Friday, May 14, 2010

A Graham for All Seasons

The more I read my Kindle (birthday gift in March, used for my utilitarian reading - ie crime and modern literature but am still intending to buy lots of books in paper form), the more I hanker after delicate colourful first edition books. 

Even Graham Greene, a relatively serious man, had to conform with design norms of the time.  Hence this book cover with its lurid 1950's style, just the thing to read attired in this:

During a period of leave from work some years ago, I developed a low level obsession with Graham Greene.  My problem is that when I decide I like a writer I feel compelled to read all their works.  That's fine if it is Jonathan Safran Foer (only two novels and one work of non-fiction to read).  But with Mr Greene, there are at least 30 to wade through.  So the writer and I had a quite long relationship although I found I couldn't quite get through his entire oeuvre.   

And I am not proud of this, because although he is a magnificent writer, he is heavy going and his books tend to be very guilt ridden.   I felt like life was almost too much to bear at the end of my Greene fest and even converting to Catholicism wouldn't save me.

On the lighter side, what diversity he shows.

To summarise the Nation:

A stranger with no shortage of calling cards: devout Catholic, lifelong adulterer, pulpy hack, canonical novelist; self-destructive, meticulously disciplined, deliriously romantic, bitterly cynical; moral relativist, strict theologian, salon communist, closet monarchist; civilized to a stuffy fault and louche to drugged-out distraction, anti-imperialist crusader and postcolonial parasite, self-excoriating and self-aggrandizing, to name just a few.

Add to that: suicidal, bi-polar, writer of screenplays,  and a man with quite a good sense of humour (he once entered a competition for Greene parody short stories and came second).

There is a book for every occasion: having an adulterous affair?  Go to the End of the Affair.  Feeling Spylike?   Turn to the Third Man.   Stuck in a train with a chatty old lady?  Read Travels with my Aunt. Feeling an existential Catholic crisis coming on?  Try the Power and the Glory.  

I raise this because I have found from this bookseller in Bangkok a number of first editions for sale, including my second favourite Greene, the End of the Affair (for $250).

For this, I recommend something fitted:

Not my favourite Greene however. My favourite is:

Set in Sierra Leone it tells the story of Scobie, adulterer, potentially corrupt policeman trying valiantly to keep law and order, and save his marriage whilst reconciling the things he does with his religious beliefs.

This book was chosen by Time in 2005 as one of the Top 100 books from 1923 to date.  We may think scathing reviews are a product of the modern time.   Well -  George Orwell wrote a review of this book in the New Yorker in 1949 which you can read here, and made this comment after summarising the plot: 

'I have not parodied the plot of this book. Even when dressed up with realistic details it is just as ridiculous as it sounds'.

And today, in a world where we have to tell everyone what we think, all the time, endlessly, blurting out truths to no avail, I rather like this observation by Mr Greene:

In human relationships, kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths.

(Images: (2) (5) (6)


brismod said...

I like how you describe reading almost all of Greene's books as a low-level obsession, Jane. Heaven forbid if it was high-level! I'm a fan of Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, so I should try to read his entire works first!

Astrid (Mrs.B) said...

Oh lovely, lovely editions! I still haven't read any Greene. I must remedy that soon. The Heart of the Matter sounds like a good place to start.

Kerry said...

Jane, that was a fantastic post. I've only read one Greene (the power and the glory) but now I want to rush out and get more...a visit to the 2nd hand bookstore might be in order this weekend. How are you finding the Kindle? I'm tempted but not sure I can bring myself to do it!

P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

Now, I have a wonderful reason to buy a kindle. thank you. I am drawn to old dustjackets-these are perfect as are the frocks to read them in. They are better than jewelry. A perfect post. pgt

Mise said...

What a great post, Jane! A fine oblique approach to Graham Greene, and what an inspiration to pair his books with fashion. My own low-level obsession with him lasted about a month, when I read all his books on Caribbean beaches, which somewhat counteracted their darkness and yet provided a very suitable strange and foreign atmosphere. He's a wonderful writer, one who makes the reader totally unaware of the writing process, and I can't think of a more modern author who is his match.

Ann said...

Ah Graham... I will add him to my new improved reading list (resolutions to read less crime and craaaap) and stretch myself. Currently reading a Dominic Dunne novel and much as I liked him as a character on the court round for Vanity Fair I think he's falling into the latter category...! My problem is that when I start a book I HAVE to finish it. So love your book posts. More please.... Ann x

Amanda (Small Acorns) said...

Great post Jane. Brunnel has a kindle. It is his new obsession and he loves it. So while I lie in bed turning pages he is alongside 'clicking' through his electronic book. I'm not sure I can do it, so can understand your hankering for first editions!

Jacqueline @ HOME said...

Dear Jane,
I rather like Graham Greene. I can't claim to have read all of his books but,I have read a few and, I did like 'Brighton Rock', amongst others. I can claim that he lived and grew up in the county that I live in...Hertfordshire.
I must make a conserted effort to read some more of his offerings. XXXX

Josephine Tale Peddler said...

I love the first cover! I haven't read any of Graham Greene but I'll add him to my massive 'to read' list. Thanks for your comment regardng the books. I first read about Amanda Brook's style book on Laura Bailey's very glam Blog on UK Vogue. Here's a link to the post on the book if you are interested. Enjoy your weekend.xx

Laura said...

I have that same compulsion to read everything by an author, which tends to leave me rather exhausted when it is over! I think F. Scott Fitzgerald was my last obsession. Too much dysfunctionality to immerse oneself in. That last quote of Mr. Greene's is incredibly wise...too few people I think take that view.

Julie@beingRUBY said...

Hi Jane
Well why is it the books that are such hard going.. are always the more interesting... I have to admit I gave up the hard slogs reads when the work hours increased.. was sort of ready for pre-school books to break the tension.. hhahaha.. cannot remember if I have read any of his so will have to go look up all the titles now.. Love the fashion paired to the books... by the way that image of 'The heart of the matter' is freaking me out.. everytime I look at it seems as if the shadows are moving!! hahahahah

thanks for your comments Jane ... and thanks for putting the button up.. i know i know .. too many giveaways.. a timing thing! will give it a rest after this.. hahaha... xxx Julie

Unknown said...

Not familiar with the works of Graham Greene, but now, after reading this, I think I need to be!

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