Currently Reading 8/9/21

I sometimes prefer the company of women. Actually I often prefer the company of women. So it happens that all my current reading is from female writers.

Jane Alison is my new favorite writer. I discovered Meander, Spiral, Explode two years ago right before it was published while researching new formalist literary criticism. After publishing “The New Aesthetics” I turned

my attention to reviewing her splendid volume on form in fiction. As I listened to Ms. Alison’s podcasts from the press tours following the release of her new books (four novels, a memoir, a translation of Ovid’s poetry, and the heretofore Meander), I began to read my way through her.

Her lovely lyrical prose enchanted me. Mind you, I already had a powerful interest in new forms and shapes in fiction. Meander meandered into my life, spiraled me around for a couple of years, then exploded in my head while revisiting it. I began to read her acclaimed first novel, The Love-Artist. Not since Flaubert’s Salammbo have I seen such a sensually evocative depiction of ancient history, hers with magical elements that befit beliefs of the day. This story is shaped like an arc, a form that Ms. Alison would move away from, but a form she handles vigorously and deftly so far in my reading. I’m halfway through.

Because Nine Island, her last novel, which I ordered from Lemuria Book Store came in. I read it in one sitting the day I acquired it. Six hours, 225 pages, breaks for coffee refills. Because I wanted to know the answer to the question her heroine, J., was contemplating, the question Jane was asking herself by her own admission in the podcasts and readings, whether she wanted to retire from love or not. To retire from wanting. At 68, I am interested in the subject matter. No spoilers here. Just a tongue in cheek reference to this item about a local man.

Ms. Alison is Australian by birth, and another Australian woman, Shirley Hazzard, is also in the stack. Her Collected Stories was published last Fall. I had read some reviews that interested me in it and this is the blurb that got my attention:

Hazzard’s heroes are high-minded romantics who attempt to fit their feelings into the twentieth-century world of office jobs and dreary marriages. After all, as she writes in “The Picnic,” “It was tempting to confine oneself to what one could cope with. And one couldn’t cope with love.” And yet it is the comedy, the tragedy, and the splendor of love, the pursuit and the absence of it, that animates Hazzard’s stories and provides the truth and beauty that her protagonists seek.

Collected Stories

She had me at high-minded romantics.

Hey, want to see what kind of world class literature Jackson, Mississippi puts out? Millsaps professor Katy Simpson Smith sets The Everlasting in Rome. Though the unity of place is there, the unities of time and action are not as The Everlasting is a quadruple love story spanning two millennia. The stories are

those of an early Christian child martyr; a medieval monk on crypt duty in a church; a Medici princess of Moorish descent; and a contemporary field biologist conducting an illicit affair.

Usually there’s one book in my stack dealing with writing directly or craft or criticism. This time it’s Rhetorical Grammar by Martha Kolln. Published in 1991, I am somehow just finding out about it. One of those books I wish I had read much earlier. After all, grammar is as important (and useful!) as words themselves.

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