A miscellany of memorable prose.
The author of both fiction and nonfiction and recipient of numerous literary awards, Angell (Let Me Finish, 2006, etc.) joined the New Yorker in 1956, serving as fiction editor, reporter, movie and book reviewer, and commentator on life, art, and baseball. Now 93, he has gathered work from the last few decades into a volume notable for its grace, wit, and humanity. Among pieces long (a tribute to V.S. Pritchett) and short (a scattering of haiku) are many elegies for fellow writers: the meticulous work of his stepfather, E.B. White; the “murmurous eloquence” of John Hersey’s Hiroshima; John Updike, “a fabulous noticer and expander”; the gentle, romantic Donald Barthelme. Many other pieces celebrate friendships: with the irreverent Edith Oliver, the magazine’s theater and film critic; and Harold Ross, the New Yorker’s founder, who often “stalked the halls, hunched and scowling with the burden of his latest idea.” Being a fiction editor can be wearying, writes Angell, “but then here comes a story—maybe only a couple of paragraphs in that story—and you are knocked over. Your morning has been changed; you are changed.” An unpublished piece from 1995 recounts a fearsome airplane flight, when a storm raged nearby. “Nothing happened,” he says, except a reminder to the passengers “not to forget, not quite yet, the imperial beauty of that thunderstorm and the boring but generally ongoing solipsism of pure luck.” “Writing is a two-way process,” he wrote to fiction writer Bobbie Ann Mason, “and the hard part isn’t just getting in touch with oneself but keeping in touch with that reader out there, whoever he or she is, on whom all this thought and art and maybe genius will devolve.”
As this ebullient and eloquent collection amply shows, Angell can deftly touch that reader, on whom he bestows this lovely gift.