gall and gumption

Saturday, July 22, 2006

This Week's Reading

Mostly it's been the Helen C. White The Metaphysical Poets. It gave me a craving to read them. Donne is the hero of the book, I'd say. She only covers Donne, Herbert, Crashaw, Vaughan and Traherne. Which leaves out the whole side of the period represented by what you could call the pre-pre-Augustans: Jonson, Herrick, Marvell.

I'm making my leisurely way through The Mysteries of Udolpho again. Anne Radcliffe lived her entire life in the Isle of Wight, I believe. She did nothing remarkable, never went anywhere, had no adventures. But Udolpho and all her books are filled with all these copious, detailed descriptions of scenery, like maybe what you'd write if you only looked at the pictures in old National Geographic articles about scenic Europe, and didn't read the text. It's better than the text in National Geographic though.

So that goes along unhurriedly.

For fast readpmg it's the bio of Faulkner is by Jay Parini. I'll have more to say about it but I'm just too tired now. Oh I also read, last week and the week before, two Elmore Leonard novels, one Sue Grafton novel and one novel by Tom Perry, erstwhile CCS admin extraordinaire and now best-selling thriller writer. What is impressive about Tom's books (this is the second one I've read) is that they are actually literate. Now, when I was in Nevis I actually read the DaVinci Code, yes, oh, come on now, don't walk away. If you had been in Nevis you too would have read anything, anything at all, gratefully. And it's interesting to contrast ti with Tom's book because the DaVinci book supposedly has a lot of expertise about four subjects: art, the history of Christianity, Leonardo DaVinci, and that thing you do where you decode things. There is all this discussion of paintings as though the most important thing in them is that they contain clues. It's not only that this is a thriller and therefore needs this little device; it's really a pervasive and genuine lowbrowness afflicts the book -- it's the author's natural tone of voice.

With Tom Perry's book you don't really have a lot that's too exotic or remote, though I guess hit men gone amok could be considered exotic. If I didn't already know that Perry is a lit major I would guess it from his prose, which is sophisticated without any recourse to fakery or pretentiousness. It's working prose, its literary quality mostly apparent in a certain mature rightness of tone. There are a lot of readable genre writers, as you will find if you ever find yourself stuck on a desert island with nothing to read but that sort of thing. I read everything of John Le Carre that I could get my hands on in Nevis, and everything I could find by John Grisham who is mostly a dreadful stylist. I say mostly because the thing he does best he does rather well: describe minor characters who happen to be lawyers. You will suddenly, after zipping through all sorts of transparent setups (one of the things I had to get used to reading this stuff was that all the apparatus of it was so obviously just that), and then for the sheer fun of it he produces some lawyer who could steal the whole book if given the chance. But none of the others, except Le Carre, writes this well.

Anyway I'm now halfway through this bio of Faulkner. I'll have to post on that separately though. I will. I've been filling the book with little sticky tape flags.


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