Thursday, August 30, 2007

Literary news: Glad and sad

Cormac McCarthy won the U.K."s James Tait Black memorial prize for The Road. The Guardian article indicates, too, that he is being mentioned as a Nobel contender. I'd like to see that -- it would be very well-deserved for his entire body of work, which is impressive, to say the least.

I also read the obituary for literary scholar Julia Briggs, who was only in her 60s and died of a brain tumor. I read her study of Virginia Woolf and loved it. She was married to the historian Robin Briggs, which I did not know. It's very tragic. When one of your favorite writers dies, it is a loss -- even though you don't know them personally, you feel you know them just a little through their work; and of course, you do lose the gift of the writing that they would have done.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What else I did this summer...besides read

I followed up The Keep with On Beauty by Zadie Smith (thumbs up) and read an old Rose Macaulay novel called Crewe Train on the beach. That is one from the vaults (1926). Macaulay is an underappreciated writer. She's wickedly funny, elegant, interesting -- a fine satirist. The Towers of Trebizond ought to be at least a minor classic. She was more well-known than Virginia Woolf at the time, but I think she kind of got swamped by the Modernists -- Woolf, Joyce, Hemingway, and all those post-war writers. She wrote a wrenching, melancholy novel called Non-Combatants and Others in the midst of WWI.
I visited the beach for several days and had a lovely time despite the influx of jellyfish. They were small and pale, but numerous. I think they were the common Moon variety, but I'm not an expert. I did see one or two that were much larger, and I assume they were different from the masses. The water was beautiful and clear on the Gulf Coast, so you could see all the other fish nipping around your ankles as well.
I saw a great, scaled-down Marah show at the Bottletree in Birmingham, a very cool little venue with some pretty good bar food. I had only seen them one other time, and the guitars were so loud, I really couldn't hear the voices, so this was a treat. I could actually hear Dave and Serge sing. I liked the set, which included many old favorites from Kids in Philly. It was awesome to hear "City of Dreams" from If You Didn't Laugh.
And, last but not least, we caught the White Stripes at Sloss Furnace, also in Birmingham. Whew! Outdoors in July in a big, tin shed. It was a furnace, alright! Despite the sweltering, airless shed and the concrete floor (no seats!), it was a great show. Even the Megster came out from behind the drums and sang "Cold, Cold Night." (However, I am way too old and spoiled for such things, so I'll probably try to see Jack in AC venues from now on.) One of my sidenotes from this show is spotting a true "southern belle." I had always heard that they do not sweat but "glisten." Lest you think this is a myth, I noticed a very chic young lady--bangs swept over her forehead, perfect makeup, crisp clothes--who arrived in the infernal confines of Sloss and looked just as fresh after the concert. Obviously, she must have made a pact with the Devil, and so was unaffected by the heat and smoke that turned the rest of us into sweaty, disheveled rock-and-roll degenerates.
I'm now in the middle of the new Edith Wharton biography by Hermione Lee. I'm always amazed at the ability of great biographers to ferret out all those far-flung bits and pieces, assemble them, and then make some kind of sense out of them. Not to mention, they have the challenge of filling in the gaps. In EW's case, she made sure to self-edit her archives by destroying a great many letters (though she did leave her "secret diary"). Henry James, one of her primary correspondents and friends, burned most of her letters to him on request.