Thursday, January 8, 2015

Time to look at a few books

In the enforced abstinence from making art, or much of anything other than a fuss, I've been reading, figuring I could use the time fine that way.  Once I'd got the hang of operating a Kindle or a paper book with one hand, surprisingly tricky when you can't hold the K with one hand and push buttons with the other, or when the paper book keeps wanting to jump out of your good hand, or shut by itself.  And the helpful little cats were on the scene at all times, planting a paw on the word I was reading, such accuracy.

Anyway, I read a bio of Georgette Heyer by Jane Aiken Hodge, no pic, now back at libe, and found that GH was so private that her bio is very very dull.  

Aside from being married to a man to later in life became a QC, that's a posh sort of lawyer, and whose work therefore was not discussed for the benefit of bios, and of being a person who never gave interviews, wouldn't write anything other than her books except for the occasional blurb, she was actually not a very interesting person in life.  Terse at best with anyone outside her family.

Odd, since she wrote some of the best laugh out loud farcical scenes in literature  in Frederica, Reluctant Widow and Faro's Daughter, to name only three faves.  I guess all the interest was poured into her work.  

So I supposed I shouldn't complain, having revisited all the above novels for light relief during the last few trying days, and just last evening burst out laughing yet again at Aunt Lizzie in Faro's Daughter, having a breakdown at Deb's latest exploit.

Then, since Hodge has been described as the literary successor in the Regency genre to GH, I thought I'd read some of her novels, too, as well as her bio of Jane Austen.  And found that she can sort of write a plot, and sort of keep it moving, but has not one particle of humor.  She misses a lot of the point of GH, in other words, sigh.

And she tends to be of the had I but known school of writing, very annoying stuff, not respectful to the reader.  Oh well, I tried.  I did read Marry in Haste and got fed up of the endless mental hamster wheel of the heroine, then I tried Rebel Heiress which was faster moving, better done, but still pathetically earnest.  She's worth a look, in case she's to your taste though.

Her bio of Jane Austen is meticulously researched and she clearly has great sympathy with what she knows of Austen, but again, all the power of Austen is in her own words, not in a bio, so perhaps this was not surprising.  

And Austen was never a name dropper or a big saver of correspondence, that goldmine for a bio, in fact had her sister destroy their letters.  So this bio gets an A for effort if only a C plus for execution.

However, you'll have great fun if you read Andy Miller.  I'm halfway through his "Year of Reading Dangerously," and it's a wonderful mix of his daily life and times and struggles and his attempts to keep up his literary education.  

He creates a list of books he means to read, and has at times claimed already to have read, and schedules them to actually read.  All the ones I'd heard of I'd read, and the others I'd never heard of anyway, so this was an interesting discovery for me.

Very happy that he did eventually realize in mid-read of Middlemarch that he was in the presence of greatness. He even documents the point at which that happened.  I heart this, since I had exactly the same experience, except at a different point for me, the scene with Rosamund and Dorothea, where I suddenly stopped reading and realized this is a genius showing me what great writing can be.  Anyway, that's why I push it on people just in case they can have this experience, too.

Miller is funny, witty, full of allusions and quotations, many of which bypass me since they're of the UK since the 80s., a closed book if you didn't live there or like pop music or watch their tv programs.  But it doesn't really matter, still great fun to read. And his analysis of what he reads is just spot on, carries you further than you imagined into the significance of the work and its context.  A major critical brain, disguised as an editor and accessible writer.

He has the great idea at one point of walking across London, with Beckett going in his ear, as an accompaniment, and a farewell to the London he knew as a student then a young working man, partly as a ceremony, partly to grasp Beckett better.  

I really took to the idea of choosing something that you could listen to while walking a specific place, so as to inform both the book and the place at the same time, having them illuminate one another.  And I am thinking about how to implement this once we get the sort of weather than lets me get out to walk.  

I also notice the synchrony of Beckett and Billie Whitelaw, who died recently. I was amazed to find when I read her obituaries a few days ago, that the actress I knew was only in the first part of her career, getting seriously into it with Beckett's work later, and making her name there, rather than on the BBC series where I'd seen and liked her.  That's what happens when you move away. You lose track. Anyway, finding this out meant that what Miller said about Beckett and Whitelaw made sense in a way it wouldn't if I'd read his book last week.

All his choices are novels, he points out, but only three are by women.  He plans to pay attention to his gender bias. He doesn't seem too worried about genre bias, though. I like the gender bias observation. 

Particularly since so many classics by men are those tiresome quest novels, where it's all so obvious, so one track minded, so, what can I say, Y-chromosome....after a few thousand pages I really didn't care any more about the white whale, or Ishmael, or any of it.   The point had been made over and over in slightly varying ways.  It's all a bit bankrupt, really.  

Worth trying, everything's worth trying, but there are times when it's okay to stop reading, since the writer has now had as much of your attention as you plan to give in this life.  Anyway, I think this, and found to my surprise that Miller stopped a book or two for reasons similar to this.  And I was amused by his, very fair, I think, take on Dan Brown the da Vinci Code writer.  

I literally refused to pick up that book, figuring that anyone who thought Leonardo's last name was da Vinci, I ask you, did he know nothing about the period, was not going to be worth going on with.  I notice Miller slips in a little reference, without underlining it, that shows he knows Leonardo's name is just that. Surnames rarely used at that period, but occasionally the place of origin used in conversation.  It's like referring to "my friend Bill from Manhattan" and from then on calling him Manhattan.

Still to come, not yet opened, "There must be some mistake" by Frederic Barthelme, whom I've never read and now should, having read a great review of this book by writer and friend Katherine H.  See her poetry in Red Spork Poetry for an adventure in good stuff.Go here

So this is what I'm up to, between knitting a little for my wrist, quite helpful that, and sorting the studio ready for the Great New Phase.


  1. Astute blogistas will realize, I'm sure, that this is my way of saying "Je Suis Charlie".

  2. Your review very enjoyable. Thanks.
    Are you familiar with Alberto Manguel's A Year of reading?

  3. If that's his Reading Diary, I've put it on hold at the libe. I think year of reading might be the subtitle? anyway, thank you, I'll check it out.

  4. Yes, Reading diary. Oops... Shoulda looked it up.


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