Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Outmoded Authors Challenge - summary


I thoroughly enjoyed my reading for this challenge. My initial choice was made on the basis of accessibility, but even so it was over-ambitious – the library had almost none of the authors listed and in the end I had to buy anything that wasn't already on my shelves, so I limited myself to those I was reasonably confident about enjoying, and none of the authors I read was completely new to me. I had one complete failure: Christina Stead's The Man Who Loved Children was there on the shelf, I had started it once before and, when I couldn't get any further this time, gave up. It simply doesn't appeal to me. Similarly, I couldn't seem to get to Malcolm Lowry, though I will give him another try. Maugham's Of Human Bondage, which was a re-read, and which I loved when I was younger, remains, for the time being, unfinished; however he was well-served by other Challenge readers, so I don't feel too bad about it.

I read two books by G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Knew Too Much and The Man Who Was Thursday, and plan to read more of his work over the course of this year. His blend of the political with the spiritual appeals to me very much, and his sense of fun is ever-present. I knew the Father Brown stories from when I was young, but look forward to a further encounter with the little priest. I notice, too, that they were adapted for television, with Donald Pleasance starring.

One of my books by Marian Engel, Lunatic Villas, was a re-read, as it's a long-time favourite. Another, The Glassy Sea, has achieved favourite status, a beautiful and utterly absorbing story of a woman's efforts to find her place in a changing world. Because I was reading Engle for this challenge, I included The Honeyman Festival in my list for the Canadian Book Challenge and found a witty polemic on the theme of motherhood which sat well with the previous two. Her work is very much of its period, and my impression is that her place in the CanLit canon is now largely historical, despite her status as Governor General's Award winner (for Bear). Anyone interested in the history of feminism, though, should have Engel on their reading list.

The Country House and The Forsyte Saga (A Man of Property, In Chancery and To Let) by John Galsworthy (the latter completed within the time but not yet posted on) continued my approach of reading more than one work by an author. In both he is concerned with a woman's role in an unhappy marriage, and with the legal constraints on her escape from such a situation. Galsworthy's style is distinctive, and weighty with detail rather than action, but his subject matter - the transition from the Victorian to the modern world – is sharply observed and sympathetically chronicled. I shall be returning to Galsworthy and the rest of the Forsyte story over the summer, after which I'm planning to borrow the television series from the library and watch it from start to finish!

Finally, Traveller's Prelude by Freya Stark was a pleasure for the fascinating story of her childhood and for her lovely writing, and led me to the short biography, Freya Stark by Caroline Moorehead. I have two of Stark's travel books still to read, and I dipped into some of her letters; I find that when I start reading I can't tear myself away, her voice is so immediate and compelling. Through much of her life she battled with ill-health, which makes her travels to parts of the Middle East where almost no Europeans had ventured all the more remarkable; in old age she could be autocratic and was undoubtedly eccentric, but the candour of her writing is often disarming and compels respect and admiration.

I'm already looking forward to more Outmoded Authors in six months' time, and impatient to see who will be new on the list.

14 comments:

  1. I remember reading right through "The Forsyth Saga' when the TV version came out in the 60s and loving it. They're still on my shelf and it would be a nice winter project to read them all again. I think you raise a very interesting point, though, about the availability in libraries of books. Or, more accurately, the non-availability. When I was looking for a copy of Carson McCullers "The Member of the Wedding' I couldn't get it from the Birmingham Library system. They have one copy, but it isn't available for loan, I would have to go an read it in the Central Library. I suppose storage space is an issue, but if a big authority like Birmingham isn't going to keep at least one copy in circulation then I can see what difficulties there are going to be elsewhere. It seems very short-sighted and also rather condescending, assuming that no one is going to be interested in anything other than the latest block-busters.

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  2. This will date me :<) but I really think the first Forsyte Saga was the better of the two. The actors and their acting brought those books to life. This was one of the very early programs on Public Television in America, and is still one of the best.

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  3. Oh, me too, Nan - I didn't actually watch the recent version, it's the first I plan to borrow. When I'm reading I always see Eric Porter as Soames.

    TT, I may have said this before but, during a house move, I parted with a stack of books (we had so many) thinking I would always be able to borrow them from the library, only to find a few years on that the library had also offloaded all their copies. I had naively thought that libraries were there to act as repositories for a representative collection of a country's own literature, as well as a selection at least of world literature. However, it seems I was mistaken and they are "information centres" or some such, and any books on the shelves have covers in pale pastels with pictures of blonde women prancing about. Ours has quite a line in bad science, too. Some days I feel completely out of step with the world.

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  4. I'm so glad you're liking G.K. Chesterton. He charms me. I particularly liked The Napoleon of Notting Hill - have you read it? I wrote down more excerpts from that in my commonplace book than any other book, ever. G.K. Chesterton was great. You know he used to wander around London with a swordstick? He had a swordstick! What a cool guy.

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  5. Jenny, I do agree about Chesterton and coolness, but I have to admit that I haven't finished The Napoleon of Notting Hill because I was reading it on my laptop, which I find very uncomfortable. A thought, though - have you read Saki? If you haven't, I think you might like him.

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  6. It's been a while since I read any Saki - when I first read The Gift of the Magi, lo these many years ago, I had the bright idea of checking out seven massive short story anthologies and reading all the short stories I could possibly read. It pretty much burned me out on short stories for years - I know I read "The Lottery" at that time, for instance, but it left no impression on me at all - so I know I read some Saki then, but it's all lost to me now.

    Er. But maybe the time has come to get back on the horse. It having been about a decade and all. :)

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  7. I was thinking of stories like Sredni Vashtar, which are darkly funny, and Laura (about a woman who says she will be reincarnated as an otter). I think it's easy to burn out on short stories - I've mentioned my reservations about them on several occasions, but I've been reading quite a few recently, and am persuading myself that I should make some exceptions.

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  8. Oddly, I was thinking today that I wanted to read the Stead - maybe I should rethink...

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  9. SiaB, it may just be me, it's the only thing of hers I've tried, but I simply cannot get involved. Ho hum. I shall be down your way on Tuesday, visiting colleges - keep your fingers crossed for warm weather for me, as I have lots of time to kill. I foresee a long time spent in Blackwells...

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  10. Oh, do you fancy a coffee or something?? Maybe in Blackwell's coffee shop? Would be lovely to meet you - I get half-hour tea breaks around 11.00 and 4.00, but can be flexible...

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  11. Simon, I emailed separately, but see you at about 4 in Blackwells?

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  12. Sounds good!
    I did get your email, and tried to reply - not sure if it got through or not.

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  13. I haven't tried the outmoded authors challenge,but seeing your review here has made me think that maybe I can consider it next year. '
    I love the comment you make here about libraries - I think it would be a great post - because I thought libraries were supposed to be repositories of great books for all areas of interest, and cultures, too. I read so many books from the library as a child, too. If you can't get a copy of Member of the Wedding, anywhere, I can try to get it for you - it is everywhere over here! It's in pocketbook size, so it's easy to send over. Let me know.

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  14. Susan, I think you'd find it fun, and hope you'll join in. You're right, I must do a proper post about libraries, it's been in the back of my mind.

    The Member of the Wedding is available from Abebooks, I think, but it's a book that libraries OUGHT to have!

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