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Friday, August 23, 2013

What I Read On My Holidays

I didn't set out to spend the summer reading unfashionable books. It was a New Yorker podcast with Jonathan Franzen that nudged me into reading two Edith Wharton books, The House of Mirth and then The Age Of Innocence. Some of the time her style's as long-winded as a nineteenth century proposal of marriage but then she socks you on the jaw with the kind of reality most novelists don't deal in:
The only way not to think about money is to have a great deal of it. 
Edith had a great deal so she knew. She wasn't pretty, though, and I fancy she'd have exchanged some of the money for looks. I've since taken one step further back into American writers with Henry James and The Portrait of A Lady. This is a journey to a time when the American upper class measured themselves against the English upper class. Most odd.

On holiday in a friend's house in France I picked up Canada, which was the first book I'd ever read by Richard Ford. This is a real page-turner, written like a movie, about two kids out on the prairie whose parents decide to rob a bank to pay their debts. This led me to buy Ford's The Sportswriter when I got back. Published in 1986 it's about a middle-aged man derailed by a bereavement. Because he used to be a sports writer Ford is good on athletes:
Years of athletic training teach this: the necessity of relinquishing doubt and ambiguity and self-inquiry in favour of a pleasant, self-championing one-dimensionality which has instant rewards in sports. 
That reminds me of something I read in Chad Harbach's The Art Of Fielding. Then my sister gave me an Amazon voucher for my birthday and I bought the Charles Moore biography of Margaret Thatcher. I don't know if Craig Brown was pitching it a bit high when he said it might be "the greatest political biography ever" but it's an extraordinary account of times that I remember, genuinely worth reading for the footnotes alone and a salutary reminder of a time before instant feedback. There are plenty of references to whisky and not a single mention of a focus group.