Post-Thanksgiving Roundup

–Stig Abell, former editor of the TLS, has written a book entitled Things I Learned on the 6:28 in which he writes about books he has read while commuting. The Times has posted a selection of the comic novels he has covered in a list of the Top 10 in that category. One of these is by Evelyn Waugh:

Decline and Fall
Evelyn Waugh, 1928
The first, funniest and most enjoyable novel by Waugh. It features a young teacher, Paul Pennyfeather, compelled to slum it as a teacher, having been slung out of Oxford for public nudity. He ends up at Llanabba Castle in Wales, a Dickensian horror of an institution based on an actual place where Waugh had taught. “Please bear in mind throughout,” he said in a note to the book, “that IT IS MEANT TO BE FUNNY”. He need not have bothered: the caustic wit, the unpleasantness, the sheer shuddering authenticity of British misery wafts from every page; and you cannot help but laugh. Waugh was a monstrous man in lots of respects (he once cancelled his son’s allowance because he was dying), but monstrously funny too.

Other choices include one of Waugh’s favorites Diary of a Nobody as well as Three Men in a Boat, Adrian Mole and The Code of the Woosters.

–In its Books of the Year collection, TLS includes this recommendation from Jonathan Clark:

Mankind in its long passion may have learned another wisdom than Rex Mottram’s, but Charles Ryder’s Clos de Bèze 1904 certainly helped. And great Bordeaux is arguably greater still. Seldom do I review a work that is the definitive study in its field, but Jane Anson’s Inside Bordeaux: The chateaux, their wines and the terroir (Berry Brothers and Rudd) is undeniably that.[…] Read it next to Roger Scruton’s I drink therefore I am (Bloomsbury), and defy the Mottrams of our age. In vino veritas: are any of his modern equivalents authors?

–An article by Jeff Pearce compares the reporting on the present military action in Ethiopia with those of Evelyn Waugh and George Steer in the 1930s. This appears on several websites and news services but may have been originally posted on the  Ethiopian news-site ECADF. Here’s the opening:

Evelyn Waugh would have a field day with what’s happening in Ethiopia right now. The talented author of Brideshead Revisited and Scoop was a racist little creep sent out by a rightwing, pro-Fascist newspaper in 1935 to cover Mussolini’s invasion. Just to give you an idea of the man, he wrote home to a friend, “I have got to hate the Ethiopians more each day goodness they are lousy & i hope the organmen gas them to buggery [sic].”

Then as now, the government in Addis Ababa didn’t want the horror or embarrassment of a foreign correspondent getting killed at the front, so it kept reporters bottled up in the capital. But while the concern for safety is admirable, in the absence of facts, reporters and “analysts” will let their imaginations roam. They’ll often perform alchemy on rumors and turn them into substance, and they’ll speculate their way into doomsday and all of Africa on fire.

Back in 1935, a whole truckload of foreign correspondents came and went, abandoning Addis in the summer because the war still hadn’t broken out and wouldn’t until October. Ethiopia got the best and worst of journalism then. Waugh, who was a shameless liar as well as a bigot, filled his slim account of the war with falsehoods (titled with the weak pun Waugh in Abyssinia). At the opposite end of the spectrum was a young South African named George Steer who figured out how to visit the Ogaden to see what was really going on. He genuinely cared about Ethiopians and risked his own life years later, working with British and Patriot forces for the Liberation.

To be fair, it was Waugh’s publisher who insisted upon the “punnish” title, over Waugh’s objections. After several paragraphs offering examples of today’s journalistic shortcomings, the article returns to the comparison of Waugh and Steer:

Evelyn Waugh delighted with spiteful relish in Ethiopian suffering. George Steer wrote two of the best books ever about Ethiopia, chronicling its people’s bravery and endurance. We can either have the best or the worst of professional standards in journalism and human rights,[…] Let’s allow Ethiopians to work out their own problems and come up with their own solutions. With that in mind, let an Ethiopian have the last word here. “There’s an enormous task ahead of us after this conflict is over, which is a careful rethinking of the Ethiopian state,” Professor Kebadu Mekonnen told me. “We need to give the next generation a hopeful future, a future that grants them the ability to go anywhere in the country and be treated with an equal moral standing.”

–In an Op-Ed story from The Times entitled “I discovered the appalling sexism faced by Tory women after I married an MP”, Fiona Laird opens with this:

At a dinner party many years ago I was placed next to a young man who was at pains to let me know, he was extremely successful in business and becoming very rich. I was a young theatre director, pretty skint, but already already making a name for myself. It shouldn’t have been as hard as it was, but we could find absolutely nothing to talk about.

By the end of the first course I was getting desperate and landed on something he said about Graham Greene, one of my favourite writers, as is Evelyn Waugh. I told my neighbour this, and asked if he had read any Evelyn Waugh. He gave me a contemptuous look and said, “I don’t read many books by women.”

Ah, sexism. It comes in many forms, unfortunately few of them as amusing as this. It’s everywhere from dinner parties, to Twitter, from our personal relationships to our professional ones, and it affects every day of women’s lives. But one place in which it has become particularly prominent is with regard to women in, or connected to, the Tory party.

–Irish Novelist John Connolly (not to be confused with English novelist Joseph Connolly mentioned in a recent post) was recently interviewed by the Irish Echo. Here is an excerpt:

What book are you currently reading?

I’m moving between a book called Peter Ross’s “A Tomb With A View,” which is a history of, and reflection on, graveyards – don’t tell me I don’t know how to have a good time – and a re-read of “Scoop,” by Evelyn Waugh.  Waugh is a curiously underrated writer now, and the “Sword of Honour” trilogy, which I finally got to last year, resembles a British “Catch-22” at times.

One wonders whether Connolly has come to a passage in the book he is reading where Waugh’s Californian graveyard writings are discussed? Connolly’s latest book is entitled The Dirty South and is a prequel to his first, Every Dead Thing. Both are about the same detective: Charlie Parker, but both novels take place not in Ireland but in the United States.

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