Friday, 4 April 2008

Lurgies, Male Writers and Readaholics

This will be a brief one, because I've been ill all week: a throat/chest lurgy struck me down after my return from Scotland - I believe I caught it on the plane down. Had to do some teaching this week and had scarcely a voice with which to do it and I'm having real trouble shaking off the coughing and sniffing and wheezing. Could understudy for Gollum, my Precious.

The Oxford Literary Festival is on this week, and offers a colossal selection of events (see my posts this time last year for the talks I attended then) but so far I've only attended one event, which was a question and answer session with Fay Weldon, to which one of my ex-creative writing students kindly invited me. It was enjoyable, and Ms Weldon was good value with her witty answers, but the shop (Blackwell's) was incredibly overheated so physically it was uncomfortable. The majority of the audience women, like myself, of a certain age, all of us boiling: it was like a collective hot flush - perhaps a good noun for a gathering of menopausal women.

I've just finished reading Claire Tomalin's biography of Thomas Hardy, the Time-Torn Man. Very readable and interesting, but God, you wouldn't want to have been married to him! (Cf Messrs Alfred Tennyson and John Milton). It's a damn shame that a woman has to die in an attic after years of estranged living in the same gloomy house to get her husband's attention back again! And then it's pretty tough on wife number two to listen to his endless bleatings about the lost regretted past!

Before that I read Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys. I started out by liking it very much - and ironic novels about the self-destructiveness of writers are bound to appeal to self-destructive, self-questioning writers. I recommend John Colapinto's About the Author, for instance, which is an excellent black comedy and has lots of satire about agents, publishers and the vanity of writers, as does Terence Blacker's Kill Your Darlings. Wonder Boys, I'm afraid, palled for me, as I found the hero, Grady Tripp, more and more annoying. He was a child and he needed a good slap. His bumbling and fumbling and copping-out of any situations that demanded a modicum of responsibility and moral maturity were meant, I suppose, to be comic and endearing, but really - he needed several slaps. And I couldn't believe that a sequence of women would have found him irrestible. The story tottered from farcical scenario to comic misunderstanding, with Grady leaving a trail of dead animals in his wake. I couldn't have cared less. The style was flashy and clever, and there are lots of good apercus about the creative process, the ageing process and the quest for who we are - and I did finish it, because I thought I ought to and also because I'd liked the other Michael Chabon novel I'd read, The Final Solution, which I do recommend.

However, here's a good description in Wonder Boys of the crucial nature of reading to those of us who are addicts: 'Sara would read anything you handed her - Jean Rhys, Jean Shepherd, Jean Genet - at a steady rate of sixty-five pages an hour, grimly and unsparingly and without apparent pleasure. She read upon waking, sitting on the toilet, stretched out in the backseat of the car. When she went to the movies she took a book with her, to read before the show began, and it was not unusual to find her standing in front of the microwave, with a book in one hand and a fork in the other, heating a cup of noodle soup while she read, say, At Lady Molly's for the third time (she was a sucker for series and linked novels). If there was nothing else she would consume all the magazines and newspapers in the house - reading, to her was a kind of pyromania - and when these ran out she would reach for insurance brochures, hotel prospectuses and product warranties, advertising circulars, sheets of coupons. Once I had come upon th spectacle of Sara, finished with a volume of C.P. Snow while only partway through one of the long baths she took for her bad back, desperately scanning the label on a bottle of Listerine.' Recognise that? Oh, yes. See also Anne Fadiman's book Ex Libris for further description of the reader-as-addict.

And here I was thinking this would be a short post ...

Just time to say happy birthday to this little blog, which I started in the middle of March last year. Many thanks to those of you who are regular readers: it means a lot to me.

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