Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Katherine Whitehorn and more

Recent reading has included Katherine Whitehorn's autobiography Selective Memory, which I found to be a quick read, as it is fairly short. Her life seems to have been successful, although not without its problems. Although she might possibly be described as a feminist in the way she has conducted her life, in that she has always worked pretty much full-time, she doesn't describe herself as such, just a working journalist. What comes out of the book for me is her breadth of interests and her commitment to public good . I more-or-less taught myself to cook from her Cooking in a bedsitter, when I left home for college in Manchester and lived in bedsitters as a student. Somehow the Women's Own Cookbook given me by my mother didn't seem to cut it - too full of pictures of rather elaborate-looking food which was totally inappropriate in bedsitter with a one or two electric ring Baby Belling cooker. Her explanations were simple and right to the point and usually turned out tasty edible food, much better than that available at the student canteens which were the alternative. I've also enjoyed her Observer columns in the past.
Jane Gardam's Old Filth is another of those books which I've only just got round to reading despite wanting to since it was published a few years ago. The descriptions of Old Filth's separation from his father, left in Malaysia while he was sent to England at a very tender age brought back memories of my childhood separation from my parents, as they were in Ghana in West Africa while my sister and self were at boarding school in England. However my experiences were generally happier than Old Filth's, whose life seemed to have had a variety of very unhappy experiences, all born with grace and a stoicism that seems rarely to exist in present times.
Current read is Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World, a biography of sorts of William Shakespeare. Based on what little documentary evidence is available a sort-of picture gradually emerges of the most famous playwright in the English language. But somehow he still seems only to speak through his plays; there is little else to go on, so do we really get to know Shakespeare the human being? To me he still seems to be a figure glimpsed through a mist, only partly visible. But still worth reading about in this book, as it sends me back to the plays to read the context of at least some of the chosen quotes.

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