Untold Stories

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.

2 Responses

  1. Postcards From the MergeIt’s
    Postcards From the Merge

    It’s heartening to know that Richard Nash, in the true spirit of blogging, will let us in on the merger transition details. What an opportunity for both Nash and his readers. I think that’s pretty cool and I’m looking forward to following it.

  2. BennettGot the Untold Stories

    Got the Untold Stories book for Christmas from my mum this year. Coincidentally, I had bought Larkin’s Complete Poems a week earlier, which I then lent to my mum. I remember reading the part about Larkin and wishing I had my new Larkin book with me to take another look, with what Bennett had said in mind. He, Bennett, is what we here in England call a national treasure. I do not know if you have a similar concept in the states, but it has a lot to do with being close to being a genius (but not quite) in the arts, and, I suppose, somehow coupling that with a simplicity of expression and demeanour, a reserved English sensibility. Other national treasures are such folk as Bill Oddie, Dame Judy Dench, and Michael Palin. Bennett has this, this ordinariness in abundance (you might even call it a pathological ordinariness), and so did Larkin, and the melancholia you speak of too. Though, then again, he, Bennett, seems much more of a realist than a sourpuss. He does not tend towards the dreamy and the ethereal, unless he can pin it down to something quite actual, say, a church exterior, or a cream cracker under the settee (a reference to his Talking Heads monologues). Well, that is all, really.

    A profoundly feeling man, Bennett, for sure, tuned into something of worth. I think the book, Untold Stories, is worth a read. Not depressing as such, but achingly and simply real, a view into a type of Englishness that is certainly fading from view. The stuff about his mother’s nervous breakdowns are touching.

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