Book Notes

This stack represents the top of the current pile I’ve been working on. Any guesses as to which one I’ve already abandoned? I’ll start from the top. At Large and Small by Anne Fadiman was a gift from H. We had both enjoyed her earlier book for readers, Ex Libris. She specializes in the personal essay and does a fine job of it, but I like the first book better; this one ranges over topics not so interesting to me. At least it is a small and lightweight book, which makes it possible to read while lying down just before the eyelids get heavy.

Creators is the first book by Paul Johnson that I have actually completed, though I’ve started in on two others by him. It is a collection of essays on famous creative individuals “from Chaucer and Dürer to Picasso and Disney.” Um…to be exact, I didn’t complete the book; there were a few in whose stories I couldn’t drum up enough interest at bedtime. The chapter comparing Picasso and Disney was certainly thought-provoking. Johnson thinks that the ideas of Picasso will fade and be outmoded, while those of Disney will endure–not because Picasso was so selfish and violent and Disney a maker of “family movies,” but for an entirely different and more fundamental artistic reason, which I don’t want to give away here.
I learned a lot more about many people in this book: T.S. Eliot, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, J.S. Bach, fashion designers and landscape painters. How does Johnson know so much, and how can he be so opinionated? He is easy to read, and refreshing in his willingness to tell you just what he thinks, and to not be politically correct, either. This book is one of a series with two others: Intellectuals, published many years ago, and Heroes, which has come out since. Some critics thought Intellectuals somewhat of a downer, but these last books should make up for that.
My friend K. lent me The Folding Cliffs. It’s not a book I’d have ever picked up otherwise, written as it is without any punctuation and me a member of the Apostrophe Protection Society. Is this even English? I guess it is, as I am able to read it, though it is definitely a variant form. In this case it is worth the trouble, though I’m not ready to tackle Merwin’s other poems. Here’s a sample from Cliffs:

The story is as captivating as the imagery, and I certainly won’t abandon this one, even if it takes me a year of little snatches. I like the way the words flow as soothingly over my consciousness as the stream over the narrator’s body.
Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden was recommended to me by two friends, so I was happy to find it in the used book store. I’ve read almost half of it, and enjoyed several of those hundred pages. But this is the one I’m quitting. B. says I could write a dissertation on “What Can Be Learned of Steinbeck by Reading Half a Book”; I gave him my whole dissertation while cooking dinner after my decision to quit, but I will spare you readers. It boils down to the reality that life is short, and there didn’t seem to be anything to be gained by continuing with Steinbeck. There has always been something missing between him and me. Perhaps this time would be different, and I’d be surprised and gratified if I’d finished it, but one can’t have everything in life.
The Hacienda by de Teran is a re-run for me, but now B. and I are reading it aloud together. It’s a fascinating story of Venezuela in the 1970’s and the author’s experience–how she got herself into a mess and lived in a primitive society for quite a while before escaping for her life. I’ve read a couple more books by this author and she tells a good tale–the ones I’ve read were the autobiographical accounts.
I love to read on a airplane. There is not much else to do, usually, so hours can go by without the attention being distracted. The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton I took on my last flight as a treat I’d been long waiting to enjoy again. It was the kind of book that, the first time I read it, I knew to be the kind you have to read at least two or three times if you hope to get near the bottom of it.
Before our plane taxied down the runway I was well into the first chapter. My seatmate, who had initially seemed reserved, interrupted my reading to tell me that he much admired Chesterton and that particular book. Over the next ten or fifteen minutes we chatted on the subject of good writers, Christianity, how books had changed us, etc. And we still hadn’t taxied anywhere, because as it turned out, the plane had a mechanical problem which ended up delaying our flight for three hours, by which time we’d all disembarked and my new friend had got a different flight. I was quite pleased that the Lord had given me a short and sweet discussion time and a long and sweet reading time, all on the same leg of the journey.
Richard Wilbur may be my favorite poet. K.’s having introduced me to hers jogged me into digging out Wilbur’s poems again, which are so varied and beloved, I will have to write one or more posts just on him.
Now that there aren’t any travels in my near future, there might not be many new books begun, either. But as you can see, I’ve still plenty to keep me busy.

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