Monday, April 05, 2010


I awoke at 4 a.m. sniffling and coughing, sat up for 20 minutes sucking down a Cold-Eze (with magical properties to fight colds), and realized that Louise Erdrich's The Plague of Doves felt like an LSD experience. I've never taken LSD--I've avoided hallucinogens like the plague, having too vivid an imagination as it is--but even when I switched to Robert Graves' Homer's Daughter the narrative was developing a mistiness around the edges, and I realized:

Ugh, it's a cold.

My Latin class will have to do a hated sight-reading of Virgil tomorrow, as I'm too tired to expound on the literary aspects of the Aeneid. One grumpy student (I've only got one) is so lost in the mysteries of Wheelock he refuses to read Virgil anyway. My husband says I'm spending way too much time on prep  and this isn't a college class. The literary criticism was swimming before my eyes so I decided he was right.

Here's what I like to do when I have a cold: go to The Spectator website and read Allan Massie's  endearing essays about books. He expounds on a topic in relation to two or three books, not necessarily new, and I end up with a list of fascinating books to order from Amazon someday.

In his most recent column, "Open to the World?" , he identifies two types of novels: "the self-contained novel," impervious to history, like Austen's (well, I don't quite agree with that), and "the open novel," a novel very much defined by history, like Elizabeth Bowen's The Heat of the Day, set in London during World War II, one of my favorite Bowen novels, and vaguely reminiscent of Graham Greene's stunning The End of the Affair. I think it's very clear that Massie prefers the open novel.

The odd thing is I have never read Allan Massie's books. He's the author of several historical novels, which I've never come across in a bookstore, and am thus not sure that they're in print in the U.S.

What I like about Allan Massie is that he's so not hip! The columns meander and don't necessarily go anywhere particular, but once he wrote about George Meredith, saying he thought we needed a new Meredith biography far more than another Thomas Hardy biography, and as I was reading an old '50s biography of Meredith at the time, I couldn't have agreed more.

So we're kind of kindred spirits, only not really, because I haven't read his books yet.

One of these days I'll order one from Amazon.  This one looks good:  

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