by Campbell Geeslin
“It has often been my experience that rereading a book that was important to me at earlier times in life is something like lying on the analyst’s couch,” wrote Vivian Gornick, the author The Odd Woman and the City, in Sunday’s Times Book Review.
She continued: “The narrative I have had by heart for years is suddenly called into alarming question. It seems that I’ve misremembered quite a lot about this or that character or this or that plot turn—they met here in New York, I was so sure it was Rome; the time was 1870, I thought it was 1900; and the mother did what to the protagonist? Yet the world still drops away while I’m reading, and I can’t help marveling, ‘If I got this wrong and this and this wrong, how come the book still has me in its grip?”
The book Gornick was revisiting is E. M. Forster’s Howards End. (1910).
HISTORICAL FICTION: “Bernard Cornwell, like all the masters of narrative, knows when to slow the action and when to quicken it,” wrote columnist Allan Massie in The Wall Street Journal. “The pause before the fight is as important as the battle itself. The pause tightens the tension, the battle releases it.”
Massie was writing about Cornwell's latest book Warriors of the Storm. He continued: “Add to this that he has a wonderfully keen visual imagination and a remarkable power of organizing his material in such a way as to make the complex comprehensible, and it is easy to understand why Mr. Cornwell is a best seller.”
NO BIO: Danielle Steel’s latest book is Blue. On her blog, she says, "I've written 129 books. I am published in 69 countries and 43 languages, which seems like a lot, even to me. I publish three books a year." In an interview for the “By the Book” feature in the Times, she was asked, “Whom would you want to write your life story?”
Steel replied: “No one—ever. Perhaps my children, who know me better than anyone. But a life written about by another person, viewed from the outside, is never accurate. Whatever happened in my life is history and should remain private, and not shared with the world.”
OFF AND RUNNING: “Born to Run” (what else?) will be the title of Bruce Springsteen’s memoir, due out in September. The Times said he had been working on the book for seven years. Springsteen said his book covers the “poetry, danger and darkness” of his childhood, and a statement said it will chronicle “his relentless drive to become a musician.”
SPEED: In his column in The Wall Street Journal, Daniel Akst wrote “Today, with so many of us feeling inundated by reading material, apps that teach speed reading on mobile devices have proliferated. Some try to speed things up by showing only a word at a time in rapid succession; others offer exercises or fast-moving text highlights. But do they work? Psychologists have done some reading of their own, and their message is: not so fast.”
Akst quotes from a research paper that reported a clear trade-off between reading speed and understanding. “A reader cannot ‘have his cake and eat it too.’"
"Some speed-reading courses propose reading big hunks of text simultaneously using peripheral vision," he adds, "but ‘such a process is not biologically or psychologically possible.’”
If you want to read faster, he concludes, scientists suggest two things: “Read more and expand your vocabulary.”
MORE MEMOIR: Diana Athill, retired London book editor, is 98, and she has written a follow-up memoir to her much-praised Somewhere (2009).
According to the Times, the new book, Alive, Alive Oh!: And Other Things That Matter, is “an invitation to sit a spell with an intractable and witty friend who’s pushed even further into what the poet May Sarton termed the ‘foreign country of old age.’”
ABOUT DEATH: “Death goes in and out of fashion,” wrote Andrew Solomon in last Sunday’s Times Book Review: The author of Far From the Tree was reviewing five recently published books about death—“one by a historian, two by hospice workers, one by a widow; one by a man who is dying himself. Several of them quote Dylan Thomas’s Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night to advocate resilience, then map the fine line between denial and succumbing.”
DENIAL: Cartoonist Roz Chast is the author of a bestselling memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, about the deaths of her parents. She talked with Gregory Cowles for his “Inside the List” column in the Times Book Review.
She said that when she first stepped in as her parents’ caretaker, “writing a book about the experience wasn’t a part of my thoughts…I think partly because denial was such a strong force for the three of us. ‘This isn’t really happening; by next week, everything will be back to normal; somehow everything is going to work out and no one will have to deal with anything,’ etc. But my work has always been somewhat observational. I have a habit of sifting through almost everything I experience as possible material. A friend of mine once said, ‘You have to use every part of the buffalo.’”
LET'S WRITE: Let’s warm this wintery week with a bit of a recent “poem of the week” from The Guardian, “Grey,” by Edwin Morgan. Here are the last four lines:
Let’s leave the window, and write.
No need to wait for a fine blue
To break through. We must live, make do.