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A Diet of Literature, 14, 15 & 16

Day 14:New York Times: Oops! Famously Scathing Reviews of Classic Books

For day 14 of The Guardian’s Literary Diet their link takes you to a 2019 article in which the New York Times looks back on what journalist, Tina Jordan, describes as ‘some of our most memorable misses.’ The links in the article take you to the original reviews. I’ve skimmed a few, there’s no way I’ll ever get to read them all, and, I reckon, on the whole, they’re all forgivable. We know so much more now than the critic who, in 1860, was ‘unconvinced’ by Darwin’s arguments, for example. And, I don’t know about you, but I really do find cold porridge more appetising than the poetry of Yeats (I know, I know, I’m a literary heathen!).

Other ‘misses’ include implying that Salinger should stick to short stories in a review of Catcher in the Rye and, hilariously, this about Lolita:

“There are two equally serious reasons why it isn’t worth any adult reader’s attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive.”

If you’re feeling irritated by your own fallibility, you could do worse than to take a look at this selection.


Day 15:Saki: The Storyteller

For a time, in my mid-twenties, I was obsessed with Saki. I read his Complete Stories over a summer, and then I read them again over the following winter. Years later, a battered copy of the exact same book caught my attention on the bottom shelf of an oak book-case in the house of a man I didn’t yet know I would fall in love with. I now live in that house, and the oak book-case is in my workroom, because I married that man. 

I haven’t read Saki in years, and I can no longer find that book, so I was looking forward to clicking on today’s link from The Guardian. Unfortunately I discovered it takes you only to their book shop where you can buy a copy of The Complete Short Stories (Penguin). Which is rather disappointing as the blurb strongly implies it will take you to a ‘piquant story-within-a-story of a smug little girl whose good behaviour medals prove her undoing.’ 

Luckily, I found it available for Kindle and downloaded a sample (I love that about Kindle books!). Thus, I read a story called ‘Reginald’ and found I like his writing just as much as I did in my twenties. I’ll have to search for our copy, it’s probably languishing in a pile somewhere.

Day 16:James Baldwin: The Fire Next Time

The Guardian’s link takes you to Audible, fair enough, but when I clicked on it I got this message:

This title is not available for you.

Sorry, this title is no longer available. Please try using the search feature as another version of this work may be available. If you think we’ve made a mistake, please contact Audible Customer Care at 1-888-283-5051.

However, I am a resourceful sort, when I put my mind to it, and a little googling gave me the video on the right. It’s definitely worth a listen.

Header image: Sarah Kilian on Unsplash

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