1. I’ve been immersing myself in Untold Stories by British humorist, playwright and critic Alan Bennett. Bennett began his career in 1960 as a member of a popular British comic troupe that also featured Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller and Peter Cook. Bennett has since settled into a career as a roving intellectual and melancholy prose stylist with a wide range of cultural interests — television, Thomas Gainsborough, the history of Leeds, England, his own plays — and many of these subjects are treated in his new book. Here he is on poet Philip Larkin:
Fifteen years dead Larkin is still a looming presence so I will try and be terse. He writes with clarity and a determined ordinariness that does not exclude (and often underpins) the lyrical. He is always accessible, his language compact, though occasionally arcane. Fond of compound adjectives — air-sharpened, rain-ceased, bone-riddled — he shares this with Hardy, with whom he invites comparison though his sentiments are less gawky, what they have most in common a deep, unshiftable despair.
2. The Clarks of Cooperstown, a new book by Nicholas Fox Weber about a family of influential art collectors, has been getting lots of attention in the art world, though it seems the attention is unwelcome by those carrying on the Clark legacy. The book details an admirable long history of art patronage, but it also details some gay relationships in the family as well as a few interesting political associations. Word on the street is that parties close to the wealthy Clark family are leaning on major art institutions (including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is running a major exhibition from the Clark collection right now) to not stock Weber’s new book, published by Alfred A. Knopf, in their museum bookshops. All of which just makes it sound like a book I’d really like to read. You can’t buy it at the Met, but you can buy it here.
3. I said that nobody seemed to care about Soft Skull’s sudden announcement that it was being folded into a larger publishing company, but it turns out many do care. Soft Skull publisher Richard Nash posted a thoughtful explanation of the changes on Soft Skull’s blog. There should be no mistaking the fact that this sale is not an attempt at creative or financial synergy, but rather a necessary consequence of a major book distributor default several months ago. There is a positive angle here, though, in that the merger gives Nash control over Counterpoint Books as well as the future Soft Skull. Richard Nash publishing Gary Snyder? Looks like that’s in the cards.