Waugh in the LARB

The Los Angeles Review of Books contains references to Waugh in two of this months’ issues. The first is in a review of a book entitled Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles, by David Ulin, a transplanted New Yorker, who tries to learn about L.A. on foot:

 Among other things, his book is about how Los Angeles’s nonexistent pedestrian culture is beginning to change. Long having built out rather than up, Los Angeles has, in certain neighborhoods at least, recommitted itself to the idea of the street as a public, walkable place, though as Ulin sensibly concedes, “any city where you have to drive to a pedestrian district cannot be called a walking city.”

Waugh comes into the story through The Loved One.  L.A. is there referred to as “the quiet limit of the world,” a quote from Tennyson’s “Tithonus.” Dennis Barlow reads the lines from his poetry anthology as he takes over his shift at the pet cemetery and later recalls them when he is given a raise by the satisfied proprietor (London, 1948, pp. 12, 19).

The second reference comes in a “Tribute” to critic and poet Clive James and a review of his recent collection of essays Latest Readings. This is by Morten Høi Jensen, a Danish writer and translator living in New York. Jensen begins by recounting a wholly chance  meeting with James in the literary nonfiction stacks of New York’s Strand Bookstore. After introductions, James explained that, because of his leukemia diagnosis, his

doctor had forbidden him to leave his hotel room. Despite the doctor’s precaution, however, James was not only out of his room but alarmingly scaling the shelves for hard-to-reach books. At one point, he caught sight of Van Wyck Brooks’ The Times of Melville and Whitman, wedged atop a particularly menacing shelf. I nervously held a rickety stepladder as he climbed to retrieve it while arguing a point about Brooks’ relationship to Edmund Wilson. When he came back down he fell silent and handed me the book. “Take it,” he said, “I already have several copies at home.”

The anecdote will take on a more profound meaning to any one who has read James’s book.

In the book, James explains that he intends to continue reading and re-reading books that interest him until the “lights go out.” According to Jensen, “he plows through a whole shelf of Joseph Conrad novels without even breaking a sweat. Then he goes straight for Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy” which, James writes, “has the broadness of concept that makes Waugh’s other novels look as if pennies are being pinched…”

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