Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Things aren't always what they meme

Even the simplest, most seemingly painless of these tagging games can be fraught with questions.

A current meme, for which Karen "AustCrime" Chisholm has tagged me, bears the headline "Three Authors You Couldn't Live Without." Simple, yes? Except that the accompanying text asks a different question: "Who are the three authors whose work you would miss the most if they stopped writing?" What if the authors you couldn't live without have already stopped writing because, say, they've stopped living? I choose to answer the first of the meme's questions.

My first author is also one of Karen's:

1) Peter Temple. The man writes such beautiful, graceful prose, full of sensitivity and wit, that it would be a shame for him to stop.

2) Bill James. His Harpur and Iles series lost a bit of its social-comic edge once the great Panicking Ralph Ember attained his goal of becoming a fairly big-time drug dealer. But the middle books of the series remain gorgeously written, deliciously dark, sometimes hysterically funny looks at British life.

3) Po Chü-I. T'ang Dynasty poet, lived 772-846. The writer whose work to have with you should you plan to become stranded on a desert island and probably the closest thing to a writer whose work I could not live without.

Last year, when I lay sick,
I vowed
I'd never touch a drop again
As long as I should live.

But who could know
Last year
What this year's spring would bring?

And here I am,
Coming home from old Liu's house
As drunk as I can be!
Incidentally, Karen's choices make entertaining reading. Here's what she had to say about Reginald Hill, author of the literate, clever and funny Dalziel and Pascoe mysteries: "I live in fear of his health. If I lived any closer I'd be making chicken soup and offering to knit warm, comfortable socks."

And now, readers, how about you? Who are your three indispensable authors?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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21 Comments:

Anonymous Karen C said...

I have got to stop being boring - my desert island book is always John Seymour's Forgotten Arts and Crafts which is both incredibly useful and rather beautiful in its own right.

But Po Chü-I - I can see the attraction from your provided snippet. Wit and elegance. Guess who has just been added to my to be found list :)

July 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Take another look at the beauty of your book, contemplate its intriguing title, and think of all the useful things it could help you make on that desert island. Then reconsider your rash decision to call yourselg boring.

In re Po Chü-I, I recommend David Hinton's translations, available in Selected Poems of Po Chü-I. I recommend the late poems especially.

July 09, 2008  
Anonymous Peter Temple said...

Peter and Karen: You are both more than generous, and I thank you. I can't imagine stopping writing. I can, unfortunately, imagine being stopped.

July 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

May this never come to pass!

July 09, 2008  
Anonymous Karen C said...

Thank you Peter R - I'll track that book down :)

Peter T hopefully it will never come to pass - but if you feel pressure, by all means refer the miscreant our way :)

July 09, 2008  
Blogger Philip said...

Michael Oakeshott. His 1933 book Experience and its Modes, the essays 'On the Activity of Being an Historian' and 'The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind', et al., made a profound impression on the thinking of a (way back then) very young academic also straddling history and philosophy, as over time did everything he wrote. Not easy reading, admittedly, but there is the considerable bonus of one of the finest prose styles of the last century -- subtle and allusive, singularly beautiful at times, even moving (his discussion of religion in On Human Conduct).

Kenneth Grahame. I read the Wind in the Willows the way Elizabeth I is said to have bathed her willowy body -- once a year whether it needs it or not. It enchants, its allegorical aspect always resonates, and there are enough layers to it for a doctoral dissertation -- of which there are, in fact, at least three, all written in the period of deconstruction, and therefore to be avoided like the plague.

And this is where I cheat by subsuming Part Two of your post in Part I. Reginald Hill. Fred Vargas. And Arturo Perez-Reverte, whose crime novels, The Seville Communion and The Flanders Panel, sent him straight to my A list and me after his historical novels, a genre I do not normally touch at all.

July 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Criminy, Karen, do think that was really Peter Temple? Had I known such a distinguished visitor was on the way, I'd have tidied up a bit and prepared some refreshments.

July 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, I seem to recall that Andrew Sullivan always cited Oakeshott as an influence. You are at least as good a salesman as Sullivan was. This Oakeshott fellow may be worth a look.

With respect to your cheating, in Part Two, I deliberately chose authors either early in their careers, or few of whose books I have read. I found the question difficult because authors who provide lasting pleasure, well, provide lasting pleasure. If they stop writing, one can always reread with profit their old books.

My one quibble about The Seville Communion was that I'd like to have read more about the rather forbidden Vatican intelligence apparatus of the opening chapters.

July 09, 2008  
Blogger Philip said...

Quite right about Sullivan, Peter, though his interest has been mainly in the writings that address the nature of politics and his chief intent to misconstrue them.

You know, I think that clandestine Vatican outfit has to be based on the Santa Alianza. Eric Frattini, a distinguished Spanish journalist, published a book about it in 2004: La Santa Alianza, Cinco Siglos de Espionaje Vaticano. The U.S. rights were bought by St. Martin's Press a while back, but it it does not seem to have appeared in English there or elsewhere to date.

July 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I meant forbidding rather than forbidden in my previous comment, of course. One wonders why such a book would not see the light of day in English.

Perhaps Andrew Sullivan was more interesting as a rebellious conservative that as one more in a crowd of "liberals."

July 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, I might like to investigate Oakeshott's essays about being a historian. History is what I generally read when not reading crime fiction, and I treasure historical writing that is comprehensive and engaging: David Hume from back then, Herodotus from way back then, Fernand Braudel from not so far back. And I have a collection of historical essays by Isaiah Berlin, written originally as book reviews, I believe, that are for me models of how history ought to be discussed.

July 09, 2008  
Blogger Philip said...

I do believe you would enjoy doing so, Peter. Oakeshott started out as an historian, and his essay 'On the Activity of Being an Historian' is in the collection of essays published as Rationalism in Politics in 1962. In Experience and its Modes, 1933, he discusses history as a distinct mode of experience -- that book may be hard to come by, but that idea he takes up again in On History and other Essays, 1983. And there is a collection entitled What is History? and Other Essays, edited by Luke O'Sullivan, 2004. Berlin is always splendid. I once asked his great friend Stephen Spender why Berlin didn't write more, and Spender said, "Because he talks too much." And I'll just mention the late J.H.Hexter's Doing History, a renowned collection of essays on the writing of history by a great historian, and a very entertaining one at times.

July 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh my gosh, history as a distinct mode of experience is the most tantalizing idea I have ever heard of. Thanks for the recommendations. And Spender's remark is no surprise. I read that when Harold MacMillan nominated Berlin for a knighthood,he said the honor should be awarded "for talking."

July 09, 2008  
Blogger Lara Diamond said...

Only three, oye, that's tough. My choices are not as intellectual as yours.

Salman Rushdie (especially his earlier work) for the sheer prose-drunk way he revels in words.

Margaret Atwood for her sly, wry humor and the way her books haunt for years after I read them.

Milan Kundera for his soulful, poetic melancholy.

July 10, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oy, is right. Three is tough. And your choices carry quite a bit on intellectual heft.

By the way, from the words you use to describe your favortites, I suspect you might enjoy Po Chü-I -- Bill James, too, for that matter, as far as being drunk with prose and revelling in words:

"If you knew how to look, a couple of deaths from the past showed now and then in Iles' face."

and

"When someone as grand and profitable as Oliphant Kenward Knapp was suddenly taken out of the business scene, you had to expect a bloody big rush to grab his domain, bloody big meaning not just bloody big, but big and very bloody. Harpur was looking at what had probably been a couple of really inspired enthusiasts in the takeover rush. Both were on their backs. Both, admittedly, showed only minor blood loss, narrowly confined to the heart area. Both were eyes wide, mouth wide and for ever gone from the stampede."

July 10, 2008  
Blogger 2KoP said...

James Thurber — for his wit.

Louisa May Alcott — because first she made me want to be a reader and then she made me want to be a writer.

John Irving — because I have never laughed out loud at a book the way I did the first time I read The Water Method Man, because I loved A Prayer for Owen Meany and because the way he thinks is completely different than the way I think.

Strange choices, but there you have them. Sorry, not a crime writer among them, although Irving's A Son of the Circus (not his best) did involve a transsexual serial killer.

July 10, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

James Thurber had most recently come up in a discussion of great first lines: "I suppose that the high-water mark of my youth in Columbus, Ohio, was the night the bed fell on my father."

Your choices are not strange at all. This meme began, as far as I know, on a crime-fiction blog, but no one ever said choices had to be restricted to crime. Hell, I even included a poet.

July 11, 2008  
Anonymous Timothy Hallinan said...

Boy, am I with you on Bill James. Iles is one of my favorite characters in contemporary fiction, and Panicking Ralph is even better. I laugh out loud in every book the first time the reader is taken into the Monty. How I wish Ian Richardson could have played Iles to Colin Farrell's Harpur. Who should pay Ralph? (Now that Charlton Heston's dead, I mean.)

William Gaddis, specifically for his great, sui generis masterpiece, "The Recognitions," which I used as my touchstone for years in my program of self-education. I'd read everything I could about one topic -- Old Flemish masters, for example, or 18th-century art forgery -- and then move to another, such as the sociology of Greenwich Village in the 50s. I've read it three times.

Third place is a tie between Raymond Chandler and Anthony Trollope. I've read all of both of them, several times in the case of Chandler, and they're both indispensable to me. Trollope was that rarest of all things, a male Victorian who could write women. The only other one I can think of is Thackeray, and his only great female character was Becky Sharp, but Trollope created hundreds of them.

July 11, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's a pleasure fo find a fellow Bill James lover, and I react to the books much as you do. I should add that I always enjoy the scenes with Harpur's daughters. It appears that the next Harpur & Iles books bears the intriguing title In the Absense of Iles.

I am also impressed by your self-education program and your repeated readings of Gaddis. I had this idea that he was one of those authors who was praised to the skies and acknowledged as seminal without, however, being much read.

July 11, 2008  
Blogger Pat Miller said...

I'm pleased to relay the information that Peter Temple's long awaited new novel, Truth, has just been released here in Australia. The Age newspaper ran an interesting interview this weekend: http://www.theage.com.au/news/entertainment/books/harsh-heart-of-the-truth/2009/09/25/1253813603728.html
Enjoy!

September 27, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Many thanks. You'll know that I'm a big Peter Temple fan, and I'll definitely seek this one out.

September 27, 2009  

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