Friday, April 13, 2018

Quickly Read

With a trip to California coming up, I thought it well to stop by Second Story Books to find something that would last for one cross-country flight or two, and could be left behind in Los Angeles if desired. I had in mind either On the Road, the scroll edition, or Happy All the Time by Laurie Colwin, the former because we were traveling, the latter because W.M. Spackman gave it a good review in one of the essays collected in The Decay of CriticismHappy All the Time was slimmer, had no preface, and cost $5 and tax, so I bought it.

After a few dozen pages of Happy All the Time, it struck me that of course Spackman enjoyed it: it was his own novel Heyday brought up to date, the well-born, well-educated, and well-heeled pairing up, but in the prosperous 1970s rather than the Depression, and with the women having attended the same colleges as the men. Still, I enjoyed Heyday, and I enjoyed Happy All the Time. I have objected to novels that seemed to be about what might have happened to people the author went to college with. On reflection, I see that what matters is what the author can do with the material, and Colwin was adept. The book might have lasted the flight had I not started reading it beforehand.

Idle Time Books had a copy of The Brass Ring, a memoir of youth and military service by Bill Mauldin. Those who have not heard of Bill Mauldin should try an internet search for him. The book is readable throughout, though Up Front and Willie & Joe: The WWII Years have more of the cartoons that made him famous. Most curious perhaps is a pair of  blurbs on the back cover:
Mauldin's contribution to understanding of the war and how the G.I.s saw it is unique."
  General James M. Gavin

"If that little son-of-a-bitch sets foot in Third Army I'll throw his ass in jail."
  General George S. Patton
Gavin seems to have represented the opinion among generals better than Patton. Mauldin tells of hearing at second hand of an endorsement from Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.,  and of passing on an autographed original to Mark Clark.


  1. I wouldn't be surprised if the Patton one was the one to stick in reader memories when it was time to find a book!

    "People the author went to college with..." Writing in such a way evidently has no appeal to me. But then, I've been impractical in every possible way in my writing...

    1. I can see "people the author went to college with" as a framework for a first novel. (Not that I have any gift for fiction, or have attempted a novel.) And it can be well done: think of Decline and Fall, for one example. It can also be polished but tedious. We read one such novel in our neighborhood book club, and though we have read far worse, I wouldn't read the book again.

  2. I don't think that I would like writing about my own life, though of course there are always threads of connection. In fact, I suspect that I would dislike it. Making up stories feels intensely joyful, and I don't think that writing my own would.