of her own family, in many generations, "A House Unlocked" the house they lived in for ages and the gardens her grandmother designed and tended. Homey items like umbrella stands and gongs and things (this was a gracious home) trigger wonderful essays on social issues and history, excellent reading. The name dropping and credential bragging is sewn neatly into the whole and works perfectly.

For gardeners among us, there's a great chapter on the history and development of the notion of gardening, with special reference to Gertrude Jekyll who created what a lot of people now think is an ancient English garden form. And Lively understands the impact of civilization on what we think of as the landscape, which is in fact a carefully engineered phenomenon, not an act of nature at all.

Big contrast with the other bio I read recently, that of Julia Child, who comes across less happily than she might have wished -- as a loud, extroverted person who has little insight into anyone else's feelings or perceptions, but who is driven by perfection in food prep and serving. Fun to read, but must have been truly awful to live with. Her nephew, the co-biographer, commented on how little introspection she showed.

The enormous amount of detail about the people, places and food are drawn from the massive correspondence between her husband and his twin brother, which both of them evidently saved, so there was a mass of raw material for J's nephew to draw on in discussion with her in order to create the book. Some great pictures taken by her gifted artist husband, mostly in France, and he was positively saintly in supporting her food adventures especially the early television days. Good for all of us, since The French Chef was one of the most entertaining and informative food show ever.

On seeing her first program she commented, well she seemed loud and talking too much and too fast and blundering about, and he sweetly responded, well, that's how you are, Julie! so I guess over the years he got his little digs in..

Anyway, both books very entertaining for different reasons, and I'd give the Lively four hatstands, and the Child book four crossed knives and forks.


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  2. An over 6 foot tall, broad-shouldered woman with a mousy little voice would have been incongruous.

    Sometimes I wonder if many of us would be better off if we were less introspective and just lived, lived, lived every day. I wish I could try it for a week and find out!

    Thanks for the recommendation on the first book. Sounds good. I'll put it on my list.

  3. I'm wearing the scarf you made me. It's very cold here right now, with bitter winds. I was just out with the dogs. I came in, I took off all the winter layers I had on outside, I couldn't seem to warm up indoors, and so I put on a whole different layer of warm stuff, including the lovely scarf you made me.

  4. Great! exactly what I hoped for. I've lived in Wisconsin in winter...

  5. We have different types of people writing Christmas letters methinks! I look forward to getting them from my classmates and friends.

    Will you not be able to post any more of your lovely photos? I use photobucket for my Live Journal pics - upload them in there then copy the HTML. Hope you'll find a way.

    I'm caught up now - many things came between me and your blog (and everyone else's, too), but I'm getting back to normal.

  6. Yes, I absolutely will post my pix. They are nothing to do with Flickr. They're on my flash drive, all thousand of them! it was just dopey old Flickr that had kept my doll picture of the comfort dolls hostage, that I was grousing about. The ONLY reason I ever used Flickr, which I did only very slightly, was to post to another website which needed it. So I have decided not to even worry about that any more.

    But my own flash drive is perfect. It's dedicated to my pix and dox, and they are safe on there, very easy to upload to and access and no messing about with my proportions and sizes and so on. So it's really okay.

    I seem to have given the impression that Flickr was a significant partner in my life, but noooooooo, it was only a passing flirtation.


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