Saturday, June 9, 2012

"Letters to a Friend," by Diana Athill

What a delight to have a new book from the wonderful Diana Athill! I have written about this author before (3/15/10): She is in her 90s and after a long career as an esteemed editor for the publisher Andre Deutsch, became famous late in life for her series of memoirs, including “Yesterday Morning,” “Stet,” and “Somewhere Towards the End,” all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. The new book is “Letters to a Friend” (Norton, 2011). Since 1980, Athill had been corresponding with the American poet Edward Field. He kept all her letters, and felt that others would enjoy them and they should be published. I am glad he proposed this, and she agreed, as her letters from almost thirty years confirm the impressions I already had from the memoirs; they are direct, immediate, frank, kind, detailed, funny, and genuine. She is clearly a good and loyal friend, not only to Field (with whom she is still corresponding) and his partner Neil Derrick, but to her other friends. She is modest and self-deprecating, but not too much so. She frankly admits that she is enjoying the attention and fame that have come to her late in life, but she is also well aware of -- and writes wryly about -- the ebbs and flows of such fame. She speaks of both the pains and joys of being an older person. By the end of the collection, a reader feels she knows Athill’s world, her writing, her friends, her routines. One interesting thread throughout is the fact that Athill writes the letters (and her memoirs) with pen and paper, then a typewriter, and finally, reluctantly, a word processor/computer; she writes entertainingly about the process of moving through and adjusting to these various writing implements. Sometimes published collections of letters can be somewhat mixed and even downright tedious, but this one is always engaging, never dull. Highly recommended.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Site Meter