Friday, November 12, 2010

Reading Somewhere Towards the End: A Memoir by Diana Athill

Citizen Reader had said that I would enjoy reading the memoirs of British editor and publisher Diana Athill. CR had said that Athill was refreshingly frank in stating her no-nonsense opinions on many uncomfortable topics (loss of interest in sex, the resentment of being an unprepared caregiver, aging, death) and that her books were short and compelling. Reading Somewhere Towards the End: A Memoir by Athill, I found that CR was right. It is a book I could have read quickly but chose to read a little at a time.

Somewhere Towards the End is Athill's fifth and probably last book of memories. She was in her late eighties when she wrote it and ninety when it published in 2008. Her first memoir, Instead of a Letter, was published in 1962. The first was a coming-of-age memoir, and in the subsequent titles, she has remembered old friends dying, her many love affairs (one of which was abusive), gardening, and working as an editor for V. S. Naipaul, Jean Rhys, and other literary novelists. In her latest book, she discusses aging, her loss of interest in even pretending to care about sex, her wish not to linger in death, and her lack of fear of ceasing to exist.

I particularly found chapter 12 interesting. Athill says that she has lost interest in most fiction and that now she most enjoys reading biography. She goes on to discuss books about novelist Gustave Flaubert, archeologist Gertrude Bell, adventurer T. E. Lawrence, naturalist Charles Darwin, and industrialist Josiah Wedgwood. The range of characters is wide but probably understandable for someone who spent her entire life focused on books.

Will Somewhere Towards the End really be Athill's last book. She has retired before and is only ninety-two. Give her enough time and she may find something else she wants to say.

Athill, Diana. Reading Somewhere Towards the End: A Memoir. W. W. Norton, 2008. ISBN 9780393067705.

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