Today at the DBR: It’s the regulars in Donna Leon’s novels who bring me back for more.
Archive for the ‘Reading Note’ Category
Today at the DBR: About that line in the sand…
Today at the DBR: Two passages from books just read show up the power of “print culture” to intrigue and inspire, and that of visual culture to swamp and drown.
Today at the DBR: Colm Tóibín’s New Way to Kill Your Mother, a grandly entertaining collection of essays about writers and their families, surfaced from a pile of books over the weekend.
Today at the DBR: Elizabeth Taylor — the novelist — looks at “silly” women.
Today at the DBR: Reading The Turn of the Screw, from the point of view of an in-law. Most amusing!
Today at the DBR: Breaking a rule that I had been pretty good about sticking to, I bought Amber Dermont’s The Starboard Sea last week and, complaints notwithstanding, swallowed it whole. But it could have been… a better book.
This weekend at the DBR: Onward with Edward St Aubyn: On the Edge, a complicated, often very funny book about Esalen and the search for personal enlightenment.
(Yes, we know it’s Monday. But it’s also Presidents’ Day, however virtually.)
Today at the DBR: Extgravagant but justifiable claims are made for the artistry of Edward St Aubyn.
Today at the DBR: Finding unlikely comfort in the novels of Edward St Aubyn, during an evil hour and into deliverance.
Today at the DBR: A few hasty words about Pico Iyer’s The Man Within My Head, a good read but an unsympathetic book, at least to me. It took an age to locate Shirley Hazzard’s Greene on Capri when I was finishing up.
Today at the DBR: Worried about a relapse, I’m taking it easy today, and enjoying books by Ben Lerner and Lionel Trilling.
Today at the DBR: A few words about Tom Perrotta and the American Dream.
It’s no use; I can’t tear myself away. I spent an hour poring over the Google Maps view of Edensor, trying to identify the Old Vicarage — in vain. I’m pretty sure that I located Edensor House, though. That’s where the Marchioness of Hartington lived when she received Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, in 1948 — the only photograph that I’ve ever seen in which Her Majesty the Queen looks (painfully) overdressed. Do admit: the memoirs of Deborah Mitford, dowager Duchess of Devonshire, can’t be put down. Wait For Me! is one of the most aptly titled books that I’ve ever encountered, because that’s what you’re going to do once you’ve got the book in your hands. You’re going to wait until Debo has told you everything that she has to say.
That’s what you’re going to do if, like me, The Sun King, Nancy Mitford’s book about Louis XIV, was one of the first books that you owned. (It was also, arguably, the first coffee-table book.) If, in your twenties, you found Jessica Mitford’s Hons and Rebels to be a profoundly simpatico but life-affirmingly positive account of family dysfunction. If, in short, you’ve known about “the Mitford Sisters” for a long time, longer, even, than Charlotte Mosley has been annotating the family correspondence. (Charlotte’s mother-in-law, Diana Mitford, was the beauty who left a Guinness for Sir Oswald Mosley — almost as rich — and a wedding chez Goebbels.) You’ve forgotten more stories about these six girls and their crazy parents than most people ever know about their own families. You feel as though you must have met Nanny Blor herself in some dim childhood playroom.
What makes the Mitfords fascinating has changed over the years.
Continue reading at Daily Blague / reader.
This week, I resumed reading. I didn’t have the time for it; I didn’t wait to have the time. I just sat down on one of the love seats in the living room and read, instead of doing other things that needed doing. It was rash; it was like spending money that I didn’t have. But it was essential. Much of the time was stolen from a bad habit of resigned prudence. Sitting down to read was bold and defiant. I took notes.
¶ I finished two books, books that I’d nearly finished months ago. They were drawn from a pile of five such books; I chose them because they were the ones I was nearest to finishing. One was Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land. A lot of great stuff happens in that book toward the end. Judt has said the things that you expect him to say, but now he begins to say things that are surprising. An admiring endorsement of something that Edmund Burke said. It’s important, Judt goes on to say, for the Left to engage with history. Not with history as a mechanical process leading to right now, but history as a gathering of people who are no longer alive but whose intrigues and passions have a lot to do with why we find ourselves where we are. Now Tony Judt is one of those people who are no longer alive. While he was stalled in a final stage of ALS, not dying, his plight was horrible to think about. Trapped in an unresponsive body! I thought that dying would be a release. It may well have been one for Judt. But it wasn’t one for me. The world is a poorer place without him, dictating somehow, in a room sixty or eighty blocks south of here.
¶ The other book was a collection of essays about comfort in the Eighteenth Century. The writer, Joan DeJean, is what Agatha Christie called a “noticing sort of person,” with an enviable habit of registering details. I wish that I could push her further, though. Her work would be stronger if she were more mindful that comfort is not at all necessarily casual, and that the abyss between the carefree and the careless is unbridgeable, and that all the opposition in the world to solemnity does not unite them.
¶ This evening, I read a few chapters of Michael Cunningham’s new novel, By Nightfall. I could easily spend the rest of the night with it. The hero is a forty-something gallerist who lives with his wife in Mercer Street. “Hostile child, horrible adolescent,” Peter has grown up to be — well, not altogether unsympathetic. But the book’s New York is not my New York. It’s recognizable, even familiar in a way. But I don’t know people like Peter. There was a time when I regretted that, when I wished that I knew the people in his world. Now, I am almost glad that I don’t. I meet them at parties and make small talk and it stops there. We smile over our mutual snobbery, which has nothing to do with birth and position but which is a matter of differing ideas about what constitutes foolishness.
Interesting, that. In all those discussions of universal values and self-evident moral imperatives, nobody ever makes claims for a common sense of foolishness. One might almost suppose that the oppopsite of “foolish” is “sexy” — if it were not terribly foolish to confer upon sexiness a vitality that it altogether lacks.
The Editor has begun to write about his (momentarily) favorite movie, Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer. Also, he has come into possession of a copy of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom.
As Reading Notes go, this one is fairly incoherent, but it’s a start.