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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Literary Detours: The Diaries of Christopher Isherwood, Volume 001

I have no idea what prompted me to pick up this massive volume. Perhaps I was just due for a literary detour. "The Diaries of Christopher Isherwood, Volume One, 1939-1960" is full of literary gossip, but it is also an insightful look at the seminal moment of Hindu belief in America and its development from the ground up. Isherwood was among the many writers and actors in Hollywood to embrace Hinduism (Vedanta) back in the late 1930s and 1940s. It's amazing to see the quantity (and quality) of Isherwood's writing. This man wrote like every day was his last day on earth. If you are asking yourself, "where have I heard that name before?" you are not alone. Isherwood is the author of many novels and essays. His most memorable is "Berlin Stories" which was essentially turned into the musical "Cabaret." These diary entries are edited by Katherine Bucknell; she does an excellent job of keeping private those entries that might have revealed a bit too much of Isherwood's personal and intimate moments without losing the central idea of the man's genius. Sure, he was already in his mid forties and dating 19 year old young men, but who wasn't back in the Hollywood of those days. Isherwood was intensely frightful of war in general, so it came as no surprise that he took a conscientious objector status even before Pearl Harbor. Being a British subject at the time, he could have been called back home to fight. Luckily, that was not the case, and Isherwood spent the war years writing for MGM on a part-time basis, volunteering in a Quaker camp, and meditating the years away under the guidance of his guru, Swami Prabhavananda. Much is said regarding Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard, Thomas Mann, Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, W.H. Auden, among many, many others. I don't think Isherwood is just merely dropping names here; he's really got a handle on these people and depicts them clearly and with insight.

If you checked out the link you'll know that this is a 1,047 page chunkler. Somehow, I just found myself past page 300 within the first few days, and even though it is not part of my designated reading list books for 2009, I am going to press on and eventually finish it. The glossary, notes and other index goodies can't be past over without missing much. More on this later.

Finish the second of my "Writing" books. I read Ann Hood's "Creating Character Emotions." It was a very good and instructive book, but I think I often take advice on writing too literally, and eventually work myself into a corner with little options, so I have to learn how to moderate this.

I have a rant coming on "the American Short Story" and the genius that is Kevin Canty. Believe me, you will not want to miss that one.

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