Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Life of One's Own

Ilana Simons's little self-help book, A Life of One's Own, could have been awful. Its subtitle is A Guide To Better Living Through the Work and Wisdom of Virginia Woolf, and it makes a person wonder: how about just reading Virginia Woolf? Who needs an intermediary? And also: life advice from a person who committed suicide? How's Simons going to play that one?

But isn't it a pretty book? It's got rough-cut pages, too. It was hard to resist. And I'm glad I didn't, because it's a really nice book. I love Virginia Woolf, though I haven't read all her work. I find it hard going and emotionally taxing; I've started Jacob's Room several times but reading it makes me want to cry. I do have her diaries, though, and they're wonderful.

So I don't mind this distillation of some of her ideas. Simons is modest and intelligent and subtle, and I think she gets it right, though a Woolf scholar might disagree. Some of the chapter titles are Accept Solitude, Work Hard Even Without A Sign of Success, Be Aware of Prejudice, Find a Political Voice, Make Use of Time, Read and Be More, and Simons uses the life and work of Woolf to make these points. The writer I know and love is fairly represented here. It would make a great Mother's Day present. (Suddenly the blog has turned into the bookstore newsletter...)

I've been taking a bit of a break from reading fiction lately, which I do now and then and feel bad about but then I remind myself that reading fiction, especially very good fiction, is hard. It works your imagination, your emotions, your intellect, your empathy, and requires much more sustained attention than nonfiction. The occasional break can renew the energies. Unless you take too long a break and get all out of shape. I think some short fiction. Anyone read any good collections recently?

14 comments:

myles said...

I've been reading John McGahern's Creatures of the Earth. A reissue of his collected stories, and a real treat for fans of rainy, rusticated Irish stories.

Also, Mavis Gallant's Paris Stories. Gotta love Mavis. And my bookstore suggestion: Best Australian Stories 2007. Probably hard to get outside Oz, but worth a look. Published by Black Inc

rmellis said...

Myles, are you in Australia??? I was reading Tim Winton's collection recently and thought it was pretty good, pretty serious.

I can take one or two Irishy stories at a sitting, but then I start to choke on peat smoke. I will check it out, though. Haven't read Mavis G in years -- will take a relook.

zoe said...

I know you've posted on this writer's amazingness already, but I'm reading some Lorrie Morre stories at the moment and absolutely love them! Why is she not well known in Britain?

Thanks for the tip on her and on Mary Robison. I get so excited when I read somebody who I haven't heard of before and then get the opportunity to mine all their back catalogue.

rmellis said...

Oh yes Lorrie Moore is great. Is she awfully American, maybe? I wonder how her humor translates.

jrlennon said...

I would say she's VERY American...

zoe said...

Unlike many other Europeans I love very-americaness. I've just read a story where the characters called Zoe - that was extremely gratifying.

However, I think if you like Margaret Atwood (as surely anyone with any sense whatsoever does) you'd like Lorrie Moore. These short stories remind me a lot of The Edible Woman which is one of my all time favourite books and the template for my life. (sort of).

zoe said...

Michel Faber is pretty good. He's a dutch guy who lives in Scotland. His stories are odd in a good way.

AC said...

Virginia Woolf is great. But I have a hard time imagining that anything from her life would apply to mine. The class issue would put me off more than the fact that she committed suicide. Living and working are much different when your time is your own, while most of us are working for others through the greater part of the day.

I've only read about half of her novels. The first one I read was Mrs. Dalloway, and it's still my favorite. The characters seem more human than in most of her novels. Characters are not her strong point.

rmellis said...

Writers are classless, I think. We are equally uncomfortable in every class.

myles said...

Rhian, yes I'm in Australia (which is why my comments are usually so untimely. It's a time-and-place thing)

Tim Winton is a kind of minor deity here. His short stories are good, as is his novel Cloudstreet. He is a serious-minded sort of writer, but capable of great compassion in his work. And he's rough around the edges. That's probably why he's popular here; he's an intellectual bogan.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bogan)

Writer Reading said...

Borges, Trevor, Calvino, Bruno Schulz

rmellis said...

I've never read Bruno Schulz -- will track him down.

jrlennon said...

Rhian, you can track down Bruno Schulz by going into your office and looking at the "S" section of the bookcase... ;-)

rmellis said...

Hahahahahahahahahahah.