Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On reading and re-reading

I have a whole bookcase full of books that I read and re-read at intervals, and never lose the pleasure of the unfolding. They all happen to be by English women writers, a fact that occurred to me only when I moved them all recently to a better bookcase.

I read a lot of new items, history, political thought, new art thoughts, essays, humor, new detectives, all that, but still when I'm tired and maybe a bit frazzled, the bookcase of old friends is where I go for a nice read.

Currently, it's the oeuvre of Barbara Pym, most of which I have. For great humor, sly digs, wise ladies making brief and to the point comments, and the author's sympathy with the characters who are being overrun and bossed by other characters, and times of sadness handled with care, she just can't be bettered.

I also love Pym's world, since she has characters moving in and out of other people's books, so that the reader recognizes that person seen across the room, even when the character in the current book doesn't know him. Great depth and sliding doors going on there.

Less than Angels is the current fave, and I came across, again, what I think is simply one of the funniest and most acute comments I ever found in litrachure:

Thought by Rhoda, the sister who lives with her widowed sister, mother of one of the main characters, Deirdre Swan, and who has great social ambitions in her small suburban world, it reflects on her realization, after bringing an ill-assorted group of writers, businessmen, suburban tennis playing girls, students and anthropologists to a supper party, that, well, let's have Pym say this for herself:

"The sentences would be like bright juggler's balls, spinning through the air and being deftly caught and thrown up again. But she saw now that conversation could also be compared to a series of incongruous objects, scrubbing-brushes, dish-cloths, knives, being flung or hurtling rather than spinning, which were sometimes not caught at all but fell to the ground with resounding thuds." Perfect.

That also reminds me of the fight at the township dump in The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming! where I think I remember an alarm clock flying through the air, along with various other useless weapons of conflict.

Anyway, if you are not already a Pym fan, it's really worth exploring her viewpoint.

And if you are, comment here on which bits you like best, too.


  1. Pym! Haven't read one of her books for years! Might start in again next time there is an hiatus in the library supply!

  2. I love Barbara Pym! I can't remember which book it's in, but one of the parish spinsters is devoted to the vicar and wants to knit him a sweater. She decides against a v-neck because they're so tricky and she just knows that Agatha (his wife? sister?) would pluck at the botched stitches with her long thin fingers.
    I had to laugh because of my older sister, with the long thin fingers and habit of plucking at things in a critical fashion...


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