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Friday, 18 May 2007

More bedside books

It's Friday, dear readers, which means we have another list of bedside books from a CRB contributor (I got the "bedside books" theme going myself, and last Friday Jonathan Ali shared his). Judy Raymond last reviewed V.S. Naipaul's Magic Seeds in the November 2004 CRB, but we hope to have her writing for the magazine again very soon. Her book Barbara Jardine: Goldsmith was published in 2006.

The current stacks of books by my bed demonstrate two enduring principles in my choice of reading matter: serendipity and cheapness.

There’s a pile I bought at the Living Water Family Fiesta [ed. note: an excellent place to buy used books in Trinidad] a couple of weeks ago, having gone there in the hope of finding cheap and interesting second-hand books as well as amusing my daughter.

For between $5 and $3 each I got:

- Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, which I read decades ago, but having more recently been accused of being Mme Bovary, I thought I should refresh my memory of her failings.
- About the Author by John Colapinto: a literary thriller I bought because of the title. A bit predictable but at least that means for once I can follow the plot.
- Papa Hemingway by A.E. Hotchner, which the cover blurb tells me was a controversial bestseller in 1966: I’m reading a lot of lives these days in the hope of learning the secret of writing them.
- Digging to America by Anne Tyler: she can be nauseatingly cute but a lot of writers say her work makes you want to write.
- Thank God for the Atom Bomb by Paul Fussell: some writers, such as George Steiner, strike one as profoundly wrong about almost everything, but in an interesting way that makes you want to puzzle out why, and I’m hoping Fussell is one of those.

Then there are the gifts:

- Better by Atul Gawande, a Mother’s Day gift because I have a morbid interest in medical writings despite being physically ridiculously healthy
- From a Trini friend in England, Foul by Andrew Jennings, which spilled the beans on Fifa, though by about page 27 I was so dizzy with intrigue I’d forgotten which villain did what.
- From my mother, the first of a year’s subscription to Granta, "The Best of Young American Novelists"—a triple handicap as far as I’m concerned right now.
- The Tenderness of Wolves, also a gift: bogus-sounding title, and I don’t like reading prizewinning books. Clearly this one’s time has not yet come.
- There’s a review of a memoir from the Literary Review reflecting on the awful things families do to children and the effects they have on writers.
- Thence to Jean Rhys, who I’m reading about in the hope of being able to write about her: Carole Angier’s tortuous biography, which makes her life seem unbearably miserable; Stet, for the wonderful Diana Athill’s honest but compassionate memoir of Rhys; and Rhys's own letters, in which she puts a brave face on things and is often gallant and funny.
- Odds and Ends: Reporting by David Remnick, actually a collection of profiles from the New Yorker. His aren’t altogether to my taste, but I approve of the title: reporting is what journalism is all about.
- Allen Shawn’s Wish I Could Be There, a dispassionate and charmless examination of his agoraphobia that is unsympathetic to those of us phobics who don’t suffer his particular tortures.
- A Big Book of Daily Telegraph Crosswords: good, proper cryptic crosswords. After limbering up for several weeks I can usually finish them. But they are an intermittent obsession.
- At Day’s Close by A. Roger Ekirch: wonderful idea but rather stodgy history of what people did after dark before they invented electricity. If you were set upon by midnight thieves and vagabonds in the 17th century, better to shout “Fire!” than “Murder!”--that way people were more likely to come out to help.
- Michael Morpurgo’s The White Horse of Zennor, recommended by my daughter, because I’m touched by her desire, aged eight, to share a literary pleasure. Can’t wait for her to be big enough to read His Dark Materials.

I’m reading about four of these books. Every book has its time and you can’t force it; that’s why you need to keep a pile of them at hand.

Beyond my bedside table, on the floor, is a basket of fashion magazines, partly because I want the pictures to use for decoupage or as inspiration for decorating; partly as background reading for writing about Meiling, the fashion designer--I try to figure out how she might see them, though usually I’m fatally distracted by the handbag ads--and partly because every month without fail they promise on the cover to tell you the secrets of being thin and beautiful and sexy, and I fall for them every time. Every time.


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