Saturday, August 14, 2010

Maxwell's Swallows

I've been reading William Maxwell's They Came Like Swallows. It's a beautiful little book, first published in 1937. A very deft recreation of family life (and a family tragedy) in a small mid-western city in 1918.

Maxwell was a fiction editor at the New Yorker for many years. I've read in Roger Angell's memoir, Let Me Finish, that he was a wonderful editor, and it doesn't surprise me. The book is written by a man who cares very much about words.

I suppose it might qualify as a neglected book. Then again, I googled the title and quickly found several book-bloggers who've read it and loved it (here, here, and here).

Maxwell's writing is spare, unspectacular, and yet it sings. His understanding of the pitfalls of subjectivity, the different slant of light with each new perspective, and the inner-life of children, it is all quite beautiful. I'm definitely going to sample some of Maxwell's other books after this.

What was the last "old" book you read? Published before, say, 1950. Just throwin' it out there. Anyone?

Update: Finsihed "Swallows." Now, because I can't get enough of Maxwell's exquisitely modulated voice, I'm on to So Long, See You Tomorrow. I notice that dovegreyreader likes that one too. Is there a little William Maxwell boomlet going on?


Glynn said...

I've never blogged about it, but it's one of my favroties as well.

Ted M. Gossard said...

The Old Man and the Sea by Hemmingway, written in 1951 and published in 1952 doesn't qualify, but the best I can do.

But thanks for mentioning this book. I ought to read it. I'm sure very good, and nice to hear that Glynn agrees.

Bob said...

Yes, the Hemmingway book should count! I often think that we don't read the older books enough. We're missing a lot!

Kerry said...

Turn, Magic Wheel by Dawn Powell. She's also a bit of a neglected writer, though there are continuing efforts to revive her. Here is my review.

I definitely try to mix old and new in my reading. In fact, I am on a string of post-2000 reads, so I am itching to get back to some classics.

And thanks for the Maxwell link! I plan to get to So Long, See You Tomorrow soon too.