Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November's books -- final days!

How did I get behind? Hmmm.

#29,  Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee (1997) and #30, Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion (1968)

Back to influential women writers and subjects, in fact.



Virginia Woolf is a marvelous subject but frankly I was more stunned by Lee's approach to biography and to writing history. Her biography of Virginia Woolf is a model of scholarship and compelling writing combined, which is what scholarship should be about. Forget addressing the closed audience of scholars (please!) in jargon-laden phrases that point out our superiority to normal people (please!) and imagine reading interesting, intellegent, and intriguing prose about  intruiging subjects.

This book showed me the way to writing prose for "regular" people as well as scholars. There are too few models.


Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Didion contains an essay that completely exemplifies the way I felt about leaving New York, that marvelous city, when I was 27. "Goodbye to All That" is basically about leaving a party where one has had a good time, but the party has turned sour, for no particular reason, and it is time to go. Hard to leave, but definitely time. I left New York because I had changed, my idea of "adventure" had changed, and I was tired of the antics of the people there. Even now, however, when I read this essay i find myself crying because it was a good time, for a while, and like a lover you remember with pain and happiness, you regret that it did not work out better.

The rest of the essays are also good, but that one alone speaks to my life as if Didion and I were intimate friends.

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