Susan Sontag has certainly been hovering on the edge of my radar over the years. She wrote a book which is hailed as one of the greats in the world of medical humanities, Illness as Metaphor, and I've always been meaning to read it, but having read the excellent essay in The Guardian a few weeks ago I plumped for At the Same Time : Essays and Speeches with a foreword by Susan Sontag's son David Rieff. I thought I'd start with a good old mixture and take it (or leave it) from there.
Yet again I wonder why it is that the death will often prompt me to explore the life.
Incidentally Hilary (Mantel) and I seem to have similar reading tastes at the moment as her name keeps popping up on every book I read, she's quoted on the inside cover of this one.
I wasn't really sure what to expect but I am always delighted to have something meaty to read, bit of depth and brain twizzling never does me any harm and I've been thoroughly taken by this book especially an essay entitled Loving Dostoyevsky, not only for its readability but also for its reading suggestions.There is a passionate account of Summer in Baden-Baden by Leonid Tsypkin which makes the book sound irresistible and the author's life tragically fascinating.Enough to make me want to read it soon and besides here's another doctor writing so
I'll have to add it to the list. it's on its way.
There's another sparkling essay on one of my favourites among the great women artists, Artemisia Gentileschi and Anna Banti's 1947 book Artemisia.I've learnt more in equal quantities about both Artemisia and Anna from Susan Sontag's insights and I was delighted to find that my memory had not deceived me, yes I had bought a new copy this book for 99p in Oxfam about 10 years ago and I hadn't read it.
Back to Iceland and a piece about Under the Glacier by Halldor Laxness, a novel that fits just about every literary tradition Susan Sontag can muster...tale, fable, allegory, philosophical, dream, visionary, wisdom, fantasy, spoof.The sort of book that without some assistance would probably be quite a tricky read, in fact just the sort of book to end up in Oxfam so I must look for it next time I'm there.
Sustaining readability and offering an accessible book is a gift for an incisive and brilliant thinker like Sontag; how easy it would be for her to have overwhelmed with her stupendous reach and vast intellect and lost me in a fog of inadequacy after the first page.That would tell me a great deal, not least that I was being a bit presumptious to ever think I could read such a book; that it wasn't intended for a sock knitting health visitor in Devon, it was for a mind somehow far greater and therefore, as we wrongly often assume, somehow more worthy, and that ultimately I was stepping a bit out of my league.
Quite the opposite, there is not a shred of elitism about this book and I suspect Susan Sontag would have been delighted to think that a sock knitting health visitor had enjoyed it.
On the inside cover flap (technical name?) and beneath Hilary Mantel's glowing praise is a quote from Susan Sontag's acceptance speech for a prize back in 2003
"A writer is someone who pays attention to the world"
How true and how brilliant of Susan Sontag to place her work within reach of this ordinary reader who occasionally likes to think she can read something completely off the beaten track and live to tell the tale.