Sunday 28 May 2017

Elizabeth Strout, Anything is Possible, Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics

You read to escape, says H, wanting to settle the matter.
No, I reply, equally urgent, reading is right at the heart of things.

I read Elizabeth Strout, Anything is Possible, or Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth, and I am progressing my sense of humans on earth and how they do or might or should react or behave. I am not escaping, I am engaging, if engagement is going out and experiencing things you bring back to your nest and consider, which in turn enriches and deepens your nestedness as well as your precarity.

Doughnut Economics is possibly the first economics book I've ever read and only readable by me because it's as much off economics as on; all preconceived notions are turned around. We are here to refresh our preconceptions, said Gayatri Spivak at an otherwise dull conference I once went to. I am here, reading this book, in order to have more breadth and depth to draw on in conversation about the world, the planet, the universe and everything.

Elizabeth Strout, on the other hand, especially when read in the middle of the night, refreshes my sense of the subtle awfulness of families, friendships and their occasional redemptive moments, the way we retrieve something that allows us to continue. She is a spare, quiet writer, of the kind that makes me feel at home.

Sunday 14 May 2017

Diary of a Nobody, Diary of JK, George and Weldon Grossmith

Diary of a Nobody, 1892
Diary of JK, 1961

The jovial Grossmiths, George and Weedon, created their diarist, Mr Pooter, who settles in a rented house in Holloway with his wife Carrie, his son Lupin and maid Sarah. His two friends Gowing and Cummings are always coming and going. Lupin falls in and out of love. Mr Pooter, aspiring to modest success, processes through a year of blameless mishaps and minor impatience with humour and domesticity. He is a clerk in the City, at a stockbrokers, to which none of the kudos of our era seems to pertain.

He is the invention of the Grossmiths, as JK was an invention of mine, a literate schoolgirl increasingly impatient with Maldon, Essex, processing through schooldays and family life, who at 14 envisaged becoming one day a secretary to someone interesting. 1961 was a year of first trips to Europe, to Austria and briefly Italy, then Paris. She's exclamatory about everything foreign. If she goes on later to do a degree, she ponders, the someone interesting to whom she might be secretary might also travel. Her social conscience is crisp for a teenager. Kruschev tests a 50 megaton bomb. She goes on CND marches. Will she ever be so serious again?

Mr Pooter and JK are in their first year of diary. He will stop when the Grossmiths tire of their creation, or Punch, the magazine where it was first serially published, says that's enough. JK will not stop at all. The diary is already embedded. The question of her next invention is moot. After the schoolgirl, the poet, after the poet, the citizen, the teacher, the gardener, and alongside all of them, the writer.

Thursday 4 May 2017

John Hawkes, The Lime Twig

For several days I tried to re-read John Hawkes. I rarely give up on a book, but I can read very badly, skimming unengaged through a chapter here and there, mixed with half an hour of attentive reading in the middle of the night, followed by a restart up at the pond. A sigh. This writer is going to a lot of self-conscious trouble, a lot of shifting about in his writerly seat before releasing another well-wrapped piece of plot.

Here is a character at home in his lodgings in the 1940s, the lavatory down the hall—there are a lot of lavatories, toilets and Gents in this book—here is a narrative, which, as today's Thought For the Day insisted, is the stuff of our lives, which is why many of us spend evenings with boxed sets, apparently.

The blurb on the back cover tells us this is a racing novel with a mystery horse and several mishaps, a thriller, a dream, a nightmare in meticulous detail, I don't see it. If it's a thriller it's also an exercise.

I was told once that I wrote as if I didn't want to write. John Hawkes likes to write. He likes being a writer. He has fun with the names of horses.
Just the evolution of a name—Apprentice out of Lithograph by Cobbler, Emperor's Hand by Apprentice out of Hand Maiden by Lord of the Land, Draftsman by Emperor's Hand out of Shallow Draft by Amulet, Castle Churl by Draftsman out of Likely Castle by Cold Masonry, Rock Castle by Castle Churl out of Words on Rock by Plebeian—and what's this name if not the very evolution of his life?
In the author photo on the back of the New Directions paperback, he is leaning sideways against a paperbark birch. He looks like a writer. He has round glasses, a pipe and tan lines where his watch strap would usually be. It's a side view and he's looking slightly downward, just above the angle of his pipe.