My ongoing bout of contagious Fadimanosis persists and now I'm enthused yet again about the essay form since the arrival of Anne's latest book which I ordered in hardback, At Large and At Small, Confessions of a Literary Hedonist. After the joys of Ex Libris and Rereadings in recent days I couldn't possibly wait for the paperback. But I have a small complaint.
No book of essays should EVER be published without a ribbon bookmark, this little book is weeping for lack of a ribbon bookmark.
Pending Oxford and all things literary I have been writing my offering having first doused myself in the essays of Virginia Woolf, I mean you just can't go wrong can you?
Is there anything Virginia Woolf didn't write about that isn't always pertinent to the moment the minute you open the book?
It's my second impression The Moment and Other Essays with original Vanessa Bell dust-jacket (have I mentioned that before in passing?) which has been off the shelf this last few days, as well as The Common Reader, second impression also Vanessa Bell dust jacket (hope I've told you about that one too). I have all these essays in run-of-the-mill paperbacks but for value-added inspiration there is nothing like holding the real thing (almost) in your hands. The paper is worn to a shine and with that delicious this-is-a-special-old-book smell about it, no ribbon there was a war on, but I feel sure Virginia and Vanessa would be delighted to think the books are still giving such pleasure into the next century.
OK, I've got over the bookmark thing now, Anne Fadiman could well achieve such pleasurable literary longevity too (this would have been absolutely assured with a ribbon bookmark) and could just as easily write a book of prefaces and I'd read it, in fact I'll bet she makes a shopping list interesting, and she has set out the stall for the essay form, all capably decorated with pleas for the rebirth of the familiar essay, and all with perfect clarity,
'The familiar essayist didn't speak to the millions; he spoke to one reader, as if the two of them were sitting side by side in front of a crackling fire...and a long evening of conversation stretching before them. His viewpoint was subjective, his frame of reference concrete, his style digressive, his eccentricities conspicuous and his laughter usually at his own expense.'
So focusing my thinking on blogs and blogging this week it suddenly occurred to me that in many ways that definition loosely but succinctly (can you be loose and succinct? ) exemplifies the blog form. It's necessarily briefer but a blog does have the ability to convey something in a direct voice as if addressing one person only, and to be honest I never expected this one to get into double figures in a day let alone three figures and then four. I still write it as if I am speaking to one person in my mind and of course that person is you.
Virginia Woolf has the art down to its finest denominator and more than fulfills Anne Fadiman's requirements for the familiar essayist,
'Today's readers encounter plenty of critical essays (more brain than heart) and plenty of personal - very personal - essays (more heart than brain) but not many familiar essays (equal measures of both).'
But Virginia also has something very pertinent to say on the art of amateur criticism in relation to the author in her piece entitled "How Should One Read a Book?"
'If behind the erratic gunfire of the press the author felt that there was another kind of criticism, the opinion of people reading for the love of reading, slowly and unprofessionally, and judging with great sympathy and yet with great severity, might this not improve the quality of his work? And if by our means books were to become stronger, richer and more varied, that would be an end worth reaching.'
Seventy years on I'm not sure whether that outcome still holds good, perhaps the authors will tell us, but it has all provided me with plenty to think about and ample to offer the forthcoming Episode of the Dreaming