Patrimony

A copy of Ben Yagoda's fascinating Memoir: A History -- no, it's not the story of author's life, but a rich and thought-provoking study of the history of that curious genre -- landed on the desk today.  I haven't had time to fully take in its many pleasures, but leafing through I was very happy to see the attention the author gives to one of my personal favorites -- Edmund Gosse's melancholy masterpiece Father and Son.

 

Gosse was a prolific and authoritative critic of both visual and literary art, a late-Victorian/Edwardian literary lion of a type that would more or less disappear.  Yagoda points out that although in his day his many critical works comprised the vast bulk of his enormous output, it was his very different -- and for his day almost revolutionary -- account of his life growing up as the only child of Plymouth Brethren parents that became his lasting literary claim to fame.  Gently bringing the details of his highly anachronistic family life into view, Gosse breaks through the habitual reticence of the Victorians about their private worlds with a grace that seems effortless, though it was almost certainly anything but.

 

I'm not going to spoil any of the pleasures of Father and Son by recounting Gosse's story here, but reading Yagoda's praise of this slender, haunting book, with it's arresting portrait of a the deep but completely strange bond between a boy trying to grasp the world through the lens of his curious education, and a father whose life's work of biological science is dramatically at odds with his complex Puritan faith, I was reminded of what a wonder of the genre it is.  I'm looking forward to reading Memoir in depth -- and then to re-reading Father and Son.

April 21: " 'Pull' includes 'invitations to tea' at which one hears smiling reminders that a better life is available to people who stop talking about massacres..."

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.