HAND LUGGAGE: A Personal Anthology

John Bayley, Author . Continuum $29.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8264-5454-6

For our daily journey through life, Bayley (Elegy for Iris; The Widower's House) recommends some light literary luggage—that is, favorite works that "can engage our consciousness with remarkable vividness and vigour"—in this anthology culled from his lifetime of reading. His opening description of the soothing effect of such random mental material on the tired or anxious brain gives glimpses of his own intellectual evolution, from Kipling to Conrad, Woolf, Lawrence, James, Tolstoy, Pym and Powell. No surprise, then, that Tennyson, Coleridge, Keats and other staples of the British canon prevail here. Most dwell on lofty themes—honor, war, love and death—but there's a sprinkling of delicious earthy notes, like Bishop's poem, "The Fish." While younger (or non-British) readers might feel estranged from his classical roster (all 30 stanzas of a minor Browning poem, for instance, may seem untenable), Bayley includes some modern gems, like the lyrics to Dorothy Fields's "A Fine Romance," or the last page of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep alongside Margaret Atwood's fantasy of a tryst with Chandler from Good Bones. Bayley's observation that some selections can serve as "incantation, but more casual" is a basic brand of guidance for reading poetry that many modern readers never receive. Much of what occupies our brains, our "mental anthology," is "pointless," and that's "both its comfort and its charm." This uncommonly friendly and accessible commonplace book of such a classical (and eclectic) scholar will please Anglophiles and Bayley fans. (Aug.)

Reviewed on: 06/25/2001
Release date: 07/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
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