The Demon Drink – Literature picks for November

The connection between alcohol and creativity has long been documented. In ‘ The trip to Echo Spring’ British writer Olivia Laing examines its pivotal place in the lives of six well-known American scribes. It now seems they have an excuse – the pressures of the writing life can be very extreme. However the real charm of this book is in its description of the American landscape as the author travels around that country researching her subjects.
W.H. Auden was very partial to a strong aperitif as well – and he famously kept a bottle of vodka at his bedside in case he couldn’t sleep. But he was still able to write wonderful poetry. This month Alexander McCall Smith, who has often used Auden’s lines in his own work, explains his affecton and esteem for him.

This is a very good month for literature. Interesting new books examine the relationship enjoyed by noted British writers with the mysterious East and the strong connection between the English rectory and writing. The classics are not neglected, the poet Horace has his day in the sun, and we have a selection of the usual how-to books. Enjoy !!

Syndetics book coverMaeve’s times : selected Irish Times writings / Maeve Binchy ; edited by Róisín Ingle
“As someone who fell off a chair not long ago trying to hear what they were saying at the next table in a restaurant, I suppose I am obsessively interested in what some might consider the trivia of other peoples lives, Maeve Binchy is well-known for her bestselling novels the most recent of which was A WEEK IN WINTER. But for many years Maeve was a journalist, writing for The Irish Times. From ‘The Student Train’ to ‘Plane Bores’, ‘Bathroom Joggers’ to ‘When Beckett Met Binchy,’ these articles have all the warmth, wit and humanity of her fiction. Arranged in decades, from the 1960s to the 2000s, and including Maeve’s first and last ever piece of writing for The Irish Times, the columns also give a fascinating insight into the author herself. With an introduction written by her husband, the writer Gordon Snell, this collection of timeless writing reminds us of why the leading Irish writer was so universally loved.” (Sue)
Published: September 2013.

Syndetics book coverThe trip to Echo Spring : why writers drink / Olivia Laing.
“[This book] examines the link between creativity and alcohol through the work and lives of six extraordinary men: F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever and Raymond Carver. This title strips away the myth of the alcoholic writer to reveal the terrible price creativity can exert.” (Library catalogue)

Syndetics book coverHorace and me : life lessons from an ancient poet / Harry Eyres.
“In Horace and Me, Eyres re-examines Horace’s life, legacy and verse. With a light, lyrical touch and a keen critical eye, Eyres reveals a lively, relevant Horace, whose society – Rome at the dawn of the empire – has much in common with our own, including a curious sense of hollowness at the heart of unparalleled prosperity…” (Book cover)

Syndetics book coverHow to be a writer : building your creative skills through practice and play / Barbara Baig.
“Athletes practice. Musicians practice. As a writer you need to do the same. Whether you have dreams of writing a novel or a memoir or a collection of poems, or you simply want to improve your everyday writing, this innovative book will show you how to build your skills by way of practice.Through playful and purposeful exercises, you’ll develop your natural aptitude for communication, strengthening your ability to come up with things to say, and your ability to get those things into the minds (and the hearts) of readers. You’ll learn to:Train and develop your writer’s powers-creativity, memory, observation, imagination, curiosity, and the subconscious Understand the true nature of the relationship between you and your readers [and much more]” (Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverWrite to be published / Nicola Morgan.
“You want to make a publisher say yes? First, understand why they say no; then apply that knowledge to your book. Nicola Morgan – the Crabbit Old Bat of the renowned blog, Help! I Need a Publisher! – has made publishers say yes around ninety times. Now she reveals the workings of publishers’ minds and whips your work into shape with humour, honesty, grumpiness and chocolate.” (Book cover)

Syndetics book coverWhat W.H. Auden can do for you / Alexander McCall Smith.
“If you’re a fan of McCall Smith’s,you know that he’s a fan of W. H. Auden. His two series set in Edinburgh Scotland Street and the Isabel Dalhousie novels have characters who frequently quote Auden. In this installment of the Writers on Writers series, McCall Smith, with a wink to Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life (1998), sets out to speak directly about what Auden has meant to him and how readers who have never read the poet can be enriched by his work. McCall Smith is marvelous in describing scenes from his own life that were made radiant or understandable by Auden’s poetry.” (Adapted from Booklist).

Syndetics book coverThe wry romance of the literary rectory / Deborah Alun-Jones.
“In this engaging book, Deborah Alun-Jones selects a range of authors from the seventeenth century to the twenty-first, for whom the rectory was either the childhood home that nurtured their creative talent or the place they chose to live as an adult and from which they drew inspiration. Each chapter explores the life of a writer during the time they lived at a particular rectory / parsonage or vicarage and the effect it had on them.” (Library catalogue)

Syndetics book coverSalinger / David Shields, Shane Salerno.
“Based on eight years of exhaustive research and exclusive interviews with more than 200 people and published in coordination with the international theatrical release of a major documentary film from the Weinstein Company “Salinger” is a global cultural event: the definitive biography of one of the most beloved and mysterious figures of the twentieth century.For more than fifty years, the ever elusive author “of The Catcher in the Rye” has been the subject of a relentless stream of newspaper and magazine articles as well as several biographies. Yet all of these attempts have been hampered by a fundamental lack of access and by the persistent recycling of inaccurate information. Salinger remains, astonishingly, an enigma. The complex and contradictory human being behind the myth has never been revealed. No longer.” (Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverRomancing the East : a literary odyssey from the heart of darkness to the River Kwai / Jerry Hopkins.
“From the time of Marco Polo’s trek across the Central Asian desert to the empire of the mighty Kahn, no other place on earth, not the languid South Pacific or even deepest, darkest Africa has so challenged and enchanted the Western imagination as have the fabled lands of the East! However soaked in blood its history and no matter how unsettling its social conditions and poverty, Asia has never lost its irresistible attraction or mystic. It has long been an inspiration for Western novelists, so much so that more than 5000 novels have been set in Asia in the English language alone.” (Publisher’s website)

Syndetics book coverHow beautiful it is and how easily it can be broken : essays / Daniel Mendelsohn.
“Whether he’s on Broadway or at the movies, considering a new bestseller or revisiting a literary classic, Daniel Mendelsohn’s judgments over the past fifteen years have provoked and dazzled with their deep erudition, disarming emotionality, and tart wit. Now, How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken demonstrates why he is considered one of our greatest critics. Writing with a lively intelligence and arresting originality, he brings his distinctive combination of scholarly rigor and conversational ease to bear across eras, cultures, and genres, from Roman games to video games.” (Books In Print)

Syndetics book coverHow to read literature / Terry Eagleton.
“In this serious but breezy and idiosyncratic take on how to read and enjoy literature, English critic Eagleton performs an important if basic service, distinguishing the way people talk about fiction, drama, or poetry from the way we discuss real life. His emphasis is on form how literature works rather than content. The book’s chapter headings Openings, Character, Narrative, Interpretation, and Value summarize, but do not do justice to, his sophisticated approach. (Booklist)

The recent death of Doris Lessing came as a shock to many of us who thought she would live forever. Her importance to young women growing up in the colonies after the war is amply illustrated in this article by Margaret Atwood. As she says ‘ When the wheel spins it’s on the edges that the sparks fly” ( Doris Lessing grew up in the then Rhodesia , now Zimbabwe before moving to London). If you have missed out on reading her novels until now there is still time to catch up -“Martha Quest ” is wonderful, and the first novel in a quintet if you would like to continue on. Much of Doris Lessing’s life is captured in her novels but her two volumes of autobiography still make fascinating reading.

Syndetics book coverUnder my skin / Doris Lessing.Under My Skin: My Autobiography to 1949
“”I was born with skins too few. Or they were scrubbed off me by… robust and efficient hands.” The experiences absorbed through these “skins too few” are evoked in this memoir of Doris Lessing’s childhood and youth as the daughter of a British colonial family in Persia and Southern Rhodesia Honestly and with overwhelming immediacy, Lessing maps the growth of her consciousness, her sexuality, and her politics, offering a rare opportunity to get under her skin and discover the forces that made her one of the most distinguished writers of our time.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWalking in the shade : volume two of my autobiography, 1949-1962 / Doris Lessing.Walking in the Shade: My Autobiography, 1949-1962
“More casually written and organized than the superb Under My Skin, this second volume of Lessing’s memoirs contains acute, brutally frank comments on topics from book publishing to left-wing activism. She opens with her arrival in London four years after the end of WWII. A 30-year-old single mother with a two-year-old son, Lessing left Southern Rhodesia in search of a place and a means to write freely. Chapters are named for the locations in which she lived‘Denbigh Road, Church Street, Warwick Road, Langham Street‘and her narrative is similarly episodic. She covers her love affairs, years of psychotherapy, her increasingly disenchanted involvement with the Communist Party, the books she was writing, though she also interpolates musings.” (Publisher Weekly)