Securely protected against the second rate

I’m conscious that I’ve not posted in a little while, and thought I’d just let people know why. It’s nothing dramatic, just an extremely intense push at work up to financial year end (end April just gone) and several transactions which have simultaneous deadlines in early May. If none of that means anything to you, then here’s a simpler one word explanation: life.

I do hope to begin posting normally again within the next week or so, which would be good because even though I’ve had almost no time recently for reading, I’ve had even less for blogging so the review backlog has grown.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share this rather wonderful quote. It’s from the foreword to the translation I’m currently reading of Hjalmar Soderberg’s Doctor Glas.

The English writer William Sansom has written: “When the book first came to me, I got again that marvellous rare feeling, after the first page or two, of being quite certain I was in the hands of a master, knowing that I could trust this book entirely – knowing that this intelligent and beautiful writer would make me both sit up startled by various excitements and at the same time lie back with wonderful relief to know I was securely protected against the second-rate . . . In most of its writing and much of the frankness of its thought, it might have been written tomorrow . . . That this is a work of art and a masterpiece is to my mind unassailable.”

It’s not a feeling I get from every book, far from it, but there are times when I know exactly what William Sansom meant and it really is the most wonderfully reassuring sensation. It’s why (despite the fact I have as a rule no intrinsic interest in the subjects he writes about) I still read Colm Toibin. It’s why I love James Salter. It’s what I felt within moments of starting Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges are not the Only Fruit.

It reminded me too of Dos Passos’s Manhattan Transfer (it’s in my archives). That’s a book firmly of its period, but in its ambition and verve it too might have been written tomorrow. I do like that test – it might have been written tomorrow. It’s curious how few books pass it (even those that were only written yesterday).


Filed under Personal posts

8 responses to “Securely protected against the second rate

  1. Great to have you check-in! Very much looking forward to new posts/reviews.
    Time is, also, the biggest obstacle to my blogging life, too. I read very slowly (at about the rate you’d read a book aloud, I guess), so just getting some reading done, let alone writing (which takes me even longer!) is just a massive time-suck.
    I feel your pain.

  2. In other words, normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

  3. Thanks Tom. So it goes though sometimes. It’s not so much pain, as just that I thought it worth a quick post to say where I’d gone. Congratulations on the Gamespot blog spot by the way.

    Guy, pretty much, but I did like that quote and I couldn’t see any way to wedge it into my eventual Doctor Glas review.

  4. look forward to your return max

  5. I hope things will slow down for you and I’m looking forward to reading your next review. A question: I don’t see the Red Room in the review backlog, I thought you’d read it. (I’m curious to read your thoughts about it)

    It’s a wonderful quote about books and the pleasure of reading. This is a feeling we hope to have when we start a new book.

  6. Thanks Stu.

    Emma, good point, I did finish it recently. I’ve added it in, possibly out of sequence but so it goes. Thanks for reminding me, it would have been a shame not to have written that up.

  7. Mary Gilbert

    Nice to see Manhattan Transfer get a mention. Haven’t read any Dos Passos for years but it had a huge impact on me when I read it years ago. It’s like reading a film.

  8. Dos Passos is tremendous, and underappreciated too which is why I mentioned him. I think he’s very influenced by film technique. Have you read Berlin Alexanderplatz? I have a review here (, and if you like one you’ll likely like the other.

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