When writers read
A year ago today the first ''When writers read'' page brought together books, old and new, recently enjoyed by contributors to The Home Forum. This season's comments are by different writers, drawn from those who have appeared here since then and those whose books were chosen last time. Tomorrow the list will be completed with ''When poets read.'' Next Tuesday some authors from ''The loose-leaf library'' will favor us with their selections.
''I read Charlotte Bronte's 'Villette' this past spring,'' writes T. Lux Feininger, whose ''Father and son at the Bauhaus,'' illustrated with his photographs and paintings, appeared Sept. 12. ''The author of 'Jane Eyre' gives here an intimate portrait of her heroine as an interne teacher in an early-Victorian school for young ladies. Whether deliberately autobiographical or not, the novel is an entrancing study of the impact of an alien culture (the Belgium of the 1830s) on an intellectually brilliant young woman struggling for her place in the sun from out of the handicaps of insular prejudice, poverty, and moral isolation. Bronte has the psychological flair of a modern; she penetrates her own pretensions and those of all others (men, women, and children), sparing nobody but rejoicing at the encounter of true worth. I enjoy the great range of her observations of features of the commonplace life around her, and the humor with which she records her perceptions.''
From South Africa come these words by Alan Paton (''A writer's reflections,'' Oct. 3): ''It was by chance that I recently read Stuart Jackman's short novel 'The Davidson Affair,' first published in 1966. An article in The Tablet, that splendid British Catholic periodical, referred to it as a remarkable book. And so it is. Extraordinary rumors are reaching Rome that the man Jesus Davidson, who had been executed by the Lord Pilate for treason, has risen from the dead; or at least that his body had disappeared though guarded by soldiers. Rome Television promptly sends a crew to Jerusalem, headed by a hard-bitten operator, Cass Tennel. He interviews, among others, Pilate, Nicodemus, the cabaret-girl Magdala, taxman Zaccheus, and Simon Cleopas from Emmaus. The last three interviews are exciting and moving. Reluctantly Tennel is beginning to believe, too, that Jesus Davidson has risen from the dead. Quite a book.''
''In my years of using words as tools, broadcasting ad lib hour after hour, I found the writer who helped me the most was Winston Churchill,'' says Red Barber (''Who changed baseball most?'' May 23). ''I have advised young announcers to read him to absorb his way with our language, his directness and pith in relating events, and his magnificent summations of history and of men. The late Edward R. Murrow once introduced me on his CBS News program as Winston Churchill Barber - and Murrow secured for me from the BBC all the recordings then available of Churchill's speeches. I am now halfway through a rereading of Churchill's 'The Second World War.' He is today bringing back the terrors, sacrifices, and savage destructions of that awful struggle. In this country, at this time, these six volumes should be required reading for each of us - most certainly for everyone in government. I have believed for years that Churchill was the greatest man of that era. His actions, his faith, coupled with his words , saved our civilization. His history of World War II is beautifully written brutal reality. He was, he did, and he wrote it down.''
From Sayre Sheldon (''The real Nicholas Nickleby,'' Feb. 15): '' 'We're put here to learn,' said Doris Lessing on her recent visit to America, and with that I went back again to try her latest series, 'Canopus in Argos: Archives.' Fortunately I chose 'The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five,' second in the series of five (a sixth remains unfinished). 'Marriages ...' has a simple , irresistible plot: The Providers, who mysteriously direct the affairs of the planet Canopus, order the queen of Zone Three to leave her gentle, Utopian 'feminine' society and journey to the unknown, barbaric, militaristic Zone Four to marry its kind. Their story, as told by the chroniclers of Zone Three, is as human, touching, amusing, and shocking as any battle of the sexes ever described. Just when a resolution seems possible, the Providers come up with another order and a new round begins. Like all great science fiction, or 'space fiction' as Lessing prefers it to be called, 'Marriages ...' has more to do with human dimensions than planetary spaces. It's a profound and surprising journey into our terrestrial lives as men and women.''
'' 'Russia: Broken Idols, Solemn Dreams,' by David Shipler, really hit home with me,'' says Gary Burton, whose ''Good vibes'' (Aug. 9) told of his visits to the Soviet Union as an American jazz musician. ''In it I met young couples, children and their teachers in the classroom, dissidents and exiles, men and women in everyday situations. I felt I understood them, and yet they were also foreign and unfathomable. Almost every portrayal of a Soviet citizen brought to mind a parallel in our society. We may be able to vote our government in and out of office, but the nature of it is so cumbersome that we, too, are often left feeling outside of it. To many Russians we are blundering around in a bacchanalian feast of material excess, drunk with consumption and bereft of direction and purpose. Shipler effectively captures the plights of both Russia's society and our own (whether this was his intention I do not know) and makes the vast gulf between our societies more understandable if not resolvable.''
From John E. Sawyer, president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, whose essay on economist Joseph Schumpeter appeared Oct. 5: ''As we cope with '1984' and anticipate the bicentennial of the drafting and adoption of our Constitution , the printed record offers no more illuminating discussion of the principles and practical requirements of combining liberty with order, union, and security than that set forth in 'The Federalist' by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. Written and published between October, 1787 and August, 1788, to urge adoption of the new Constitution, these essays have been described by Clinton Rossiter as 'the most important work in political science that has ever been written, or is likely ever to be written, in the United States.' And one need not read all 85 papers to catch (as in numbers 10, 51, 70, 78, and 85) the essential balance of individual freedom and effective government - the remarkable structure proposed to create afresh a constitutional republic in this new land.''
'' 'The Name of the Rose,' by Umberto Eco, is in the category, if it can be called a category, of books that I enjoy most - novels, or something close to novels, set in historical context, especially that of medieval times,'' writes Eugene J. McCarthy (''The merkle,'' July 5). ''The setting is not very different from the one at which I attended prep school and college, and subsequently taught. Not unlike the monastery of Eco's book, the latter-day monastery had as one of its first librarians a man who believed that card files were unnecessary, if not dangerous, and that he alone should know all of the books in his stacks. The library had a secret or reserved room, known as 'The Hell Room.' Some current teachings of philosophers and of theologians were questioned, although not with the consequences laid upon 'heretics' of medieval times. A vagrant, or wandering monk, bent on restoring the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was given haven at the monastery for a time. Particular friendships, as they were labeled, among or between monks were noted and warned against in the rule of the monastery. One of these led to murder. There was continuing trouble between the monastery and the bishop of the diocese. Time does not change everything. It may not change anything.''
''A Cape Cod neighbor, long familiar with Albany, N.Y., lent me 'Ironweed,' by William Kennedy, whose name meant little to me,'' writes Francis Russell (''The last hill,'' Dec. 19). ''That was before 'Ironweed' received the Pulitzer Prize and Kennedy himself a quarter-of-a-million-dollar award from the MacArthur Foundation. On reading it I was struck at once by the strength, understanding, and compassion in his at times hallucinatory pages. As a former reporter, Kennedy knows Albany from the depths - the flotsam, the derelicts sheltering in abandoned houses or cars or in dump shacks. And to these rejects he has given a luminous vitality within his city. Picking up 'Ironweed' casually, I had not expected to be particularly impressed. I found it overwhelming.''
''I have just finished reading, and underlining much, a book entitled 'Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed,' by Philip Hallie,'' writes David Mazel (''Strawberries, '' June 25). ''It tells of how the clergy and villagers of a small Protestant town in southern France during World War II gave sanctuary to thousands of Jewish refugees from all over Europe, adults and children. They did it simply out of the belief that persecuted lives were as precious as their own, and they did it at great risk to themselves. They showed that goodness can happen in the worst of times. Even if a book tells me a truth that breaks my heart, I'm grateful to it. But this book tells me a truth that renews my hope for the world , and I treasure it.''
From Ivan Doig, whose Montana novel ''English Creek'' will be published in October (and whose previous ''This House of Sky'' was chosen by a Home Forum contributor last year): '' 'The older I get and the more I learn, the more I know I don't know nothing, me.' So speaks the namesake narrator on the opening page of 'The Book of Ebenezer Le Page,' but this novel by G. B. Edwards is a knowing and beguiling chronicle of life on the English Channel isle of Guernsey. Indeed, Ebenezer in his gossipy yet museful way manages to give us the lives of everybody and his cousin - because, on the rural and isolated Guernsey almost everybody is a cousin of Ebenezer. This deceptively plain-spoken story of a man's years passing in review before him struck me, when I first read it in 1981 , as a beautifully crafted job of writing. Upon rereading it recently, I redoubled my liking and admiration for both Ebenezer and Edwards.''
From Diane Casselberry Manuel, who wrote about son Jonathan and his animals July 31: ''Although I've never spent a summer on the Greek island of Corfu, I hear cicadas singing and geckos cackling each time I re-read Gerald Durrell's recollection of his growing-up days there in 'My Family and Other Animals.' I know by now that the renowned founder of the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust enjoyed Augusts filled with eccentric turtles and even daffier relatives, but his understated retelling of his wacky adventures never ceases to delight. To hear about the baby magpies who thrived on pages plucked from brother Lawrence Durrell's latest manuscript, and to listen once again to the tale of Quasimodo the pigeon dancing to military marches is to be transported to the sunset-lavender land of summer memories.''
'' 'One Thing Leading to Another,' by Sylvia Townsend Warner, is a posthumous collection of short stories by someone who for many years, as well as being a novelist, biographer, and poet, wielded a witty pen for The New Yorker,'' writes Virginia Graham, whose latest humor from Britain (''Out of the chips'') appeared July 11. ''These stories are perfect for a bedside book, or indeed a seaside one: light, sensitive, with a strong sense of the ridiculous, the individuals portrayed tending to be delightfully eccentric. Whether writing about the real world in wartime England or an imaginary world of her own, Sylvia Townsend Warner's style is consistently graceful, her heart instinctively sympathetic to the vagaries of her pleasantly offbeat characters.''
The Home Forum's longtime Friday columnist John Gould enjoyed ''Whistling in the Dark,'' the autobiography of Fred Lowery: ''Maybe an odd one remembers the great Horace Heidt band in the magnificent days of radio, and how it had a blind whistler who did the overture from William Tell. Fred's story, from handicapped boyhood in Texas to fame and stardom on stage and radio, is heartwarming all the way, with nigh 300 pages of memories of Heidt, Vincent Lopez, Art Carney, Glenn Miller, Harry James, Judy Garland, Betty Hutton, Frankie Carle, Mary Martin, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Dale Evans, and all of that stripe. Fred still whistles , in retirement in Texas.''''
From Enid Saunders Candlin, who wrote about Malory and King Arthur May 22: ''Maurice Baring's 'Tinker's Leave' springs from his experiences in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904/5, when he fell in love with old Russia, enthralled by the candor of its people and the monotonous fascination of the countryside. Largely devoted to the conversations of the war correspondents who travel to Manchuria via the Trans-Siberian, and the officers they encounter there, it discourses on love and war, religion, music, literature, politics. With it one enters a civilized company and is refreshed by its members' acumen, wit, tenderness, melancholy, and muted adventures. Charmed by the unaffected manners of his companions, the principal figure, a mild Englishman, awakens to a wider discernment as he takes photographs, treasuring a secret romance, hearing both the guns and the balalaika. The style is of a simple, gentle elegance.''''
Christopher Andreae, whose own pet was here June 5 (''It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a dog!''), recently enjoyed ''Flush: A Biography,'' by Virginia Woolf. '' 'Flush' isn't any old spaniel but an aristocratic companion for the invalid poetess of Wimpole Street, Elizabeth Barrett - the future Mrs. Browning. The growing of Elizabeth and Robert's affection, their secret marriage, and their escape to Italy, as witnessed through the watching golden eyes, attentive hanging ears, and supremely discriminating and descriptive nose of Flush/Woolf - since the sensibilities of speechless dog and opulently articulate writer marry wonderfully - are all atmosphere, hint, mystery, poetry. Like Elizabeth, Flush adores Italy - liberated at last from 'dog-stealers' no less than 'fathers.' The light-and-shade of interdependence and independence between dog and owner stirs and amuses. And how Flush learns, finally, to love the Intruder, Browning, with his yellow kid gloves (after attempting twice to murder him by biting his trousers) is pure catharsis.''
Pippa Stuart (''Where the center does hold,'' June 26) writes from Scotland: ''I always return with joy to 'The Ambassadors,' chiefly for Henry James's most endearing hero, Lambert Strether. The theme is his voyage of self-discovery, sent from the New World by Mrs. Newsome of Woollett to rescue her son, Chad, from the corruption of the Old. There is the fascination of watching Strether's progress as ambassador, the growth of his insights into truth. He compares: Woollett with Paris, Mrs. Newsome with the wonderful Mme. de Vionnet from whom Chad has to be saved, whom Strether too comes to love. 'Live all you can!' he exclaims, realizing the narrowness of his experience. He faces the new ambassadors from Woollett, knowing that if he is to be true to what he has learned he cannot wish his mission to succeed. Having tasted of the tree of knowledge, Strether remains at the end wryly humorous, self-deprecating, refusing any personal happiness to be right. He represents supremely James's uncompromising ideal of individual integrity - rightness is all.''