What I'm Reading Now
Everything has changed since yesterday. Sherlock Holmes didn’t last after all.
Yesterday morning I read the book I’ve borrowed on ILL until Sandy arrived with our mail, which included a box from Amazon.com.
It contained two books. One was Christopher Benfey’s THE GREAT WAVE: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan (2003.) Benfey is the author of DEGAS IN NEW ORLEANS: Encounters in the Creole World of Kate Chopin and George Washington Cable. I read that book when it was published in 1997 and then again in 1999. It sent me on a year-long New Orleans reading spree, guided by my friend Bobby Lee from NO. (He’s still there and still mopping up from Katrina.)
I put Benfey aside for later.
The other book was Paul Johnson’s CREATORS: From Chaucer and Durer to Picasso and Disney (2006.)
Despite the other books I’ve looked at or read parts of since noon yesterday, I’m on page 237 of Johnson’s book. It grabbed me. It’s not original literary or artistic criticism; it’s not intended to be. But as a collection of short biographies from Johnson’s very personal viewpoint, it’s terrific.
CREATORS impelled me to look at Johnson’s INTELLECTUALS (1988), which I read very carefully when it was first published. (My underlining goes all the way to the end of the book and there’s a lot of it.) I know little about Rousseau, Ibsen, Bertrand Russell, or Victor Gollancz, and much of what I know I learned from that book.
CREATORS really got perking for me with Chapter 7, “Jane Austen: Shall We Join the Ladies?” That sent me back to TEA WITH JANE AUSTEN, which I read recently. I went looking for MISTRESS TO AN AGE: A Life of Madame de Stael (1958), by J Christopher Herold, but couldn’t find my copy as it is out of its box in some unrecorded spot.
I did find my biography of Marian Evans, GEORGE ELIOT: Voice of a Century: A Biography(1995), by Frederick R Karl, which Johnson mentions in his footnotes and which my friend Clint recently gave me. I looked at the pictures.
Johnson’s chapter on A W N Pugin tempted me to look for my Arts and Crafts books as did the chapter on Louis Comfort Tiffany. I resisted the Arts and Crafts, and fortunately my jewelry books, including my books about Tiffany, are still in boxes and it’s cold up in the attic, so Alice let me look through a couple of her Tiffany catalogs instead. Then I headed for my biography of William Morris.
I have the Fiona MacCarthy bio, WILLIAM MORRIS: A Life for Our Time (1994.) I didn’t pick it up because it’s humongous. (It weighs more than my cat.) What I did pick up was a recent acquisition, bought because one of my favorite writers, Penelope Fitzgerald, wrote the introduction: Morris’ THE NOVEL ON BLUE PAPER (written 1872; published 1982.) I read the introduction and went back to Johnson.
I got through Chapter 12, “T S Eliot: The Last Poet to Wear Spats,” without incident, but Chapter 13, “Balenciaga and Dior: The Aesthetics of a Buttonhole,” sent me first to John Peacock’s 20TH CENTURY FASHION: The Complete Sourcebook (1993) and then on to Linda Watson’s VOGUE FASHION: 100 Years of Style by Decade and Designer (1999.)
Fortunately, my other fashion books are in the above-mentioned attic or I have no doubt I would now be paging through a picture biography of Chanel.
And as I wrote that last sentence I spotted Sandy with her pith helmet and shorts as she approached our mailbox. (To be continued . . . )