Saturday, July 30, 2022

We Return

After successfully avoiding COVID for over two years, I got COVID. It wasn't horrible. There were some complications that weren't life-threatening but very annoying, like fainting on the toilet and messing up my elbow and hip, but hey. I wasn't in the ICU fighting for breath or on a ventilator for weeks. It was like the flu.

In an effort to STOP with the computer so much, I have returned to reading up a storm. Like three hours a day. Hello, retirement, I do love thee. I usually go into a deep dive once I start something, and my current obsession is with the Durrells. I just finished a biographer of Nancy Myers, Lawrence Durrell's first wife, and another woman who suffered at the hands of a narcissistic writer who was lauded and feted. I'm on more of a non-fiction kick these days, but I did read one novel that knocked my reading socks off. My readings for the past month, note, it's top-heavy on biographies.

Five Decembers by James Kestrel (which won the Edgar this year). This was a little (okay, a lot) more violent than I usually read, but the writing was excellent. Don't be put off by the cheesy cover. The first few chapters are grim but the history and the storytelling outweigh the gore factor. Skip over the murder scene. What I find so fascinating about this book is that (SPOILER ALERT) the murder plot arc disappears halfway through the book and then doesn't pick up again until the end, and yet the entire book works beautifully. Kudos, Mr. Kestrel.

The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography by Selina Hasting. One interesting fact that I gleaned from this book is that Maugham was considered a brilliant playwright, and I would venture to say that he was more lauded as a playwright than a novelist. I'd never known that about him. Self-exiled to Capri for most of his life because he was homosexual and was terrified that he'd be arrested if he set foot in Britain, he led a life of letters and lust. 

Charles Dickens: A Life
by Claire Tomalin. Well, that biography ruined for me one of my favorite novels, A Christmas Carol. Yet ANOTHER genius male writer who stomped through life with his bros (how Hemingway of him) and abused his wife. After siring ten children, he decided to abandon his wife (his twenty-year younger mistress probably had a lot to do with it), demanded that their children cut off all contact with her (only one son defied his father's dictate), and tried to have her committed so that he wouldn't have to pay for her maintenance. So now I think of ALL THOSE CHRISTMASES that Mrs. Dickens spent alone without her family while he frolicked with his mistress. 

In Pieces by Sally Field. Interesting biography. Very personal, little insight into the movie industry. Decently written. Family dysfunction up the wazoo. Worth a read, not a re-read.

Amateurs in Eden: The Story of a Bohemian Marriage: Nancy and Lawrence Durrell
by Joanna Hodgkin. Yet ANOTHER genius male writer who stomped through life with his bros (how Hemingway of him) and abused his wife(ves). What is so bizarre about Lawrence Durrell is his fascination/devotion/obsession with Henry Miller of Tropic of Cancer fame. I mean, really?

The Unquiet Englishman: A Life of Graham Greene by Richard Greene. Okay, I love Greene's novels. Of all the post-WWII English writers, he is miles above anyone else as far as I am concerned. He is one of those English people of letters who converted to Catholicism (like Waugh and Muriel Spark). This biography makes a point of not harping on Greene's sex life, with the argument that the man was a phenomenal writer, can we please stop talking about all the women he bedded? Well, no, we can't, because so much of his writing was about faith and the loss of it, and it seems to me that Greene converted to Catholicism precisely because he could repent his sins and then move on to the next woman. Anyway, decent biography. He's still one of my favorite writers, although his championing of the traitors in the MI trade is, IMO, inexcusable.

Evelyn Waugh: A Biography
by Selina Hastings. Oh, what a nasty man.  Well-written biography of possibly the most bitter men on this planet. A convert to Catholicism, he basically lost his "faith," if you could call it that, because of Vatican II. It seemed to me that he only latched onto Catholicism because it was probably the one institution that he could count on NOT to change in his lifetime. Joke is on you, pal. I've only read Brideshead Revisited, which I loved and which seems basically autobiographical. I haven't read any of his other novels, and now I won't. Like Lawrence Durrell, he was a man of much brilliant nasty wit.

As they say, that's it, folks. Now on to reading Gerald Durrell's book, My Family and Other Animals.

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