Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “authors”

Create your own personal canon with a life author


In A Christian Guide to the Classics, Leland Ryken writes:

Every lifelong reader needs to compile a private list of classics. It may or may not resemble the traditional canon of classics, but for us personally, these works meet most or all the criteria for a classic (the criterion most likely to be missiRyken.jpgng is cultural influence).

One of the best pieces of advice that I ever encountered in regard to reading came from an old book first published in 1941. To show how much things have changed, the book (Poetry as a Means of Grace) was written for ministers by a famous professor of English at Princeton University and was published by Princeton University Press in the United States and Oxford University Press in England. The author, Charles Osgood, wrote the book as a guide and encouragement to preachers to keep up their contact with imaginative literature…

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Authors familiar and unfamiliar

A friend asked on Twitter whether people read anything by authors that were unfamiliar to them, and I thought that if an answer to that was to be worthwhile, it needed to be longer than 140 characters, so here are some thoughts about it.

Yesterday I went to the Alkantrant branch of the Tshwane public library, and for the first time I went armed with a list of books and authors to look for. Usually I just browse the shelves and pick out anything that looks interesting, but this time I had a list of books that had been recommended by various people, a bucket list of books, as it were.

So here are the books I found:

Actually only one of them was on the recommended list of authors I hadn’t read, the John Banville one. I had read another book by Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf, which I read about 50 years ago. And the recommended book by Jessica Anderson was Tirra Lirra, by the river, but that wasn’t on the shelf at the library, though she does count as an unfamiliar author.

And then I went browsing for some non-fiction (not on my list), and found this:

Palimpsest: A MemoirPalimpsest: A Memoir by Gore Vidal

I’m not quite sure why I took this book out of the library. I sometimes find that I like literary biographies of authors more than the books they wrote, and I’ve never read any books by Gore Vidal. In my youth I was vaguely confused about Gore Vidal and Vidal Sassoon, who were both celebs at the time, though I wasn’t quite sure what the cause of their celebrity was.

Much later a relative in New Zealand sent a transcript he had made of my wife Val’s great great granduncle’s diary. He was Edward Lister Green (1827-1887). In it he describes travelling by ship from Bombay to Hong Kong, and striking up a friendship with David Sassoon, the “million heir” (I wondered whether that was the normal spelling of “millionaire” at the time, or just an elaborate private pun). That got me reading The Sassoon dynasty, about this remarkable family of Iraqi Jews whose business in Bombay (now spelt Mumbai) expanded over most of southern and eastern Asia. I also read Siegfried Sassoon the biography of the poet, who was a member of the same family, as was the Vidal Sassoon who provided a very tenuous link with Gore Vidal.

When I’ve finished reading those (or abandoned them, if I don’t like them) I still have these on my list:

Anderson, Jessica — Tirra lirra by the river
Bell, Sara Hanna — December Bride
Burgess, Anthony — Earthly powers
Byatt, A.S. — The children’s book
de Bernieres, Louis — Captain Corelli’s mandolin
DeLillo, Don — Underworld
Hosseini, Khaled — The kite runner
Kadare, Ismail — The successor
Tartt, Donna — The secret history

Not all those are unfamiliar authors either — I’ve read other books by A.S. Byatt and Ismail Kadare — the latter I had never heard of until we were sitting in a cafe in Tirana, Albania, and our friend told us that Kadare was sitting at the next table and was the most famous author in Albania. A little while earlier we had seen the most famous film star in Albania, riding his bicycle down the street, but I forget his name.

So this might be the appropriate point to mention the last book I got from the library, though it’s not on the list and I was browsing the shelves in the non-fiction section.

Albania: The Bradt Travel GuideAlbania: The Bradt Travel Guide by Gillian Gloyer

One normally reads travel guides before one visits a country. If you find it useful, you might take it with you on your visit, but I visited Albania 16 years ago and I’m unlikely ever to travel there again unless we win the Lotto, which is unlikely even if I do remember to buy a ticket. So I took this book out of the library to remind me of our previous visit. Apart from anything else, I don’t think this book was available when we visited Albania in 2000 — the first edition seems to have been published in 2005.

So it’s really for the memories, and perhaps to find out a bit more about the places and things we saw.

And I’m looking forward to tomorrow, when we have our Neo-Inklings Literary Coffee Klatsch, and Duncan Reyburn will be telling us something about G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton is not an unfamiliar author to me, though I’ve only read a few of his books. And if anyone is interested, and living in or near Tshwane, come and join us at Cafe 41 in Eastwood Road (opposite the US Embassy) at 10:30 am on Thursday 7 July 2016.



Cakes and ale (book review)

Cakes and Ale: Or, The Skeleton in the CupboardCakes and Ale: Or, The Skeleton in the Cupboard by W. Somerset Maugham

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Alroy Kear has been asked by the widow of Edward Driffield to write her late husband’s biography, and he asks the narrator, fellow writer Willie Ashenden, for some information about obscure parts of Driffield’s life that Ashenden knew something about. But Kear also makes it clear that he plans to censor any stories, since it was well known that Driffield’s first wife was unfaithful to him.

The request sparks of Ashenden’s own reminiscences of Driffield and his first wife Rosie, and the story jumps back and forth between the 1890s and the 1930s.

The thing that struck me most about it was the class-consciousness and snobbery that pervaded English literary circles and society generally, especially in the earlier period, set in the 1890s. The narrator is roughly the same age as Somerset Maugham himself, and there is no reason to suppose that in writing of these things he is not writing from his own experience. I was aware of the class-consciousness, though what Maugham writes seems totally over the top. That a schoolboy spending his holidays with his uncle and aunt at a Kentish vicarage should be faced with such deeply-felt dilemmas about who he could and could not talk to beggars belief. Yes, as I say, Maugham lived through that period, and so must be writing from experience. I had always had the impression that the clergy, and especially vicars and below, were always rather looked down on by the gentry, but perhaps that only made them, or some of them at least, more determined to look down on all the rest.

Driffield’s second wife, who was originally his nurse after an illness, was very much a managing type, and also appeared to want to manage her husband’s memory and biography. On reading the book I was reminded of Alan Paton’s second wife, who had been his secretary, and seemed to be similarly managing, though not to quite the same extent. She kept him isolated from other people, ostensibly so that his writing time would not be interrupted by numberous callers, but whatever the motive, he certainly became far less accessible after his second marriage.

Some have seen Driffield as modelled on Thomas Hardy, and Alroy Kear as modelled on George Meredith, though Maugham himself insisted that they were composites. That I can believe, because of the echoes in the life of Alan Paton, whom Maugham can hardly have known, and was not a published author when Cakes and ale was written.

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I write like WHO?

I think I’ve tried this before, but the previous time I tried it with text from my journal. This time I thought I would try it with some text from a novel.

I write like
George Orwell

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

That was with fairly straightforward text.

With more action oriented text, it said I wrote like Harry Harrison (who’s he?) or James Joyce.

Well, let’s try with another sample, also action oriented. Again it says that I wrote like James Joyce. Well, I suppose it’s at least consistent.

Third time lucky. A bit more pedestrian this time, the opening paragraphs, setting the scene. So what does it say?

I write like
James Joyce

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

OK, scratch George Orwell and Harry Harrison, james Joyce it is. Stay us wherefore in our search for tighteousness, O Sustainer!

That, in case anyone didn’t recognize it, is a quote from Finnegan’s wake

Still, I’m not sure it’s a compliment. I ploughed my way through Ulysses a couple of years ago, and one of my English profs told an honours student not to read it, as it would blunt his critical faculties. But the English department thought that English literature began and ended with D.H. Lawrence, with just one exception, one of their own number, Cake Manson, who was indubitably the greatest playwright since Shakespeare. Even Harry Harrison was easier to find with a Google search than Cake Manson.

Perhaps I should send my unpublished novel to Joyce’s publishers, and see if they are impressed.

Beware artists, authors, photographers — Americans want to steal your work

It seems that American lawmakers are planning a new copyright scam, which will allow people who steal your work to sue you for using it without their permission.

clipped from

I find nothing funny about the new Orphan Works legislation that is before Congress.

An Orphaned Work is any creative work of art where the artist or copyright owner has released their copyright, whether on purpose, by passage of time, or by lack of proper registration. In the same way that an orphaned child loses the protection of his or her parents, your creative work can become an orphan for others to use without your permission.

Currently, you don’t have to register your artwork to own the copyright. You own a copyright as soon as you create something. International law also supports this. Right now, registration allows you to sue for damages, in addition to fair value.

The only people who benefit from this are those who want to make use of our creative works without paying for them and large companies who will run the new private copyright registries.

These registries are companies that you would be forced to pay in order to register every single image, photo, sketch or creative work

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And if you live outside America, any American will be able to register your work and claim it as their own — remember the scammers who tried to copyright rooibos tea?

I hope this is just an April fool’s joke that’s past its sell-by date, as it’s not from an official source, but the rooibos tea incident shows that it’s just the kind of thing the Americans would do.

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