Saturday, February 7, 2015

What I've Been Reading

Diana and Her Rhinoceros

Is it because I am getting old and fussy about what I read, having read so much already, that this is the only book I loved in the pile above?

A little girl, Diana Effingham-Jones, entertains an escaped rhino by feeding it hot buttered toast. She refuses to let the zoo take it away, and the two grow old together. 

There are all sorts of profound things in this book, none of which are spelled out by the author. Thank you, Mr. Ardizzone.

Art as Therapy

Alain de Botton spells everything out, in sweeping, prescriptive grandiosity--"art must reinflate our spirits, flattened by modern life".
This would have pleased me very much in my twenties, but I rolled my eyes as I skimmed this book, and I wouldn't bother with anything else by him. 
(He is better in person, on youTube, at least in small doses.) 

I worked hard, in my thirties, to stop writing (and thinking) like him--as if I had insight into our shared human soul ("we long for beauty as for air!")-- and to write more like Diana Athill.

Instead of a Letter, and Somewhere Towards the End

I like Diana Athill's practical writing style: she tells her life in a straightforward way you might expect of an editor. And a rather no-nonsense life she's led, too (and a long one--97 years, at this writing)--none of this fussing about God, for instance. 

Her style refreshed me at first, but by the time I finished the second book, it felt a little too leaden, and her life too humorless, for me to want to read more right away. But I'll probably return to her as a good observer and recorder of her life and times.

She reminds me of Frances Partridge ("never a scintillating woman," but "Frances is coming was a phrase that alerted everyone to an evening or weekend which would be pleasanter than it would have been without her...") ––another long-lived Englishwoman, whose journals I also like. 
They are like dry, English biscuits ("cookies")--not meant to be eaten in large quantities unaccompanied by hot, sweet tea.

Bossypants and How to Be a Woman

Writings by comic performers always seem like pinned butterflies, and these books by Tina Fey and Caitlan Moran are no exception.
Their genius is performance, and without that, their social insights are flat and obvious.

Diana Effingham-Jones, growing old, unmarried, with her rhinoceros, offers a more profound feminist fable.

In Other Worlds

Margaret Atwood's essays on sci-fi are unexceptional--another creator whose genius lies more in her imagination than in her thinking-- but the book alerted me to her post-apocalytic MaddAddam trilogy, which I'm currently reading and finding more interesting than her essays.


Zhoen said...

Starting to read Athill, but it's been slow going. As has Dirty Old London - about 19th century sanitation there. I've been enjoying Ngaio Marsh - if only because I'm not expecting much.

Must look up Diana & Rhino.

Fresca said...

I'd forgotten Ngaio Marsh, whom I'd liked when I was a teen. I don't like mysteries particularly, but I might enjoy her scenery...

ArtSparker said...

Edward Ardizzone is considered by some of us illustrators to be a god, by the way. Just putting in a word for the visual side of things.

Fresca said...

ARTS: I didn't know that! I love his drawings and will look for more now---they remind me of Quentin Blake, one of my illustration gods.

Anyway, yes! I didn't say this, but the visual side of the book is crucial.