So! It has come to my attention that I spend a whole bunch of time scouring the internet reading wonderful literary articles, laughing at the foibles of long-dead authors and getting way too excited about the new releases of new ones. So I have decided, with the awesome power granted to me by…. myself, that this is an absolutely perfect place to gather all these things together and geek out over them with others who might also care to geek with me!
I suspect that this may become a regularly scheduled geek-out session. So here’s the nuggets I’ve got in my basket for this first round:
As some of you may have noticed, I absolutely loved H is for Hawk. Here, Helen MacDonald discusses the evolution of the work. I was fascinated to see how each part of the work developed independently, particularly the “shadow biography” of TH White. I loved hearing more of her thoughts, since they confirmed the deep empathy, analytical mind and the honest emotionality that I saw while reading H is for Hawk, as well as offering even more thought-provoking ideas on the nature of grief (I loved her quote “grief shatters narratives”) and her writing process. There is also this heartbreaking story about TH White, which represents the combination of clear eyed perception and compassion with which she treats her “shadow” biographical subject:
Guernica: What do you think White would have said about your book?
Helen Macdonald: Oh no! Oh, what an underhanded question! [laughs]. He would have hated me: he didn’t think women should get the vote. He really was terrified of women; I am a woman. But he was very good friends with [the actress] Julie Andrews. There’s an incredibly moving story where he visits Julie Andrews and her husband for Christmas, and they make him a red stocking full of toys, and he says, “What is this?” And they say, “Tim, it’s a Christmas stocking!” He says, “Is it for me?” And they say, “Yes!” And there’s an extraordinary scene [in Andrews’s memoirs] of him unwrapping his toys and having to go out of the room and weep because no one ever gave him a Christmas stocking when he was a child.
I love when literary birthdays roll around. Not only is it an occasion for bibliophiles to gush and publish their best experiences with authors (or their worst, as the case may be), but it often means that outlets will publish whatever they have related to the person in their archives. And with old publications like The New Republic, there are quite a few to choose from- like this piece from 1928 reviewing two biographies of Emily Bronte. I loved seeing this for a variety of reasons. One was from the historiographical perspective of seeing perceptions of Emily Bronte develop over time (and across place- amusingly pompous French vs. English comparison was delightful), another was the sheer fangirl excitement of finding fans of my favorite authors across time. And also because it does bring up that eternally amazing part of Emily’s biography:
Emily was in a sense the most suppressed of the four children who grew to maturity. She was the household drudge. The shyness which to Charlotte and Anne was embarrassment and suffering was to Emily agony and bloody sweat. It operated as a complete barrier to intercourse with strangers. Accordingly, the ways by which her spirit grew into greatness and by what experience it was nourished, remain a mystery.
This is a book that has been getting a great deal of buzz, something that’s slowly been making its way to the center of my radar. This is a great example of an author interview that pushed me closer to buying it. Her responses seemed open and honest, and this quote caught me in particular:
Though it took her a relatively long time to get here, she has, apparently, been preparing for this book just about for ever, by collecting pictures as oblique reference material (see below). The pictures she accumulated are all portraits of one kind or another that range from Diane Arbus grotesques, to photographs by Ryan McGinley of young men losing themselves in sex and drugs. She keeps them all on a Pinterest page, describes them as by “artists who use their medium not just to storytell but to do psychological plunder”. When she sat down to write, she says, those 20 or so images provided not only the tone, but also the narrative progression of the book for her. Does she think all art is an act of voyeurism of one kind or another?
“Photography is always a kind of stealing,” she says. “A theft from the subject. Artists are assaulters in a lot of ways and the viewer is complicit in that assault. In the same way with the book. I hope readers feel a sense of entanglement in these lives; they are bearing witness to them but there is also something quite intrusive about that.”
Having read three volumes of Proust’s magnum opus, that photo is both heartbreaking and completely unsurprising. That bedroom is pretty close to exactly what I imagined that bedroom where he looks out on the beach at Albertine and the girls and doesn’t go out looks like.
There’s nothing like that prose, is there?
/end geek out session. (….. for now.)