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An Observer Observed

An Observer Observed

The trouble with memoirs is that too often they are written by people whose idea of what’s interesting is not the same as the reader’s. They are either grossly self-serving, like most political memoirs, or a good story spoiled by bad writing. Autobiography is not easy: it calls for literary talent, professional detachment and moral courage. Alan Moorehead had all three. Not only was he a rare example of a high-profile newspaper reporter who turned himself into a bestselling author, but he also had the vital extra ingredient of critical self-awareness. The result is an unusually good autobiography.
SF magazine subscribers only
Tarka the Rotter

Tarka the Rotter

If we’re honest, most of us have at least one friend who we would hesitate to bring into civilized company – someone too strange or socially awkward, full of crazed notions about God or politics, given to boring on or making horrible scenes: unspeakable when drunk. Something similar holds with writers: there are books and authors that we love quite unreasonably but would hesitate to introduce to anyone nice. Often, these are the authors we read and read again, however many times we’ve given them up in despair or disgust, promising ourselves that we won’t soil another moment in their company. As with many a difficult friendship, you can end up wondering who is abusing whom. Some knotty thoughts arise: doesn’t allowing ourselves to feel ashamed of someone, anyone, always make us feel a bit ashamed of ourselves? Doesn’t it imply a priggishness – at worst a kind of treachery?
SF magazine subscribers only
Laura, Louisa and Me

Laura, Louisa and Me

The Child that Books Built is the title of a memoir by Francis Spufford which explores the impact of books read in childhood by interspersing an account of Spufford’s own reading with excursions into history, philosophy and psychology. It beautifully articulates the formative nature of childhood literary exploration. ‘The words we take into ourselves help to shape us,’ Spufford writes. ‘They help form the questions we think are worth asking; they shift around the boundaries of the sayable inside us . . . They build and stretch and build again the chambers of our imagination.’
SF magazine subscribers only
At Home with the Pewters

At Home with the Pewters

I’m bound to admit that some of the experiences, and also, for heavens’ sake, the attitudes of the ‘pathetic ass who records his trivial life’ (as William Emrys Williams put it in his introduction to the Penguin edition of 1945), seem embarrassingly close to my own. Mr Pooter may have lived more than a hundred years ago – just up the road from where I live now, as it happens, in a house, er, rather similar to mine – but his psychology is timeless.
SF magazine subscribers only

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