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Just finished Ask the Dust by John Fante, a slim novel which didn't live up to the extravagant praise I've heard from Bukowski fans. Henry Miller and Hubert Selby did this kind of thing much better.

 

Almost had enough of Ted Hughes' Collected Poems. A hugely repetitive talent when presented on this scale: how many poems about Crow do we need? This made me look again at Syvlia Plath, and I remain lukewarm about her poetry too. A poet I am enjoying - although, not reading any Russian, it's a remote experience - is Anna Akhmatova. The volume of her collected poems is a labor of love, with a good biography, a memoir by Isaiah Berlin, and copious sections of photos.

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Jake Arnott's True Crime, the third novel in his series about the London underworld, featuring real people (The Crays, Joe Meeks), barely disguised real people (Babs Windsor, Kenneth Williams) and fictional characters. A jolly good read and not stupid.

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Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. I had expected this to be more sober in style, but it has a healthy dash of magic realism; somewhat like reading an African American E.L. Doctorow, or even John Irving.

 

The section set in college was a little tedious, but now the main character has arrived in New York, I am finding it quite diverting.

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Lawrence Donegan is an occasional golfer and professional journalist who fulfilled a lifetime dream some years ago when he became a professional caddie for a year. He caddied for a journeyman European Tour golfer called Ross (?) and wrote the book Four Iron in my Soul describing his adventures. That book became a classic golf book.

 

This year Donegan has written a tiny (pocket-size) book called Quiet Please on his experiences as a course steward at the 2002 Ryder Cup. It's an excellent read, conjuring up perfectly the attitudes of amateur golfers and the anachronistic style of management of the Ryder Cup (and probably the whole of the R&A). It tells us very little about the professionals playing in the Ryder Cup, but an awful lot about the amiable people who follow them.

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I just finished the biography of Samuel Pepys by Claire Tomalin. An interesting character and a wonderful view of 17th century England. For the period covered by the famous diary, 1660-1669, there is a level of immediacy and intimacy that brings the period to life in a truly unique way. I've just started the new Lydia Davis translation of Swann's way which has received outstanding and well justified reviews. There have in fact been amazingly few translations of this work. I have to admit that I'm having difficulty forcing myself through the first section "Combray" with its intense self-absorption. Looking back on one's childhood and reviewing every experience and feeling, why when mother put him to bed she kissed him once and not twice, although he would have preferred twice, can be rough sledding. I know that if I can get to the Swann in Love section, that I will really be able to do much better.

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Is this your first experience with Proust?

No, but its the first in a long time, and I'm trying to approach it with idea that it's really worthwhile, and that the onus is on me to appreciate it.

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I think it is worth it, but you have to be in the mood. For years, I found Swann's Way to be a great soporific. Then, one day, shortly after moving to a new apartment with a window seat, the light was just right and I was able to give myself up to it. I've bought the Lydia Davis translation, too, but I'm only about halfway through The Crimson Petal and the White, so it will be a while before I start it. I'm planning to go through the whole thing again in the new translations, then go back and read Swann's Way in French.

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On the recommendation of a friend whose opinions on these matters I trust, I just bought Al Franken's new book (yes, *that* Al Franken):

 

"Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right"

 

I am laughing out loud and I've only read the introduction, the first line of which reads: "God chose me to write this book." (his bold)

 

This is very funny stuff. And not funny at all, if you know what I mean.

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I just bought a great new book on the history of African American humour.

 

The difference is when I say "bought", I mean "bought" I bought the world rights from the US publisher for $7,500.

 

Should wash its face.

 

S

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Among others: "Myer Myers: Jewsih Silversmith in Colonial New York"

 

Purchased for $3 at the Salvation Army's outdoor clearance: "The Midnight Gardener", a novel about Baudelaire, and "Portrait USA", David Douglas Duncan's marvelous photojournalistic view of the 1968 political conventions. The Nixon material is especially interesting, as are Duncan's anecdotes that go along with the pictures.

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Borges' short stories. They've been on my list for a long time. Odd business: he can launch into a four page short story as if it's a four hundred page novel and you've reached page three hundred and eighty. And yet you immediately know where you are. Another way of putting it would be: minimalist Umbert Eco. Clever, profound and fun.

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Just finished an Anna Quindlen novel. She really is a very beautiful writer---understands the real craft of writing. Am reading Mary Oliver next. The stillness of her poetry is amazing---even though her choice of topic (nature) doesn't speak to me as clearly as other topics (more shame to me!).

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I'm reading "The Accidental Connoisseur" by Lawrence Osborne. Irreverant writing on wines and food of France - I'm going to a dinner tomorrow where wines that he writes about will be presented, and he'll be there also. Should be good fun.

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Cracked open a dusty old volume containing the poems of Lionel Johnson, a poete maudit from the Rhymers' Club days. His most (only) famous poem is a meditation "On the Statue of King Charles at Charing Cross". Since I am neither a monarchist nor a conservative practising religious believer, the sentiment expressed by the poem could not be more foreign to me. However, it is expressed with considerable poise and grace:

 

Sombre and rich, the skies,

Great glooms, and starry plains;

Gently the night wind sighs;

Else a vast silence reigns.

 

The splendid silence clings

Around me: and around

The saddest of all kings,

Crowned, and again discrowned.

 

Comely and calm, he rides

Hard by his own Whitehall.

Only the night wind glides:

No crowds, nor rebels, brawl.

 

Gone too, his Court: and yet,

The stars his courtiers are:

Stars in their stations set;

And every wandering star.

 

Alone he rides, alone,

The fair and fatal King:

Dark night is all his own,

That strange and solemn thing.

 

Which are more full of fate:

The stars, or those sad eyes?

Which are more still and great:

Those brows, or the dark skies?

 

Although his whole heart yearn

In passionate tragedy,

Never was face so stern

with sweet austerity.

 

Vanquished in life, his death

By beauty made amends:

The passing of his breath

Won his defeated ends.

 

Brief life, and hapless? Nay:

Through death, life grew sublime.

Speak after sentence? Yea:

And to the end of time.

 

Armoured he rides, his head

Bare to the stars of doom;

He triumphs now, the dead,

Beholding London's gloom.

 

Our wearier spirit faints,

Vexed in the world's employ:

His soul was of the saints;

And art to him was joy.

 

King, tried in fires of woe!

Men hunger for thy grace:

And through the night I go,

loving thy mournful face.

 

Yet, when the city sleeps,

When all the cries are still,

The stars and heavenly deeps

Work out a perfect will.

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